South Asian Helpline and Referral Agency

The Asian Taskforce Against Domestic Violence identified that “44% of South Asians surveyed know a woman who has been physically abused or injured by her partner.” Two critical areas that make these issues difficult for the South Asian community to address are cultural and religious stigma. “Domestic violence (DV) in the South Asian communities in America has gone unnoticed largely because the social stigma of admitting such information, even to close friends, is profound…cultural differences between the victims and the local social service institutions as well as service providers continue to be problematic. Service providers require a culturally sound model for dealing with South Asian victims. Such models are used by the few organizations operated by South Asians for their own communities but are rarely acknowledged by the larger American institutions.

Young immigrants (between 25-35) coming to the U.S. from low socio-economic backgrounds are financially and legally dependent on their spouses, fear the repercussions of reporting the abuse. The American Civil Liberty Union’s Women’s Rights Project found that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and families. Further, zero-crime tolerance policies in some housing situations penalize victims of domestic violence along with perpetrators as they allow landlords to evict tenants regardless of whether the tenant is the victim or the abuser.

In Family Violence and Maternal Mortality in the South Asian Community: The Role of Obstetrical Care Providers, the authors assert that, “Intimate partner violence [among South Asians] has been shown to be strongly associated with threats of deportation, refusals to change immigration status, and the hiding of immigration documents. In the context of this form of abuse, lack of awareness of available resources/services, inadequate referral, insufficient access to legal aid, lack of interpreters, poor service coordination, and difficulty with community outreach has been associated with women’s inability to understand and affirm their rights.” 

Survivors often lack credentials, work permits and/or language skills, inhibiting educated survivors from securing gainful employment. By controlling finances and immigration documents, abusers control the livelihood and legal status of DV survivors and their children. South Asian abuse victims often lack social and familial support, or knowledge of the support systems available in the U.S. community, including the Violence Against Women Act’s

(VAWA) protections which assure immigration relief for victims of violence. SAHARA found that this population experiences fear and high levels of anxiety about current immigration agency policies that lead to detention, deportation, or permanent separation of a parent from their child.

Domestic abuse in the South Asian community is a complex and, unfortunately, widespread issue. Many survivors are ostracized for seeking help while others remain in dangerous situations to comply. SAHARA specializes in culturally sensitive and linguistically specific programs and services to meet the evolving needs of the South Asian community. While services are available to all populations, participants generally represent low-income immigrants from South Asian communities in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. 

The Domestic Violence Council in Los Angeles County coordinates resources to address the growing challenge and the intersection with homelessness, yet none of their resources are in the languages spoken by the South Asian population. SAHARA’s 30 years have found a sharply increasing need for intervention and services. Since January of 2011, SAHARA provided 48,324 culturally sensitive and linguistically specific services (i.e. counseling, case  management, etc.) to survivors of DV and sexual assault (SA). During the 2019 calendar year, SAHARA was able to serve 579 survivors. This number increased by 86% in 2020 during which SAHARA served 670 survivors. SAHARA is the only South Asian community-based organization that currently offers a range of sexual assault victim support services (Crisis intervention, Education & Awareness, Counseling & Therapy, Shelter, Advocacy, Accompaniment, and long-term case management) in the Southern California region. 

SAHARA is one of only two organizations in the Los Angeles area that offers a shelter with the cultural and linguistic capacity to serve South Asians and the only one that offers two separate cooking areas (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) which allow adherence to a religion-based diet. In addition to English, SAHARA’s staff and community collaborators have the linguistic capacity to serve Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telegu, Marathi, Punjabi, and Gujarati speaking individuals. SAHARA’s Project C.A.R.E services incorporate both a safe shelter at a confidential location, and culturally and linguistically appropriate therapeutic counseling, social services, advocacy, as well as educational and life skills training that empower survivors make steps toward economic and financial independence.

Language and cultural barriers must be addressed before progress preventing or ending domestic violence in the South Asian community is possible. Serving South Asian survivors can be exceptionally complicated because even within the South Asian community, individuals speak different languages, practice different cultural norms and social customs, and have different religious beliefs. According to the Institute for Law and Justice, immigrant populations and low-income women are particularly vulnerable.

The growing South Asian community in Southern California regularly requests SAHARA to open full-service offices in other counties to enable ease of access for the increasing need for services for DV/SA survivors in their local communities. The South Asian community is one of the largest and fastest growing immigrant populations in Southern California. SAHARA’s vision is a vibrant South Asian community of healthy families, well-integrated into the Southern California community free from domestic violence. SAHARA’s commitment is rooted in holistic trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, and linguistically competent education, prevention, and intervention services for South Asian survivors of all forms of abuse.

Mission

To serve survivors of all forms of abuse in the South Asian community by providing them with culturally sensitive and linguistically specific services.

Organization History

South Asian Helpline and Referral Agency (SAHARA) was founded in 1991 to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services and emotional support to low-income South Asian domestic violence (DV) survivors and their children in Los Angeles County. Still located in Artesia’s Little India and still providing everything free-of-charge, SAHARA’s service region  spans Southern California with clients primarily from Los Angeles and Orange counties. SAHARA has a well-trained, multilingual, and culturally sensitive staff that provides extensive services and emotional support to its clients. Along with SAHARA’s staff, there is a dedicated group of founders, board members, pro bono volunteers, and contractors who are committed to providing top quality services for South Asian community members.

