Cultural barriers hard to break down when it comes to reporting domestic violence

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MPD Victim Witness Advocate at the Manchester Police Department Rashida Mohamed, left, and Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano. Photo/Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER, NH — The number of reported domestic violence cases involving refugees and immigrants are down, not because inroads are being made to prevent the abuse, but because in that small community it is considered shameful to report it, according to Rashida Eltag Mohamed, Victim Witness Advocate at the Manchester Police Department. 

“They don’t report it because of the shame from the community,” she explained.

Mohamed gave a presentation Monday titled, “Domestic Violence and Cultural Perspective” for members of the police department’s Community Advisory Board.

She said the reasons people remain in an abusive environment — whether they are new to the country or native-born — are many and varied:  they are dependent on the abuser emotionally, financially and for housing and food, to name a few.

It is even more difficult for those who don’t speak the language because they don’t know how to access services, Mohamed explained.  They also might not have a driver’s license or access to a car. 

Mohamed, who is originally from Sudan and has lived in Manchester for 17 years, said another problem for the immigrant is if there is no family support.

 “Most of the time people stay away from it because it is a family issue,” she explained. Or while they have supported the victim in the past, the victim keeps going back.

She explained that police have to make an arrest in domestic violence cases where there are an aggressor and a crime, but the victim cannot be forced to file for a temporary restraining order (TRO)  or appear at a hearing for a final one. Oftentimes, Mohamed said, the victim doesn’t show and goes back to her abuser.

Jonathan Donovan, director of the city’s Office of Youth Services, said it sometimes may be a case of “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Manny Content, district manager of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Northern New England, asked how do you break a cycle in a culture where domestic violence is acceptable or frowned upon.

“Violence is never acceptable,” she said.  Mohamed said if we continue to say it is acceptable in their culture, “we will never go forward.” 

She explained there is a process in place when an arrest is made.  The person gets arraigned where bail conditions are set barring him or her from going near the victim.  The victim meets with the victim witness advocate, is counseled and told how to obtain a temporary restraining order.  It is up to the victim whether that is done or not.  

“I can take them to the water but I can’t force them to drink,” Mohamed said.

Rashida Mohamed gave a presentation Monday titled, “Domestic Violence and Cultural Perspective” for members of the police department’s Community Advisory Board.

Later, a hearing is held on a permanent restraining order.  The accused ultimately goes to trial or enters a plea. If convicted, a sentence or suspended sentence is imposed and he may be ordered to undergo a domestic violence evaluation, take anger management classes, parenting classes or receive alcohol/drug treatment. 

 “For the last 10 years, I have been going to court every day.  Unfortunately, there was not a day that a domestic violence arrest wasn’t made,” she said.

In another slide she showed, it explained in the Muslim faith a male’s value is twice that of a woman.  Yet, the slide indicated women comprise half the world’s population, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s property.

Mohamed said her father was a wealthy man but she accepted nothing from him because it would mean she would be half a person.  The only difference between herself and her brother, she said, was he had a penis and she had a vagina, which drew laughter.

Another slide she posted that drew laughter said:  “If he only wants your breasts, legs and thighs send him to KFC.”  

She said to make the world better the community has to look at race not as Asian, white, African American, Hispanic, Native American but as the human race.

“It doesn’t make any difference if we just treat everybody as human,” she said.