Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the joys of helping others

Today I had a lot of joy, and it definitely came from helping others.  First of all, I gave R's younger daughters some loving attention which I and they greatly enjoyed.  R's youngest daughter T, who is 5 years old and autistic, has a very kind heart.  When she saw me wearing a brace on my ankle, she asked me if my foot was hurt.  When I wore a skirt one day, she asked me why I was wearing a skirt and then told me I looked good in it.  Today she hid under the covers and giggled when I said,"Is there someone hiding under the covers?"  She peaked out her head, and I said,"Hi T."  She then laughed with an infectiously joyous laugh.  I also sat with T and CC and watched cartoons with them briefly.  The healing balm of loving children in this house is wonderful for me.

Then I had more good news.  First of all, I had contacted two agencies in California which specialize in representing Iranian political refugees who are seeking political asylum in the West.  I did this on behalf of my dear friend Dr. Roya Araghi, who has fled prison and torture in Iran and is living in Malaysia as a political refugee.  I got good news today because one of the agencies responded to me and told me they will contact Roya directly to see if they can help her.

Finally I saw a moving posting from a woman who is seeking to leave her violently abusive husband.  She said she is afraid to leave as she has no money, no car, and no job, and she is also worried about taking care of her two teenage daughters.  I told her that I understand first hand just difficult it can be to leave your abuser for financial and emotional reasons.  I encouraged her to leave her abuser but I told her I would support her even if she decided to remain in her marriage.  I friended her on facebook and offered her some advice such as the fact that she can still receive support services even if she decides to remain in her marriage.  And another woman, an older survivor of DV who had to flee her abuser in the middle of the night with her 2 daughters at a time when there were little or no services for women, chimed in and said there are some church organizations that offer temporary housing for abuse victims.  I didn't know that - great for me to know.  So as two survivors who left their abusers, D and I tried to create a circle of support and hope for K that we both hope will help her find the courage to leave her abuser and take her teenage daughters with her to safety and freedom.

Understanding Lupus

This post is dedicated to R, a fellow resident in the transition house who is a mother of four young daughters, all under 12 years old, and who is living with Lupus.  R explained to me that she has had Lupus for twelve years, and during the first six years she did not take medicines for it.  As a result her body was severely compromised.  She also confirmed to me that all her pregnancies were difficult as a result of having Lupus.  And she said that two years ago she was re-classified as having the most severe form of Lupus, which is called Systemic Lupus  Erythematosus (SLE). Now she is considered to have the aggressive form of SLE.  She has had 41 surgeries during her 12 years with Lupus.   pro
I came to understand much more of what R and her daughters go through now that I have taken the time and energy to educate myself about Lupus.  R was so moved that I had taken the time and effort to study Lupus that gave me a hug and thanked me for my compassion for her and her family.  She asked me if there was any hopeful information on the web site for her, and I said that sadly not really.  I said the site did mention that 80 to 90% of people with Lupus can live 10 or more years with the disease.  But she has had it for 12 years, and she is experiencing heart problems and also kidney calcification as a result of this problem.  Her stomach is also severely damaged by the Lupus.  And she has lost 50% of a lung as a result of Lupus.
I did find one source of hope. The treatments for Lupus are becoming  more effective.  The old treatments for Lupus had only a 50% 5 year survival rate, whereas the new ones have a 95% survival right.  I really hope R is included in this survival rate. http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_learntreating.aspx?articleid=2245&zoneid=525
Lupus is a disease characterized by an overactive immune system.  The way to treat Lupus is to give patients immune-suppressant drugs which are designed to suppress the overactive immune system.  Of course the risk is that giving someone immune-suppressants by definition weakens their immune system, making them more prone to disease and infection.
R often suffers from the symptoms of Lupus.  For instance, she frequently experiences extreme fatigue,  headaches, and severe and painful joint soreness which renders her unable to walk  without great difficulty. http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_learnunderstanding.aspx?articleid=2235&zoneid=523  In addition, one of the most difficult aspects of Lupus is its sheer unpredictability.  It is hard to plan for yourself and your family when you don’t know from one day to the next if you will be experiencing flare-ups that may make it impossible for you to work and can often land you in the hospital for several days at a time.  This situation is naturally stressful for R’s young daughters, who are forced to cope with their mother’s routine visits to the hospital.  Can you imagine being 5 or 6 years old and not knowing from one day to the next if your mom was going to be working or in the hospital?  And also R is a single mom who fled a violently abusive man, and so that makes it even harder. 
Lupus can cause depression because of its unpredictability and can also make it hard for people living with it to hold a job.  That’s because especially since R does manual labor in construction which requires a great deal of physical strength.  And obviously with Lupus you don’t know from one day to the next if you will be well enough to work, and also you may force yourself to go to work even when you’re really not well enough to be at work.  Some people with Lupus can work full-time, but others can only work part-time with Lupus.   
I said that I noticed that fevers were often the indications of flare-ups and I was concerned that she had a fever of 103 the night before as it could be a sign of a more serious or even life-threatening condition.  She told me the fever was actually 104.6, and that was really alarming to me as I thought that I read that fevers of 105 or more are often fatal.  She said this is true but that she has managed to reduce the fevers with Tylenol – but if that doesn’t work she has to go to the hospital.  I can’t imagine living with such a terminal and difficult condition.
She already has some of the complications of SLE such as inflamed kidneys.  http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_learnunderstanding.aspx?articleid=2234&zoneid=523The web site said the kidneys can cease to function, leading R to need kidney dialysis.  When I used to ride the Special Transportation Service in Palm Beach County, I often used to see exhausted kidney dialysis patients finished with their treatments, and it saddens me to think that R could soon be in that position with four young daughters.  She mentioned  that heart disease is another complication of SLE.
I am glad I took the time and energy to educate myself more about Lupus.  Now I can better understand what R and her daughters are going through. I think the more people who understand Lupus, maybe the more compassion people with Lupus will experience.  I think people are frightened by Lupus because we don’t understand it.  I know I was scared of Lupus before I met R.  Now I feel sad for how much R and her daughters are suffering, but at least I understand the root causes of their challenges.  

I found a synagogue

I saw how C greatly benefited from attending church most weeks and how R was so excited to find a church for herself and her family.  And also my new Face Book friend, the Jewish Zionist activist Gabe Margolis, encouraged me to give the Jewish community another chance.  I told him about the many negative and traumatic experiences I have had in the Jewish world.  And he said the problem was I hadn’t found the right Jews, and he also pointed out how my anger at my family of origin could be poisoning my attitude toward the Jewish community as a whole.  He said that I needed to begin establishing an internal emotional separation between my abusive family of origin and the Jewish community.  I think his points are very useful and wise for me.

