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Ariel MEI
September 29, 2021
What If I Don't Know How to Ask for Help?


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What If I Don't Know How to Ask for Help?

Yi Lam: This is Yi from the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

Host: Thank you so much. What is your specialty, what is your primary area of focus and advocacy?

Yi Lam: So right now I'm actually a Program Coordinator at ATASK (Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence). I have been working for the same organization as a Chinese advocate for two years because I can speak Mandarin and Cantonese. Most of my clients are from China or Hong Kong and Taiwan, who speak a similar language as me, which is Mandarin and Cantonese. I usually work with clients who are Chinese speaking. I advocate for them.

Host: Awesome. So we have you on here today because you are just the expert we need to explain what it is to be an AAPI survivor, the barriers that we face, and the challenges that are very unique to us as AAPI individuals. Can you start with a brief summary from your perspective of what are some very specific barriers that AAPI survivors face?

Yi Lam: Yes, of course. I would say, there are some barriers from different aspects which is cultural barriers of language barriers, social barriers, and of course of discrimination from on the inside of communities. According to the experience from A-Task, most of our clients are Asian immigrants and most of them are new immigrants. Survivors don't know and don't understand what domestic violence is. The other issue that they have is they don't know DV actually covers different types of abuse, not only physical abuse, emotional abuse, immigration abuse, sexual abuse. There's so much abuse that should be included in domestic violence, but most people will be thinking “Oh, the physical abuse is domestic violence, other than that it's not domestic violence.” In terms of culture, they don't really know what domestic violence is. They don't know how they can look for help in this country. They don't know what services are available in the United States and they are worried what the outcome would be even when they try to reach out for help. They don't know whether they can get the help that they need, or they don't know what kind of system will be there. Another issue that I think we usually come across is cultural barriers. Many of our clients don't know what the meaning of child neglect and abuse is in the United States. Because child abuse and neglect it's also a type of domestic violence and it's always happened amongst our clients. I don't mean that our client will physically hurt their children, but the meaning of child abuse is actually quite why I will say why in this country even children who witness domestic violence, it will be considered as child neglect and abuse which is fairly new to our Asian clients. So many of our clients don’t know what it is. When children and families open their case they wouldn't know, “Oh, why would this have to open the case and what is the purpose and consequence” when they see it evolve. So I think this is the cultural part.

Host: And how about the language aspect?

Yi Lam: And for language aspects I think that what really happens a lot is we see it's their lack of language support from society and even from government agencies. For example, as I think covid isn't really a good example, as domestic violence, increased strictly during covid-19, but because there's a lack of assistance because there's a lack of translated material from the government to explain how to survive, what can you do when you have experienced DV? So many of the survivors were not able to ask for help. And another thing is even survivors don't know how they can ask for help, don't know what kind of resources out there, because most of those resources are not translated. For example, there are some labor rights housing rights, there's some housing laws, and labor laws that are specific for covid. They are not translated, so they don't know. And even for their public system, unemployment insurance, their specific unemployment insurance policy for covid, most of them are not translated. Most of them are only in English and Spanish. Some parts are translated to Chinese and Vietnamese, but other than that, most of them are not translated and even when they were translated into Chinese, it's only part of that information that was translated. Survivors from the Asian community will not be able to get a full picture of that information.

Host: How about racism? How does that play a role in AAPI survivors in this current day?

Yi Lam: I mean we all know that Asian hate crime is common. It's really sad to say that it's common in this country. Immigration contributes a lot to this country but many of them are still facing lots of discrimination. Because of the Asian hate crimes, many of the survivors, especially Asian survivors, are afraid to ask for help. They're feeling more isolated and hopeless, because the of discrimination, and we do have cases where our clients have been facing lots of unfair treatment from the police and the government agency. That's why they no longer want to ask for help and they no longer want to call 911 which may worsen in this situation, just because of discrimination. Of course discrimination has also objectified and flattened out Asian, especially Asian women. Many people or many Americans tie Asian women with sex, which of course brings a lots of sexual harassment to Asian women or whoever looks Asians.

