Violence Against Women Project: A Commitment to Culturally Competent, Holistic Services

Every day, I feel so scared and so depressed. How can I live like this? I worry he will get mad, yell at me, and hit me if I do something he don’t like. He don’t let me work or go to school for English. I have no money. He gave me only $20 a week for groceries and food. I can’t talk to my family. He gets mad if I talk to anybody. I’m so scared … me and my daughter, we have to hide the knives, scissors … anything that he could use to hurt us. I just pray. What if I die tonight?” – Client of API Legal Outreach

API Legal Outreach’s comprehensive services included legal representation in family and immigration law matters, as well as temporary restraining orders and protection plans. Not only did API provide legal services, but our collaborative partners offered complementary social services as well. With the help of our community partners, our clients received assistance with housing, employment, counseling, children’s services, and other support throughout the often arduous process of asserting their legal rights and protections. By its culturally competent, holistic services, API Legal Outreach remained dedicated to empowering survivors of violence against women.

Freedom from violence: A basic human right

The right to be free from violence is a basic human right. API Legal Outreach has been dedicated to this basic principle, and to serving the needs of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking for the past 39 years. We recognized early on that such acts of violence were grave threats to the health and welfare of our communities. API Legal Outreach committed then to providing survivors the tools and options they needed to empower themselves to leave or address their abusive relationships and environments. We continue that commitment today. Each year we build and strengthen our model of providing culturally competent, holistic services to survivors. Our decades of experience have shown that this model provides the best opportunity for API survivors to obtain much-needed legal and social services. This last year, we continued to strengthen our holistic model of services developed by the organization over 30 years ago in partnerships with sister agencies.

It has become increasingly clear this past year that our nation and our communities continue to be plagued by issues of gender-based and intimidate partner violence. API Legal Outreach has been working towards addressing and alleviating this pervasive problem for nearly four decades, and we continue to push for the rights and needs of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the Asian Pacific Islander, immigrant, and other marginalized communities. Along with addressing the legal and social service needs of survivors of violence, we strive to educate and improve upon the ideological framework in which violence often thrives. For example, we believe that the questions that are even now trending on social media and being asked in lecture halls across the country, such as “Why didn’t she leave?” or “Did she provoke him?” often reflect uninformed and damaging stereotypes. Similarly, laws or opinions that focus on evidence of physical violence often miss the mark and fail to protect their intended audience. Here in the Bay Area API Legal Outreach and its partners have worked hard to try to eliminate these outdated views.

Empowering Survivors

Survivors of violence such as domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault face many barriers to leaving the abuser and the violent situation. Survivors of intimate partner violence face many barriers to leaving their abusive environments, and often tell us that they did not feel they could leave because of these barriers. Language ability in English, access to resources and information, threats regarding child custody and/or immigration are just some common barriers these survivors face. Moreover, they are often made to feel that they will not be believed. Their abusers make themselves appear more powerful than any system, and the legal process has sometimes reinforced those feelings for those who have attempted to leave their abusive situations. At API Legal Outreach we strive to help survivors to access their options in a way that allows them to find their own power. Our work is client-centered, and places the ultimate decisions in most cases in the hands of our clients—an occurrence that some survivors have told us was a first in their lives. We appreciate and are inspired daily by the courage and strength that our clients display as they work towards improving their lives and the lives of their children.

Many survivors escape with their children to find themselves homeless, without formal job training, or savings. API Legal Outreach worked to help survivors and their families gain stability with the aid of programs such as CalWORKs, Medi-Cal, assistance with child care services, vocational training, as well as economic development programs designed to transition low-income families into self-sufficiency. API Legal Outreach also serves transitional age youth (TAY) between the ages of 16-24 who are survivors and/or at risk of violence and crime. These survivors are vulnerable during this critical time in their lives, when they have aged out of care such as custody or the foster system, and may need free and affordable case management, access to eligible benefits, legal service and counseling. API Legal Outreach provides survivors of all ages with wrap-around, holistic services.

Fostering Community Partnerships

API Legal Outreach provides comprehensive wraparound services as much as possible to our clients through collaboration with many community partners throughout the Bay Area. Our legal work for survivors of violence within this project area includes legal assistance and representation with protection orders, child custody and visitation, dissolutions, marital settlements agreements, general family law, and related matters such as immigration, housing, tax, and public benefits.

Our partners work with us to assist clients with housing, employment, counseling, children’s services, court accompaniment, case management, and language needs. Together we work to support survivors through a legal process that is often lengthy and difficult. Our holistic approach works to ensure that survivors’ various needs are addressed at the same time in the most comprehensive way possible. Our partnerships strengthen our ability to meet the changing and complex challenges facing API survivors, and allow us to be better advocates for our clients.

I’m not formally educated, and I can’t read or write. I have always tried to be a good person though. My husband promised me he would stop hurting me once we got to America. I have no family, friends, or support here, and I have two children to raise. But within a few months of moving here, he beat me like I wasn’t even human, like I was a dog. I had nowhere to go. The police were eventually called by someone else, and they referred me to API Legal Outreach. They spent the time to explain to me the laws in America and my rights and options. They helped me get custody of my children, which is the most important thing to me, and I’m so thankful for that.” – Client of API Legal Outreach

Changing the system

API Legal Outreach has advocated on behalf of survivors of violence for almost four decades. In that time we have worked to improve the public systems that affect the lives of survivors. For example, our clients have often told us that they are afraid of law enforcement because they could not understand what was happening when police responded to their 911 calls for help. Sometimes this has lead to a situation where the survivor is arrested instead of the abuser. In collaboration with several agencies, including the San Francisco Police Department, we have worked to address this problem and recently developed a training video for officers. The video trains officers on working with limited English proficient survivors of domestic violence and elder abuse. This past year the video became a standard part of the roll call training for officers and a part of Police Academy training.

We have also continued our work to advocate for other improvements to public agencies such as the San Francisco Police Department and Department of Child Support Services in a proactive effort to develop appropriate protocols for serving LEP survivors and for working with survivors on child support, child custody, and parenting time issues. protocols on domestic violence. In addition, we continue our long-standing, active participation in local and state efforts to improve the services and remedies available to survivors. Our work as members of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, the East Bay API Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence has been an important part of these efforts.