Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is observed in the United States every October, is a sobering reminder of the extensive and devastating impact of domestic violence – also known as intimate partner violence – on women, children, and families, both here in the USA, and internationally. According to the National Violence Against Women Survey (2000) funded by the Department of Justice, 25% of women and 7.6% of men said that they were physically or sexually assaulted by a spouse or cohabitating partner at least once. Actual rates of abuse may be much higher, as intimate partner violence remains stigmatized and individuals may be reluctant to report abuse. Intimate partner violence also takes a huge economic toll, costing Americans $4.1 billion in direct medical services every year.
Rural women who attempt to escape and overcome intimate partner violence can face enormous challenges not encountered by their urban peers, such as being physically distant from victim service organizations and “acquaintance density” – in which in familiarity among residents makes victims less likely to report. Rural undocumented immigrant women face even more challenges, including language barriers, border patrol checkpoints (which make it difficult to travel to services in urban areas), and fear of deportation or separation from their children.
In order to highlight the ways in which public health practitioners can reach out to rural and immigrant women, this month’s newsletter features an interview with Jean McClelland, Program Director for Community Based Health Information Resources at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. For the last ten years, Jean has worked closely with Maia Ingram, Program Director for Community Based Evaluation Programs at the College of Public Health, and community partners serving immigrant victims of violence in southern Arizona, on the Southern Arizona Battered Immigrant Women Project. This group, together with local Battered Immigrant Women Task Force and Coordinated Community Response Team members collaborated to create the Community Toolkit for a Coordinated Community Response to Immigrant Victims of Violence to help communities develop or strengthen their coordinated response to victims. This toolkit is available for free and easy to use, and you should definitely check it out!
RWHI: This community toolkit is a product of the Southern Arizona Battered Immigrant Women Project. How did this project get started?
Jean: The Project started in Pima County after a group of victim advocates and immigration attorneys working with immigrant survivors joined forces with the Governor’s Office for Children Youth and Families (GOCYF) to secure funding that had become available through the Department of Justice because of the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The purpose of this funding was to educate and provide training for key providers of services to women and families, like law enforcement, courts, crisis services, educators, and other basic health and human service providers so that they would understand the rights and needs unique to immigrant victims and could safely refer people to the other services that they need. The funding also supported public awareness so that victims would know they have rights and could access the services they need.
The first two years of the project involved Pima County’s existing Battered Immigrant Women’s Task Force, and the project added in the CCRTs [Community Crisis Response Teams] from Cochise and Santa Cruz counties right away. By the third year, the project evolved to be the Southern Arizona BIW Project and includes Pinal, Yuma, and Graham/Greenlee counties, all of whom originally had a standing CCRT collaborating on the grant.
RWHI: What might be some extra challenges faced by battered women who live in rural areas, particularly immigrant women?
Jean: There are intense barriers that women experiencing domestic violence may face in rural areas. For starters, there’s the remoteness and isolation. And, in these areas, there’s a constant need to address gaps and keep service providers and law enforcement updated and trained, in the face of staffing shortages and constant turnover. There’s also the problem of changes in local legislation and policies spanning the past ten years. It’s been kind of an obstacle course throughout, on our end. For example, the grant is intended for rural counties based on the federal definitions from the US Department of Health and Human Services, and in the middle of the project most of Pima and Yuma Counties were suddenly no longer eligible for funding—even parts of Pinal County. Often women in rural areas may only be able to access services in the nearest urban setting.
And then, with immigrant women, add the language barrier, the abuser’s threats to involve the Border Patrol, the fear of being separated from her children. If a woman or someone in her family is undocumented, she may justifiably fear the police or sheriff, which doesn’t help, even though she is a victim of violent crime.
RWHI: What inspired the BIW Project to make the Community Toolkit?
Jean: The Toolkit is a way for us to pull together all the experience and hard work of all of our project partners and local task force members. We designed it as the “go-to” place for resources and tools and training that have been developed and/or utilized or requested by local task forces and community members. We also hoped it would be a model that other communities in the country can use.
The protocol that we outline in the toolkit is intended to be the ideal response. In a (nearly) perfect world—a perfect world would, after all, be free from violence--all of these elements should be present, everyone should be trained, and everyone should be working together to provide a truly safe environment for victims.
RWHI: What kinds of organizations would benefit from using the Toolkit?
Jean: It’s intended for anyone trying to collaborate and coordinate services [creating a “community coordinated response”], like local task forces, law enforcement, health care providers, educators, victim services and advocates. The Toolkit was launched last October, when the training videos and public awareness videos were completed, and it was also just accepted in June by Community Engaged Scholarship for Health. It’s mostly been used by coordinators of the BIW Task Forces so far, though I have been in touch with some folks in Connecticut interested in doing similar work with immigrant victims in courts and county health departments.
