Maitri Blog

Elder Abuse in the South Asian Community:
by Zakia Afrin, Client Advocacy Manager
Excerpts from her Radio Interview with Shailaja Dixit at Radio Zindagi aired 05/27/19


What we must remember
Elder Abuse is against the Law and physicians, social workers, care givers and clergy along with few other professionals are mandated reporters of suspected elder abuse. Elder abuse has all the elements that we see in domestic violence situations, – physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse, of course, and in the immigrant community, in a very pervasive way, immigration related abuse. Generally, this is underreported and specially within immigrant communities of color, this issue is not discussed enough to find a pattern and offer resources to intervene.

Elder Abuse in South Asian Community

In the Bay area there are organizations dealing with this issue that focus mostly on financial scams and nursing home related abuse. In the South Asian community, the pattern is found to be different. From what we have seen at Maitri – a parent is brought from back home, her visa is being sponsored, getting a green card and then being used for all manual household work, and sometimes being used for childcare. Isolation, neglect in health care and pressure of household work may become burdensome for an elder. There may be cultural arguments favoring an elder spending time with children, however, when it becomes an obligation rather than a choice abuse is likely occur. Another pattern we have seen is that a partner is sponsoring his/her parents and bringing them here without even consulting the other spouse. So then you see this complex situation where one partner is not ready to accept the fact that there are two other older members in the household. The traditional Joint family structure faces challenges when spouses do not agree on its terms. These issues may not be understood and dealt with in the main stream organizations working to end elder abuse.

Intervene or not to Intervene?

As a Domestic Violence advocate, I always caution people about confronting the abusers without consulting the victim/survivor. Unless there is a life threatening event happening in front of you, please do not try to confront the abuser, you can be a bystander, try to help the person who is being attacked or being victimized at that moment. And then find a safe spot or a safe place to talk to that person, ask them how they want to be helped. Now we have to understand that elder abuse by children or family members are very sensitive issue. We need to give them that space and talk to them about their safety. We ask them if they want to do something about it, what that may look like. I always encourage people to let them talk to professionals who are handling this, like Maitri, for example. We can talk to them, they can ask us any question; what happens if I call the police, how can I be protected, what happens if I share my story with a doctor, therapist or a social worker – Understanding all of these issues, they can make a choice for themselves. Many may not speak English but that doesn’t mean they are not smart. They are experts of their own lives, they know what decision they need to make. So we have to give that space, definitely give resources that you have, ask them to talk to somebody. There (is) Institute of Ageing that’s based in San Francisco, if somebody is interested in speaking with mainstream, they have a prevention program, they can call and talk to them. They can call Maitri if they want to talk about some options and get some resources in their own communities.



What do we do now?

The Statistics on elder abuse are not very much available. That makes it more likely that elder abuse within South Asian population is going unnoticed. I think it can be related to domestic violence. Prior to Maitri or Narika or other culturally specific organizations’ existence, we didn’t think domestic violence existed in our community, we could just brush it off. Its only when you and me and more people like us came together and said hey this is the problem, these are the numbers we are serving every year, we acknowledge this problem.  For elder abuse also, we understand it exists because within our domestic violence context, we get calls from elders, however, we don’t have the statistics to pinpoint. I think that is where we need to start. First is we need to do research, we need to do fact finding from our elders, that what is happening, how prevalent is it, and how are these things happening, how are they coping with it. That’s the research part. And then at the state level, we can ask for more funding for Research and Intervention. Now again, through the state, whatever prevention and intervention services are available for elder abuse in general, we can ask them to become culturally responsive, so that we can include the population that we are leaving behind. They can include language access for all of those services, then hopefully, we can get a better intervention strategy.

My message to the Community

Conversation is the Key. We must begin conversation about elders in the South Asian community, hear from them and understand the challenges in addressing their concerns. immigration can be a traumatic experience for everybody. so before you bring in either your spouse or your parents, give them a real picture and what to expect, how difficult or easier their lives may become and let them make their choice if they want to be in this situation.  If the joint family structure works for us, wonderful, but if it does not work for us we have to recognize it and we have to figure out what is the best way to co-exist with our elders. Abuse is not acceptable.

Statement of Dr. Mukta Sharangpani on the need for developing cultural responsiveness


delivered at the Joint Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence hearing organized by City of San Jose and County of Santa Clara Children, Seniors and Families Committee on April 15, 2019.

I speak on this topic as a gender anthropologist and volunteer at Maitri, a Domestic Violence Service provider agency in San Jose. I approach this from the perspective of how knowledge shapes power, and how we can develop the skills and the attitude to work with those who appear and might be different from us.

All cultures contain a spectrum of contradictions. On one hand, there may be perceived acceptance of sexual violence. On the other, a long-standing tradition of resistance. Culture can not, and should not be used as an excuse for sexual violence. But that said, understanding what guides people’s ideas of acceptable behavior, criminal behavior, what can and cannot be discussed in public spaces, be they support groups, or police stations, or courthouses, is critical, and can make or break the system. Culture is not just about norms and values about a particular community, it is about how these norms and values are expressed. Women often do not hold the final say on their reproductive rights, or questions of consent. Moreover, ideas of consent are deeply tied with duties and responsibilities, as we see quite often in the case of marital rape. It is hard then to understand and articulate sexual violence as such. Many languages do not even have a word for marital rape. Rape within marriage is seen as an impossibility.

