Orchid Pusey, interim director of the Asian Women's Shelter in San Francisco, says cultural differences can have a big influence on the attitudes and responses to domestic violence. How is your job different from someone’s who works at a non-cultural domestic violence shelter?
There’s a famous 1989 case where the defendant justified a murder for the “defense of traditional Chinese values” and got five years of probation. What are the challenges that come with working with someone from a similar ethnic background? It can help to talk to someone as the same background as you, but it can also be really hard. During the Mirkarimi trial, I was worried the community at large would misunderstand the role of domestic violence agencies. One of the main things AWS wants to do is open a public center that’s about a new way of life.
This story appeared as part of a special report on domestic violence in the Fall 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press. Orchid Pusey said one of the Asian Women's Shelter's core values is to look for those who have been forgotten or left out. Ruth Tam is a senior at Tufts University studying English, Communications & Media Studies and Studio Art. She talked with San Francisco Public Press reporter Ruth Tam about the challenges facing service providers in the city.


Before that I was a volunteer and a language advocate where I did bilingual advocacy and interpretation with English and Mandarin. The culture of domestic violence cooperation here is really movement-based, survivor-centered and more aware of the community. For the measurable things, we do all of our intakes and exit surveys so that our evaluation methods have quantitative measures of success. At the shelter, we ask each resident to make a list of food that they’d like us to pick up. La Casa de Las Madres put out that big billboard that said “Domestic violence is never a family matter.” And the same billboard company offered us an opportunity to put up a similar message in Japantown or Chinatown. It would be part of the community where everyone who goes there is connected to a bigger vision of nonviolence. For example, in San Francisco, there is not a single domestic violence provider that forces or pushes a survivor to engage with the state.
We realize that getting the right kind of rice, melon or green might sound trivial, but picking the right kind of green can be a step to ending domestic violence. Someone will say, ‘Oh, you know how it is for us.’ But it’s not like you know what that means just because you’re from the same country of origin. Some people might read that and think that if they tell a friend about abuse, their friend is going to tell the police and the media, and their whole life is going to be public. When we say our percentage of success is at 80 percent, we mean that 80 percent of our clients move on to that next step.


I want people to know that in San Francisco, if you choose to get support as a domestic violence survivor, you aren’t forced to file a police report.
If ‘safe’ means a certain kind of green, we’ll buy that green whenever that survivor writes it on our list.
A lot of times, when people say, “You know how it is in our culture,” what they really mean is ‘This is how it was in my family. But when we’re at our best, we can make sure that when violence happens, we can address it immediately and repair it. If that happens, we want to make sure it’s because they chose it, not because they had no other option.
When other shelters are just, “wham, bam, get it done” with restraining orders, police reports and transitional housing, it just treats someone like an issue. To us, success is having options and choosing one that is violence free and self-sustainable.



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