I have had many traumatic and negative experiences in the Jewish world in the past.  For instance, when I told the members of my last synagogue that my parents were emotionally abusing me, they responded by inviting my parents into the synagogue.  I felt betrayed, hurt, and angry as my trust and sense of safety was shattered.  I am not naming the synagogue as I am not interested in revenge or finger-pointing, only in challenging the Jewish cultural tendency to collude with the abuser against the victim. 

Also an older Orthodox synagogue that I had counted on for support – they turned their back on me when I needed them most.   When grandma threatened to throw me out of the house, I asked for their support.  And they all found a million excuses not to help me and all refused to let me stay in their homes for even a few days.  I felt betrayed and angry because they abandoned me at my most vulnerable point emotionally. 

I often attended a liberal Orthodox shul which prides itself on its feminist commitments in an Orthodox context.  But I witnessed an incident of domestic violence there where one of the board members hit his pregnant wife in public during a Friday night dinner.  No one challenged him sadly, including me.  This example shows that some communities struggle with a conflict between their rhetoric and their actions.   

Last but not least when I first sought counseling with a Jewish agency in New York City, I was devastated when the counselor told me the abuse was my fault.  She also said it wasn’t abuse because it was ‘only’ emotional and verbal abuse and not physical or sexual abuse.  Thus she utterly dismissed my pain and made me feel alone and afraid.

On the other hand, I received wonderful emotional support from the rabbis and executive director at Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Manhattan.  I was a member there from 2002 to 2005 when I lived in Manhattan, and the rabbis and executive director stood by me and continue to be my friends to this day.  This community’s kindness and compassion was an inspiration to me, and also their Zionist dedication was very moving to me as well.  I remain in regular contact with executive director Lenny Silverman and Rabbi Elie Weinstock in this shul.  My experience with this loving traditional Jewish community gives me hope for the Jewish world to start taking domestic violence and child abuse seriously. 

I decided to take the risk of joining another Jewish community, and I am glad that I did.  I have found a conservative shul, Congregation Bet Shira in Miami, where the Rabbi, Brian Schuldenfrei, has offered me emotional support.  I haven’t yet visited the synagogue for services, but I was encouraged when I saw on their web site that their Tikkun Olam, or repair of the world, committee  donated goods to the local women’s shelter.  This information gave me hope that I could find a compassionate and supportive and understanding environment in their shul.   Since I am unemployed and have limited financial resources, I was also very glad that the shul has an honor system for annual donations.  The requested donation amounts are far beyond my capacity, but I will give a small contribution to them now.  And once I become more financially self-sufficient, then I will be happy to contribute to them a more significant amount of money. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

My body slowly heals

Today was the first day in almost two weeks that I was finally strong enough to do my laundry again.  I have had a sinus infection for over two weeks, and I finally got to the doctor and got some medicine on Friday.  The medicine finally began to kick in today, and so my strength has been gradually but irregularly returning.

In other news, I can only say that G-d sent me to this particular location in Miami-Dade County because my member of Congress is now Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  Last night I received my voter registration card in the mail, and it said my new Congressional district was 18.  I was thrilled to find out who my new member of Congress is.  Ms. Ros-Lehtinen is one of my favorite members of Congress.  I admire her fiery passion for freedom in her Cuban homeland as a Cuban-American and her support of Israel and the Jews.  I also like her support of Arab and Iranian freedom and I am impressed by her moral leadership of the House Foreign Relations Committee.  I am proud and excited to call her my member of Congress, and I look forward to working with her on issues relating to Israel and also to freedom in the Arab and Iranian world and perhaps Latin America as well.

I called her office today to tell her staff about Maikel’s case, and I was very happy but not surprised by the compassionate response that I received.  Right away I was transferred to the staff of the House Committee on Foreign Relations.  I was told to email the committee staff member covering Africa.  I sent this woman an email and am awaiting her response.  After calling the office of the Congresswoman and then the House Committee on Foreign Relations, I felt like I could breathe for the first time since I learned of Maikel’s hunger strike last week. 

Why? Because there was finally something constructive I could do to help him.  I felt like this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and my stomach immediately began to relax.   My body stopped feeling constipated, and I began to feel a lot lighter and better.  And then I saw that Maikel had published yet another loving appeal for peace between Arabs and Jews from prison, which only reinforced my inner sense that I was doing the right thing by concentrating on helping him.  And then I began doing research on the uprising in Syria for my next post about that, and I found some encouraging signs although unfortunately no real indication that the Assad regime is imminently headed for the dustbin of history. 

I also made inquiries about a Jewish community tonight and am awaiting the responses.  I contacted a local Chabad in the area and also a Conservative synagogue to tell them my story and see how they react to it.  I am scared to contact the Jewish community because the last synagogue that I belonged to sided with my parents against me.  But I am going to try and see what happens.  I am missing a sense of spiritual connection with my fellow Jews and want to find a community where people love and embrace me.   

Reflections on African struggles for gender equality

I feel incredibly moved and inspired by the courage of young men and women who are publicly confronting the abuse of women in their homes and communities in Africa and Muslim countries.  I felt profoundly hopeful when I read the story of a young woman in Kenya who had grown up in an egalitarian household where her father treated her and her 6 sisters as the same as her 3 brothers.  This woman Njoki Wainaina, went on to found a campaign for men to fight for gender equality in Kenya. I was really amazed that her father was one of the few men who campaigned against Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages of girls and in favor of women’s education.  http://megenkenya.org/images/resources/defying%20the%20odds.pdf
I wish I had grown up in her house.  I would have had the love and support that my own father denied me for being a woman.

Her African father is far more progressive than my father.  Having grown up in a Western Jewish household, my father is horrified by FGM and forced child marriages of girls and supportive of women’s education.  But he also harbors very backward views of women’s roles in society, believing that women exist primarily to produce babies and serve men and not to pursue their own careers and contribute to the broader society.  Our respective experiences shows that there are some backward, highly patriarchal men like my father in Western societies and some highly progressive and feminist men like her father in more traditional African societies. 

I am greatly moved and inspired by the story of Pascal Kelvin Akimana, a young man in Burundi who has used his experience as a survivor of horrific child abuse and a witness to barbaric domestic violence to become an advocate of women’s rights.  This young man grew up in a horrifically violent household.  As a teenager, his mother was forced to marry the man who made her pregnant.  The couple had three other children as well.  