A few cases: Radhika (name changed) had to have her court date postponed three times because the interpreter was unavailable. Meena found herself in a bind when she had to convey her experience of marital violence in court, through a male interpreter. Unable to speak, she emotionally imploded, through and post that episode. Savitha was sexually assaulted by her brother-in-law, who lived with them, but could not diverge this to her husband since he, himself, was controlling and often violent. Laney had been repeatedly told by her rapist that he would have her deported. As she walked into the courthouse the day of her hearing, she saw a few ICE officials, and fled. Survivors are unique individuals. Their responses to violence and intervention are shaped by their intersecting identities. Their traumas are culturally coded.

Competency must be developed at both the individual and the institutional level. Continuous self-assessment, critical thinking, working with communities in their own comfort zones, such as grocery stores, ethnic print media, and community fairs, is critical. We can own our culture. Mindfulness and power-sharing is the first step.

Thank you.

Redefining Safety for Immigrant survivors of domestic violence
- Policy Advocacy at Maitri 2018
by Zakia Afrin

The past 2 years have thrown a lot of challenges to Americans all over the nation; none as daunting as being a person of color in an immigrant community.

  • DACA benefits were rescinded
  • Persons from few countries mostly with Muslim majority have been barred from traveling to the US
  • Asylum claims have come under unprecedented scrutiny making it almost impossible in certain categories to apply and succeed
  • Prospective Asylees are being detained in inhumane conditions while trying to entering the US resulting in deaths of children
  • Dependent Visa holders of employment category are living under the threat of losing their employment eligibility
  • Funding for Violence Against Women has been frozen and uncertain after January 18, 2019.

This list can go on and on…  For a domestic violence victims’ advocacy organization these measures are particularly daunting as it adds to already existing barriers for women and men living within abusive relationship and contemplating freedom from abuse. Most of the new laws and regulations have created confusion and panic within the organizations serving the immigrant population. Together with the stress clients have been facing, DV advocates are experiencing burn-out at an increasing rate. Staff members at Maitri are not different. Listening to the negative stereotyping of immigrants in general and undocumented immigrants in particular is personal for so many among us. While resources are being cut, options for immigration are being reduced, we continue to look for new ways to build supportive network and strategies to address safety concerns for survivors of domestic violence. Our efforts at policy Advocacy goes to the heart of this effort. We meet legislators, policy makers both at state, county and city level and present our policy priorities related discussion in order to bring attention to topics generally swept away to the margins.Kevin Chu

In 2018, We collaborated with CPEDV (California Partnership to End Domestic Violence) to meet with legislators in Sacramento. We demanded increased funding for DV and Sexual Assault survivors and highlighted how efforts related to prevention programs are bringing in successful outcomes in promoting healthy relationship among the youth.
During October, the DV awareness month we met with State Assembly member Evan Low to reiterate our demands for continuing funding and protection of immigrant population at the state level. Our meeting with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O Malley was more of rediscovering an ally of survivors of DV and criminal justice reform. We discussed our common interests in providing supportive services to women and men who become victims of crimes.

Evan Low


This year we tried out another interesting venture: city council meeting public comments. Maitri volunteer presented the mission of the agency and brought out the concerns immigrant survivors face while seeking safety for themselves. Specifically, we urged the city of Fremont to

1.      Evaluate and improve current language access in the field

2.      Offer training on Cultural responsiveness to various local government employees and agencies

3.      Involve non- governmental organizations as thought partners while planning city activities

4.      Uplift the voices of the minority groups whenever possible as they lack representation in committees and other policy making spaces.

The video is available to watch here:

A quote from the first woman on the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’ Connor comes to mind:

For both men and women the first step in getting power is to become visible to others, and then to put on an impressive show…” - We show up to make our almost invisible immigrant survivors visible to power and we sure hope to put on an impressive show someday to achieve violence-free communities around us.



5 Immigration barriers faced by survivors of abuse: An Advocate’s Perspective
by Zakia Afrin

Immigration can be difficult even when people opt for it. Cultural shock, ideological challenges, linguistic divides may expose human beings to trauma. The helplessness can be compounded many times over when a loved one poses a threat and instills a sense of fear. Many survivors we work with identify with this situation. Advocates point out some specific challenges that immigrant survivors face:

