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Legal Network Finds More Immigrant Victims Of Sexual Assault Than Expected

November 1, 2018 1:48 p.m.

Legal Network Finds More Immigrant Victims Of Sexual Assault Than Expected


Tarryn Mento, City Heights reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: Legal Network Finds More Immigrant Victims Of Sexual Assault Than Expected


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh the Mitsu movement has led to a number of women publicly sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment case KPBS reporter Tarryn Mento says despite this reckoning cultural barriers are keeping women quiet. In San Diego's immigrant community where new data shows sexual assault is pervasive and a warning this story discusses situations that may not be suitable for all listeners.

Shaima so silica knows women in San Diego's Middle Eastern community who are abused by their husbands but won't leave them. The hairstylist sees bruises on the hands and faces of some of her female clients. She urges them to go but their culture encourages them to stay in Mecca.

JANE HUTCHEON our families that are not supporters of the culture they will tell us to stay with him go back home.

We need support and we need to empower ourselves she and other Arab women new to San Diego discuss the challenge at an East County nonprofit the organization licensed to freedom offers support services but also outreach and prevention classes to help counter a culture that blames the abused and protects the abuser. Founder Del Claas Ahmed leads the session survivors of domestic violence.

What are you going to tell us.

She came to you for help Ahmed said it took years for the community to just discuss the topic of domestic violence. But she now serves about a thousand women children and even men each year through various programs. She suspects many victims she saw also experienced sexual assault.

Sometimes they say you know what I can read it in their heart.

She's now part of a collaborative focused specifically on reaching sexual violence victims and it's seeing unexpected results. Advocates say this past year they had hoped to provide legal and support services to 40 victims who were assaulted by a non intimate partner such as a relative employer or stranger. But within the first eight months they heard from twice that many.

What that said is that the problem is has not been addressed and Bautista runs the immigration clinic at the nonprofit Access Inc.

The organization focused for decades of domestic violence victims but launched Save or sexual assault victim empowerment legal network when it realized many clients had also been violated sexually.

The less support you have the less I guess knowledge you have about what your what protections are available to you. And having a good supportive network makes you more vulnerable.

The program takes a culturally sensitive approach to counter barriers that making victims silent access legal advocate Yolanda Torres via says each immigrant community rep holds regular workshops that bring mostly women together to talk about life. This creates a comfortable atmosphere that has led some in her group to open up.

One of them just say that she loves coming to the group because she felt safe and she feel empowered and she started sharing her experience that she didn't trust men and any men in her life because she was abused by her uncle was Torres via represents Latina and mishti communities which includes a marginalized indigenous group in Mexico.

Ahmed works with the Middle Eastern community and others represent the African Filipina and Vietnamese populations. They each also serve at the networks walk in legal clinics. So when a victim comes for help someone is there who knows their language and how to ask about such a taboo topic in your lifetime.

Have you ever been like touch or or somebody made you feel uncomfortable and that's when they say yes she says.

Now she's often the first person many victims tell about their assaults and the stories stick with her. She recalled one woman's experience of being raped by her father.

I was 9 years old who would threaten me that he was going to kill my mom and brothers if I wouldn't go with him outside the store issue Torres Villa has a similar storage room at her home and for a while couldn't bring herself to go in there. It was scary. The who would find her there. But it was just it was just. It was like images coming to my head like when they were like told me all this stuff like oh go home.

I would drive home and I would cry in my car she says it took a long time to accept she couldn't prevent what had happened to them in the past but that she can help them now.

Joining me now is KPP Speak City Heights reporter Taryn Monteux. Karen welcome. Thanks Maureen. What is the new data you refer to on sexual assault in immigrant communities what does it say.

Well it comes from the Sexual Assault Victim Empowerment Legal Network which is run by a nonprofit and a couple of other community advocacy groups. And it attempted to reach 40 immigrant victims of sexual assault in one year support immigrant victims with legal services and other assistance. But within the first eight months of this program they actually heard from 83 victims of sexual assault which was quite a surprise to the organization and which leads them to believe that this is far more pervasive pervasive than than previously expected.

So what kind of cultural pressure are these victims under to keep silent to not to talk about it.

I think the best example is in a story when we were speaking at that Middle Eastern community group event that was going on. That said one woman was talking about how when a woman is a victim of something some sort of violence specifically domestic violence the family in the culture encourages them to stay with that individual and be loyal to one's spouse or one's husband. And so that's really tough for immigrant women to break with that culture when they're actually coming over here to the U.S. they kind of bring that sense with them.

So it's a culture as I mentioned the story that appears to shame and blame the abused and protect the abuser. And that's difficult for them to overcome.

And that transfers to sexual abuse as well.

Right. Right. Which is even more taboo because it's far more of an intimate topic for women to discuss. And so it feels maybe more of a betrayal in terms of the loyalty you possibly if the if the perpetrator is a spouse. And then also it's very very intimate and a lot of these communities are incredibly private.

How do they access Counselors try to overcome these cultural barriers.

They have a two pronged approach. And first they have advocates that represent the immigrant communities that they are trying to reach. For example the Latina community in Mushtaq is an indigenous group from Mexico and they have an empowerment group where they bring women from these communities and men are welcome to it just mostly women. They bring women together just to talk about life. You know talking about health issues or or crafting and creating this comfortable atmosphere so that when someone does want to share these stories of these terrible experiences that happened they feel more comfortable.

And also these advocates who represent the Vietnamese Filipina African Middle Eastern and again Latino communities. They also work at the legal clinic so when victims do come in to seek their assistance there is someone there that reflects their own community knows their culture and knows their language.

Now the testimony of Christine blowsy forward at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings led to an outpouring of women revealing their experiences of sexual assault. Did that also have an impact on the women in the immigrant community.

Right so speaking to Dale Claus Ahmed license to freedom. When we went to the empowerment group of Middle Eastern women that one day that's mentioned in our story. She was speaking a lot about Dr. Fords testimony in this situation and it was so much cut a lot of women you know might not speak English very fluently yet. And there was just so much coverage around the event that they knew something was going on. And so Dale was took the opportunity to speak to them about it and talk and say you know this woman claims that something so long ago happened and she still stood up and said something and she was trying to tell them you know it's never too late and use and use Dr. for and say you know look at her courage and you can do it too.

And she said that there was one woman who came in and said you know I'm not really sure what's going on the news. But some people have told me it's about sexual assault and I identify as as a victim as a survivor. And so she said that she saw a little bit of an impact from that recently. Yes.

I was really struck by the legal adviser who said she'd break down in her car after hearing some of the stories told by her immigrant clients are these agencies receiving support from the larger San Diego outreach community.

Well I know that woman did say that she she did have to seek some some counseling services for herself. She was experiencing vicarious trauma. And they know you know speaking with Bautista she said that this is this was a new a new different a new type of circumstance in abuse that these advocates were hearing primarily it was domestic violence and this opened the door up to a new kind of trauma for the women then that transferred to them. So I know that yes some of them have had to reach out to get some additional help themselves.

Are there any plans to prosecute any of these cases or are they all beyond the statute of limitations.

Well it's really up to what the woman or the victim decides. So there was eighty three victims within eight months that were assaulted or claimed they were assaulted by a non intimate partner which is a relative or an employer. And so it's up to the the person to decide what they want to do. And sometimes that may be filing a police report. But sometimes that may be looking at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for Assistance. But it doesn't always get to the point where it's a case before the office and I think that and Bautista who leads the Legal Clinic said that about five have progressed to some sort of criminal charge and she said two of the perpetrators pled guilty.

I've been speaking with KPBS Speaks reporter Tarryn Mento. Thank you.