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Faith leaders in Korean American community tackle domestic abuse

Korean Domestic Abuse Training
Posted at 6:37 AM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 17:05:06-04

ATHENS, Ga. — For immigrant women, escaping domestic abuse can be difficult. Language barriers and complex laws don’t help.

A year after eight Asian women were murdered in Atlanta, we’re still grappling with the objectification and stereotypes that sparked that rampage.

But conversations about violence perpetrated against Asian American women are happening. One program focused on faith leaders is helping them address domestic violence in the Korean American community.

For decades, places of worship have played a central role in immigrant communities in the United States helping them find jobs, housing and social programs.

“Whether that’s a mosque or a temple or a church. And for the Korean American population, that is exactly the same,” said Joon Choi, an associate professor at the University of Georgia Athens school of social work.

For Korean Americans, about 70% to 80% percent associate with protestant churches.

It’s why Choi who was researching domestic violence prevention, focused on houses of worship.

“From my experiences working as a counselor for domestic violence survivors and American domestic violence survivors, I found that many of them reach out to their ministers for help,” said Choi.

But Choi found only 16% of pastors she surveyed felt confident in addressing the needs of domestic violence victims.

“A lot of time these religious leaders would like to help these women and these survivors. However, they don't know how to do that,” said Choi.

“Many pastors and many of the Korean community doesn't exactly realize what is domestic violence,” said Reverend Paul Joo, a priest at One in Christ Episcopal Church in Prospect Heights, Illinois.

Joo says one obstacle he’s seen is the cultural embarrassment and stigma attached to issues of domestic violence.

“When we talk about it's a shame for me. It's a shame our family. Shame not only me. Shame to my husband and wife, too. So, we keep the secret,” said Joo.

Using a half-million-dollar grant from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, Choi worked with partners like fellow public health professor Pamela Orpinas, experts in domestic violence prevention and the Korean American faith community to develop a pastor training program.

“Addressing this from a Korean perspective with the language, with the Korean pastors, feedback was very important,” said Orpinas.

Taught in Korean, the online module portion presents the trainee with virtual case simulations allowing them to learn and make choices on how to confidently proceed.

“It really helps them to see what type of responses they provide to these survivors, how they can be helpful or unhelpful for them,” said Choi.

Over the last three years, more than 100 pastors from Chicago and Washington D.C. have gone through the program. It’s also helped them join hands with Asian American violence prevention organizations like KAN-WIN.

“This really made an opportunity for us to connect with them, dispel the myths surrounding gender-based violence, and also talk about options and resources for survivors, which is not many people know about them,” said Ji Hye Kim, executive director at KAN-WIN.

For Reverend Joo, the training has created a paradigm shift.

“It changed the concept of the domestic violence. And secondly, how do we approach how do we solve the problem?” said Joo.

But Choi says much more needs to be done.

“This is really a campaign that's targeting people to speak up against domestic violence and also when they see survivors reaching out and then actually helping survivors to connect to services,” said Choi.

With another DOJ grant, she plans to expand the training to more pastors, spouses and partners in Korean American communities across the country.