By KATHEE YAMAMOTO, Special to the Rafu
During October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, communities across the country were reminded that “ending domestic violence starts with just one small action, whether that is seeking help or sharing resources.”
This year, domestic violence has escalated, as abused women, children and men are further isolated in their homes by the coronavirus pandemic, which has often increased tensions in homes where there is not only frustration, depression and anxiety, but also financial struggle.
They are, in a sense, trapped with their abusers with more restricted social contact, exacerbating already volatile situations. Children who might’ve had signs of their abuse observed and reported by teachers can’t be seen in person, when schools are closed and classes are held remotely.
Two local agencies offer a broad range of services, including bilingual staff, for anyone ready to take that action and who needs to know what resources are available to them: Rainbow Services and Little Tokyo Service Center.
A bright, colorful mural with a mermaid cradling a child in one arm, her other arm hopefully outstretched, catches the eye on an office front in San Pedro.
There is no signage, but inside, the nonprofit Rainbow Services offers comprehensive support to abused women, men and children with vital services, including a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, transitional housing, a community housing program, individual and family counseling, support groups, a children’s program, and legal assistance.
Rainbow Services has grown since it began in 1983, and the pandemic has created an even greater need for those resources.
Marci Fukuroda, operations manager, notes that calls to their hotline doubled, even tripled at times, after the pandemic began.
Fukuroda is a lawyer who has been in the domestic violence field for over 20 years, starting at the California Women’s Law Center, working under their Violence Against Women program. “That’s when I first became involved in issues like domestic violence and sexual assault, more from a civil rights perspective. Then I was able to come to Rainbow and do more direct services with domestic violence survivors.”
She has also served as the agency’s director of legal services, a program that can assist with restraining orders, divorce proceedings, and help with landlords and immigration issues.
To mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Rainbow Services has in the past offered an open house in October. But this year, instead, there was a virtual tour, which included videos and descriptions of the programs and services available, as well as a celebration of the 37 years since they have been serving the community at large.
Visitors to their site learn that “One in four women and one in seven men will experience physical violence”; “One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year”; and “On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.”
There’s also an explanation of power and control dynamics often at play in abusive relationships, to help understand “the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors … used by a batterer to establish and maintain control over their partner.”
In addition to physical violence, there can also be emotional abuse, use of coercion, economic abuse (“preventing you from getting or keeping a job”), using children (“threatening to take them”) and “denying, minimizing and blaming” (“saying it’s your fault – you deserved it”).
Many of the people coming to Rainbow Services are Spanish-speaking, so services, including the hotline, are bilingual.
Fukuroda sees the commonalities of cultural obstacles with the Hispanic and Asian American communities. “It’s always the same issues across cultures because they face the same challenges, particularly during this time when people are isolated. They grow up in households where you want to keep the family reputation, not disclose anything negative.”
And the language barrier, she says, increases the isolation, and makes it even more difficult to reach out for help.
She describes what she does as satisfying, even though it often involves disturbing situations. “I get asked, ‘How could you do that work? It must be tough.’ And actually it’s not, because I can listen with empathy, but also objectively, to people’s stories and support them. And most people do get something out of the services.”
“The hardest part,” she continues, “is taking the step to reach out for help. People realize that it’s going to lead to a positive change in their life. And there’s a social support network that they might not have had before. So we do have a lot of people with success stories. That’s the nice thing about doing this work.”
At the Little Tokyo Service Center, Director of Social Services Margaret Endo Shimada also wants to encourage anyone needing help with domestic violence to take that step. “At LTSC, you won’t be judged. That’s our mission, to help you!“
LTSC’s website (https://www.ltsc.org/assisting-people-need/) offers descriptions of domestic violence services for Japanese nationals and domestic violence transitional housing.
Anyone seeking help by calling LTSC (213-473-3035) will be directed to a social worker, who can advise English- and Japanese-speaking clients and start an evaluation of the situation — which, as Shimada explains, can be multi-layered and complex. “If there are children involved, mental health issues, substance abuse, all these factors will be carefully considered in assisting the survivor in navigating a path forward.”
Like other organizations, LTSC has been impacted by the pandemic, which has created and increased needs in the community, including for the domestic violence program.
LTSC’s recent “Virtual 40th Anniversary Gala” celebrated how the organization has expanded its capacity to serve the community over the years.
Now, LTSC offers a spectrum of programs, including assistance for seniors, children and families; child care; youth and mentoring programs; low-income housing for seniors and families; supporting small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs; as well as the newly completed Terasaki Budokan sports facility and community center.
Shimada summed up LTSC’s response to the coronavirus challenges by pointing to the mission established by founders Bill Watanabe, Yasuko Sakamoto and Evelyn Yoshimura.
“They decided that they would serve anyone who walked through the door….that LTSC would be so mission-driven that they’d figure out a way to provide a service, whether they had the money or not. And we’ve been so fortunate during COVID, people have donated, they know what we’re trying to do, and they want to help.”
The Social Services department assists with a range of concerns, including mental health services and support for seniors. Shimada, who has a Masters in Social Welfare and is a licensed clinical social worker, brings a wealth of experience to the department, including her work with the Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP), serving seniors at Keiro Services, and working at the Korean Youth and Community Center.
