Aimed at reaching through barriers of language, culture and immigration status, a new branch of the New York Asian Women’s Center celebrated its opening last Friday in Elmhurst, at the heart of a neighborhood known for its diverse Asian population.
Boosted by a three-year renewable grant from the national Office for Victims of Crime, which rarely gives service grants, to assist survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, the center is also unique in that it advertises its address.
Larry Lee, the organization’s executive director, said this bravery is central to its mission. He added that the NYAWC is the largest agency in the nation serving Asian victims of domestic violence, including elderly individuals and children who are sexually abused. Branches offer counseling and legal immigration and financial empowerment services.
Lee said the center also incorporates Eastern wellness practices such as acupuncture and meditation for what he sees as a holistic approach to healing.
“On average the survivors we serve are 37 years of age. They have two children. Most have a high school diploma or less. They earn $15,000 a year. Eighty-six percent are documented. And of the survivors we serve, about 75 percent are Asian,” Lee said.
He added that at the end of the month there will be approximately 60 staff members speaking 18 Asian languages, plus Spanish.
He also brought up sociocultural issues at play in the communities the center aims to serve, which may complicate the already complex, confusing or shameful situation of domestic violence.
“We often don’t talk about our social problems,” Lee said. “Asians have been named by the Center for Economic Opportunity to be the poorest of all racial groups in New York City.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said combating human trafficking is one of the few issues Republicans and Democrats agree on and that it’s a multifaceted subject.
“Sometimes [some] think it’s just one language that can be used for all the different Asian-American communities,” said Meng. “On countless occasions, when victims of domestic violence have come to our office and they have nowhere to turn, many of them newer Americans who literally have no one to depend on in this entire city, we know that the Asian Women’s Center is there for them.”
Public Advocate Letitia James said one third of women who are victims of homicide are killed at the hands of their partner or their former partner and that many cases of domestic violence across the country are not reported to the police, due to issues such as shame, not knowing where to go, or fear of being deported.
The issue of human trafficking within the borough’s Asian communities was also addressed.
“We uncovered that in 2014, 40 percent of defendants in the Queens human trafficking intervention court are Asian,” James added. “Domestic violence is also, as we know, correlated with homelessness.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said he considers Roosevelt Avenue in his district to be the epicenter of human trafficking in Queens. He added that when he was an assemblyman, he met a survivor of human trafficking in his district.
“She explained the shadowy world of human trafficking and the promises that were made to her and her friends,” Peralta said.
Kerwin Tate, head of the assistance to Filipino nationals at the Philippine Consulate, said the majority of the city’s 125,000 Filipino immigrants assimilate into society smoothly.
“But, there’s a fine percentage of them who are here and who run into trouble,” Tate said. “The problem is the American Dream of having a better life, a stepping stone to more opportunities in the United States, it’s a powerful thing and once you have a piece of that dream, it’s very, very difficult to let go of it, even if you run into trouble.”
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said one effort aims to hand out informational pamphlets instructing victims to dial 311 to those arriving at JFK or LaGuardia airports.
“I think when women come to the center they’re going to feel empowered that this location is bright, it’s cheery, it’s centrally located,” said Carmencita Gutierrez, director of the new Office of Immigrant Affairs at Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office. “It’s not tucked away.”