Host: It feels like, you love to appropriate our food and our clothes but you don't love us as human beings? What are your thoughts?

Yi Lam: I mean, we still need a lot of understanding... mutual understanding about different communities in this country.

Host: Yes, we do. We've talked a little bit up to this point about some of the challenges that AAPI services face from outside the AAPI community, but what about within the community? I know, with my own story I faced a lot of abuse from my family. Even when we were first connecting and I saw that you were Chinese, I had this traumatic reaction of anxiety “Oh gosh. She has a Chinese name. I see the character she's a better Chinese than I am and I'm not good enough. I'm not Chinese enough. ” And that all comes from years of my Chinese family telling me that I wasn't good enough, right. So clearly there's some issues within our own families as well, can you please talk about that?

Yi Lam: Of course. I mean, I'm so sorry to hear about what you have experienced and I know that this has happened to a lot of Chinese who have relations with Chinese or have Chinese parents. They will say “Oh you're not Chinese enough. I was born in Hong Kong. I’m also criticized by my parents who say “I am not Chinese enough¨... I would say “Oh, I have to be independent. I want to be more independent, I don't want to go on the path that you asked me to go”, so they will say I'm not Chinese enough. But let's go back to the domestic violence aspect… I think for survivors who are within the AAPI community,... most of them have been facing abuse from their own community, including cultural normalization. Many of them will feel like “Oh domestic violence is normal '', but they don't even use the term domestic violence, they would just use that for a family dispute or just a small argument with your family. Because they would say “Oh that's how our older generation has been through, all families who have arguments, little fights just normal.” so some of my clients would be trying to say a lot of good words with the abuser... “Oh, I think that's normal because that happened to my parents, that happened to my mom, that happened to all the relatives in our family.” We have to explain domestic violence and what is not okay in a relationship. And of course, that's another issue which is really hard to internalize- the traditional gender norms or the gender role expectation. Some Asian communities will believe that all females have to stay at home, they have to listen to the male, and the male has to be head of the family. They have the power to control every practice which gives power to the abuser to financially control the whole family and financially abuse. So much abuse that is related to this kind of traditional gender norms. And, I think even though for many of our survivors, they would say that “Oh, I know that it's domestic violence, but we're not able to do anything”, or, “I am not able to get divorced to protect the family honor.” Many of my clients told me that “Oh, I cannot get divorced, I cannot leave this. Not because I don't love him, I mean not because I still love him, yes, because if I leave him my family would... you don't know... how horrible my family and my parents would criticize me or judge me.” They will say that it will bring shame to the family. For some clients, they would say that family shame must not be spread abroad. We have to keep order. Family shame, family issues kept hidden at all costs, so many of those survivors are not able to reach out for help, because they feel like it is family shame, so it's really difficult for them to tell people. Just because they have to save the face of the family. So yes, that's one issue that they have been facing. Another thing is related to family honor, which is an arranged marriage system, because in some cultures there are still arranged marriage systems. And survivors, especially females, are not able to get a divorce, because that's an arranged marriage. They have no power to ask for divorce. I think that is related to the things that we have talked about, for example, there is some financial dependence on the abuser and, there are some immigration threats from the abuser. Some females really fear that if they get a divorce with the abuser they will lose the children and that also makes them not able to leave the domestic violence situation.

Host: I know from my own experience with my family there's a lot of pressure, especially when I was starting to get a bit older, about getting married and having kids. There was all this pressure to get married to have grand-babies. I think there's a lot of familial emotional abuse when they don't and step outside those roles. Would you agree?

Yi Lam: Yes I do, I mean that happened a lot too. I mean, of course, to our survivors the pressure from their parents is really important for them too, whether they are able to leave the abusive relationship. One client told me that she tried to talk to her parents about the domestic violence situation and her mom told her “Oh just be tolerant... you know how much money we spend on you, for you to stay in the US. Just think about that money, and you have to tolerate what you have experienced. Things will be better after you tolerate.” Things just won't be better because that's a domestic violence situation. Domestic violence would never be better until you leave, but because of the pressure from her parents she's still not able to leave.