Mr. Akimana is 27 years old and grew up in a rural area close to the capital of Burundi, Bujumbura.  His story is drawn from a report on African male contributions to the struggle against domestic violence and the spread of AIDs.  The title of the report is   Working with Men and Boys: Emerging Strategies from across Africa to address GBV and HIV/AIDS.  The outstanding report can be accessed here. http://www.genderjustice.org.za/newsletter-issue-4-publications/menengage-case-studies-collection
Mr. Akimana’s childhood was a living hell in every sense of the word. He said,“My father used to assault my mother every day, in front of the entire family, and no one said anything.” Page 23. Can you imagine growing up in such a cruel household and being forced to watch your father terrorize and brutalize your mother every single day of your life?  What I find particularly significant is the fact that his whole family colluded with his father against his mother.  By remaining silent in the face of witnessing such horrific abuse, they were aiding and abetting the perpetrator and abandoning the victim.  Their behavior reminds me of how often my family colluded against me whenever my father attacked me verbally and emotionally.  I was always alone and abandoned when my dad terrorized me, and when I went on a cruise in 2008, my aunt warned me that I was on my own if my dad abused me.  My grandmother never spoke up even once against my dad terrorizing me even though she witnessed this abuse quite often, and only rarely did my mother challenge my father’s abuse of me.  I knew that I couldn’t count on anyone else’s support when I was under attack, and I was the only one who ever spoke up consistently against my dad’s abuse of my mother.
His father was also a sexual pervert who forced his wife to have sex with him in front of their children.  This behavior is completely immoral and is way beyond the pale of civilized, appropriate conduct.  In addition, his father also cheated on his mother. Thus, his  father turned sex into a weapon to be used against his wife and children.
Mr. Akimana eventually realized that most of the men in his village were assaulting their wives, and that men routinely used violence against their wives as a means of controlling and terrorizing them.  Men also use violence against their wives in order to assert power over them.  Mr. Akimana said,”To my father, beating and assaulting my lovely mother was the way of proving his manhood.” Page 23.  He also lamented the fact that his mother never received any support from the older women in the village or her family.  The women in her family and village considered male violence against women to be such a normal part of everyday life that they could not see anything wrong with it. 
His father also used horrific cruelty against his children as a means of controlling them.  He not only beat his children frequently but also verbally abused them, thus depriving them of the love and support that they need from their father in order to become emotionally healthy adults.  His father finally expelled his mother from the home and burned her clothes.  In addition, in accordance with the cultural norms of Burundi, his mother was forced to abandon her children when she was kicked out of her own home by her husband.  Thus, his mother suffered the loss of connection not only with her abusive partner but also with her children.  I can’t begin to imagine the pain of this mother who could not visit, love, care for, or talk to her own children.  Her sense of loss as a mother in exile would have been un-imaginable.   
Once his mother was expelled from the home, Mr. Akimana and his sisters were at the mercy of his father and step-mother.  Like my dad’s mother, who was brutally beaten by her step-mother after her own mother died when she only six years old, Mr. Akimana and his siblings suffered great cruelty at  the hands of their step-mother.  In addition, his father used to viciously beat the children as well.  he would punish, torture and discipline me -- as he used to call it, “like someone who had killed”.  His father tried to force him to sever all ties with his mother by beating him severely after he had visited his mother.  The father knew instinctively that their mother might be a source of liberation for his children, and so he tried to destroy the relationship between his estranged wife and her children.  In contrast, my father encouraged me to retain contact with my mother because she is complicit alongside him in their joint abuse against me.  Thus, if I were to resume contact with my mother, I would be putting myself at risk of falling once again into my father’s clutches.  For this reason I am not in contact with my mother or grandmother at this point.

He was only 12 years old when the civil war and genocide in Burundi broke out in 1993.  In 1993, 50,000 Tutsi civilians were murdered by Hutu extremists in Burundi in revenge for a Tutsi genocide against Hutus which killed virtually the whole educated Hutu class in the 1970’s.  Burundi has a tragic history of genocide and ethnic conflict which is similar to neighboring Rwanda.  He fled with his sister to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was like going from the frying pan into the fire.  As soon as they arrived in the DRC, he was forced to watch his sister being raped by soldiers of the notoriously underpaid, brutal, and corrupt Congolese army.   When he tried to call for help to protect his sister from this assault, he himself was severely beaten.  Can you imagine being a 12 year old refugee boy who is watching your own sister being raped and being unable to help her?

So he endured not only severe physical child abuse from his father and becoming an involuntary witness to daily domestic violence by his father against his mother.  In addition he was also a refugee from a civil war and genocide and witnessed his own sister being raped.  And he suffered all this trauma before he turned 13 years old. He said:

It was because I experienced all this violence and abuse in my family, in my community  and in my whole country that I decided to work on advocating for women’s rights. Whenever I hear or see an abused woman I see and remember my mother, and I remember what my mother and I went through. It is for this reason that I have no regret or doubt about  advancing human rights, embracing gender equality, promoting healthy relationships and  continuing to strive to end sexual and gender-based violence in my community, society and
the entire continent.  (page 24).

I am tremendously inspired by his courage and determination to use his personal experience as a survivor of child abuse, refugee, and witness to domestic violence and rape to become an effective advocate for women’s rights.  He can make a powerful contribution to the struggle against domestic violence and child abuse in his native Burundi and across Africa. Like him, I am also trying to use my personal experience as a survivor of severe emotional child abuse in order to challenge both child abuse and domestic violence.  I also want to use my international relations background and understanding of Africa and other global regions in order to challenge male violence against women and children on a global level.  Like him, I also think of my mother whenever I see any woman choosing to remain in an abusive relationship.  I cannot rescue every woman who chooses to stay with an abusive partner, but I am moved by my mother’s experience to try to empower other women to leave their abusers. 

He also makes a very fascinating point. He says the problem is not only that men are trained to hit women.  The flip side of the coin is that women are trained to expect men to hit them.  And for this reason, when Mr. Akiwana began dating, many girls rejected him because he refused to hit them.  They were confused by his refusal to use his male privilege as an excuse to establish his domination over them by force.  He said,”Many girls expect me to be violent or to behave in a violent manner. When I behave the way I want to, they keep pushing me back in the gender box.” (page 25).  So not only men but also women have to unlearn familiar and comforting forms of domination and subordination.  Men clearly need to stop hitting women, but women also need to stop expecting men to hit them.  Women in many countries are so conditioned to being hit by men that they don’t know anything else.  Thus, rather than perceiving a kind and feminist man as a gift and a friend, many women view a liberated man as a potential threat to them.

