October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Chama Ibrahim is preparing to call mosques around Atlanta. She’s hoping she can persuade them to talk about the subject during their Friday sermons, or khutbahs.
“Domestic violence is a big issue and it's in every group,” she said. “When it comes to the community, unfortunately nobody is talking about it.” She’s not sure how many will agree - “some of them do, some of they don’t.”
Ibrahim runs Noor Family Services (NFS) - an organization dedicated to supporting survivors of domestic violence from immigrant and refugee communities in and around Atlanta. Since 2015, when NFS began, they’ve helped more than 1,000 people. In the last year alone, they’ve supported 377 people.
Organizations like NFS have increased their capacities to serve their communities over the last decade, reflecting a real need. NFS, along with Raksha, and Caminar Latino are among the handful of organizations in the metro Atlanta area directly supporting immigrant and refugee survivors of domestic violence.
Still, there aren’t any definitive numbers that capture the scope of the problem in metro Atlanta. On a national level, intimate partner violence might actually be less prevalent in immigrant and refugee populations compared with other groups. But when it does occur, multiple factors can make it harder for people in these communities to get help when it does.
Ibrahim, originally from Morocco, has a staff geared towards serving multiple communities - they speak Arabic, French, Urdu, Punjabi and Spanish. Their own backgrounds and skill sets (which range from legal advocacy to counseling), also equip them to meet the many challenges that arise for immigrants.
“People are trying to navigate a system that’s not built for them. They don’t have the resources or knowledge, and maybe don’t have the language to access systems...” said Alfredo Garcia, Project Coordinator at Caminar Latino, an organization based in Doraville supporting Spanish speaking domestic violence survivors.
Language access comes up almost every step of the way when a survivor reaches out for help, says Ibrahim. “If [they] go to the court she might find an interpreter, or not… If she calls up the police... if she goes to the hospital, can she find an interpreter?”
But - similar to mental health (which I’ve reported on here) - getting to the point where a survivor is ready to get help in the first place isn’t easy. “There’s this idea that you don’t talk about your problems outside...which just goes back to the isolation,” says Garcia.
Ibrahim hopes to address some of these issues through “Healthy Family” workshops - an education program run by a certified counselor for families in the community. “Basically, he talks indirectly about domestic violence,” says Ibrahim.
Before COVID, NFS would hold these workshops at mosques and almost inevitably, the day after one, Ibrahim would receive a call from someone asking for help. Since the pandemic, it’s been tough to get people to tune in to the zoom versions of these events, but Ibrahim is optimistic about the seminar on October 31st. “Maybe more people will come because of domestic violence month.”
She’s also hoping this month will lead to more community support (NFS just launched this gofundme). Last week, a survivor called NFS, looking for shelter. There were no temporary shelters available, so she and her children were put up at a hotel, where they’ll stay for two weeks. “My wish long term is to have a shelter that can assist this population,” said Ibrahim.
In the meantime, Ibrahim will do her best to support her community with the resources she has, “I love my work, I love what I do. It's very tough. It's very emotionally draining. But when I look back I see how many clients we have been serving and now they’re independent and working and self-sufficient. That’s what keeps us going.”
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