Since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the staff at “What You Can Do” felt it was important to dedicate a week’s worth of videos to combating and preventing domestic violence. In researching organizations for the videos, I came upon the American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, which serves American victims of domestic violence living overseas. The need would seem obvious and yet, I suppose it was naivety or sheer ignorance that prevented my own awareness of the issue. What does a domestic violence victim do when they are not in their native country, are perhaps unaware of their legal rights in their adopted land and are without a support system? These are some of the questions I asked Brooke Galloway, Development and Policy Director at American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center.
Below is PART 1 of our interview.
1. American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center caters to American victims of domestic violence who live overseas. On your website, you mention that this group of people is under-served or under-represented, can you talk about that a little bit. Why is that the case?
In this era of globalization, there has been an influx in bi-national marriages, overseas assignments, and study abroad programs. There are an estimated 5.25 million Americans living overseas. If these Americans were in one state, it would be the 17th largest state in the nation. Despite its size, this population lacks national recognition. Americans overseas have been excluded from policies directed at ending violence against women and children. At the national level, Americans overseas have been excluded from the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as it only serves people, no matter their nationality, within the US. Additionally, Americans overseas are excluded from the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which only serves non-Americans outside of the US. To counter the deficit, AODVC has been working to include the American overseas population in the reauthorization of VAWA by 2012.
In the past year, there has been progress in raising awareness of Americans Abused Abroad. AODVC received the National Crime Victims Service Award from the Office on Victims of Crime, US Department of Justice. While this award honored AODVC, it also shed light on Americans abused abroad at the national level.
2. What are some of the specific challenges a victim of domestic abuse faces when living overseas? Are those challenges more complicated if/ when children are involved?
Americans abused abroad face a myriad of additional barriers on top of the horrific challenges that all domestic violence victims are forced to undergo. These barriers may include lack of access to travel documents, no permission to leave the country, inability to speak the language, unfamiliarity with the legal system, the abuser may be high ranking in the American embassy or local government, and undocumented legal status preventing the survivor from seeking assistance in the foreign country.
In addition to the barriers a survivor faces in a foreign country, when/if they return to the US they may be homeless and penniless, may not qualify for services such as shelter or transitional housing because the abuse occurred overseas, and may have difficulty finding employment.
When children are involved these challenges become more complex creating further barriers for the survivor and the children to live their lives free of abuse. Through the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction and other international jurisdiction laws, an abuser can force a survivor of domestic violence to return the children to the foreign country and attempt to gain custody of them. There are no defenses to these actions and no stated exceptions for domestic violence.
3. If someone is reading this who knows someone experiencing abuse overseas – what should they do?
If anyone reading this is experiencing abuse overseas or knows of someone who is, please contact the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center. We have a toll-free crisis line accessible from 175 countries worldwide, email, and live chat options. Instructions are available on our website, www.866uswomen.org.
If you are in immediate danger, contact your local authorities.
4. Your website talks about some of the myths regarding the reasons for domestic violence - can you talk a little bit more about those? Is there a perception that if someone is from a different culture then domestic violence is okay?
There are myths and perceptions that different cultures promote violence against women, but this is not the case. Abuse is not a byproduct of culture and it can happen to anyone, no matter their demographic, in any country around the world. However, domestic violence survivors abroad may face additional barriers that require culturally sensitive services and intercultural awareness.
5. What is the goal for American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center?
The Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center envisions a life where every person’s intimate partner treats them with dignity, respect and compassion; where oppression is replaced with equality; where expression of anger is non-violent and where children grow up in violent-free homes with their self-esteem intact.
Our mission is to continue working with abused Americans and their children in foreign countries to provide domestic violence and child abuse advocacy, resources and tools so that they can navigate the complicated jurisdictional, legal and social international landscapes, to be able to live their lives free of abuse either in the foreign country or back in the United States.
We aim to continue raising awareness of this population around the world and create a coordinated community response through our Global Campaign to Empower Americans Abused Abroad. This multi-faceted campaign has already been conducted in 6 European cities, 2 Chinese cities, 2 Indian cities and 2 Australian cities.
To find out more information on how you can help fight Domestic Violence Overseas, please visit - American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center.