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Domestic Violence Hotline Stays Connected

Five new languages are added, for a total of 11, in an ongoing effort to reach out to L.A. County residents needing shelter and safety.

September 10, 2004|Arlene Martinez | Times Staff Writer

Nicole Brown Simpson was found murdered 10 years ago. Her former husband, O.J. Simpson, who had been accused of spousal battery during their marriage, was charged with the crime.

The trial riveted the nation, and that public interest created momentum for reforms in the criminal justice system, including creation of the Los Angeles County domestic violence hotline.

The case highlighted the fact that domestic violence "could affect anyone across all cultures and economic groups," said Carol Baker, director of the Los Angeles County Bureau of Crime Prevention and Youth Services.

"If someone with means can't get out, you can imagine how it is with people who don't have the resources," Baker said.

The hotline recently added five languages -- Tagalog, Khmer, Japanese, Thai and Armenian -- to now total 11.

English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin continue to be offered.

"A lot of services have a separate hotline, but we wanted to have one hotline that anyone could call that could connect them to ... help them find shelter and safety," said Mark Delgado, deputy director of the Bureau of Crime Prevention and Youth Services.

"The last thing we want is for language to prevent anybody who needs assistance from coming forward."

Twenty shelters are associated with the hotline. The hotline routes the caller to the appropriate agency.

Organizations like Rainbow Services offer assistance to Spanish speakers, while the Glendale YWCA helps Armenian speakers.

The Center for the Pan Pacific Asian Family offers counselors who speak seven Asian and Pacific Islander languages.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that 960,000 to 4-million incidents of domestic violence occur each year.

In its first year, the hotline received an average 394 calls a month. Last year, the hotline recorded 1,359 calls a month, according to the district attorney's office.

The cost of the service is $10,000 per year, paid for through a combination of government grants, corporate and organizational funds and private donations.

Advocates have applauded the additional language service.

Like the Latino community, the Asian population is not homogenous, said Debra Suh, executive director of the Center for the Pan Pacific Asian Family. Tending to the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of the area's diverse populations is a constant challenge.

"The [Asian Pacific Islander population] has so many different languages," said Chun-Yen Chen, executive director of the Asian Pacific Women's Center in Los Angeles. "Even we still struggle for outreach and language."

Her center does not serve the Hmong population because there are no volunteers who speak the language. Recently, a hearing-impaired Cantonese-speaking woman came into the shelter. The staff was forced to scramble to get someone who could communicate with her.

Justice Department statistics show domestic violence is consistent across racial and ethnic boundaries.

And while research suggests that immigrant women are as likely to be abused as U.S.-born women, they face additional hardships.

Not understanding English, a lack of understanding of immigration law and, most importantly, fear over legal status are some of the additional issues for foreign-born women, said Leslye Orloff, director of Immigrant Women Program at Washington, D.C.-based Legal Momentum.

"Immigrants are less likely to get help than U.S.-born women," Orloff said. "The biggest single barrier is not language access. The biggest barrier is fear of deportation."

Even if an abused woman knows enough to file for her immigration status -- which under law she can apply for on her own if her husband is a U.S. citizen -- the process often takes a year or two.

During that time, a woman is not eligible to work.

And with few work skills and limited English abilities, even with legal status, the situation seems bleak.

Orloff said battered immigrants sometimes must chose between danger at home and starvation and poverty if they leave.

Laws in a woman's home country also can affect how or if an immigrant seeks help in the United States.

In the Philippines, for example, divorce is illegal. Chilean law also banned divorce until recently. An old Mexican law, abandono de hogar, makes it illegal to abandon one's house or family.

"Their culture tells them not to leave, to try to maintain their marriage ... ," said Chen, of the Asian Pacific Women's Center in Los Angeles.

The hotline can be reached at (800) 978-3600.

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