SAN FRANCISCO — Issues surrounding domestic violence survivors in the Asian Pacific American community have taken new urgency as city leaders contemplated this week removing the Sheriff, convicted and sentenced for a domestic violence-related charge.
Deaths due to domestic violence have fallen in recent years. However, the October start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s case rallied fifteen leaders and advocates last Thursday in the midst of Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square.
“It’s about our community’s response to domestic violence,” said Kathy Black, Executive Director of La Casa de las Madres. “A vote at the Board of Supervisors in favor of Ross Mirkarimi retaining his job mocks the real danger of the issue and painful realities faced by victims in San Francisco every single day.”
According to Beverly Upton of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium and formerly of the SF District Attorney’s office, ten to twelve women died annually ten years ago. Three-quarters of the homicides in 2000 were Asian or limited English speaking women. Now, one to two women die annually.
“We are headed in the right direction,” said Upton.
The SF District Attorney office tabulated in 2009-2010 that Asian Pacific Americans represented 12% or 119 victims of 921 total domestic violence service visits. APAs made up 35% of San Francisco residents in 2010.
However, SF Department on the Status of Women Executive Director Emily Murase warned, “Underreporting is a problem for all of our communities.”
One major factor in underreporting is language.
“Language is a barrier, that’s not just vocabulary it’s also culture,” said Samina Masood, Executive Director of the Asian Women’s Shelter, which provides assistance in 41 languages. Southeast Asian and Muslim cultures, she said, are “totally forbidden to bring up the topic” of domestic violence.
Adding to the reluctance is fear and lack of information.
“[They] actually don’t come in contact with service providers because they don’t have the information or because they have so much fear, and so much that they’re trying to overcome by surviving violence every day,” said Orchid Pusey, Associate Director of Asian Women’s Shelter.
Women need to emerge from the shadows said a leading California legislator against on domestic violence.
Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma noted a victim takes an average of seven incidents before summoning the will to leave an abusive situation. By that time violence has escalated, she said, “It’s the most dangerous time” short of getting injured or killed.
“Our message here today is to let victims know that they can get help, they should get out of abusive relationships before they put their lives and other family lives in danger. We need to stop the cycles of violence,” said Ma, representing the heavily Asian Pacific American western half of San Francisco.
Pusey reassured families that a hot line will keep information confidential. Someone will speak to them in their primary language. “We’re here and we care….we care about the entire family that is suffering,” she said. “Every survivor, they are the owner of their life and we respect that they are the expert of their situation. We’re there as a support person whenever they choose to have us.”
All communities are vulnerable as demonstrated by the high profile case of the San Francisco Sheriff and his wife Eliana Lopez, a highly regarded Venezuelan television star.
“Domestic violence knows no race or education,” said San Francisco Commissioner on the Status of Women Vice President Julie Soo. “It is not a private matter; it’s a societal matter.”
Soo cited a California Department of Insurance attorney and colleague fatally shot by her husband who later committed suicide. “Two children were left as orphans,” she said. In another case, San Francisco Giants baseball player Aubrey Huff lost his father, who was trying to defend someone from domestic violence.
“The highest rate of homicides is on the job deaths, particularly among women, which is a domestic violence spillover,” she said.