RWHI: The Community Toolkit contains a training video that focuses on the VAWA self-petition and the U-Visa as a means of providing immigration relief to victims. Can you explain who can apply for the VAWA self-petition and what it does? And who can apply for the U-visa and what does that do?
Jean: I’m not an immigration attorney, so I am not the one to answer that question. People who want more information on the VAWA self-petition and the U-visa should really contact their local BIW Task Force Coordinator and request a training that can be tailored to their information and agency needs. That is the best way to begin to learn about VAWA and what you can do to enhance community safety and collaboration. Trainings can also include basics about the Violence Against Women Act, and basics about domestic violence, something we tend to call “VAWA 101” and “DV 101”. You can find your local coordinator on the website’s main page. If you are not in southern Arizona, you can also always contact me and I will find someone to help organize a training in your area.
Really, if you suspect anyone is eligible, you should get them in touch with your local Task Force or a qualified and experienced immigration attorney, such as those working out of Southern Arizona Legal Aid (SALA).
RWHI: What does the future of the Toolkit look like?
Jean: This website is a living document. If service providers send us more information that has been useful to them, and as new training tools and resources are developed, and laws and policies change and evolve, we’ll be adding to it and updating it. If people already use a resource that they find useful, then we encourage them to send it to us, and we’ll review it with our partners and very likely add it to the Toolkit. We welcome all collaboration that can make southern Arizona safe for all victims of sexual violence or domestic violence.
Also, you have to remember this has been a ten-year long project – more than that, we started in 2001. Though we submitted for a continuation that would bring sexual assault trauma services to our rural partner counties, we are still waiting to hear, and our current funding will be up at the end of December. If the funding’s not renewed, we might lose our coordinators in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Santa Cruz Counties. But the Toolkit itself will stay no matter what, and we will continue to add to it. That’s the message I want to get across: we have collaborated to create this really great Toolkit and model for true Coordinated Community Response to Immigrant Victims that’s ten years in the making and it will continue to be housed on the Center for Rural Health website.
RWHI: The Violence Against Women Act, which was first enacted in 1994, is currently held up in the renewal process because some members of Congress want to limit the number of visas given to abused undocumented immigrants, among other concerns. How would you respond to someone who thinks that the work you do is controversial? (For more information, click here .)
Jean: The work that our project partners are doing is vital to ensuring the safety and quality of life of countless survivors of violence and their children. There have been great advances in providing crucial services to diverse victims of violence through VAWA’s evolution and throughout the life of this project in southern Arizona, through the great commitment and courage continually demonstrated by our partners. And, yes, the economic and political climate is always changing, public policies are continually changing…but it’s essential that people understand that this resource is here, that all victims have rights, regardless of their immigration status. And it’s essential that people collaborate and work for community safety. It’s an ongoing process. Until these bridges are built and sustained, we can’t possibly have a coordinated response for people in potentially lethal situations.
Two important guiding principles that are foundations of our project are that violence against anyone, regardless of immigration status, is a crime and a violation of human rights; and that the safety of everyone in our communities is compromised if we fail to provide protection to any one group in our communities.
RWHI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jean: We’d love for people to use the Toolkit and join the task forces. The Toolkit is already there, and there are trainings available if you join or contact the task force. We know that travel to trainings can be a challenge, so we try to keep as much information online and share resources among the task forces, and, ideally, you can look to these individuals to guide you through. We’re a problem-solving group, so we want to respond to the diverse needs that communities have and achieve safety and well-being for everyone.
39th Arizona Rural Health Conference: Innovations and Opportunities
Dates: September 13th – 14th
Presented by: The University of Arizona, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
Location: Desert Diamond Casino and Hotel, Tucson, AZ
Details: On-line registration will be available mid-June
Contact: Rebecca Ruiz, (520) 626-2243, email@example.com
Click here to go to the website
2012 Annual APRIL Conference
Dates: October 5th-8th
Presented by: Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Location: Grand Sierra Resort & Casino, Reno, NV
Contact: Elissa Ellis, (501) 753-3400, firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to go to the website.
Addressing the Psychological Health of Warriors and Their Familiees
Dates: October 22nd-26th
Presented by: Center for Developmental Psychology
Location: University of Utah Guest House and Conference Center, Salt Lake City, UT
Contact: Robyn Hulvey, email@example.com
Click here to go to the website.
Arizona Family Planning Services Grant
Deadline: October 1, 2012
Purpose: Grants to establish and operate voluntary family planning services projects, which will provide family planning services to all people within the applicant's designated service area. Family planning services include clinical family planning and related preventive health services; information, education, and counseling related to family planning; and referral services
Amount: $4,955,000 is available
Click here for more information.
The Arizona Rural Women’s Health Initiative (AzRWHI) is a project of the Center for Rural Health at The University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.