Culturally-sensitive support and resources for Asian Pacific Islanders, other sexual violence survivors
Executive Director Nilda Valmores of My Sister’s House recounted meeting with a client who had been denied sexual assault services at another location. However, Valmores, being Filipina like the client herself and understanding Tagalog, noticed the woman’s shifty gaze and hesitance to describe her situation. Valmores invited her to share her story in Tagalog and the woman’s pauses and erratic behavior became clear. To a culturally insensitive organization that helps victims of sexual abuse, this woman could easily be misunderstood as untruthful.
“If I wasn’t culturally sensitive, I would have thought that she was lying too,” Valmores said. “It’s hard enough if you’re born and raised in English […] to get the help you need to tell the story that you need to tell. And to have to tell it with different words and in a different language to someone who may not understand, that’s even harder.”
The core of the mission of My Sister’s House, which provides resources and services to residents of Sacramento and Yolo Counties to counter domestic violence, sex trafficking and sexual assault, is to maintain a culturally sensitive approach. People like Valmores and Sexual Assault Prevention Specialist Michelle Huey understand how cultural positionality affects the way people process and cope with trauma.
“Dealing the the trauma [of sexual abuse] effectively means dealing with the cultural piece,” Valmores said. “And when you don’t […] you’re going to neglect serving a significant group of women.”
This preliminary understanding of culture as part and parcel of processing trauma is critical to the services that My Sister’s House provides and to the organization’s ability to provide those services to those who need them.
“She’s not supposed to be talking about sex in the first place,” Valmores said. “She’s not supposed to be talking definitely badly about her husband. She’s not supposed to be talking about what’s happening in the relationship especially in regards to the sex piece. She’s not going to have great eye contact because she’s not supposed to.”
Valmores spoke about other cultural differences that can pose barriers to accessing care.
“It’s also about delivering services differently,” Valmores said. “For example many times mainstream organizations say a training starts at two o’clock. If you’re not there at two o’clock, then the door is closed on you. But for people who have a different sense of time […] two o’clock is when they get there.”
Asian Pacific Islander women make up one eighth of the population. It is precisely this huge, albeit minority status that allowed My Sister’s House to receive a federal grant to fund Project REACH (Reaching Each Asian-Pacific Islander Community with Hope). These funds have enabled the organization to expand to Yolo County in the hopes of reaching Asian Pacific Islander women who may also be survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Numbering among their programs for these women are a Sexual Assault Survivor Support Group and a Friends and Family of Sexual Assault Survivors support group, both staffed by professional therapists.
The utilities of My Sister’s House are coming directly to the UC Davis campus on Wednesday, Jan. 17, in cooperation with SAFE and CARE. Meeting in Room B of the Student Community Center from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., My Sister’s House will be leading a discussion about sexual violence and harassment, specifically in the Southeast Asian community.
Representatives of My Sister’s House were also present at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. march in Sacramento. For Valmores, their presence there was essential.
“Sex trafficking is modern day slavery,” Valmores said. “And sex trafficking begins with sexual abuse.”
On Tuesday, My Sister’s House held its yearly conference on sex trafficking, one of the key issues that the organization aims to address. However, there are upcoming ways to learn more about My Sister’s House. It leads monthly volunteer trainings. It also offers bi-yearly training sessions on identifying the signs of sexual abuse and working with domestic violence survivors, and will give free presentations on the issues that face the Asian Pacific Islander community regarding sexual violence.
All of these outreach programs are in addition to sheltering women and children who have faced domestic and sexual violence. These shelters operate in coordination with their program Women to Work, which empowers and enables women to become self-sufficient after leaving violent relationships.
Michelle Huey, who is an alumna of UC Davis in addition to her position with My Sister’s House, remembers a time on campus where sexual assault wasn’t part of the public discourse.
“Back then […] it was only a few years ago, nobody was really talking about sexual assault,” Huey said. “Even now we don’t talk about how it happens in the Asian Pacific Islander community.”
This may be in many ways because of some cultural norms that Huey identifies in the Asian Pacific Islander community like “saving face.”
“The topic of sex isn’t really talked about in the Asian Pacific Islander community,” Huey said. “That makes it even harder when sexual violence is involved.”
Huey recounted a story not so different from Valmores’ in which a Mandarin-speaking women visited My Sister’s House flanked by law enforcement, completely shell-shocked. When a staff member addressed her in Mandarin, Huey says that her relief was palpable.
“I almost cried because of seeing her reaction,” Huey said. “That moment absolutely stands out in my mind.”
Third-year Asian American studies and psychology double major Pryanka Narayan, who works with My Sister’s House, also had a story to share reflecting on the time she has spent with the organization since high school. She spoke over the phone with a client who was new to the country and didn’t know where to go with her story of domestic violence.
“I did the best that I could, I kind of gave her hope that there is a new beginning and there is a way to get out of the situation that she was in,” Narayan said.
Narayan also reminded readers that while My Sister’s House is culturally sensitive to Asian Pacific Islanders, it is in no way exclusive.
“We are culturally sensitive,” Narayan said. “But we are open to any genders and anyone at all.”
Written by: Stella Sappington — firstname.lastname@example.org