I also strongly believe that Western racism and assumptions of cultural superiority over Africans is morally and logically wrong.  The exchange of ideas between the West and Africa is a two way street, and I really do believe that the West can learn as much from Africans as Africans can learn from the West.  Once again I find that I learn some vital lessons from the African experience which are universally applicable to the global human experience and my own personal life journey. 

I can't sleep anyway

Its 2:30 a.m., and I can’t sleep anyway.  So I decided to write a blog entry instead.  I went to the doctor on Friday afternoon at last, and I was really glad to see her.  I had to wait an hour and a half for my appointment, but it was well worth it.  Dr. Janice Milligan was very kind, polite, compassionate, and helpful.  She immediately diagnosed me as having a sinus infection, and so it was a relief to me to know that I was sick and to know what the problem was. 

I also told her about my emotional problems stemming from my history as an abuse survivor.  She replied that she knew I had a lot of needs but that it would take time for me to heal all my problems.  She also said it was more important to focus on curing problems than on discovering their origins.  She said I should stop worrying about where I got the sinus infection and start figuring out how to cure it.  She also advised me to go back to the public health clinic for psychological and psychiatric services in order to save money. I liked her attitude and helpfulness.  She also gave me a flu shot as well.

The health care visit blew a big giant hole right in the middle of my budget.  It cost me $180 for the first-time doctors visit and an additional cost of $157 for my medications.  I also received one anti-biotic.  I went food shopping and bought a lot of dairy.  Then I read the directions to my anti-biotic and realized I had made a huge mistake.  Why? Because I am not supposed to eat all dairy meals within two hours before taking my anti-biotic which I must take twice a day.  Oops.  I try to include with my dairy meals some fruit or vegetables to balance them out. 

I felt weak, tired, and stressed the last few days.  While I was at the doctor, I was thinking about all the people in our society and around the world who have no access to health care for financial or political reasons.  My housemate C has no funds to visit a doctor and is extremely frustrated that she no longer qualifies for Medicaid since she is not over 60, pregnant, or a mother of a minor child under 18.  My face book friend from Rwanda JClaude has a very painful physical condition, and he had to wait months to see a doctor because Rwanda has almost no doctors.  He is not receiving any drugs or treatment for his condition, which would cost $2,000 USD.  He lacks the money for his essential medical care, and so he is left to suffer in pain.

I was contemplating the cruel reality that your access to health care depends largely upon your ability to pay for it.  So if you have not the income to pay for a doctor, then you get either profoundly sub-standard care as in a public health clinic or no care at all such as JClaude faces in Rwanda.  I think health care should be treated as a right and not a privilege only available to those who are fortunate enough to have the resources to pay for it.  There is no doubt that thousands of babies die needlessly every day in the developing world for lack of access to simple, life-saving health care.  I believe the failure to provide essential health care to hundreds of millions of extremely poor people in the developing world is a profound moral sin. 

And of course every single day I find myself thinking and worrying almost endlessly about the case of Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad, the Egyptian pacifist and pro-Israel supporter who is now a political prisoner on hunger strike.  Maikel’s friend was one of two people who helped convince me to come to HOEF and leave my abusers behind.  And also Maikel is one of the very few public and dedicated friends of Israel and the Jews in an overwhelmingly hostile world.  I realize that as long as he is going hungry, I am not going to be satisfied, happy, or comfortable.  I now have a small capacity to understand why my mother could not feel happy whenever she thought I was not doing well.  Clearly I am not a mother, but I have still a profound compassion for Maikel’s suffering.  He has a 3 year prison sentence, and he feels abandoned, something I deeply understand.  It has often been said that the personal is political, and I think this statement is very true.  But I also believe my experience with Maikel’s case shows that the political can also become very deeply personal. 

Maikel is a friend of a dear friend, and so every night I find myself thinking about Maikel and wondering what else I can do to help him.  I am hoping to publish an article about him in a scholarly Middle Eastern studies journal.  I am also writing about him constantly and I just sent an email to a French fellow activist for Iranian and Middle Eastern freedom about his case.

I am happy to have met a new face book friend named Ahmed Montaser.  He is an atheist from a Muslim background living in Egypt who actually admires Israel and the Jews.  He even asked me where he can study Hebrew on-line.  I am amazed by his open-mindedness to Israel and the Jews and his curiosity about our people.  I have helped him to learn more about things that he is not familiar with, like the high level of anti-Semitism in Europe.  And he’s opening my eyes to the fact that Maikel is not the only Egyptian who likes Israel and the Jews.  He’s also sharing with me his own hopes, concerns, and perspectives on Egypt’s future.  He told me today that Egypt has still a 40% illiteracy rate, which surprised and depressed me.

We have also had some recent developments in our household.  One of R’s daughters has been consistently refusing to do her share of the household chores and also demonstrating a deceptive and negative overall attitude.  In response all the adult members of the household stood beside R as she confronted her daughter S.  In addition, all the adult members of the household addressed R’s daughter S personally and individually to share our perspectives on how she could learn to become a better young woman.  We presented a united front in our effort to confront S about her defiantly unacceptable behavior.  Her punishment is that she has to fold all her own clothes from now on.

I told S that I know she is a bright young woman and I hope she gains admission to the gifted program.  At the same time, I noted that one time soon after my arrival, she faked a headache in order to avoid folding the laundry.  I told her that she needs to take responsibility for her actions and that I say this as someone who cares for her and only wants the best for her.  Unfortunately, instead of taking responsibility for her actions, S has developed a hostile and defiant attitude toward all the adults in the household, including me.  She refuses to acknowledge us and it is her problem.  I told Bev that if S didn’t learn her lesson from facing appropriate disciplinary consequences for her actions, then one day she will be fired from her first job for refusing to do her share of the work. 

Also R told me today that she found a wonderful church community where she and her daughters feel warm and welcome.  And C also finds church attendance helps her spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  Unfortunately, I am afraid to attend synagogue.  Why? Because I told the members of my last synagogue that I was being emotionally abused by my parents.  In response the members of the synagogue invited my parents into the community, thus openly and publicly betraying my trust and destroying my sense of safety in my own community.

