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SMC hosts symposium on domestic violence

| Friday, November 21, 2014

Saint Mary’s Justice Education Department hosted a symposium on intersectionality and domestic violence in Rice Commons on Thursday night.

Domestic violence cannot be reduced to studying just violence or relationships, Justice Education interim coordinator Adrienne Lyles-Chockley said. The symposium explored “the interrelated factors at play in regard to the question, ‘Why don’t women in abusive relationships just leave?’”

Lyles-Chockley said this query cannot be addressed in its entirety without taking race, culture, class, gender, sexuality, socio-economic background, disability and immigration status into account. The question’s “language is loaded and problematic,” she said.

The symposium provided a day-long forum on mental health, law, social work, healthcare and education professionals, Lyles-Chockley said.

In a section of the symposium entitled “Domestic Violence, Ethnicity and Culture,” Elena Zarandona, an Elkhart psychological and family consultant, and Mary Smith, a bilingual domestic violence survivor advocate at the YWCA, said the group’s mission to help survivors of domestic violence was inspired by personal experience.

Many of the panelists and the individuals who have helped me organize the event are survivors of [domestic violence],” Lyles-Chockley said.

Zarandona said Hispanic women, like herself, are less likely to seek government-offered shelter from domestic violence because they want to protect their children from further danger.

“When we talk about Hispanic women, Muslim and certain countries, they have to bring their children where other people are using drugs or acting with certain behavior, that doesn’t feel right to them,” Zarandona said. “I’m just an abused woman to you. I don’t want my kids and I don’t want myself to experience this behavior from another person that doesn’t think like me, that doesn’t look like me.”

Zarandona said citizenship status and the possibility of having one’s child removed by social services directly influences whether or not women report abuse.

Zarandona said she prefers the term “survivor” to “victim” because women who endure domestic violence do defend themselves, even if they are trapped or isolated.

“My job is to make this woman more empowered, to make this women feel as if it is okay to be by herself again,” she said.

Developing this sense of independence is particularly hard because of the sincere sense of intimacy the perpetrator of domestic violence shares with the survivor, Zarandona said.

“It’s a confusing way of loving, but it is a way of loving,” she said. “It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility to get better. Take yourself seriously.”

Smith said many women who leave the YWCA after the 45-day maximum stay will return to a violent situation at home because they do not have a support system elsewhere.

This support is especially hard to find if the survivor faces a language barrier, Smith said. On top of all other obstacles that survivors of domestic violence face, a language barrier is hard to overcome.

Lyles-Chockley said she hopes event attendees leave with a more holistic understanding of what domestic violence is, why women stay and how to become “loving and effective allies and friends to the women who are in, and/or leaving, abusive relationships.”

“We hope that the symposium helps our community better respond to domestic violence and assist us all in being better advocates, friends and allies to women who are in, and trying to get out of, abusive relationships,” Lyles-Chockley said.

Smith said being aware of resources makes a significant difference to survivors of domestic violence.

“It’s amazing how much you grow when a hand is extended to you,” she said.

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