by Vicki Thompson
Director of Domestic Violence Services
December 9, 2015
Li Zhou, Tri-Valley Haven’s newest case manager, said that domestic violence and sexual assault were never talked about in her Chinese family when she was growing up. In her culture issues of abuse are kept within the family because it would bring shame on the family to tell other people that abuse was occurring. It wasn’t until her junior year of college when Li began exploring the field of social work that she saw a recruitment brochure for Empower Yolo and decided to take their 65-hour training in domestic violence and sexual assault. Answering their crisis line and working one-on-one with drop-in clients sparked Li’s interest and inspired her to apply for her first DV shelter position after graduation.
Li finds the DV field very rewarding. She especially enjoys talking with clients and building rapport and trust with them in order to best help them meet their goals. I asked Li if she would share some observations and suggestions from her own experiences that could help us make our shelter more welcoming to Chinese clients.
It is helpful to remember that clients may have no previous knowledge about DV before coming to the shelter, especially if they are recent immigrants and/or do not speak English because the subject is still not openly discussed. Li recalls that her family sometimes sought assistance from an organization that helped immigrants with practical issues like food and social services, but that she never saw any brochures about DV or SA issues in Cantonese.
Asked what barriers a Cantonese survivor might encounter when coming to our shelter, Li said that coming into a big house with a very diverse population could be very intimidating, especially if the survivor does not speak English. The language barrier can be very scary, and it is comforting to be able to hear someone speaking her native language. Use of a telephone language translation line, or an online translator like Google when no staff person who speaks the survivor’s language is on site can help the survivor to feel more connected to the shelter. Having written materials and forms available in the survivor’s language is also very helpful.
Shelter rules about confidentiality should be carefully reviewed with clients because the survivor would want her family to know that she is safe and not to worry about her. Some family members might want to see her to try to persuade her to go back to her abusive partner. She may have only Chinese-speaking friends whom she would like to see. Explaining the shelter policy and discussing how the survivor can safely contact and meet her family and friends, and also having this information available in her own language will help the survivor to not feel isolated.
Generally, extend an invitation to the survivor to come and talk, as we would with any new shelter resident, and ask questions to learn about her customs and beliefs. Li explains that some holidays like Chinese New Year and the equivalent of Halloween have rituals that involve burning incense or other items, so be aware of this and assist the survivor to find a safe place to perform these rituals. Also, realize that different beliefs and customs may be the reason why a client may seem “noncompliant” with what staff perceives to be common sense rules. As an example, Li said that her mother has always forbidden beds in her home to be directly facing the door of the bedroom because it reflects the way dead people are laid out before burial. Beds in our shelter are arranged according to the fire marshal’s requirements to not block doors or windows. Asking why a resident wants to move her furniture, may result in relocating her to a room that is laid out differently rather than a warning for blocking an exit!
We thank Li for taking the time to share these insights and wish her a long and successful career at Tri-Valley Haven