When I was in middle school, my mother was a victim of assault and battery. However, due to her limited English proficiency, she was unable to communicate to the police what had occurred to even make a police report. I felt helpless and angry about my mother’s inability to access the justice system. It was at that moment that I decided to become an attorney — to bring justice for crime victims and expand access to Asian Americans.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and on the 25th, we participate in Denim Day — a campaign to prevent sexual violence through education and public awareness. Denim Day stems from an incident in which the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction of an 18-year-old girl by her driving instructor, saying that because the victim wore tight jeans, she must have helped the attacker remove the jeans, making the act consensual. Within hours of the decision, women throughout Italy wore denim in protest. Every year we, too, wear denim as a sign of protest against sexual violence.
Sadly, in the SAFE project, we see cases of sexual and domestic violence all too often. I can’t help but think of one of our clients, Ann.* Ann was physically abused and sexually assaulted by her husband, Bill.* In preparing Ann’s restraining order paperwork, we discussed the pros and cons of including the facts about the marital rape issue. Ann ultimately decided against including those facts to avoid the shame and retraumatization in testifying about such intimate facts in public, and also because of the difficulty in proving rape, which ultimately comes down to a he-said-she-said battle.
Unfortunately, this is a decision that many survivors make. Survivors often minimize their sexual assault experience if there are other facts to support their claim in their seeking protection from their batterers. Until there is greater awareness and recognition of rape within the marital and intimate relationship context, coupled with greater education on the cycle of abuse, sexual assault survivors will continue to remain silent.
In the past year, our project grew tremendously to better meet the needs of our community. This would not have been possible without my team — I am so proud of each member. They each bring a unique background and perspective to the work, but they all come with a common goal: to help survivors break the cycle of abuse. This year we expanded our domestic violence restraining order work by launching a clinic utilizing pro bono attorneys and volunteer interpreters to provide even more assistance to limited-English proficient survivors. We have also been working to increase our court representation of survivors. I am humbled by the resilience of our clients and hope to help empower as many as possible to get the help they deserve.
While it’s already difficult for many people to openly discuss domestic violence, it is even more difficult to have an open dialogue about sexual abuse and sexual assault. Awareness and education are the first steps towards addressing and fighting sexual violence.
Everyone can be involved to help raise awareness and combat sexual violence including reaching out to get help, or sharing resources with a friend or family member. If you know someone who may need assistance, please contact us.
Advancing Justice-LA Helpline
National Domestic Violence Hotline
800–799-SAFE (7233) or 800–787–3224 (TDD)
National Sexual Assault Hotline
Advancing Justice-LA’s SAFE Project provides free legal services for survivors in the area of domestic violence family law. We assist survivors in obtaining restraining orders, and custody and support orders, and help them to dissolve their legal relationship with their batterers. We can also connect survivors to crucial social services, such as shelter and counseling. We partner with domestic violence organizations such as the Korean American Family Services (KFAM), South Asian Helpline and Referral Agency (SAHARA), South Asian Network (SAN), and with the Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF).
*Names changed to protect the client’s identity
By: Sandra Chung, Director of SAFE Project
This blog post was originally published on April 24, 2018 on our organization’s website blog.