I am experiencing a panic attack and sweating profusely, but this is to be expected as a consequence of my PTSD.  Earlier I was very tired but could not fall asleep.  Now I am half awake and filled with some energy. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Helping Latinos Fight Domestic Violence

This post is inspired by my communication with HOEF executive director Julia LeBlanc, who asked me to develop a list of suggestions for helping Latino communities fight domestic violence.  This post is divided into 3 parts: general tips for Latino communities, specific tips for Latino communities, and applicable lessons from Africa and the Middle East.

General Suggestions for Latinas confronting DV in the U.S.:
1.        You don’t need to remove the man from the home in order to receive support services and counseling for the woman and children.  You and your children can still receive this assistance even if you decide to remain with your partner.
2.       You don’t need to speak English in order to receive services.  Increasingly services are being made available in Spanish for abused women and children throughout the country, including Deep South states which have witnessed a more recent immigration of Latinos to their areas.  In addition, the courts have Spanish language interpreters so that you can testify in U.S. courts in your native language. 
3.        If you are an illegal immigrant, you and your children cannot be deported because you testify against your abuser.  The U Visa and several other programs are available to allow you and your children to legally remain in the USA once you have testified against your batterer in court.

Specific sources of inspiration and hope for challenging DV in the U.S. Latino community:

1.Increasing numbers of men in Latin America are challenging DV and child abuse, as shown through the increasing participation of men in the White Ribbon project in Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico.  The White Ribbon project is an effort started by Canadian men to challenge DV against women.  Men wear white ribbons to work as a sign of solidarity with abused women and to encourage abused women to seek their direct support.   Men are joining the struggle against DV in some of the most historically repressive and conflict-ridden countries in Latin America with terrible histories of state-sponsored violence and economic and racial oppression. http://www.whiteribbon.ca/international

2.Latino men are increasingly joining the struggle against DV in the United States.  In 2008, Unidos launched a project where Latino men publicly pledge to live non-violent lives on Father’s Day.  http://www.unidosagainstdv.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=19&Itemid=1
DV Alianza arranged Latino Men Speak Outs against Domestic Violence in 2005, 2006, and 2007 to give Latino men the forum to directly challenge domestic violence.  These kinds of programs and events are essential to giving Latino men the voice to challenge DV. 
http://www.victorrivers.com/book.htm - Victor Rivers, a Cuban-born survivor of severe physical child abuse from his father and a witness to domestic violence against his mother, wrote his inspirational tale of his own successful struggle against child abuse.  He is also an actor and a husband and father. 

3.More and more Latino men are devoting their professional careers to the struggle against domestic violence.  These men are making substantial contributions to the field through their work with battered men, their scholarly contributions to understanding domestic violence from a liberated Latino male perspective, and their solidarity with abused women.  These men include Antonio Ramirez Hernandez, http://www.cecevim.org/Antonio.html, Fernando Mederos, Ricardo Carrillo, Ph.D., Rolando Gouboud-Reyna, L.C.S.W., Samuel Martínez, L.C.S.W, Jerry Tello, M.A, Manuel Colorado-Reyes, and Dr. Etiony Aldarondo.

4.       More and more programs are targeting teen girls in Spanish in the United States in an attempt to break the cycle of dating violence before it turns into marital violence and child abuse.  These kinds of prevention and awareness campaigns are essential to reaching teenage girls before the violence spreads further.  http://www.lacasa.org/what-we-do/crisis-services/teen-program/ and http://www.thesafespace.org/ayuda/

5.Cultural awareness of the underlying political conditions in Latin America, preferably on a country-specific basis,  is essential to developing effective programs to help Latino families successfully defeat domestic violence.  “For example, an an entire group of El Salvadorian fathers refused to sign up for a job-training program when they were informed that a requirement of the program was to register with the Selective Service (military).” http://www.nlffi.org/publications/downloads/files/nlffifatherhoodtoolkit.pdf Page 18 (Fatherhood Lessons).  The men were reacting to their historical and cultural experience of terror and abuse at the hands of the Salvadoran military regime.  In El Salvador, the regime routinely kidnapped young men from their homes and communities and forcibly inducted them intoF the military, where they were often beaten and brutalized as conscripts.  In addition, the military regime also forced young male conscripts to participate in horrific atrocities against civilians, including murder, during the Salvadoran civil war which killed tens of thousands of people. A cultural understanding of the experience of persecuted Salvadoran refugees would have led to increased sensitivity to their fears about the military. 

In addition, child support collection programs which target delinquent Latino fathers need to take into account the fact that Latinos have a typically broader view of the range of their financial responsibilities.  Latinos have a stronger sense of extended family than do most white Americans, and so Latino men may feel responsible to support not only their former wives and children but also their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  This reality should not be used as an excuse to allow Latino men to fail to pay child support, but this cultural perspective needs to be understood.   (page 20, Fatherhood Lessons).      

