Helping refugee women fight domestic violence

May 3, 2011

Refugees face a lot of stress.  They’re usually escaping war or poverty.  They land here unable to speak English and without a means of support.  But for some women, there’s the additional burden of domestic violence.

Carlin Yoophum has worked for the Refugee Women’s Alliance in Seattle for 17 years.  She says women who are abused by a spouse often have to overcome cultural barriers.

“I think that domestic violence is perceived as a family problem,” Yoophum said.

For example, Yoophum says in Laos, where she was born, there aren’t services to help women who are  domestic violence or sexual assault victims.  She says calling the police isn’t really an option.

"I know growing up back home, if the police come they tell you to take care of it yourself, that it's a family matter," Yoophum said.

The Refugee Women’s Alliance works to teach women about the court system and the services that are available in the U.S. if they’re being abused.  And those efforts are about to be expanded.

The Alliance is launching an outreach effort aimed at men and boys. The idea, according to Yoophum, is to concentrate on prevention.

"We are working so hard to end violence, and the best way to do it is to educate the next generation, to  prevent it before it gets worse,” Yoophum said.

The Refugee Women’s Alliance will pay for the project with a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.  The organization was one of 23 groups in the country to receive money from the Engaging Men Grant Program.