In January 2010, 368 women accessed services at Battered Women’s Support Services. Services included victim services, support groups, legal advocacy, employment program and counseling. Further, over 500 women called our crisis line.  Of the 368 women who accessed services face to face, 52% were NSRIW.  This occurs in the context of Vancouver where there is a high percentage of people of colour and Immigrant populations. In 2006, 51.0% of Vancouver’s total population identified as immigrant; this is an increase from 49.0% in 2001 and 44.8% in 1996 (The City of Vancouver, 2009).

In recognition of the increased presence of people of colour and Immigrant populations in our communities, anti-violence service providers have attempted to become more “diverse.”  There are reasons to believe that these attempts at “multicultural interventions” against intimate partner violence have actually strengthened the social/structural underpinnings of oppression. For instance, overemphasizing a criminal justice response and largely ignoring social structures that contribute to violence against women in relationships can strengthen the social/structural underpinnings of oppression.  The model of intimate partner violence service provision, which has largely been developed from a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class woman’s perspective, is encouraged to become more inclusive by adding multicultural components.  But simply adding inclusive components does not necessarily shift the perspective that anti-violence service provision was developed from. Additionally, the issue and notion of culture is routinely referred to when violence against NSRIW and women of colour are discussed.  Cultural diversity, cultural competency and cultural sensitivity are desired qualities in programming.  However within mainstream organizations it is naively assumed that culture is homogeneous and easy to understand without meaningful and lasting community engagement.

Service models have generally been developed with the following characteristics:

1.    The definition of violence is limited to interpersonal violence. 
2.    The goal of intervention is to end the abuse and this is through the survivor/victim leaving the relationship.
3.    The major intervention for a woman survivor/victim is to escape the abusive situation through transition and shelter-related services.
4.    The major intervention for an abuser is the criminal legal system – i.e., police, restraining order, arrest, etc.
5.    Interventions have been individual in focus, whereas the woman is seen as victim and the man as offender.
6.    Professional boundaries and identities between the worker and client/survivor are deeply entrenched.
7.    Interventions are standardized to fit a homogeneous survivor profile. This disregards race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and immigration status and does not account for the experiences of women living with disabilities, mental health issues or substance use issues.
(Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, 2002)

Though not always visible, NSRIW’s resistance to violence against women began before the start of the mainstream feminist anti-violence movement. NSRIW survivors of violence, their family members and community have taken action in the interest of women’s safety and against these personal and societal injustices. 
Despite the history of NSRIW’s resistance to violence, Immigrant-serving organizations have largely ignored the pervasive reality of violence against women in intimate relationships.  Additionally, Immigrant-serving organizations with intimate partner violence programming tend not to have dramatically different models from mainstream anti-violence organizations except for bilingual staff and/or outreach workers.  Immigrant and Refugee organizations directly and indirectly encourage women to remain silent about their experiences of violence so as to not bring shame to their communities. 

In this context, service models have generally been developed with the following characteristics:

1.    There is an ongoing and pervasive desire to uphold cultural norms that fundamentally position women as subservient to their partners and family. 
2.    They tend to focus solely on culture as the main risk factor for women’s oppression and violence, ignoring social factors.
3.    They emphasize migration and settlement as the reason for the violence and abuse.
4.    Interventions prioritize keeping the family together at the expense of the woman’s safety.

A Woman-Centred Model

This manual seeks to present a woman-centred model.  This is a transformative model that examines and responds to women’s needs in the context of her family and community and advocates for systemic social change.

The strength of a woman-centred approach is based on working toward women’s liberation through an end to oppression.  Specifically, this ideology must serve to inform and direct efforts to manage and support the complexity of needs presented by NSRIW who have been exposed to and are still at risk of intimate partner violence.  Dealing appropriately with the spectrum of unique challenges facing NSRIW springs from a commitment to and an understanding of woman-centred values and social justice.  A women-centred approach is not necessarily about providing multicultural services. Instead it is about putting women at the centre and recognizing that violence against women is about patriarchal power and control, racism, anti-immigrant prejudice and discrimination and classism.

Addressing Gaps in the Legal System

The manual also attempts to address the gaps in laws, policies and practices that NSRIW must navigate.  The legal systems accessed by NSRIW who are dealing with violence in their intimate relationships are based on colonial male perspectives and are excessively intimidating and largely inaccessible.  The legal resources and legal assistance that have been developed to make the legal systems more accessible are also based in a majority view of the world and are, in general, inaccessible to NSRIW.  NSRIW who experience violence are often navigating several areas of law simultaneously including immigration, family, criminal and child welfare law.

Women are forced to self-represent in various legal arenas, and women who have the benefit of legal representation are interfacing with lawyers who do not have the resources to adequately explain the processes and options in terms of the legal issues and the cultural/ethnic and language implications.  Additionally, front-line workers in immigrant-serving and anti-violence organizations often overlook the extent of the legal needs, feel ill-equipped due to the magnitude and complexity of the legal needs and default to prescriptions that send women deeper into unsafe situations emotionally and physically, including back to an abuser. 

We are attempting to better resource front-line workers who are working with NSRIW that are interfacing with the legal system. We are also seeking to review and analyze current legal issues through a women-centred, ethnic/cultural/language lens and to create and develop legal resources from that lens. As a result we strive to increase the accessibility of the legal systems with which NSRIW are coming into contact.

Building Solutions – Taking Action

In conclusion, it is women-centred solutions and strong anti-oppression and feminist values that forge a bond among front-line workers striving to overcome barriers for NSRIW.  These challenges occur through individual
and collective acts of advocacy and societal change that can ultimately lead to social justice. 

Meeting the needs of women requires attitudinal and process strategies that combine sensitivity and understanding with a professional commitment to creating appropriate resources and realistic solutions while always working toward ending violence against women.  The tools, programs and practical solutions that follow will serve to support the urgent need for front-line workers to:

•    Develop community based models of accountability where communities hold offenders accountable;
•    Bring women to the centre of our programming;
•    Address the social structures and cultural values that contribute to violence against women;
•    Promote social structures that end violence;
•    Encourage service providers to stop referring to women as “clients”; and
•    To view survivors as potential activists by finding ways to bring women together to alleviate isolation and to speak truth to power. 

Our work has always been political work and this manual intends to bridge service and politics with a call to action.