IDVAAC News Summer 2009, Volume 10, Number 1

Editor’s Note: This article is based on IDVAAC research done for a DVD called “Domestic Violence and Culturally Diverse Communities in Detroit”.

Collaboration and culturally specific approaches to DV in Detroit



n Detroit, ethnic culture is proudly maintained. With multiple culturally-based communities, Latinos, Arab Americans, a variety of Asian American communities and African Americans can continue to speak the language of their choice, eat the food they are used to eating and do not find many situations where complete assimilation with the mainstream culture if necessary.

“Detroit is a very diverse city, but we’re also very segregated,” says Larmender Davis founder and CEO of Unity Detroit’s Serenity Services. “There are a lot of different people here, but we all congregate and live separately.”

In 2006, the Detroit population was 83 percent African American, 10 percent Caucasian American, 6 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian American. Many Arab Americans identified themselves as Caucasian Americans, though some are beginning to identify themselves as people of color.

Strengths and challenges of diversity

There are both strengths and challenges in working with these diverse groups. Cultural strengths can be transferred from one group to another; but there are challenges in  providing domestic violence services to people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.

Later in this article, we’ll look at how the City of Detroit has capitalized on its strengths and is meeting its challenges. But first, a look at Detroit from a historical perspective.

Demographic trends in Detroit have had an enormous impact on shaping the challenges the city faces today. According to Kurt Metzger, director of research at the United Way of Southern Michigan, during the 1950s, due in part to racial steering by realtors and unfair mortgage practices, such as red lining, many whites left the Detroit for the suburbs.

Detroit DVD

At that time, home loans weren’t made in African-American neighborhoods or in the city. The development of the highway system aided the flight of whites to the suburbs. As they left the city, so did critical infrastructure and resources, such as hospitals and medical facilities, creating a significant lack of health care for the remaining culturally diverse community.

Increases in poverty, lack of adequate public transportation, and the movement of social infrastructure to the suburbs has exacerbated social issues in Detroit, including domestic violence. According to Metzger, nearly 78 percent of jobs are located more than 10 miles or more away from the city. This disconnect is greater than any region in the county.

Discrimination’s legacy in Detroit

Population patterns that challenge most cities are even more vivid in Detroit, due to in part to racial discrimination, which has affected many urban policy decisions. Social service agencies there have had to create programs in the absence of traditional infrastructure.

To be successful, they have worked to collaborate among cultures when that choice was most efficient, and to serve specific cultural needs of various racial groups when that was most effective.

“Women who are battered have the same kinds of needs,” says Eun Joo Lee of New Visions, a Detroit organization focusing on the prevention of domestic violence. “They need safety protection, they may need financial assistance, and they may need legal advocacy.”

In addition to similar needs, women from different ethnic groups have culturally specific needs as well. “You cannot lump everybody…and say everybody needs this, these are the goals for everybody. You have to look at everyone’s situation independently,” says Larmender Davis of Serenity Services.

Language barriers pose challenges for Asian American, Arab American and Latino communities alike. Another challenge is specific ethnic foods. When a woman enters a shelter, she may not find the food that she usually has at home, and she may not be allowed to prepare food in the same ways that she does at home. And she may encounter difficulties connecting with relatives from her home country because of the time difference.

Culturally specific forms of abuse

“Dynamics of domestic violence in Asian communities is different from other communities,” says Eun Joo Lee of New Visions. “In addition to having to endure abuse from the intimate partner, there may be multiple perpetrators involved in the abuse, including the mother-in-law, the father-in-law, the brother-in-law, the sister-in-law and the ex-wives.

Studies have shown that there are particular types of domestic violence that happen in Asian communities, such as honor killings, assaults or murder of a bride by a groom or his family because of conflict over dowry, isolation, neglect and restrictions on reproductive choices of women.”

Arab American communities also experience specific kinds of abuse. According to Joanna Ladki of Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), they recognize “spiritual abuse” as a form of domestic violence, because men in these communities control their wives by saying ‘you don’t pray enough,’ ‘your cover is not good enough,’ ‘you don’t go to the mosque enough,’ or ‘you don’t listen to what the Imam is saying enough.’

ACCESS originally began as a small volunteer organization helping new immigrants who did not know English or lacked immediate connections in Detroit. It offers direct services to victims of domestic violence, including legal services, case management and mental health counseling.

“They are always blaming the woman [in Arabic culture],” says Ladki. “We had seven murders [of DV victims] in our community in the last three years. The first question we heard was ‘what did she do?’”

This is related to the fact that attitudes and beliefs promote the submissive role of women in all cultures. “This is done in different ways in every culture,” says Oliver J. Williams, executive director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community (IDVAAC).

Collaboration is key

Several service agencies are working toward meeting the common and unique needs of people of all different cultural backgrounds in the city of Detroit. “We are part of this together as women of color. We are all suffering. Let’s come together and seek a solution, because we all have similar kinds of experiences,” says Ladki.

Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) – a joint venture between the Michigan Department of Public Health, the Michigan Department of Social Services, the Detroit Health Department and the Hispanic community – grew out of the need to provide health care services to the Latino people of Detroit.

“We wanted to create a one-stop shop where you would have the Department of Social Services, health care, you would have social workers, you would have some mental health workers also on site, as well as other programs like the food stamp program, etc.,” says Ricardo Guzman of CHASS/LA VIDA.

The need to address domestic violence issues in the Latino community led to the creation of LA VIDA by CHASS. Since people already knew and trusted CHASS, they felt comfortable going to LA VIDA for help. In addition, LA VIDA works to reach out to people to let them know it is safe to come forward.

By focusing on both the needs common to all victims of domestic violence and the different cultural needs of various ethnic groups, Detroit’s programs are more effective in meeting all victims’ needs.


To obtain a copy of “Domestic Violence and Culturally Diverse Communities in Detroit,” a video produced by Dr. Oliver J. Williams for IDVAAC, visit and click on “Multimedia” or call 1-877-NIDVAAC.


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