Time to tackle domestic violence from the grassroots

HEADLINES gary thandi smallBY GARY THANDI, MSW RSW

 

SO tragically another South Asian woman has been murdered and the person arrested for the crime is her spouse. This event was once again followed by the media reaching out to members of the South Asian community for comment, and many community members coming forward to speak about the issue. And these leaders once again had to do a bit of a balancing act, wanting to speak out about the issue of domestic homicide and domestic violence in South Asian communities and give it the attention it deserves, while also making sure they don’t stereotype these communities.

They point out, correctly, that domestic violence is a scourge that impacts all communities and societies. They also make valid points about the need to break the silence and for victims to get help – and for the need for men to speak out against the privileges they often receive simply by being men.

So if what they are saying is correct, then why isn’t it happening more often?

After all, most of the South Asian men I know are sickened by the violence and many of the South Asian women I know are also willing to speak out against it. Frankly, and this is based on 15 years of observations and experience in the social service sector (as a probation officer, social worker, counsellor, program manager and currently leading a non-profit counselling and support agency), it’s because the systems designed to deal with domestic violence – both in terms of prevention and intervention – are not necessarily doing what they were originally supposed to do – support victims and keep them safe, support children who witnessed the abuse, and hold perpetrators accountable while attempting to change their attitudes.

If people don’t have faith in these systems, how likely are they to turn to them to help keep them safe? And if they discovered these systems didn’t help them, how likely are they going to be to tell others to rely on them if in crisis?

Furthermore, how likely are they to actively discourage others to turn to these systems, given their own negative experiences?

While the impact of these systemic shortcomings impacts all cultural groups, the lack of culturally responsive systems can especially impact South Asian families in Surrey. I think it’s time we had a community-based response to domestic violence, one that is developed by our communities. Instead of waiting for others (that is, the governments) to do something, we need to do it. We may not be able to change some of these current systems completely, though through a collective effort we can make sure these systems are more culturally responsive to community needs while still ensuring those who commit violence are held accountable.

 

AS it stands now, the police response is swift and strong, of arresting if an assault has taken place, and that needs to continue. We cannot minimize violence and those perpetrating it need to know there are consequences. Having said that, our communities need to come up with alternatives to the criminal justice system – a system that ideally can work alongside this system. Because after the police intervention, the systems that follow are slow and in many cases counter-productive.

The fact the court system doesn’t help perpetrators of violence is one thing, but the fact that it doesn’t help many victims and their children is the more concerning part. The court system is perceived as being impersonal and adversarial. Many victims have great difficulties going through it. It often drags out, especially if it goes to trial. Given many of the South Asians perpetrators and victims going through it are married, the money spent on a lawyer comes out of both the perpetrator AND the victim’s bank account.

Having a court system that holds the perpetrator accountable for his actions is necessary, but our current system doesn’t necessarily do that – trials are usually dragged out, which basically leaves these families in a holding pattern and highly stressed, uncertain of what will happen next. And the longer the delay, the more time for the perpetrator to minimize or deny his behaviours. Long court delays are then followed by long delays in counselling.

In many instances all that the victim wanted was for her spouse to stop being abusive and to get help – but the reality is that such help hasn’t traditionally existed as funding is only available for those who have been convicted. This means no opportunities exist for helping families sooner. We basically wait until the violence occurs before doing something about it. And these current counselling services only work with the perpetrator – leaving the victim out of the healing that could take place if both were involved in counselling. At the very least, better coordinated counselling between the couple could help the victim develop a plan that could help her be safer.

We know that not all couples should reconcile, and sometimes the justice system needs to keep them separated for the sake of the victim’s safety, but that concern doesn’t necessarily apply to a lot of couples. Our current systems don’t seem to know how to deal with these couples, despite these couples being the majority of cases.

 

SO how does a grassroots initiative to end domestic violence begin – one that doesn’t simply rely on the current system to address the issues? Well it begins with our South Asian communities coming together, united by the desire to come up with prevention and intervention strategies that are culturally relevant to our needs. We may not be able to change current systems, but we can certainly figure out ways to help families deal with it better, or maybe even avoid it by supporting those families before the violence can even begin.

We can wait around for someone else to deal with it (though based on experience, chances are that’s not going to happen) or we can do something about it ourselves. If there was faith that help was available and that change is possible, maybe then the victims – or even the perpetrator – would get help. We’ll never know unless we try.

Want to be part of a grassroots initiative to address domestic violence in South Asian communities? Contact me at [email protected] or 778-321-3054 and let’s chat.