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Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is said to be one of the most underreported crimes worldwide for both men and women. It occurs among all socioeconomic, religious and cultural groups, and is one of the major public health issues in the United States that has significant long-term physical and mental health consequences.
World Health Organization defines Intimate partner violence as behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, and psychological abuse and controlling behaviors. According to a report, published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 women in the Asian communities in the US have been victims of physical violence, rape or stalking.
To understand more about the issue and the available support in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Asian Aces talked to the team of CHETNA, a non-profit organization that is committed to empowering South-Asians affected by Domestic Violence.
CHETNA was co-founded by two professionally accomplished women – Anu Agarwal, an entrepreneur and Ila Sarkar, a Statistician, who met through their social networks and identified a need for a reliable and safe place where individuals in the South Asian community could seek help in the situations of domestic and family violence.
Today, they are an active and engaged team with several long standing board members including Sushma Malhotra, Mina Kini, Partho Ghosh, and Anji Mittal, two full time staff, Program Manager Tasneem Rajan and Client Advocate Tulsi Naik, part time/contracted providers, and many volunteers who contribute towards the welfare of survivors. This team assists individuals, both male and female who experience domestic violence, with assistance in identifying their needs (case management), support during legal cases (divorce/child custody and immigration) and in becoming self-sufficient in their journey free from violence.
CHETNA also provides workshops to aid in enhancing skills, education, and employability, and to empower victims to achieve and lead an independent life. Their staff regularly conducts awareness presentations highlighting South Asian cultural and communal issues that at times becomes the basis of waning relationships.
Can you briefly walk us through the story of CHETNA – When did it start and what was the idea behind starting this organization?
We incorporated CHETNA in 2005 after identifying the need in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to have services for South Asian victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a complex issue in the South Asian community. Multi-faceted and intricate challenges like language, immigration status, lack of family support, cultural and/or religious barriers keep South Asian victims in abusive situations for longer periods of time and prevent them from seeking outside assistance.
We recognized the uniqueness of this experience in the South Asian community and decided to fill the void by providing culture-specific services to victims that are not always understood by mainstream service providers.
How big is the problem?
The data is alarming, and South-Asian victims may be more at risk and less likely to come forward and acquire assistance due to cultural norms and stigmas. The problem is growing with the growing population of the South Asian community in the area.
CHETNA receives approximately 150 calls on the helpline annually, and we have about 40-50 long-term case management clients that we serve every year. The increase in call volume may be due to the increased visibility and reach of our organization in the community and can be attributed to our focus on community outreach and education.
In such cases, it is often seen that either the victim is in denial or busy fixing the wrong problem. Low self-esteem makes the situation worse. How do you help your clients revive their situation?
There are a few programs that we have undertaken to revive the situation of our clients.
We provide domestic violence counseling sessions for our clients through contracted South Asian therapists. These professionals assist our clients in overcoming the abuse and trauma they have faced. Our contracted therapists also offer psychoeducational groups to provide education to victims in areas such as self-care, stress management, self-esteem, etc and to help them increase their social support system with other individuals in similar situations.
We also provide referrals to local shelters for 30 to 90 days for clients who are in danger and need a safe place to transition when they are seeking independence from their abusive partner or family. Long-term housing needs can be fulfilled through our Flexible Transitional Housing program.
To help clients achieve economic independence, we work towards skill enhancement to increase employability chances. CHETNA partners with experts to provide our clients with financial literacy workshops topics such as checking/savings accounts, budgeting and credit repair. Additionally, clients can participate in workforce development workshops for job readiness, interview skills, and resume building and were also eligible to apply for financial assistance towards certifications/courses that increased their chances of finding jobs or enhancing their careers.
In 2012 we started a microfinance program to assist clients by providing small ($3,000 or less) interest-free loans that can be used for skill enhancement or any other goal towards self-sufficiency.
How do you run this organization? What is your surviving model?
As a small non-profit agency, we rely on the generosity of individual donors and organizational contributions for our functioning capital. Also, we actively seek out grant funding and focus on ongoing fundraising efforts through our Annual Gala in April and other events, where we have the opportunity to raise funds while we build awareness about our work and ways we can help individuals experiencing partner or family violence.
Please tell our readers how can they support and contribute to the cause.
Every individual has the power to make a difference. People can support the cause in three ways – (a) By growing awareness about the issue of Domestic Violence, (b) By spreading the word about CHETNA, and (c) By contributing to the cause financially.
Our helpline is 1-888-924-3862, and we have a website with resources – www.chetna-dfw.org that can be safely explored to learn more about domestic violence and the programs and services we offer to assist in these situations, upcoming events, fundraising, and available volunteer opportunities.