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Attacking Domestic Violence In The Haitian Community, Part 2

More common than you think

An overwhelming number of violence against women cases are those between intimate partners. Recent global prevalence figures indicate about 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence.

In fact, U.S. national figures shows that 4 million women experience physical assault and rape by their partner, while in 1 out of 3 female homicide cases, involve women who are killed by a family member or intimate partner.

Despite these staggering numbers, domestic violence incidents are still under-reported.

“People migrate to the U.S. from all over the world,” Dr. Elisa English a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, said. Many of the women who immigrate to the U.S. are “marginalized in their country.”

English’s practice targets issues from suicide to depression, and works especially to empower women and young girls in the New York City area.

“Women often suffer and struggle with low socio-economic conditions, which makes separating from an abusive partner more difficult.”

However, according to Dr. Carolle Charles, the former chair of the Haitian women’s rights organization, Dwa Fanm (Women’s Rights), that is not always the case.

“A lot of times you find that the violence, the abuse, is not necessarily related to economic dependence,” Charles, a sociology professor at The City University of New York’s Baruch College, said.

Women stay in abusive relationships for a variety of reasons. Some stay because of immigration status or because there are children involved.

“The research in New York for example, shows that it affects all types of women,” she said. “Sometimes you stay in that situation because if you are married, you are supposed to be obedient.”

The first time Bernier spoke out about her experience, was at Envision to Empower, a Women’s History Month event last March in Brooklyn, where three out of the seven women on the panel were domestic violence survivors, who were openly discussing their stories.

Since then, Bernier has been vocal about the abuse, which happened during her time in law school, and her experiences in speaking out, and life after domestic violence.

Now an entertainment attorney and domestic violence victim advocate. Bernier puts her focus on speaking out was as a form of healing, but, it wasn’t always easy.

She was too familiar with the accompanying stigma that many Haitian women and those in the Diaspora face when deciding to speak publicly about abuse, and the reactions she would receive from people who heard her story.

“After leaving my abuser, my father told me, It’s your fault. You know how men are and how men can be,” Bernier said. “He asked me, what did you do? How could you allow this to have happened to you?”

In another instance, “I ran into two attorney colleagues of mine [at a Domestic Violence speaking engagement last year], and when I told them I was a survivor and that I was there to speak, the look they gave me was indescribable. It was a look of pity. That hit me like a ton of bricks because so many women suffer in silence and are afraid to come out because of that very reaction.”

Established in 1994, The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, and imposes mandatory restitution on those convicted. It also supports community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; targeting in particular, those groups that provide culturally and linguistically specific services.

This is where Raoul’s particular brand of services steps in.

“Most of the time, they are ready and willing to find a way out of their situation. These victims of violence are either seeking asylum or VAWA.” Others, she claims, like older women with a lower literacy, are more likely to call the organization.

“Sometimes victims just want to be listened to,” she said. “We are focused on creating a space for women to empower themselves.”

 

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Turning to faith for an answer

Bernier never sought professional help when dealing with the abuse, she said. Instead, she turned to her faith.

“I started meditating, and praying a lot and just taking a good look at myself; learning to love myself each and every day and being accountable for my actions and for my thoughts,” she said. “It’s also about connecting to the source. These kinds of things won’t live in your mind—the violence, the abuse—those kinds of things can’t live in the same place when you’re connected.”

“Haitian woman, like many women from Caribbean and African American communities, have strong ties to their spiritual community,” English, said. “A good way to raise awareness about domestic violence may be through public health campaigns supported by faith-based organizations.”

She argues that some abusers often use their faith to manipulate victims, by quoting scriptures out of context.

“I believe survivors and faith-based leaders play a significant role in raising awareness about domestic violence in communities of color,” she said. “Many cultures and [ethnic groups], including Haitians regard their spiritual leaders in high esteem.

“Survivors and faith-based leaders should educate and raise awareness about the pain, devastation and unspeakable emotional and mental harm caused by domestic violence. Perpetrators must also be warned about possible consequences of being charged and convicted of domestic violence, such as the revocation of a driver’s license, possible jail time, or job loss.”

Malorie Moise, who serves as a case manager with Inter-borough Developmental and Consultation Center (IDCC) is helping to do just that with the DoVe initiative, in collaboration with Beraca Baptist Church and the Haitian-American Caucus (HAC) in Canarsie.

IDCC’s mission is to provide domestic violence services in a trauma informed community that is welcoming, de-stigmatizing and not re-traumatizing. By collaborating with non-traditional and expanded community supports like the faith-based community, they are reaching a larger scope of audience by providing culturally competent and sensitive services to survivors.

“We thought to put together a one-day training for church leaders, community faith leaders and people of faith so they can be trained on how to deal with individuals who are experiencing trauma as well as domestic violence,” Moise said. “In most instances, individuals tend to trust their clergy and see them as the gateway to information.”

Quite often victims are dissuaded from talking about intimate partner violence because they are met with unsupportive or victim-blaming language. Bernier believes the Diaspora must be actively engaged in participating in dialogue that supports victims.

“The Diaspora plays a big role because here, the gender roles aren’t so rigid,” Bernier said. “We can be outspoken. We have women here who hold positions of power and can and will be heard.

“We as a Diaspora must be actively engaged in participating in dialogue that supports victims, changes the language, and clearly identifies what abuse and violent behavior against woman looks like. And that way, we can begin to support those who speak up without shaming them.”

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