Would it be safe to assume that when domestic violence survivor advocates hear the word “safety,” they think of survivors being safe from their partners or spouses? Survivors are safe if their partners are not actively looking for them. Survivors are safe if their spouses kicked them out of the house and no longer wants anything to do with them. But what happens when a survivor does not feel safe from the community she lives in?
To some API survivors, their safety includes the community. They may be free from emotional or physical harm from their partners or spouses, but their community may abuse them on a daily basis—or it could be a combination of both. In-laws may stalk a survivor to see what she is up to. Coworkers may bully her because she got their friend arrested. Neighbors may shun her because she had the audacity to abandon her duties as a housewife. Women may spread gossip about her because they’re afraid that, since she no longer has a man in her life, she will steal their husbands. Men may sexually harass her now that they believe she is no longer under the protection of another man.
Of course, these traits can stereotype API individuals because it is hard to discuss nuanced complexities of each culture. However, it must be conveyed so that we can advocate within a cultural context. Compared to mainstream, API intimate partner domestic violence can look very different as aforementioned. So, when someone is requesting support, whether it be shelter, legal, or advocacy in general, we must look at her whole circumstance and not just her predicament at the moment.
The day a Fiji Indian woman came into the shelter with an emergency protective order, her husband filed a restraining order against her right after he bailed out of jail. With the support of shelter staff, the client put her plans into motion the first week. Then she asked if she would be able to return to the safety of the shelter if she were to travel north for a week to where her support system resides so they can help her with acquiring a car and furniture.
To this particular client, it wasn’t only her husband whom she feared, but the in-laws she lived with and the Indian community as a whole. Her support system feared the community as much that they were discreetly helping her, so to travel a couple hours north, away from her husband’s community, only seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
Haven supported her by holding her spot at the shelter and she was able to accomplish what she set out to do out of town. A week after returning, she was granted a TRO, custody of her child, and exited the program to her new apartment with her new car and new furniture. Would this client have been able to accomplish what she needed to had Haven not supported her? What would’ve happened if Haven had told her she wasn’t an appropriate fit for shelter because she was “safe” staying somewhere else for a week? Maybe it’s time we redefine what safety means. Or maybe we should stop defining what safety means for survivors and let them tell us what it means for them to feel safe.