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Strengthening Our Roots ~ SFC Report Release: 2017

Listening & Learning from Survivors & Supporters

In 2016-2017, Sikh Family Center undertook a series of safe and structured listening exercises to learn from our community and help answer the following questions:

What kinds of community-based interventions on family violence
are attempted in the Sikh community currently?

How can such interventions be strengthened to the
benefit of survivors and their families?


Sikh Family Center's
Survivor-Centered Advocacy Project Report 2017

Sikh Family Center undertook a series of listening exercises (qualitative research) to learn from community members through safe, structured, and empowering methods. We sought to further understand:

WhtKind (44K)

This report, prepared by Sikh Family Center (SFC), compiles the qualitative data from 2 focus groups and 3 individual storytelling interviews facilitated by SFC in the Bay Area, California between November 2016 and January 2017. These groups and interviews con- sisted of survivors of gender-based violence, specifically family violence, as well as com- munity members who regularly work (formally or informally) with survivors of violence. All participants identified as Sikh women. The groups and interviews were conducted bi- lingually, in English and Punjabi.

SFC acknowledges all diversity in victim-survivors of family violence: whether they have publicly identified themselves as such or not, whether they have received official sup- port/intervention (police, courts, shelters, social services) or not, whether they have left their abusive situation or not.

The report groups the various themes that emerged as well as highlights divergences and differences. It compiles the various contemporaneous notes and observations of fa- cilitators and note-takers of the focus groups and also employs the transcriptions of the recorded longer individual storytelling interviews. The report thus hopes to amplify the voices that may not otherwise be heard, voices that are critical toward building sustaina- ble community solutions to family violence in the Sikh community.

Spreading the Word
Spreading (13K)In order to identify participants for the focus groups and individual storytelling interviews, we employed a snowball methodology. SFC volunteers as well as former "clients" were first contacted to see if they would like to participate. Many of the volunteers and "clients" then also helped identify other suitable participants, thus increasing the sample. Participants were given knowledge about the process and goals of conducting the groups or interviews and were prepared to discuss family violence in the Sikh American community.

Potential participants were screened by a standardized method focused on determining suitability and safety of their participation. The main criteria used for screening were:

  • Willingness to share experiences in a group or long interview setting.
  • Low likelihood of re-traumatization (determined by trained crisis counselors who assessed factors including sufficient time elapsed since last crisis and adequate security in current living situation).
Conducting Focus Groups
Each focus group had 2-3 facilitators, including one designated note-taker. Every participant signed a consent form. Each group began with a discussion of the Guiding Principles of the group: confidentiality, respectful listening, time management, and creating a safe space for diverse experiences and views. Participants were informed that their role was as "co-researchers," or as experts on the topic, rather than subjects of a study.

story (15K)Conducting Storytelling Interviews
In these detailed one-on-one interviews, the interviewee herself selected the location for the interview and provided informed consent. With permission, each interview was audio recorded and later transcribed.

To facilitate the movement of discussion from the personal and individual experiences to institutions and the community, the below questions were used as conversation starters. However, facilitators were careful to not stick too closely to the script, so as to not miss key observations by the participants:

Questions (144K)

Observations and Findings
1. Family Violence is at Once Hypervisible and Invisible
Participants recognized that family/domestic violence, although viewed very differently in every community, does not discriminate against who becomes victim to it. In the Sikh American community, family/domestic violence comes in every shape but is often overlooked as the norm, to the detriment of the person being harmed (victim) and the person doing the harm (abuser).

Gas-lighting (85K)

2. "Image" in the Community Determines Many Unhealthy Responses
For the victim-survivor, maintaining her social image, while feeling shame, often takes precedence over making safe choices. For community members, offering any form of assistance or support is hindered by the mere thought of what repercussions they may face by doing so.

Culture (122K)

Gurdwara (13K)3. Gurdwara May Not Be Able or Willing to Offer Support
The first gurdwara in the U.S. was established in 1912 in Stockton, California. It served the then fledgling Sikh immigrant community in the Central Valley. Today, gurudwaras have multiplied throughout the state and country, but participants noted that when it comes to meeting specific social needs of the community and its women, the gurdwaras may lack empathy, often lack resources, and have largely gained a reputation as being places of gossip, indulgent dining, and petty politics.

Whenever (123K)

4. Individual Interventions are Often Insufficient or Unreliable
Participants noted a mixed range of responses from immediate family and friends when they disclosed the violence they were experiencing.

NoOne (113K)

5. We Must Pave the Way Forward Together
Participants made several suggestions for the way forward in addressing family/ domestic violence. They recognized the need for change at various levels and the participation of various stakeholders

Collectively as a Community

Collectively (21K)"We need to focus on girls who are growing up because we want them to know, but then we also need to focus on boys who are growing up because they should know how to treat a woman right. Like how does it become Ok in somebody's mind that it is Ok to hit the other person? Either which way, maybe it's a girl hitting a guy right or a guy hitting a girl - how does it become Ok? I think somewhere the fabric of our community needs to changeā€¦ you know this whole macho thing that oh you know 'We have a boy' etc."

In Gurdwara Setting

GurdwaraSetting (20K)"Information should be presented or even passively shared as resources in the area. This is the first step of recognition."

"At a bare minimum let's just start educating the people who are working there. The least that a Bhai Sahib [caretakers, workers] at the gurdwara can say is, 'If you need help, these are the places or these are the women's agencies, why don't you talk to them?' We can accept that at that stage maybe a woman can't talk to that Bhai Sahib but they can ask 'Do you need something? Are you upset or something?' At least a little bit of concern doesn't hurt, right?"

EvenLike (29K)What SFC can do:
Recognizing that is it challenging and others aren't trained. SFC could provide basics on how to support someone in a dangerous situation.

Keep having these conversations, so the awareness can spread and empowerment may expand!

Community (18K)As a grassroots community-based organization focused on health, safety and equity, Sikh Family Center connects members of the Sikh American community with resources they may not otherwise access. SFC also seeks to create resources that do not exist. Finally, SFC proactively works with our community's existing resources. Family Violence is an issue that blights every community, but remains especially under- resourced and unaddressed in some.

While SFC has worked with countless Sikh individuals, families, and institutions including gurudwaras that have supported victim-survivors with passion, compassion and as Sikh duty, SFC has also faced challenges. Much more prevalent than vocal opposition is Silence. Such silence during times of emergencies can be deadly and at all times, it is disempowering. We thank the participants of these focus groups and interviews for breaking the silence. We hope their candor and courage will prompt further conversations, which then must translate to action. The idea is not to create new victims or scapegoats, but to move forward, together, stronger. This fight begins at home and there are no shortcuts.

The Sikh Family Center is a grassroots community-based organization (501c3) that helps create healthy, violence-free, more equitable communities by bridging gaps in access to public resources and social services, and providing education and direct support to community members using an empowerment approach that attends to cultural tradition, immigration experiences, and language access.

Lead Authors: Harmit Cheema & Mallika Kaur
Illustrations: Puneet Singh
Punjabi Translation: Harvinder Singh (Click here)

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