LTSC Supports DV Survivors to Embrace Who They Are
“Every time he yelled that I was useless, threatened to take away my children, and pushed me down onto the floor, I felt numb. I thought shikata ga nai (It can’t be helped). It brought back vivid memories of how my father treated my mother back in Japan. In the back of my mind, I knew my husband’s behaviors were wrong. I knew, indeed. But I did not understand that I was a victim of domestic violence. I did not want to think. Actually, I did not want to know. I was afraid to admit that I had ended up in the same situation as my mother.”
Kanako* grew up in Japan. During her childhood, she was bullied by her classmates for reasons unknown to her. At home, she witnessed her mother being abused by her father on a daily basis. For these reasons, she turned her attention to the outside world imagining infinite possibilities were awaiting her. After high school, she left Japan for the U.S. and entered college. There, she met her future husband, Josh*.
Before long, Kanako and Josh had a baby girl and later a boy. However, their living situation was unstable and they faced financial difficulties due to Josh’s inability to keep a job for long. While Kanako focused her attention on raising their two small children, her immigration status and ID expired. When she expressed her concerns and asked Josh for assistance, he always had excuses to postpone the renewal process. She slowly realized that she had become isolated and that her world was very small.
Kanako and Josh eventually ended up at a homeless shelter. One day when Josh was at work, another resident at the shelter approached Kanako and asked, “Are you being abused?” Kanako was stunned and said, “no.” The resident continued, “I think you are. You remind me of my past. When your husband is around, you are always looking down. When he is gone, you have a more positive look on your face.”
Kanako kept asking herself, “Is it abuse? Am I a victim?” “No, it can’t be because that’s what I hated the most at home during my childhood. That is why I left my hometown.” This realization became a long, dark struggle for her.
At the shelter, Kanako started seeing a counselor. During her first session, she was asked, “How are you today?” She began, “My kids are getting used to the environment.” The counselor immediately stopped her and said, “Kanako, I’m asking how you are doing.” It was at this moment that she realized that she did not even know how she was doing because she never thought to care about herself.
As Kanako began to regain herself, Josh became more distant. He eventually stopped coming back to the shelter, and Kanako was left alone to raise her two small children. As her time at the homeless shelter was coming to an end, Kanako called Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) to inquire about housing.
LTSC staff shared information about housing, but as soon as Kanako mentioned that she had no ID, driver’s license, or immigration status, the staff suspected possible domestic violence. An LTSC social worker took time to listen to Kanako’s story, set up counseling sessions, and referred her to an immigration attorney.
Through counseling sessions at LTSC, Kanako learned that she had been abused and that she was in fact a victim. Although she was finally able to accept this, it was the hardest thing she ever had to do. “I felt ashamed. I left my hometown because I did not like the way my family functioned. I did not want to marry because of my father, but I married someone who was just like him or even worse.”
Kanako explained to her children that their father was no longer coming home. Her son replied, “Mom, I miss my dad, but I’m kid of glad that dad’s gone because I always thought he might kill you someday.” That poignant remark convinced Kanako that she needed to completely break the negative cycle.
Once Kanako was able to face the reality, everything else slowly come together. She and her children moved into LTSC’s transitional shelter, Kosumosu. There, she learned how to care for herself as well as for her children. She was always responsible, tried hard to save money and remain mentally strong for her own children. She overcame hurdles adjusting, making decisions, finding a school she wanted to attend, parenting, getting her children adjusted, getting a driver’s license, purchasing a car, and finding a job.
With LTSC’s support, Kanako and her children eventually moved on from Kosumosu and found an apartment. She is currently employed and going back to school. When Kanako recently filled out the school application form, she wrote down her home address for the first time. She no longer checks the box—homeless. She felt proud and empowered.
After what she has been through, Kanako now relishes the small pleasures in life. “Taking my kids to McDonald’s to get happy meals and having a little time of my own after my kids go to bed are extremely precious. I had neglected to care about myself. Thanks to the counselors and social workers at LTSC and the homeless shelter, I now understand how important self-care is. I even treat myself to a nice cup of iced coffee once a week after work. I also learned that it’s okay to ask for help. I am where I am because so many people have lent their support to me.”
*The names in the article have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence affects both women and men, of every race, religion, culture and status. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s research, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
In cooperation with the Japanese Government, LTSC provides special services to Japanese nationals who are victims of domestic violence. If you are or know anyone who may be in an abusive situation, call LTSC at 213-473-3035, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Center for Pacific Asian Family at 1-800-339-3940.
Published in Through the Seasons 2019 Fall Edition.