She’s addressed domestic violence issues, providing staff consultation at the Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF), which has done pioneering work in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse services in the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander community.
CPAF opened the first emergency shelter serving API survivors and continues to offer safe harbor. From there, LTSC can assist in providing transitional housing, for a year or more, at their Kosumosu site. During that time, counseling is available, children can be helped enrolling in school, and survivors are assisted in “getting on their feet.”
Obstacles to getting help, says Shimada, can include “a sense of shame.”
“A person can feel that they should be strong enough to just endure whatever they’re going through, that there’s something wrong with them, that they’re the only ones that this is happening to, that everyone else has a perfect life. Also, there may be a language barrier. All of this kind of plays together.”
She adds that domestic violence “crosses all ethnicities, all economic levels … It could be your neighbor next door. Oftentimes people aren’t really aware of what’s happening, from the outside looking in.”
For Shimada too, the rewards of assisting people outweigh the stresses of handling difficult and sometimes dire situations. “I think a lot of people that get into community work, social work, counseling, there’s a big part of them that just really enjoys helping people. And as long as you feel like you’re doing that, even in the smallest way, it feeds your spirit and motivates you.”
And for those in the domestic violence field who’ve been taking on the unprecedented demands presented by the pandemic, Fukuroda says, “We try to support each other as much as we can. We try to share with each other.”
As an example, she expresses appreciation to Vivian Lee, a social worker at LTSC who collaborated with another nonprofit to provide over 70 cloth masks for the clients at Rainbow Services after the shut-down began.
It’s not only coronavirus, but also a recognition of a critical part of the domestic violence dynamic that has created a shift in services for domestic violence victims. This is illustrated in a “Survivor Story” from Rainbow Service’s site. (The names have been changed to protect the survivor.)
“After a long day at work, Rebecca came home to a broken door and personal items scattered all over the floor. Pictures of her son were stolen and that’s when she knew it was her batterer who had broken into her apartment. She immediately went to her landlord for help, but unable to prove it was her batterer who had broken in, they refused to repair the locks on her door.
“Rebecca and her son Sam no longer felt safe in their own home. Rebecca had no family or friends who were able to temporarily take them in; she was out of options. She knew she needed help, but did not know where to turn nor what to do with their beloved dog, Spot.
“Rebecca then made the brave decision to call Rainbow’s 24-hour hotline hoping for help. Rebecca was assessed over the phone to make sure Rainbow was a safe place for Rebecca, Sam, and Spot. Once safety was confirmed, they were quickly relocated to Rainbow’s emergency shelter, leaving most of her belongings behind.”
Rebecca’s story highlights another aspect of domestic violence – the reluctance to leave a pet, fearing what would happen to it.
According to Purina’s Purple Leash Project, “48% of domestic violence victims don’t leave because they can’t bring their pets. Through the Purple Leash Project, Purina and the animal rescue organization RedRover are raising awareness of this critical issue and are working to create more pet-friendly domestic violence shelters in every state.”
PetSmart’s national campaign for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month announced that it was supporting pet friendly shelters through PetSmart Charities, giving grants to “assist victims exiting dangerous situations…to access safety together with their pets.”
Last year, it was reported in The Orange County Register that more domestic violence shelters were welcoming pets to encourage their owners to seek safety.
And Rainbow Services’ shelter was one of the first in Los Angeles County to start accepting pets.
In addition to fears about harm that might come to the pet left behind, according to RedRover CEO Nicole Forsyth, “Pets are part of the abuse. If they don’t bring their pets, they are used as a manipulative tool to get them to come back or to not have them leave in the first place.”
“And having pets around can be good for the shelter,” Forsyth said.
“Pets are non-judgmental sources of support,” Fukuroda adds. “They decrease stress, for both adults and children.” She explains that “children probably benefit the most from their relationships with their pets. Coming into a shelter, sometime they’re pulled out of their school, they lose some of their social connections with friends. And they’ve lost their connection with their other parent. So yes, the connection with their pets can be really important.”
While domestic violence agencies navigate the challenges of providing services during a pandemic, and adapting to provide pet-friendly shelters, the pivotal point remains constant: the readiness of the person in the abusive home situation to seek help.
For people who think someone they know is struggling in a domestic violence situation, Fukuroda says, “You don’t have to engage in anything. Especially if the abusive partner is in the home, you’re not going to do anything that would cause them to be suspicious.
“And the person may not be ready at that moment, that’s okay. So I think the best thing to do is just to let them know that you are there to support them, without judgment …. that you are willing to get whatever information or resources to connect them to whatever they need.”
And once having that information, Shimada encourages them: “You are not alone. Please, just reach out.”
* Rainbow Services (“Everyone Deserves Respect, Love and Safety”)
24-hour hotline: (310) 547-9343)
Donations to Rainbow Services can be made through the website
Donations of items can be made by calling the main office: (310) 548-5450. (Wish list items include new/unused clothes and supplies for infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, women; household supplies and food)
* Little Tokyo Service Center
Contact (213) 473-3035, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Ask for Social Services staff
For donations to LTSC Domestic Violence Program, contact Development Director Sharon Kamegai-Cocita, (213) 473-3030
* Center for the Pacific Asian Family’s Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 339-3940
(Calls can be answered in Japanese and other Asian languages)