The next step: Looking at domestic violence in Hawaii through a cultural lens

Beth-Ann Kozlovich

with Beth-Ann Kozlovich

HONOLULU—She doesn’t know how this happened. He threatens her, hurts her, maybe even their children. Sometimes he tells her she deserves it, or he denies it altogether. How many women in Hawaii deal with this situation? In truth, we can only guess. While there are some statistics about Hawaii’s rate of domestic violence, agencies who deal with abused women say much goes unreported or minimized and is often shielded by shame, family, even police.

For 30 years, Nanci Kreidman has worked to end domestic violence in Hawaii. Now the CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC), Kreidman says she can’t categorically say whether the status of domestic violence has improved. What she can say is that we have made progress: There is help. There are programs and shelters that weren’t available three decades ago, but as with many social programs, and in this case, too, money and physical places are lacking to help all the adults and children who need them.

Despite the cases that have bled through a few news cycles, and an annual men’s march and rally held at the State Capitol—Thursday was the 16th incarnation—Kreidman says fixing domestic violence is still a low priority.

“Many people think we’ve handled that already and we allow people to look the other way,” Kriedman says. “We’ve done a miserable job with prevention. We’ve seen some remarkable change, but not enough prevention, public awareness, and direct services.”

And Kriedman says she finds it incredible how taking a stand against domestic violence is still thwarted by a privacy ethic, leaving many family members, friends, and neighbors to wonder if they can or should help, or whether it’s appropriate for them to get involved or ask for support on behalf of someone who needs it.

“This is costing the community and it’s costing lives,” Kriedman says.

This year, it took eight lives according to the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Over each year of the last decade, between three and 10 lives were ended violently at the hands of someone else. Most perpetrators were known to the victims, mostly women, while some were men trying to intercede and protect, one was a good Samaritan.

Two years into, and technically out of an economic maelstrom, Faye Ramos, Catholic Charities director of the Mary Jane program, cautions that the recession should not be a smokescreen to excuse the basic issues.

“People are complex,” Ramos says. “Domestic violence becomes so normal [for some people], it’s not recognizable.”

While the recession has certainly exacerbated some domestic violence tendencies, Kriedman’s focus is sharply on “an imbalance of power, plus cultural norms and belief systems that condone domestic violence of one person over another.”

Both Ramos and Kreidman agree that although there has been an increase in general awareness and a commitment to ending family violence, programs need to do a better job of viewing it through a cultural lens.

“We can’t assume that what happens in a Korean, Chinese, or Filipino family crosses all cultures, “says Kreidman. “If we don’t keep it front of mind, it will fade into the background because of the shame.”

Money continues to be the issue.

“2009 was a very scary year for domestic violence programs. The cutbacks that our programs suffered were pretty significant. At DVAC alone we laid off 11 people and had a 30 percent cut in our budget,” Kriedman explains. “We just have to remind our elected leaders, policy makers, and funding sources that this is a community priority and without the resources invested we will continue to face hundreds and hundreds of people needing our help.”

On the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, a relationship quiz surveys basic personal safety and independence issues. The questions range from name calling to threats of injury. None would make most women want to stay with a man whose behavior would elicit a “yes” response from any of the questions, and Ramos says that’s worth noting.

“The important thing to realize is that relationships don’t start out that way,” Ramos explains. “They start out with courting, thoughtfulness, very charismatic at times and slowly it evolves into something very different. When a pregnancy, marriage, or a deeper commitment comes into it, these kinds of traits appear and a woman gets woven in.”

Many women and children are indeed caught in a warped and violent version of family life. The snapshot of the 2009 Domestic Violence Counts Hawaii Summary shows that on the day the survey was taken, 505 victims were in emergency places of safety, in transitional housing, or engaged in a program providing nonresidential services, legal assistance, or counseling. Taken annually in September, the survey is a 24-hour census of domestic violence services and shelters.

The 2010 summary is soon to be released, and neither Kreidman nor Ramos speculates how many victims seeking help it will show. And those will be the lucky ones. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.” Boys are particularly vulnerable. Those “who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.”

The seven women and one young teen who have already lost their lives to domestic violence this year have no more choices to make. The questions continue to be at what point family education and public awareness will be enough to create and support a cross-cultural ethos of non violence ... and whether we really will make this a community priority or just another cloned conversation from 30 years ago.

The entire interview with Nanci Kreidman and Faye Ramos is on the Town Square archive at Reach Beth-Ann Kozlovich at [email protected]

Domestic Violence Action Center
P.O. Box 3198
Honolulu, HI 96801-3198
Legal Helpline: (808) 531-3771
Toll-Free Neighbor Island Helpline: 1-800-690-6200
Business Office and Administration: (808) 534-0040

Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
716 Umi Street, Suite 210
Honolulu, HI 96819-2337
(808) 832-9316