Saheli has ten trained domestic violence advocates, who assist South Asian women experiencing domestic violence. Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Within the United States, nearly one in four women reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life.[i] According to a study involving 160 South Asian women in the Greater Boston Area, 8% of participants reported that they had been physically and/or sexually abused by their current male partner sometime in their lifetime.[ii]
What is Domestic Violence?
Saheli recognizes that domestic violence is a repetitive pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Domestic violence can include behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Abuse includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many different forms of abuse can be going on at the same time.[iii]
How does Saheli help?
Saheli domestic violence advocates have undergone training to better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, the importance of confidentiality when working with survivors of domestic violence, the need for empathy for survivors and their children, as well as develop survivor support skills—such as learning how to create a safety plan and carry out a risk assessment when working with survivors to help them create a violence-free life. Saheli domestic violence advocates are supportive and listen without judgment as survivors tell their stories. They validate the experiences of survivors and remind them that they are not alone in their experience and that abuse is never acceptable.
Saheli domestic violence advocates also provide essential information on resources including access to food, shelter, legal assistance, health care, and career development opportunities, as well as Saheli programs. Saheli advocates have helped survivors take driving lessons, attend English classes, and join career centers that offer workshops on resume writing, cover letters, and interview skills. Saheli advocates have also supported survivors in improving their financial skills by working with them to create personal budgets, open bank accounts, and secure their financial future by saving and investing.
Saheli advocates work with survivors “where they are at” – meaning that advocates understand the complexities involved in violent relationships and that leaving is not always an available option. Thus, whether the survivor leaves or stays in the relationship, the advocate works with the survivor to provide her the information she seeks – whether that be information on divorce, child custody, immigration laws, or by creating a safety plan to help her stay safer in her situation.
What Challenges do South Asian Survivors Face?
Saheli advocates are aware of the cultural challenges that can add additional barriers for South Asian survivors who seek help. For instance, abusers typically use violence as part of larger strategies to exercise power and control over their partners and isolate their partners from support networks. Patriarchal norms, which are by no means inherent to South Asian communities but are still pervasive, can result in many South Asian immigrant women living in households where the husband maintains all financial control. As a result, a survivor who has experienced domestic violence will often have little or no access to money and very few friends or family members to rely on if she flees a violent relationship. Domestic violence is still considered highly taboo to talk about in public and this can further limit the options that a survivor has to reach out for support.
Saheli understands that systems of power related to immigration status, language, and race impact domestic violence survivors in the South Asian community. If a survivor’s residency in the United States is dependent on the husband’s visa status, the survivor may feel they have little option to leave, or fear being deported by their husband and losing custody of their children. For limited English speaking survivors, language barriers can cause a survivor to feel further isolated and afraid to seek out help from mainstream domestic violence resources. In fact, in the Greater Boston Area study involving 160 South Asian Women, only 3.1% of the abused women in the study claimed that they had obtained a restraining order against their abusive partner. This rate is substantially lower than the rate reported in a study of women in Massachusetts, in which over 33% of women who reported intimate partner violence in the past five years had obtained a restraining order.[iv]
What is the Process Saheli Follows?
When a survivor calls 1-866-4 SAHELI, or sends an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, they receive a call back or written reply within 24 hours from a domestic violence advocate.
It takes many hours and several meetings to help a survivor who resides in Massachusetts. Saheli also receives calls from out of state, and these cases can take much longer as fewer centralized sources exist for providing quick and reliable information to South Asians. In cases involving a limited English speaker an advocate may spend up to 50 hours assisting the survivor as they interact with legal offices, navigate the court system, make appointments with mainstream domestic violence agencies, and try to locate housing assistance, among many other issues. Additionally, many survivors return to Saheli several times over a period of years for additional information and support. On average, it takes a survivor several attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Saheli advocates are aware that exiting a relationship can be the most unsafe time for survivors as the abuser senses that they are losing power and often react in dangerous ways to regain control. Ongoing support is thus heavily needed, and Saheli advocates are there to provide long-term and consistent support.
Saheli domestic violence advocates are some of the most valued members of the Saheli team; they are a supportive resource for those experiencing domestic violence because they are someone who listens, validates, and provides hope that a life free of violence is possible.