Host: Do you think that when AAPI survivors face this kind of emotional abuse and this violence within their families that when they leave and they form intimate partner relationships or they're more at risk to be abused over again because they're kind of used to these dynamics?

Yi Lam: I do think so because there are some things that have some cultural influences that have been imprinted on them since very young, so it does take some time to change it. That's why we always recommend our client visit a therapist or a counselor to understand more about themselves.

Host: Yes, so you were saying earlier, how it's difficult because, with these survivors they won't even call it domestic violence they'll call it a family dispute. They'll think it's very normal. How do you go about reaching survivors within these communities and how do you, you know, get them to realize it's not normal unless they come to you first? How do you make that first contact?

Yi Lam: I think for my organization... We do a lot of Community outreach. We tried to do a lot of our outreach to college students, community colleges, Asian community. We do a lot of our visits, we have a lot of posters or different fliers that have been translated into different languages. And we have stuck and posted it in different places, where we know the AAPI community would usually visit. I will post those Chinese fliers in the Chinese supermarket or Chinese restaurant I always visit. I know most of the committee members would visit those places. And we also ask our community about the community providers to help us post in some area... like the toilet. Survivors will see it in the toilet. They will be without the abuser in the toilet because they will be alone, so they're able to get information about us and get information about domestic violence. The first step is, of course, letting them know what domestic violence and just not to make everything complex. We'll just say “Oh, are you feeling safe at home and are you feeling... you're able to do what you want, or are you feeling that you're being controlled by someone else.” We frame the words into more simple words and more into personal feelings. How they feel if they're not feeling safe or what they are doing, are they always being controlled by someone else. It might be a chance that there is domestic violence, and we would look at them to call our hotline and we can talk to them. So that's why we start out with really simple basic outreach. We're not telling them what domestic violence is. We're not talking about what power and control is as we're just getting into personal feelings.

Host: Actually it's kind of how I started recognizing I was a survivor. How am I feeling right now? Not great.

Yi Lam: Yes, so if they're not feeling great and just feeling, “Oh no, I don't feel like I can do whatever I want at my home, I feel my partner is always asking me to do something, they're always judging me. So something may happen and I might need to call that number.” And that's where we start.

Host: I love it. It's easy for you and I to understand because we grew up with this cultural lens, but what challenges do you face when trying to communicate this with people who are not from the AAPI community? Do you find that people have an issue understanding the cultural barriers that AAPI survivors face?

Yi Lam: I do think that, I mean there are a lot of questions being asked,... “Oh, why don't they just leave? Oh why is she still staying with that abusive partner?” Many of us couldn't understand what the AAPI communities have to face. They don't know that they're actually so many pressures and so many cultural norms from their communities and so many pressures from the community, and parents, that make it really difficult for survivors to ask for help. It's even really difficult for them to step out and call the domestic violence hotlines. I do remember there's a statistic. It's not about the United States, I think it's from Hong Kong, saying that there's a statistic or saying that survivors have to at least think seven times before they step out and ask for help so they have to keep thinking of the same issue again and again, you have to judge for yourself. “Oh, am I really in a domestic violence relationship, or if my husband or my partner's just trying to make me become a better person?” And then, after we think, and we think, and we think it seven times and then stop, take the number out and then you have to think again, again, again... “Okay, I still have to call them.” So it's really, really pressure for the AAPI community to step up. I think most of the Community Members who are not from the AAPI Community don't understand them. Because for most of our education, you will feel all would know that domestic violence is something that is not good, that's not okay, that's not allowed, but they don't know that I mean in some of the Countries and some cultures that's something really normal and even allowed. That's why we need lots of education on that part.

