Part of a violence-prevention movement in San Francisco, Asian Women’s Shelter shares its language expertise and launches new programs for Arabic-speaking survivors.
In 1988, the first shelter in Northern California to offer language-accessible services to Asian immigrant survivors of domestic violence opened in San Francisco. Today, Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS) is a place for survivors and their children to heal – and a caring community dedicated to ending domestic violence.
“The foundation of our program is our shelter, where, annually, we serve about 50 survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking each year,” said Elizabeth Kirton, executive director of AWS. “As part of our day-to-day work, we’re also part of a movement to end domestic violence.”
In addition to serving shelter residents, AWS provides a 24-hour crisis line and case management services to a growing number of non-residential clients, helping them access health and legal services. While AWS initially began with the cultural and language capacity to meet the needs of people from Pan-Asian backgrounds, they now offer services to survivors with backgrounds from all over the world.
AWS’s Multilingual Access Model is at the heart of its services – for residents and non-residents alike. AWS trains language advocates in domestic violence and human trafficking issues, who then accompany clients to meetings with lawyers, doctors’ appointments, housing placement interviews and other steps for rebuilding their lives. Today, AWS provides services in 42 languages.
“Over the years, we’ve recognized more needs in the communities we serve,” said Kirton. “In the early 1990s, we determined we had to better address the needs of the LGBTQ community, and we welcomed trans survivors across the gender spectrum to our shelter. We need to serve all survivors.”
Serving Arabic-Speaking Survivors
In recent years, AWS saw new, underserved language communities emerge who needed specialized services, including Arabic-speaking survivors. “We’ve had an Arabic speaker on staff for nine years,” said Kirton, “but we’ve continued working to train additional Arabic-speaking advocates.”
AWS began a partnership with the Arab Cultural & Community Center (ACCC) in San Francisco. The ACCC had a domestic violence program that included counseling, support groups and case management. AWS provided technical assistance to build ACCC staff and volunteers’ understanding of domestic violence issues. Together, the two groups developed a culturally appropriate domestic violence prevention program in Arabic, which was eventually discontinued due to insufficient resources.
In 2016, AWS recognized the resurgent need for additional services for the diverse Arabic and Muslim communities. With funding from the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, AWS initiated a pilot program to meet the needs of those communities with the commitment to make it permanent.
“We had hoped to have continuation funding by July 1, 2016, but the funding started September 1st instead,” said Kirton. “Metta Fund has been a safety net for us, as one of the foundations helping us bridge that funding gap and provide services to our Arabic-speaking clients without interruption.”
Part of a Movement
Although it began as a physical shelter, which is still foundational to its work, AWS is also an advocacy organization, promoting the social, economic and political self-determination of women. AWS is committed to every person’s right to live in a violence-free home.
Toward that end, AWS carries out educational programs, community-based initiatives, and advocacy. “Here in San Francisco, we’re part of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium,” said Kirton. “As part of that coalition, we’re working with other nonprofits to raise awareness about domestic violence through education, advocacy, and policy development with the City.”
In addition, AWS expands its range of services and outreach education by partnering with organizations that serve at-risk youth, provide legal aid, offer counseling, and work with particular immigrant and refugee communities.
As part of its community-building activities, AWS also provides technical assistance and training to other organizations, helping them tailor programs for domestic violence survivors who may also have been affected by human trafficking, homophobia, and racism.
Support from Metta Fund helps AWS carry out this educational outreach and advocacy work. While public grants and other funders support direct service programs, Metta Fund helps AWS to build a Citywide movement around violence prevention.
“We know we’re not going to reduce the incidence of domestic violence case-by-case,” said Kirton. “That’s why community building and engaging others in the movement is important. We now have former residents who go through our training to become language advocates. When they’re trained, they are able to serve our less-represented language groups with a unique perspective.”