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Rights to Protection

YWCA program helps immigrant women combat abuse

By Margo Pierce · October 15th, 2008 · News

Eight weeks ago Jin (not her real name) escaped a violent relationship with a Korean man, and she now has thoughts of suicide because of the shame and guilt she feels. What upsets her most of all are the lessons her daughter has learned from watching her mother do everything Hyo (not his real name) told her, never questioning or challenging his treatment.

“She see me in the restaurant with him and I do whatever he say,” Jin says, crying.

Even before the physical violence started, Jin was being controlled — her only ties to other Koreans, her culture and her livelihood were connected to the relationship with Hyo. As an employee at his Korean restaurant, she moved from waitress to cook and helped create the kind of menu and atmosphere necessary for an authentic eatery.

Their relationship started after she was an integral part of building the business.

“A couple of time I broke up with him because I’m hurt,” Jin says. “He said, ‘Wait. Give to me time.’ I say OK, but every day after it was more hard. One day he’s drunk and I say I want to break up with him, he hitting me a lot. I’m scared.

“The first time he hit me I call police, but the next day he say, ‘I love you so much. Stay. You give to me time, I need you.’ I say OK. After he keeps hitting me again, too many times, I quit. (Hyo) kept calling me, ‘You give me time. I tell you I get a divorce. I marry you.’ I believe him.”

In this country legally for five years, Jin believes the local police, courts and other officials are no different from those corrupt institutions in Korea. Without enough evidence of the abuse, Hyo can’t be prosecuted for abusing Jin. And now she’s an outcast from the local Korean community because of the lies he, as a person of means, has been able to spread, ruining her reputation.

Making sure immigrant women know their rights and have access to the help they need is the primary focus of the Alliance for Immigrant Women. Under the auspices of the YWCA anti-violence programs, the Alliance has the stated goal of responding to the “increased number of immigrant women who were seeking services or injured as a result of domestic violence.”

The organization doesn’t provide direct services, according to Sophia Kostoff, the Alliance’s coordinator, but serves as a central contact point for getting people in touch with dozens of agencies that help with everything from addressing immediate safety needs and shelter to legal assistance and counseling services.

“We collaborate (with) at least 20 organizations,” Kostoff says, “and we promote understanding in various immigrant communities about the rights to protection that all women have, regardless of their immigration status: documented, undocumented, citizens, non-citizens. It’s not our role to tell women what to do. We feel it’s definitely important to let women know, in their own language in a way that’s culturally acceptable for them, what they can do and what their various options are.”

The group’s latest public awareness campaign, “Tienes Derechos y Protección” (translation: “You have rights to protection”) is designed to help Hispanic women learn about their rights, the signs of an unhealthy relationship and how to get help. It’s an educational campaign that includes print ads, radio spots and brochures in Spanish to develop awareness within the immigrant community and beyond.

“It’s a pretty intensive campaign with Hispanic women to raise awareness about what domestic violence is,” Kostoff says. “We’re not necessarily gearing this toward victims, women who have survived domestic violence. It’s our attempt to saturate the community with the fact that you have rights. That’s not something everybody knows, especially women who face other barriers — language barriers, immigration status.

“I don’t think a lot of (immigrant) women know they can get a protection order. There’s a piece of legislation called the Violence Against Women Act; there’s a good chance women, regardless of their status, can be protected under that because of being a victim.”

Founded in 2001, the Alliance for Immigrant Women has been around long enough to back up the education effort with constructive follow-through. Safety plans available in multiple languages help women escaping abuse protect themselves and their families. A network of mental health professionals offer services in a variety of languages: Arabic, Bengali, Croatian, French, German, Gujrati, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, French, Japanese, Lithuanian, Punjabi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Sign Language are just a few.

The posters and brochures developed for this campaign will be available throughout the city via service providers, health clinics, churches and eventually employers who have a large number of Hispanic employees.

“We list signs of a healthy relationship,” Kostoff says. “We have a red flag section, ‘This is what you should look for,’ and a green flag section, ‘This is what’s positive in a relationship.’ This is detailed more in the brochure.

“The outcome is we want to make sure that women are aware … that they have rights and this (is) information they can share and pass on. This is something we hope will empower women to find out what their options are, to help their friends or call the hotlines and get help. Sometimes there are women who need drastic help and sometimes they just need to know they have an option to help their family.”

For more information on the ALLIANCE FOR IMMIGRANT WOMEN, call the YWCA at 513-241-7090 or visit www.ywca.org/ cincinnati/abaiw.

Ben L. Kaufman interviews Brooks Jackson of factcheck.org at citybeat.com. Click on the News tab for “On Second Thought.”



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