6.Informing immigrant women of their rights to receive a U visa for themselves and their children and stay legally in this country can be life-saving.  Graciela Beines, 50, an undocumented immigrant from Argentina, endured a two year abusive relationship in the United States in which she was repeatedly beaten and pressured to quit two jobs.  She says she never would have endured this abuse if she had known her legal rights as an undocumented immigrant woman. http://www.dvalianza.org/en/news/345-visas-out-of-hell-women-need-to-know-they-exist.html
7.  Just because a woman doesn’t successfully leave her abuser the first time doesn’t mean that she won’t ultimately find the courage to leave her abuser. A woman may take many attempts before she is finally able to leave her abuser permanently.  Irma endured an 18 year long abusive relationship starting in her native El Salvador when she was just 14 years old.  She tried to leave her abuser three times unsuccessfully before she finally found her way to an 18 month transition program.  She left her abuser along with her three children, learned English, got a part-time job, and attended community college.  http://www.havenhills.org/Services/18_Month_Transitional
8.  Increasing levels of services are available for Spanish-speaking residents in the United States. In 1988, the Morivivi program was started by the Violence Intervention Program.  This program offered the first bilingual shelter in New York City.  Today the shelter has 8 apartment sites for battered women and their children.
A National bilingual hotline for domestic violence was started by the U.S. government in 2001.  In addition, Casa de Esperanza has a program in Minnesota which has become a national model for helping Latino communities confront domestic violence.  The staff is 72% Latina, and the board is 80% Latina.  http://www.casadeesperanza.org/about-us/  The Caza de Esperanza board consists primarily of Latina corporate executives who presumably use their connections and experience in the corporate world to contribute to the struggle against Latino domestic violence.  http://www.casadeesperanza.org/about-us/board-of-directors/.
9. One factor contributing to domestic violence may be the comparable lack of male access to parenting support.  Just 31% of Latino men had access to parenting support, compared with 53% of Latina women.  http://socialsciences.people.hawaii.edu/publications_lib/parenting%20stress.pdf  (page 9) Thus, increasing parenting support for Latino men could be a strategy to challenge domestic violence in the Latino community.
Some traditional values associated with the Latino community can be used to help Latino men and women fight domestic violence.  At least two traditional cultural influences were identified by a study called Forum on Latino Men who Batter on page 13 as ways to challenge domestic violence.
First of all, the concept of the non-violent and honorable man can provide a powerful counterpoint to the stereotype of the macho Latino man who shows his manhood by battering.  This concept is expressed in Spanish with the saying “El hombre que le levanta la mano a una mujer, no es un hombre.”  The saying is translated as “The man who hits a woman, is not a man.”  This concept is also the source of a global Face book campaign against domestic violence entitled “A Real Man Doesn’t Hit a Woman.”
The second useful concept is the notion of honor and shame.  The idea is that when a man hits a woman, he brings shame to himself and his ancestors.  This idea is expressed in Spanish with the concept that “Un hombre sin verguenza es un descarado.”  In English the saying means “A man without shame is a man without face.”  This notion of shame and honor can help men to take responsibility for their own actions and not minimize or justify violence against their partner and children.
Optional Section: Applicable Lessons From Africa and the Middle East
11.  African societies also offer powerful models for challenging domestic violence which can be directly applied to Latinos in the United States and to Latin American men.  A program in Kenya is called Men for Gender Equality (MEGEN). 
A.The program was started by an African woman, Njoki Wainaina, who grew up in an egalitarian household where her father was the leading feminist and advocate for an end to female genital mutilation and forced marriage of girls and for increasing women’s education.  Njoki says that her father’s experience and her program shows “that there are many men even in the most traditional and patriarchal societies that believe in and support gender equality. These men need to be reached, encouraged, empowered and mobilized to become part of the movement of men who are committed to the fight against gender-based violence.”  Page 5.  http://megenkenya.org/images/resources/defying%20the%20odds.pdf If egalitarian men can be successfully mobilized in Kenya to fight domestic violence, then clearly they can also be mobilized in Latin America and among U.S. Latinos to fight for gender equality and an end to male violence against women and children.
B.In addition, one father who joined the program against domestic violence in Kenya was motivated by his desire to protect his daughter from being abused.  “Afterwards, I had a candid man-to-man talk with one of the members. He challenged me on what I was doing as a man and as a father to ensure that our daughters were not at the mercy of some man wielding his manhood.” Page 9

This story reminds me of the fact that many men in patriarchal societies are powerfully motivated by a profound desire to protect their daughters from being abused by their male partners.   Certainly many Latin American and U.S. Latino fathers would be just as interested in protecting their daughters from abuse as this father in Kenya. 

C. In Muslim societies similarly, men are driven to protect the “honor” of their daughters and sisters from being ‘violated’ by unwanted sexual contact outside marriage.  This logic can lead men to murder their daughters and sisters for engaging in sex or being raped outside marriage  in “honor killings.”  But this same protective instinct can also be turned on its head and used as a powerful basis to mobilize men in patriarchal cultures to help protect and care for their daughters.  For example, one of the few Sunni Arab revolts against Saddam Hussein in Iraq was driven by the outrage of a high-ranking member of the leading Iraqi tribe, the Dulyami, against Saddam’s son Uday for raping his daughter.  This tribal leader motivated many other leaders of his tribe to join the failed rebellion against Saddam by Sunni Arabs in 1995-96.  This example shows how men in a patriarchal society such as Latin America can be driven to take personal and political action to protect their daughters against abuse.     

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stumbling Forward

I posted a positive review of The Freedom Programme by Patricia Craven.  The Freedom Programme is a program for women in UK domestic violence shelters.  Ms. Craven has also published a highly effective book for domestic violence survivors called Living with the Dominator.  I posted the following review of this excellent book which I highly recommend here  http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/docs/review-usa.pdf.  For more information about the Freedom Programme, please click here.  http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/ /

I have come to understand that recovery from a lifetime of emotional abuse will take a lot longer than I expected, and that’s okay.  I have been physically quite ill in the past two weeks.  I haven’t stopped coughing since I came back from the public health facility two weeks ago.  I am certain that I caught something from all the unhealthy, uninsured people there.  I have a deep and persistent cough, and I often shiver from the cold in the heat of the day.  Strangely I have no fever.  But I have continual constipation and stomach problems – and I have chronic fatigue as well.  My energy level varies from low to high to moderate to non-existent.  My appetite is diminished but still considerable.  I haven’t had the strength to work consistently although I work irregularly.  I lack the strength to cook and one clear sign that I don’t feel well is I haven’t done laundry in over two weeks, whereas I do laundry religiously every week when I’m feeling good. 

The wonderful people in this safe house offered to take me to the ER several times, but I refused to go to the ER because I got so sick from the public health facility.  If I caught the terrible cough from the public health facility, I worry that I could catch something worse from the ER.   Instead I am going to a private female physician.  I realize that one of the long-term consequences of being severely emotionally abused by those I relied upon to take care of me is a sense of learned helplessness.  Truthfully I have a hard time standing up for myself and taking care of myself.  I really hesitated for a long time before finally deciding to seek a private female physician because I have now seen first-hand the terrible cost of trying to save money by using the public health system.  I was sick for ten days before I chose to make an appointment with a private doctor, and then it took me 3 days to get an appointment. I decided finally that I’m worth investing in myself, and so its worthwhile for me to invest the money needed for a private physician.  The initial consultation costs $120 to $190, and follow-up visits cost me $80 each.  Spending this kind of money out of pocket when I have no income coming in is quite simply frightening.  But I don’t have a choice at this point, and I am grateful that I still have the resources to be able to provide for myself in this way. 

This female doctor is extremely popular.  I know because her staff is so pleasant –and so incredibly hard to reach on the phone.  I was actually warned that this doctor takes her time with her patients.  So she told me I might be waiting from 1 to 3 hours to see the doctor even with an appointment.  I am planning to bring my journal and a book to read to keep myself properly occupied in case of such a long wait.  Also this doctor, like my last one, instructed me to bring all my medicines to her in a plastic bag.  I prefer to see a woman because quite frankly the idea of a strange man looking at my private parts, even for legitimate medical purposes, is very uncomfortable for me.  Its easier to talk to a woman about female problems like period cramps too.  Tomorrow is my appointment, and then we’ll see from there.

