Integrating Services to Serve All Survivors

Ang had counted 30 incidences of abuse before he reported his wife to the police last year. As an undocumented immigrant from Cambodia, he feared what might happen to him if the police showed up at his home. As a father, he questioned whether his decision to report the mother of his two children would result in them being taken away from him. As an Asian man, he felt immense shame for having been abused by a woman; he worried what his community would say about him and the fact that he had gotten the police involved in his family life.

These worries weighed heavily on Ang’s shoulders, trapping him in his marriage even as his wife punched and kicked him, bruised his eyes, dislocated his finger, repeatedly wrapped her hands around his neck and humiliated him in public in front of a room full of his friends and family. The abuse worsened and, finally, Ang decided that the only way to end the violence was by calling the police.

When the police officer arrived, he screened Ang using the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP)’s tool to determine a victim’s risk of domestic violence homicide. Because of his visible injuries and the several instances of attempted strangulation, Ang was identified as a high-risk victim and was immediately referred to STAND!

At STAND!, Ang met with a Cambodian-speaking Domestic Violence Liaison and received the support he needed to create a safety plan, file a restraining order, receive therapy and file for divorce. Where Ang’s story differs from that of a female STAND! client, however, is that he was not screened for the Emergency Shelter. STAND!’s Residential Housing Program has historically been reserved for female clients or transgender clients who identify as female. In the past, STAND!’s Emergency Shelter would have been off limits to Ang and male victims like him, but thanks to revisions to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), federally-funded domestic violence shelters are now obliged to serve all survivors, regardless of gender identity.

VAWA was signed into law in 1994 with the support of then-Senator Joe Biden. Since that time, the act has undergone several re-authorizations and changes in language.  Recently, a Nondiscrimination Grant Condition was added to VAWA, which broadened the scope of domestic violence services to include victims of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Effectively, this expanded VAWA’s protections to previously unserved victims, including LGBTQ, male-identified or gender non-conforming domestic violence survivors. 

On July 1, 2016, STAND! rolled out the Non Discrimination Policy through fully-integrated services across our entire organization. Sexual orientation or gender identity will no longer be a determinant for whether a victim (or their children) is eligible to receive certain services.

“Domestic violence crosses all lines, and all survivors are deserving of support,” says Director of Client Services, Reina Sandoval-Beverly. “Our mission is to provide emergency services and help regardless of gender.”

STAND! staff have spent the months leading up to the debut of gender-neutral services attending trainings on the non-discrimination policy, cultural competency and humility. Local organizations like Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA) in San Mateo and the Rainbow Community Center (RCC) in Concord—where gender-neutral domestic violence services have already been established—have shared best-practices and trainings.

Formerly, our residential programs primarily served women but have been expanded to serve any client who desires to participate.

STAND! CEO Gloria Sandoval explains, “While we have provided support to any client who has asked for our help in other programs for many years, we are proud to be opening our doors to support groups and residential services as well.”

All shelter clients are welcome to attend morning meetings and, if they have children, they can access the Children’s Services program. As always, STAND! services will remain voluntary and clients who are uncomfortable with the integration policy may choose to opt-out of any program. The goal of the non-discriminatory policy is to create a safe space for all survivors to receive the help they need to live happier and safer lives free of violence.

“STAND! has always been clear that our mission is to serve all members of families affected by family violence,” says Gloria. “Expanding these services is just another step forward in that direction.”

Special thanks to the Rainbow Community Center for their assistance with this article.