  1. Immigrant survivors may face additional barriers in seeking help or leaving an abusive relationship. Complexities can arise due to lack of information, cultural barriers including language shortcomings, immigration status, financial dependencies, and expectations of law enforcement among many others. Today only two third of the world’s countries recognize domestic violence as a separate category of crime. Depending on the countries people immigrate from, their understanding of what constitutes domestic violence and how the society will respond may vary. These issues often impact a survivor’s decision to seek help or carry on within abuse.
  2. Leaving an abuser may not result in a happily-ever –after situation for a survivor. Immigration status play a big role in determining whether a survivor will be eligible to receive public assistance, secure employment or even stay in the United States on their own. Though immigration related benefits exist, they do not apply to everyone. Immigration relief for survivors like VAWA self-petition, U visa, T visa have stringent requirements that are difficult to meet. Many times children born in the US to a parent who is dependent on an abusive partner further complicate the issue. Imagine the dilemma of a mother on a dependent spouse visa, who must return to her home country if the marriage is terminated, without the guarantee of being able to take her US citizen child with her.
  3. Making a hard decision to leave an abusive spouse despite barriers and an uncertain future in the US, oftentimes proves to be more difficult than one would expect. Lack of language access at different level of points of contact for a survivor is astounding. With the exception of Santa Clara County and few others, immigrant survivors face challenges in communicating with law enforcement, court systems and hearings due to lack of  interpreters. Maitri has heard of incidents from survivors where neighbors, children or even relatives of the abuser were used as interpreters and the truth never came out. In many instances, survivors have to depend on bringing in their own interpreters for hearings. Where the court provides interpreters, most of the Asian languages are not certified by the Judicial council leaving room for inadequate and improper interpretation.
  4. Comprehensive immigration reform is likely to benefit the immigrant community in general and survivors of domestic violence in particular. Without the fear of deportation, financial and immigration related dependence on an abusive partner, lack of access to justice systems and discrimination embedded in relevant social structures, all individuals can thrive. It will allow survivors to have more choices in their lives than currently available.
  5. Cultural Stereotyping hurts all immigrants including survivors of domestic violence. Selective enforcement of laws that apply to everyone and enactment of laws based on cultural stereotypes may deter survivors belonging to specific cultural groups from reaching out for help. An example of such effort would be sex selective abortion ban laws currently enforced in 8 States which disproportionately affect Women of Asian origin in general and Indian and Chinese women in particular,

In our everyday work at Maitri, we deal with these facts and engage in community education around them. Within Maitri, we are increasing capacity to provide adequate linguistic and culturally informed support for our clients by providing immigration assistance and trained interpreters. At the county, state and federal level, we are bringing about these discussions to improve services for immigrant survivors. As we approach 25 years of Maitri services, we look towards a future where everyone in  California irrespective of immigration status will be able to thrive individually and as a community.

Redefining Safety for Immigrant survivors of domestic violence
- making policy advocacy a priority
by Zakia Afrin

Working with immigrant survivors for little shy of a decade at Maitri , I have learned that defining safety for a survivor must include more than physical security. Domestic violence is a traumatic experience in itself, combining the complexities of immigration status and negative stereotyping, linguistic barriers, emotional hurdles, family ties and many others only add to the considerations a survivor must address before thinking about leaving the abuser. While the Domestic violence support system is focused on getting a survivor to safety, for the most part it fails to addresses the consequences an immigrant survivor may face once the crisis is over. As Maitri continues to grow from a small direct service providing organization to a leading member organization of the domestic violence movement statewide, we are embracing policy advocacy as an integral part of our work. Last year, we have had increased visibility locally, statewide and nationwide within advocacy circles.

Maitri participated in Policy Advocacy Day organized by California Partnership to end Domestic Violence where we visited State Assembly members’ offices and demanded policies that support survivors and enhance prevention efforts to eradicate domestic violence.CPEDV_Public Policy Advocay Day_2015

We collaborated with South Asian Women’s Organizations under the leadership of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) in presenting our concerns regarding immigration, access to healthcare, reproductive justice, prevention efforts, racial justice and forced marriages as it specifically affect South Asian women in the US and asking for their prompt action in this matters. In the National South Asian Summit we presented Maitri’s work as it relates to promoting reproductive justice in general and sex selective abortion ban in particular.

Over the summer, we have connected with Congresswoman Anna Esho Maitri Research & Policy Intern, Sanjana with Senior Staff member, Anne Ream at her local office. Our research and policy intern handed over a letter detailing our concerns and requests to her senior staff member.

Supporting our goals of increased federal funding for Domestic Violence programs, immigration reform, background checks for firearms purchases, reproductive rights and women’s health care, she writes, “ Maitri’s mission of helping South Asian Women to live free of domestic abuse, make informed choices and realize their strengths is vitally important in a community where many are isolated and uninformed about our custom and culture”.

In September, Maitri legal program staff attended Annual membership meeting of CPEDV in Sacramento and discussed priority policy issuMaitri Legal Advocacy Team at CPEDV Annual Membership eventes for the year 2016. Maitri put forth a proposal seeking resolution from the State Assembly to condemn and oppose Sex selection abortion ban that criminalizes women seeking abortion and perpetuates gender stereotype against Asian immigrant women.

We celebrate October, domestic violence awareness month with continued efforts to create immigrant friendly policies in our county by speaking out against Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) that may potentially create further distrust of authorities within the immigrant community.
Direct Services without security of favorable policy can only achieve a false sense of safety among immigrant survivors of domestic violence. We are making it a priority to have our voices heard. Precise and clear. Join us in our journey to promote a society without violence for everyone.