I feel as though I have hit a major roadblock in my recovery from abuse.  I began to grow frustrated with myself when I realized that I have been living in freedom for almost two months, and yet I continue to struggle physically and emotionally on such a basic level.  I am still largely unable to sleep at night, and my stomach burns almost every night when I try to fall asleep.  I am continually constipated too.  I haven’t had the energy to even begin a job search or even put a resume together.  I haven’t been able to work yet on a consistent enough basis to look for a job.  I don’t think its fair to an employer to make a commitment to him / her that I will work say 3-4 hours a day if I don’t think I’m capable of keeping such a commitment at this point. 

But then I began reading about recovery from abuse and I realized that just because I have left my abusers behind physically does not mean that I have been able to overcome the emotional effects of their damaging cruelty upon me.  And then I became more forgiving and understanding toward myself.  For the most part I haven’t been well enough yet inside to begin processing and responding to individual memories of specific incidents of abuse, which is part of the intermediate stage of the recovery process from abuse. 

A Canadian-based web site called Heart2Heart has free download packets for both female and male survivors of abuse.  I highly encourage survivors of domestic violence to check it out here:  http://heart-2-heart.ca/booklet/.  Although its target audience is survivors of domestic violence rather than child abuse, I have found it very helpful.  On the section called “After leaving,” it begins with this very useful warning: “Understand that leaving will not solve all your problems.”  In fact although I am extremely glad to have left my abusers behind, the recovery process has been much harder, slower, and more painful than I could ever have imagined.  I did not realize in a way just how badly damaged I was by the abuse until I finally left it behind.  I knew that true healing would not be remotely possible as long as I remained physically under my abusers’ control and thus subject to additional incidents of their cruelty.  But the healing process is very difficult, as I have discovered.

Heart2Heart offers this very useful piece of advice:
“The damage that has been done, and you aren't going to heal from it without considerable time and effort. And no, this isn't fair, but it is real. Enjoy your sense of freedom and safety, but remember that there is a lot of work and tough time in front of you. When those bad times come, you may be tempted to give up or look for an easy way out instead of sticking to your guns. Be prepared for your discouragement and you're less likely to be blown away by it.”

I couldn’t agree more with this assessment.  I know that the damage has been done because my parents’ and grandmother’s emotional abuse has utterly destroyed my interest in marriage and motherhood.  I am unable to imagine dating, marriage, and motherhood as being a safe process for myself as a Jewish woman.  And the damage to my self-esteem and self-confidence has been much deeper and more extreme than I had anticipated.  I suffered a grave loss of self-confidence caused by having internalized my abusers’ perceptions and beliefs about me.  The cruelty of my abusers was designed to break me in mind, body, and spirit, and unfortunately on some level it has succeeded.  And in addition my abusers managed to completely destroy my sense of self-worth as a human being. 

These survivors are also quite right that healing will take “considerable time and effort.”   I have spent two months concentrating full-time on my healing, and I know that I am only at the earliest stages of my healing process. I haven’t yet begun to scratch the surface of my healing, and the road so far has been rocky and difficult.  I like the way they tell you to “be prepared for your discouragement” because I wish I had read this when I first joined the free world.  I would have been less disappointed, frustrated, and upset if I had known in advance how difficult the journey to freedom would be.   

But I am so grateful to everyone for their support.  My friend Mike Isma, a wonderful Haitian-American classmate from graduate school, just messaged me on facebook to see how I was doing and to offer me his support and encouragement.   It means so much to me to know that I am not alone in my recovery process and that I have so much support –from the management here such as Julia, Gisel, Marie, and Ibis and from the residential staff of Beverly and Kristin and from my fellow residents such as C, R, and R’s daughters.

Today I spent some quality time with R’s youngest daughters, who are 5 and 6 years old.  I watched them patiently and joyfully as they began creating their own collages from stickers.  They were filled with a sense of imagination, adventure, curiosity, innocence, and joy.  They really enjoyed having an adult pay close attention to them and take them seriously.  R’s daughters created collages of stickers about the experience of being at the beach.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they have ever really experienced the joys of the beach first-hand, and R’s youngest daughter doesn’t know how to swim and doesn’t have the floating wings.  So actually the beach might be a dangerous place for her.  I was so happy to see this young girls playing so freely and it helped me to heal as usual to spend time with them.

One of the hardest things for me has been to accept the love and support I have been offered by Julia and Gisel in particular.  Why? Because I was programmed and conditioned by my abusers to believe that I was not worthy of love and respect and honor and to think that I deserved to be brutalized, terrorized, and abused.  It is hard for me to see myself as lovable, as worthy of love and support.  I struggle to believe that anyone could love me in fact, and maybe this is the hardest and most painful part of my recovery process.  I am going to try and let the love in, and to try to accept the love that Julia and Gisel have offered me.  I am frankly stunned that people are so kind to me at HOEF because I am used to being brutalized and repressed and abused and hurt.  It will take me a long time to feel safe inside enough for me to fully accept the love of others, but I sense that this is perhaps the most important and difficult component of my healing process.    

HOEF has changed its policy to open the shelter to male victims of domestic violence.  I applaud this change in policy because although men are much less likely than women to suffer domestic violence, unfortunately some straight men have been beaten and emotionally and sexually abused by their female partners.  And also some 25-33% of gay men are also in abusive relationships.  I am against abusing anyone, female or male, adult or child.  So it is possible we might have abused men and their children staying with us. 

I also know personally of at least one or two men who were abused by their female partners.  One of them was suffering emotional abuse from his girlfriend and didn’t even realize it.  I pointed out to him repeatedly that she was not treating him with the love and respect that he deserved.  I kept explaining to him how differently she would have treated him if she had truly honored and respected him.  He had such a hard time leaving her even after she blocked him on facebook because he loved her so deeply, but I am glad that I helped him find the inner strength to move on from her. 

