by Jacqueline Hartling Stolze
Imagine that you are new to the United States, an immigrant from another country. You speak no English; you have no job, few friends, and no family nearby. You depend completely on your husband for food, shelter, and your legal status in this country.
Now imagine that your husband is abusive, physically, emotionally, and sexually, to you and your children. You'd like to escape, to take your children to safety, but how can you leave? You have no money, nowhere to turn. Without your husband you become an undocumented alien. You can't even call the police because of the language barrier, and even if you did, spousal abuse is a deportable crime. If your husband is deported, what becomes of you and your children?
The trap described here is all too common, says Hollis Pfitsch '96, a staff member at the domestic violence unit of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle. "We know there are women who are not coming to us because they are so isolated," she explains. "Often these women are so isolated that their world is created by their abuser."
The Immigrant Women Outreach Project will reach out to immigrant survivors of domestic violence and make them aware that there are laws to protect them. The project will recruit and train immigrant women who are emerging community leaders to reach out to women and educate them about their rights.
Hollis says that women who have been helped by the project can be its strongest proponents. She describes the case of one woman who had suffered 18 years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from the father of her children, to whom she was not married. When she first came to the NWIRP, she was reluctant to talk and unable to see much hope for the future.
According to Hollis, this is not unusual for the victims of long-term abuse. "They don't want to talk about it-they're so broken down," she explains. But with the help of the staff at NWIRP, the woman was able begin the process of petitioning for her children's legal status. Only one piece of the puzzle remained to be put in place-proof of her husband's citizenship.
"All of a sudden, she took charge," Hollis says. "Since then she's been so much more involved."
This is just the kind of woman the project is hoping to enlist to help other women. With the help of these community leaders, the project will present educational forums to women at churches, women's shelters, and other community and service organizations.
"We're really hoping to tap into the networks they already have and use those channels," Hollis explains.
They also plan to develop accessible outreach materials for women of many languages and cultures, and distribute them to the places even very isolated women go.
Hollis hopes the project will lead to the funding of an outreach and intake coordinator position to continue the work-ideally to be filled by an immigrant woman community leader.
For Hollis, helping this group of isolated, traumatized women fulfills the mission of the Wall Service Awards.
"We're really focusing on an underserved community-people who are facing a huge array of problems," she says. "This is where it's good to put money."