Innovative Strategies

Community-based-organizations for Asian and Pacific Islander battered women have designed culturally informed approaches that rely on an intimate knowledge of their communities and family structures. This program-building work is the result of many collective internal discussions and individual innovations. The resulting themes and guiding principles that have influenced advocacy are excerpted from two reports: Innovative Strategies to Address Domestic Violence in Asian & Pacific Islander Communities: Emerging Themes, Models and Interventions by Mimi Kim and Framing Batterer Accountability in the Context of Our Work by Grace Poore.

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Themes & Approaches that Guide Interventions

1. Where We Start: Viewing the Survivor within the Context of Her Community

Domestic violence programs for Asians and Pacific Islanders were started with API communities and API survivors in mind. Even programs which began as community education projects inevitably came into contact with survivors, abusers and witnesses of domestic violence who needed help. Safe access, effective interventions and expanded options became central concerns. ‘Helper’ versus ‘client’ divisions became less clear because workers and survivors in small ethnic enclaves often shared the same cultures, languages, and even neighborhoods and families. Finally, the importance of community and the complexities of it as a place of abuse and entrapment as well as familiarity and resources, led to innovative interventions and options.

2. Reshaping Intervention: Expanding Options

While the creation of shelters for API survivors greatly expanded their options, many programs developed strategies that de-emphasized shelter as the primary intervention. The importance of community as an emotional and material resource shaped these interventions. Immigrant battered women’s lack of access to resources made financial, educational, and employment interventions at least as significant as traditional services, such as restraining orders. Non-shelter programs aimed for a complement of options for women who did not desire shelter, were unable to access them, or not ready for them – they offered services not predicated on survivors leaving their relationships.

3. Intervention Approaches: Family-Style

Many API programs viewed their intervention approaches as “family-style.” Despite the negative connotations of family within the context of domestic violence, API programs embraced positive aspects of family to imply a greater level of intimacy and care in their interactions with survivors. Generalist approaches were favored over rigidly defined roles and areas of expertise. Greater flexibility in terms of time, level of accompaniment and advocacy, and distribution of resources also characterize many API interventions. In some cases, boundaries around personal disclosure, gift-giving and receiving, and social contact may be more fluid.

4. At the Edge of Safety: Redefining Survivor/Abuser Boundaries

The conceptualization of the survivor within the context of her community and the expansion of options to reach her where she’s at has also pushed the edge of safety for API intervention efforts. Interventions reaching not only into the community, but into the home have led to the questioning of typical boundaries between danger and safety, abuser and survivor. While many API programs have accepted mainstream notions of safety and interventions which explicitly separate survivor from abuser, some do explore options which transcend these lines, combining traditional programmatic approaches of batterer treatment and survivor support with complementary programs which include both survivor and abuser.

5. Community Organizing

Many API domestic violence programs have rejected conventional service-delivery and prevention models for approaches that actively engage the community. While community contact has been key to many programs, levels of community participation have varied.

6. Redefining Domestic Violence

Effective domestic violence interventions required expanded definitions of domestic violence since relationships of violence could extend beyond an individual survivor and individual abuser. Extended members of the family, community members, and community institutions could be directly and actively involved in the dynamics of abuse. Furthermore, relations of power and abuse such as racism, classism, homophobia, and imperialism intersected with gender oppression and sexism in ways.

Framing Accountability for Batterers

Community accountability for abusers as a complement or alternative to the criminal legal system is an area of great promise as well as challenge. Accountability strategies could be contained within community-based organizations or led by them with the collaboration of community individuals, families, leaders or other institutions or organizations. Many instances of community accountability take place outside of formal domestic violence interventions, e.g., family threats to confront abusers occur outside legal structures and inside socio-familial ones, or are meted out by structures of authority such as clan leaders.

From the onset, Asian and Pacific Islander programs have struggled to formulate accountability strategies, but many searching questions remain to be asked and answered.

1. Who has the right to hold violators accountable?

Domestic and sexual violence perpetrators do not readily acknowledge intention, harm, responsibility, and/or willingness to make amends. Given this reality, should it be the victims’ responsibility to hold their own perpetrator accountable or should it be expected of others? Who then has the right to hold perpetrators accountable and who can be entrusted with this responsibility? What if those granted responsibility have the necessary authority but are not a survivor’s ally, nor sensitive to gender violence?

2. Who has the right versus who has the capacity for the job?

What role will victims/survivors play in the process of holding their abusers accountable? Whose responsibility should it be to hold perpetrators accountable if the victim/survivor lacks the ability or capacity to do it? What does capacity mean: is it material, emotional, mental? Is it the capacity to enforce accountability, or to access or galvanize resources like a family support structure? When should the accountability process begin given that an injured or traumatized victim needs time to recover?

3. How should differences in approaches be resolved and by whom?

Who decides what the most appropriate process is and should it be in the best interest of the woman, her children, her family, her community? What if the best interests of the victim and her children conflict? Because violence in intimate networks may involve single or multiple perpetrators and those who collude, should the latter be held accountable and if so, how should perpetrator accountability differ from by-stander accountability?

4. Who decides on the adequacy of anticipated outcomes?

Several questions arise about long-term versus short term accountability, what amends perpetrators should make, whether they have a say in this decision or did they relinquish their rights because they committed the violation? Should outcomes include punishment? Those most harmed may want an apology and a promise never to do it again while those least harmed may also want punishment; and victims’ allies may disagree with the perpetrators’, as might advocates in different systems.

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