Also a white male Christian lawyer who represented my parents suffered emotional abuse from his Asian-American wife throughout their marriage, which lasted over 20 years.  He stayed in the marriage “for the sake of the children” and endured her cruelty toward him.  He finally found the courage to seek a divorce from her after their children had left the house for college.  I only wish he could have understood that he didn’t need to suffer his wife’s abuse just ‘for the sake of the children.’  He could have spared himself and his children much agony by leaving the marriage earlier.  He has Ivy League college and law degrees, which shows that even some men at the pinnacle of our society are being abused by their female partners.   
I saw this policy from a shelter http://www.safeshelter.org/AboutDomesticAbuse/FAQ.aspx.  The policy indicated that male clients needing shelter would be placed in a hotel room, presumably along with their children.  I understand why this shelter is placing the abused man in the hotel room, because the typical domestic violence shelter is designed primarily for women and children.  Also abused women might be afraid of the presence of a man in the shelter, even a male abuse survivor.
However, I think it is much better if possible to create a domestic violence shelter specifically for men.  Men and women are different in many ways, but one of the best things about the shelter for me has been the comraderie and support of other women and the sense of real community that comes about through communal living.  I think that abused men should be entitled to this kind of community support instead of being isolated in a hotel room.  Also if abused men are staying together in the shelter with their children, the men will realize they are not alone as male abuse survivors.  And the men might stop being ashamed of themselves for having endured abuse by a female partner and stop blaming themselves for something that isn’t their fault.

I think that its unfortunate that very few abuse shelters exist specifically for men.  And while far fewer men need shelter from domestic violence than women, some men are clearly in need of a domestic violence shelter.  The next best solution if its not possible to create a domestic violence shelter for abused men is to admit abused men into the primarily female domestic violence shelter.   

I was outraged to learn that when some abused men called the police for support, they were instead arrested for battery that they didn’t commit.  The reason why this happens to some abused men is that since the majority of domestic abuse is committed by men, therefore the cultural assumption is that the man must be at fault in any domestic violence situation.  However, this assumption is not true for all domestic violence cases.  And so police and the courts need to realize that in some domestic violence situations, the man is the victim and the woman is the aggressor.  

At the same time, I find it appalling that many of the advocates of shelters for men present false “evidence” that men and women are equally violent.  The advocates of men’s shelters often harbor a very obvious and unfortunate anti-woman bias as evidenced by their virulent attacks on feminists and the domestic violence movement. In fact the overwhelming evidence is that men commit the 83% of domestic violence murders, and that men are roughly 15-29% of the victims of domestic violence. 
Prior to leaving my abusers, I had planned to focus my career on translating Russian-language political and historical documents and on doing research using my Russian language skills.  I might still pursue my passion for Russian studies at a later date.  I also remain involved in supporting the freedom struggles of Iran, Syria, and Libya and in supporting Israel as a Jew.  And I’m proud to have played a small part in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam’s genocidal tyranny. 
But since I have left my abusers, I have come to realize that I have a different and maybe better destiny: that my profession is likely to be writer, advocate, and scholar of domestic violence and child abuse.  I can use both my personal experience as a survivor of severe emotional child abuse and also my fluency in Spanish to conduct research in support of programs to help Hispanic women and children who are being abused.  Also I have deep knowledge of international relations which I can use to support programs for victims of domestic violence in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. It is really a pleasure to use my skills to help others because to me the only thing that can redeem my suffering is using it to help others.   I cannot change what my abusers have done to me, but if I can use my experience to help other survivors on their journey toward healing, then it will have been completely worthwhile. 
The Refugee Family Services in Atlanta, Georgia, has a wonderful program for survivors of global political repression who have received political asylum and settled in the Atlanta area. The following web site indicates that the agency has staff members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burma, Bhutan, Estonia, Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraqi Kurdistan who speak an incredible variety of language.  They speak the European languages of English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Bosnian, and Russian.  They speak several Middle Eastern and South Asian languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Somali, Hindi, Nepali, and Bengali.  Their Burmese staff member, Joshua William, is presumably a member of the persecuted Karen ethnic minority in Burma who speaks Burmese and also two dialects of Karen: Pow Karen and Sgaw Karen.  Their Somali staff member Zahra Amin speaks a language I’ve never heard of: Braveness/Chimini.  Their staff member from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Micheline Salama, alone speaks six languages: English, French, Swahili, Lingala, Kirundi, and Kiryarwanda.  Lingala is a tribal and Bantu language spoken by at least ten million people in Central Africa, Kirundi is spoken in Burundi, and Kiryarwanda is the national language of Rwanda.   http://www.refugeefamilyservices.org/index.php?/site/tp_about_staff/.
At the same time, I also question one of the objectives listed on their program for political refugees.  On page 4 of this program, they set a goal for employable refugees to find a job within sixty days of arrival.  http://www.refugeefamilyservices.org/images/uploads/Resettlement_Report_Vol_I-March_2010.pdf . Considering my own situation, I think that goal is unrealistic and unfair to refugee families.  I am an American survivor of severe emotional child abuse who has fled her abusers at age 35.  I possess some financial resources and am a native English speaker.  Nearly 60 days after my arrival in the transition shelter, I have not had the emotional strength to even put together a resume, let alone launch a job search.
I think that political refugees from places like the DRC or Burma would face more severe obstacles than me.  They would undoubtedly be suffering severe forms of post-traumatic stress disorder from being imprisoned, beaten, and sexually abused for many years.   Most likely they would have been forced to witness atrocities that are unimaginable to most Americans, such as murders and terrorist attacks and perhaps the deaths of their loved ones.  In addition they probably would not speak English and would be totally unfamiliar with American culture.  I think political refugees need to spend more time learning English, becoming acculturated to the United States, and healing emotionally from their trauma before they can begin a job search.  When Jews immigrate to Israel, the Israeli government pays for them to attend a five month Hebrew language immersion program before they are expected to look for a job.  So I think political refugees in the United States should ideally be given the opportunity to spend 6 months studying English and healing emotionally before starting a job search.       
I wish to revise another one of my statements.  I had said that the feminist movement in the USA had not been effective in reducing domestic violence despite decades of effort.  I am pleased to report that actually I was wrong.  http://thelodgemiami.org/stats.html
From 1976 to 2002, the number of women murdered annually by their intimate partners fell by 25% in the U.S.A.  This number represents a substantial reduction in the rate of murders of women by their intimate partners.  Of course any deaths due to domestic violence are always tragic, and even one death from this tragedy is too many.  But the decline in the number of women murdered under these circumstances represents limited progress nonetheless.  In the same period, the smaller number of men murdered by their intimate partners fell by a much more substantial proportion, or 71%.
Also the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, has had an even more substantially positive effect.  The rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women fell by an astounding 50% in just 14 years in the USA from 1994 to 2008.  The USA is apparently developing effective models which are actually saving women’s lives and also reducing the level of non-fatal violence committed by men against their female partners.   These models can be adapted to other countries to help save and improve women’s lives abroad as well.