Domestic Violence Laws Compound Immigrants’ Culture Shock

Sandra Tan, Buffalo News, December 12, 2010

A refugee from Somalia was accused of trying to sell her 16-year-old daughter into marriage against her will.

Social Services took another Somali couple’s six children because the father belt-whipped his 8-year-old son and tied him up for misbehaving in school.

A Yemeni husband beat his wife and threw her down the stairs for talking back to him in front of the family.

“How else can I teach her how to behave?” the bewildered man asked in court.

These and other cases like them are raising the concerns of judges, lawyers and human services providers in Buffalo.

Erie County Family Court judges say they have seen a startling rise in the number of domestic abuse and juvenile delinquency cases involving immigrant, refugee and Muslim families who want help but fear police intervention.

In the immigrants’ native countries, these incidents would be considered common social and cultural practices. But in their new home, they are classified as abuse and felony assault.

“We don’t come from another city; we come from another planet,” aid Burma refugee Law Eh Soe. “In Burma, you can hit your your wife or kid, but here, it’s a crime.”

Many foreign abusers hold victims hostage by threatening their immigration status in this country, said Shea Post, the victim services outreach coordinator for the International Institute resettlement agency. {snip}

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Soe added that services such as counseling are culturally unrecognizable to foreigners from conflict-ridden countries who liken extensive personal questioning to interrogation.

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The problem is serious enough that a special community and courts collaborative was formed 10 months ago to improve services to this newer population. The group recently hosted a daylong workshop in Buffalo for Family Court judges, lawyers and social service workers.

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