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Troy L. Wheeler

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Strategy: Providing Domestic Violence Services to Refugee Communities

Strategy Domestic violence agencies educate refugee community members about the law as it pertains to this crime and offer . . .

Strategy

Domestic violence agencies educate refugee community members about the law as it pertains to this crime and offer services to victims.

Community Problem Addressed

Domestic violence is often underreported in refugee communities. In many cultures, domestic violence is not considered a crime, and often refugee women do not know that they can report abuse. When it is identified, mainstream domestic violence victim services agencies may be ill-equipped to deal with issues specific to different cultures and refugee populations.

Key Components

Domestic violence victim services agencies that handle cases from refugee populations provide victims with counseling on coping with the effects of domestic violence. Counseling focuses on designing safety plans for the women by identifying whom to call for help, making copies of their important documents, and making extra sets of keys in case of emergencies. Another aspect of this strategy is providing shelter referrals for women who are in need of crisis intervention.

Refugee women who decide that they want to leave situations of domestic abuse design long-term self-sufficiency plans with the aid of the agencies.  The women develop job search skills in order to attain financial independence. Domestic violence agency staff or volunteers also help victims find jobs in the community and may subsidize driver's education programs. Domestic violence victims are also instructed on the legal process, particularly focusing on such areas as child support, child custody, and getting a restraining order.

The success of this strategy depends upon recruiting domestic violence and victims services caseworkers and volunteers from the refugee communities. These individuals already possess an understanding of the refugee population's background, and abused women from these communities are more likely to trust people of their own culture. In almost all cases, a refugee woman who leaves her husband would face complete separation from her family and ethnic community. Knowing these circumstances helps service providers understand why refugee women may be reluctant to avail themselves of certain services, and enables them to tailor services as closely as possible to the women's needs.

Key Partnerships

Local hospitals, courts, and attorneys who identify victims of domestic violence from refugee populations must refer them to domestic violence agencies that deal with refugee populations. Refugee women who are victims of domestic violence must also share information about domestic violence centers through word of mouth in the community, fo rinstance through religious congregations and mutual assistance associations.

Potential Obstacles

Locating or equipping personnel with the appropriate multicultural skills may prove challenging. Finding caseworkers to deal with domestic violence issues in refugee populations is difficult due to the emotional, dangerous nature of the work. Funding for a domestic violence center that works primarily with refugee populations may also be an obstacle. State or federal grants are a possible funding resource.

Examples of Success and Results

Since 1994, the Refugee Family Prevention Project in Clarkston, Georgia [population 5,385], has handled domestic violence issues for the Somali, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Iraqi, Kurdish, Bosnian, and Sudanese refugees and other new Americans in the area.

Annually, the organization handles 80 new clients in addition to 30 on-going clients. Caseworkers work with victims for two weeks to a year. The program costs approximately $150,000 to $170,000 annually, mostly from the state.

The project is part of the Georgia Coalition for Battered Refugee and Immigrant Women, which is dedicated to ending family violence against women, children, and the elderly in refugee and immigrant communities. The coalition does not have any paid staff. Instead, it relies on volunteers from the five coalition agencies that donate their time to ensure the smooth operation of the coalition. Besides conducting workshops and training for the immigrant communities, the coalition develops educational material for residents, health workers, and law enforcement on how to deal with the domestic violence issues of refugees.

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