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What does defund the police mean for South Asian survivors of domestic violence?

In recent weeks, the national outcry to protest police brutality and violence has also called for defunding the police. Defunding the police means diverting funds to other government agencies and programs instead of solely using those funds for the police department. But what does defunding the police mean for domestic & sexual violence victims and survivors?

Until the 1980s and beyond, domestic violence was not treated as a crime and any police intervention would make the situation even more dangerous for the victim. Many women were left to suffer or fend for themselves with the help of limited shelters and community resources. However, over the past decades, this has changed as domestic violence agencies have advocated for laws to arrest abusers, provide training and education to police, and create collaboration to support victims of domestic violence and increase accountability for the abusers. This has led to more police involvement in domestic and sexual assault cases and often are seen as the solution to bringing accountability and justice for survivors.

As with many domestic violence agencies, at Daya, we encourage our clients to call the police if their life is in danger and file police reports of these incidents. However, we also understand that South Asian-Americans along with other immigrant communities are reluctant to call the police for domestic violence for a myriad of reasons. South Asian immigrants come from countries where police and law enforcement are an entity to be feared or bribed. There police often make it harder for victims to remain safe and usually side with the family or community instead of the victim. This distrust is carried over and can increase when there is a negative encounter with the police. With a language barrier, a person might feel hesitant to call the police as they might not be able to accurately describe what help they need or their situation. There have been instances with our clients such as when the police officer asked the husband who was the abuser to interpret for the wife who didn’t speak English and had made the call to the police during a physical escalation of violence in the home. This led to the victim not being believed, made to appear complicit in the violence, and being traumatized by police intervention. She did not receive interpretation services or asked if she wanted to go to a shelter. After that incident, she didn’t want to ever call the police or have any encounter with them.

This mistrust continues when the police act as enforcers of immigration law. For many immigrants there is the fear of compromising their immigration status or if the person is undocumented of being deported if they reach out to the police for help. Abusers often use the involvement of police as a threat to keep their victims from reaching out for help. They will threaten to have them deported, not file their paperwork, and have the children taken away. There is also distrust due to local police being ignorant or prejudice towards certain cultures, race, and religions. South Asian Muslim survivors have expressed that they are treated with suspicion, discriminated against, or are afraid that the police will deal overly harsh with their abusers due to their religion. For many South Asian survivors justice is not always having the abuser arrested and sent away to prison. Due to stigma, shame, and the trauma, they often don’t want to get involved in police interventions and court trials that can make their experience public or re-traumatize them. Many South Asian survivors are dependent on their abuser for financial and immigration reasons. Police intervention could jeopardize that.

Victims of sexual assault are just as hesitant to call the police for help because the help is not always trauma-informed and supportive of the victim. Rape kit backlogs at police departments are just an indicator of the lack of priority for the victim. Most survivors need time and safety to process the trauma and make decisions without the threat of violence or dealing with aggressive systems like the police.

With the national conversations of defunding the police, domestic violence agencies and coalitions are re-thinking what police intervention and support look like for domestic violence survivors. Many are analyzing how police enforcement and prosecution of domestic violence often leave the victim of abuse feeling re-victimized and sometimes jailed for non-cooperation in a domestic violence arrest or prosecution case. Law enforcement officials in the name of protecting the community and coming down hard on domestic violence don’t always have the victim’s best interest in mind, who often become a pawn in the name of justice. There is increasing agreement in the domestic violence movement that defunding police departments could yield better results as the diverted funding can be used for increasing shelters, hiring more advocates, counselors, victims’ liaisons, increasing access to victim’s compensation and financial assistance, and creating early intervention and educational programs that prevent domestic violence in the first place. This type of approach would benefit immigrant communities as they need resources and support.

There is still much to be analyzed on the issue of police involvement as the only or best solution for domestic violence intervention. At Daya, as we advocate for the best culturally specific responses and support for South Asian survivors, we are always rethinking our approaches in how we work with systems. We have provided cultural competency training to police officers and how to refer to Daya. We are also thinking beyond the micro-level to include how broader laws, policies, and systems are helping or harming all victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Oct 25, 2020

Re the police being unaware of how to stop domestic violence short of a one-night stay in jail or the woman testifying on her own behalf while traumatized, I discovered after my divorce and separation that I should've gone to counseling for myself (when my husband didn't want to go to family counseling); as, then the counselor can submit a report of continued domestic violence (after a year or so), then the police will remove the violent mate from your home, you can get child support and mortgage payments and keep the marriage (allowing the violent person to mature leaving your children and you safe until then).

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