May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the culture, traditions, and contributions of these communities in U.S. history.  The identity Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) is broad and tries to describe communities from (or with family origins from) parts of the Asian continent and island nations within the Pacific.

Each year, May is an opportunity for us to reflect on the tremendous contributions these communities have made throughout the country’s history.  The month was selected since it commemorated the first Japanese immigrants to come to the U.S. in 1843.  Many communities also recognize the sacrifices and tireless work of Chinese immigrants working on the transcontinental railroad, as well as countless Asian Americans’ service in the Armed Forces.

Given the sheer breadth and depth of diversity seen within the AAPI communities, sexual violence programs are challenged to respond thoughtfully to growing linguistic and cultural needs.

Sexual violence can look different for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  Just as in many other communities, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and women specifically, report experiencing sexual violence by intimate partners or family members. Circumstances such as social or political barriers may prevent them from ever speaking about their assaults.  In addition, AAPI communities may face sexual violence based on their histories and economic realities. This is particularly true for immigrant AAPI women, children, and families, who may have experienced war-time victimization or trauma as refugees.

Community support and awareness is key for intervention and prevention.  Sexual violence programs serve every survivor, significant other, and community member that needs them.  However, social and cultural barriers may prevent someone from reaching out.  This is where community collaboration and partnerships can play an important part in promoting safety and respect. Programs have the opportunity to educate community organizations on language surrounding sexual violence disclosure and ways to respond to friends and survivors. Through this education on conveying compassion in culturally-relevant and thoughtful ways, stronger lines of communication can open up between communities and sexual violence programs.

Learn. Listen. Connect. The breadth of diversity in this community is reflected in their varied immigrant histories, socio-economic statuses, and many other identities.  Given the diversity and complexity of this group, language barriers may overshadow other barriers. Even if a group has a common connecting language, additional markers of difference (e.g. skin color, caste, age, gender, sexual orientation, class, immigration status, religion, geographic location, etc.) create undercurrents of subtle power dynamics, privileging some over others. There are many resources that can help sexual violence programs and community organizations go beyond the surface and learn, listen, and connect with AAPI communities.

NJCASA remains committed to expanding services and keeping all communities safe and healthy and encourages all agencies to do the same. What is your vision to keep all communities safe and healthy?