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Domestic violence is a taboo subject in most communities, where abused partners suffer in silence, unaware of the resources available to assist them. In addition to physical violence, abusive relationships may include verbal and emotional abuse, as well as sexual and financial coercion. Due to vulnerability, dependency or socio-cultural factors, the abused partner may try rationalizing or tolerating the abuse, which may cascade into further abuse that can span generations.

For advocates, confronting cultural norms and ingrained patterns of abuse is one of the biggest challenges, especially when working with immigrant communities and vulnerable populations. In addition, immigrant women may be in a financially precarious position, unable to turn to relatives or use financial resources to escape an abusive partner.

Though reliable statistics on intimate partner violence are nearly impossible due to underreporting, 15 percent of American women reported that they had experienced some form of intimate partner abuse, according to the Penguin Atlas of Women in the World.

Last Saturday, Richmond Hill-based Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, took to Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill to do outreach and spread the word of resources available to members of the community.

This effort was the latest in a series of efforts by Sadhana to engage Richmond Hill to discuss healthy relationships. The group has previously done a series of workshops, in conjunction with the Lefferts branch of the Queens Library, on healthy relationships as well as topics such as suicide, substance abuse and LGBT rights.

The organization’s co-founder, Aminta Kilawan, notes she was motivated to work against domestic violence in the Indo Caribbean community by the 2007 murder of Guitree Hardat by her transit cop boyfriend in Woodhaven and the 2010 murder of Natasha Ramen in Hollis, by a man who had raped her five years prior. These violent murders motivated the rise of another community organization, Jahajee Sisters, of which, Kilawan in a member.

Jahajee Sisters facilitates discussions on issues that affect women and empower them to become agents of change. Kilawan also draws on her own experience with dating violence to promote healthy relationships. Yet, as Kilawan notes, “many women who out of fear for breaking their silence do not attend events addressing touchy issues like domestic violence.” As such, volunteers proceeded to do outreach, going to locations where women congregate, as well as bars, to talk to men in the community.

“I chose a Saturday morning to do our outreach on Liberty Avenue because it is the day many members of the community shop,” Kilawan noted, explaining that many women also get their hair and nails done on Saturday morning.

In all, volunteers handed out 900 “palm cards” to passers-by and 50 “salon bags,,” which included information on the Family Justice Center along with nail filer, compact mirrors, hand sanitizers, and key chains. “We hope to do [outreach] in a culturally sensitive way, and we succeeded in our goal,” Kilawan concluded.

Volunteers found the community generally receptive to their efforts.

“It was amazing to see our efforts essentially sparked some thought or even a conversation about the issue,” said one volunteer, Jessica Chu-A-Kong, an analyst with the CIT Group. “Those are the tiny triggers that really unite a community.”

Kilawan urges all who require assistance with abusive relationships to visit the Queens Family Justice Center, located near Union Turnpike and Queens Boulevard, in Kew Gardens. The center maintains a 24-hour hotline, does not question immigration status and provides services in a number of languages.

Sadhana plans to conduct similar outreach in the future, focusing on drug abuse and alcoholism. To get involved in Sadhana’s outreach efforts, one may email ackilawan@gmail.com, visit www.sadhana.org or follow Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus on Facebook.

On an unrelated note, West Indians Serving Humanity (WISH), also based in Richmond Hill, is gearing up for its annual school supplies drive. Backpacks and other school supplies will be collected and shipped to impoverished communities in Guyana and Trinidad. To donate goods, contact info@thewishgroup.org or (347)-699-3510.

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