Host: Preaching to the choir speaking of statistics. When I was researching research papers for this interview, I found that there was very limited work that was done on an AAPI survivor, especially those who immigrated, whether they had been living their entire lives or were born here, they were first generation. There isn't a lot and numbers tend to be very low. An outsider that I might look at that and go “Oh.” DV doesn't exist in the AAPI community. Looks so low.¨ First of all, why are there barely any research papers out there and do we really think that the numbers are low because violence isn't a thing or because survivors aren't speaking up. What’s more realistic?

Yi Lam: mm hmm well I think that's of course not speaking up, I mean of course that's not realistic. That such a low amount of domestic violence rate in the AAPI community that's impossible. If that's really happened, we would not have an organization like us who are focusing on, working with Asian communities. Because of all the barriers that we have talked about and all the cultural norms, all the pressure that they have been facing and, of course, of the language barriers that survivors find it really difficult to speak up and really look for assistance even if there is a domestic violence hotline. It's not easy for a hotline to have so many languages that cover all the languages that the AAPI Community speaks. So it's really, really difficult for them to be able to do that. Finally, an organization which is really able to provide the languages that are spoken and they're able to offer help. Yes that's why I mean that's why the statistics are really low and, obviously, many of those domestic violence cases are under-reported. There's another situation happening -it's that many males survivors are not reporting as well.

Host: So if you could wave a magic wand and suddenly, you could have any tool in the world to fight this issue, what would you create?

Yi Lam: I think the first thing I will always ask is that we need to have more language support from the government agency and all the different providers. I mean I have been trying, not only myself but all the advocates at ATASK. We need to spend much time calling specifically for providers for our clients and we have to spend a lot of time waiting for interpreters. They should be providing interpreters, but they're saying “Oh, we don't have interpreters and the applicants have to work as interpreters.” I mean many of our clients have been waiting at the Court for a whole entire day, eight hours to wait for the interpreters to come. We have little resources. We need language support, and I really want our government and government agencies to work harder and better on the language support part. And, of course we need a lot more education or mutual cultural understanding in the AAPI community. Also, because of the discrimination and anti Asian hate crime, a lot of survivors are not going to reach out for help. Which is very sad. Sometimes we have the resources, we have providers who are willing to provide but survivors are not willing to reach out for help, but when we have resources it's not really helping them at all. Returning back to language support, we do need more. Oh, we also, if possible, I would also have the national and local hotlines offer more support, because I do know that it's not easy to have so many advocates who can speak different languages. If we don't have trained professional advocates who can speak different languages, we are not able to provide enough really good services to the AAPI Community. I think that's another thing - resources always tie with data. If incidents keep being unreported, I think we're not able to ask the government to provide enough resources to us as well. There should be a collaboration between researchers, technologists, and service providers, and then we have to really figure out why they're some limitations on the DV survivor data. As long as we improve data collection methods, we can then profile a much bigger and fuller picture of what's happening in this country, and then we can ask for enough resources from the government. The resources that we have picked now are not enough.

Host: Is there anything we haven't covered that you want to say?

Yi Lam: Oh, I think covid really made the situation far worse. Covid did something really new for us, although it has been happening for a year, but it's really new to us and it's really new to all the providers. With lockdown and home escalation there is, of course, much more domestic violence, but because people are always staying at the same place together, survivors find it more difficult to ask for help. And we do have to have some reports from our clients even, they try to look for help because of covid it's more difficult for them to get a restraining order. Compared to the situation before covid it's more difficult for them to get one. It’s really sad - they need that order because they can no longer stay at the same place with the abuser. Because of covid, the court could not issue it which then restarts the whole situation. Because of covid, it's become more difficult for survivors to look for a place to escape because many shelters face capacity limitations. They're not able to offer as much space as before. It’s really difficult for survivors to look for a place to leave or stay temporarily, which, of course, worsens the whole situation.

Host: It makes it so much harder. Well, thank you so much for sharing everything you know with us. Thank you so much.

Read more blog posts on these topics:
domestic violence dv aapi asian american pacific islander asian culture interview podcast the dv discussion
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