Programs

SAHARA’s multilingual programs and services currently include a toll-free helpline; safe shelter and transitional housing for women and their children for shelter residents specifically for life skills, mental health, legal assistance, education, or vocational training, as well as financial literacy support; and safe social space, education, and victim services for South Asian elders who may be victims of domestic abuse. SAHARA operates a shelter, a transitional living home (not emergency shelter) for victims of domestic violence, case management and support services to non-sheltered victims of abuse, mental health therapy, public benefits enrollment, translation and connection to services, citizenship application assistance, ESL (English as Second Language) and Citizenship Exam Prep classes, and legal assistance referrals for protective orders. This year, we provided COVID emergency assistance covering rent, utilities, internet, and food bank collaboration. We provide transportation access for medical or court hearings, along with preparation and sometimes accompaniment.

SAHARA uses its core programming to address the growing need in Southern California’s South Asian community for culturally-competent and linguistically-specific services to survive abuse and successfully embrace their place in the Southern California culture. Survivors of domestic violence (DV) find our wrap-around social support services a life-saving resource. SAHARA helps them build awareness and skills, find educational and family resources, create financial stability, and craft lives of economic independence, free from violence. Community (non-sheltered) victims of domestic violence participate in the same counseling, resource management, legal and mental health assistance that our sheltered DV clients receive including life skills classes and support groups. Victims create their own goals, plan, and learn how to actively participate in Southern California culture and economy. With linguistically relevant counseling and personal guidance to the resources they need, clients receive legal assistance for immigration and family law issues, mental health therapy to remove legal barriers to success, and a trusted therapist with whom they can discuss the challenges and changes they are experiencing. Currently, we are also assisting with essential needs more than ever before.

SAHARA is committed to the goal of empowering victims to become survivors by growing them past their vulnerabilities to a place of self-sufficiency. SAHARA’s Project C.A.R.E. (Counseling, Advocacy, Reintegration, Education) meets the growing need for empowering, healing services enhanced specifically for the South Asian community, preventive education, and the resources to support survivors’ healthy reintegration into the community. 

  1. (Counseling) Enhanced traditional individual and group therapy services to victims through the leadership of culturally sensitive and linguistically specific programs. 
  2. (Advocacy) SAHARA will increase the communities’ capacity to provide culturally specific resources and support for victims and their families. 
  3. (Reintegration) SAHARA will provide a network of culturally specific resources and services that address the safety, economic, housing, and employable needs of victims including emergency assistance as needed. 
  4. (Education) SAHARA will work in cooperation with the community to build education and prevention strategies highlighting culturally specific issues and resources for victims.

Our vision is to see happy, healthy, and successful South Asian individuals and families successfully participating in the Southern California culture and economy, free of violence and the cultural, emotional, legal, and economic barriers that have plagued them. SAHARA has served this vision since 1991 by focusing on victims of abuse and helping them find the successful survivor within. In 2020, SAHARA has faced a substantial increase in cases due to the effects of COVID-19. As a result, we are in need of funding to address the shortages. These are ongoing projects for SAHARA. The impact that COVID-19 has had on our community has tripled the number of persons seeking assistance from SAHARA. We have supplemented with CARES Act funding, which expired at the end of December. We are seeking funding to assist us with the next six months for these increasing needs. 

Demographics Served

SAHARA serves primarily Los Angeles and Orange counties from its main office in Artesia, home to Los Angeles County’s “Little India” neighborhood. SAHARA also serves clients from the surrounding Ventura, Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego counties by referral.

SAHARA serves Southern California’s underserved, marginalized and South Asian survivors of DV/SA and new immigrants who are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This includes individuals from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Afghanistan, and other members of the South Asian diaspora. The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (AAAJ) found that approximately 52% of Asian Americans in

Southern California live in Los Angeles County, and within the state of California, South Asians are the fastest growing ethnic group. Four of the top five fastest growing ethnic groups were South Asian: Indian, 51%; Sri Lankan, 58%; Pakistani, 80%; and Bangladeshi, 149%. 61% of Asian Americans are foreign-born and nearly 75% of these immigrants speak the language of their origin at home. Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and Pakistani Americans are the fastest growing ‘Limited English Proficient’ subgroups of Asian Americans. Nearly 50% of the Bangladeshi, more than 25% of the Pakistani and Sri Lankan, and 16% of the Indian population in Southern California fall below the federal poverty line.

Those we serve include eight South Asian Ethno-linguistic communities: Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Bengali & Nepali. Within those groups are six South Asian Religious communities: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi Jain & Buddhist. 2020 presented more challenges for these groups due to the coronavirus impacting the service industry where many are employed, and increased discrimination. Many of them fear applying for public benefits for fear of deportation, which also leads to increased economic instability and food insecurity, creating increased tension in the home.

We serve everyone except abusers. While we never turn anyone away if we have or can find what they need, our clients are primarily women (DV program), evenly divided women/men in the Elder program, and primarily South Asian. We know we have some variety in gender expression, we don’t ask or discriminate. We go with their self-selection of gender and in this immigrant community, that is their preference. Most of our clients are low income or no income, some of our shelter residents would be homeless without us or they would stay in the abusive home. We don’t have a wide range of disabled clients but we do have some training to help with hearing and vision impaired clients. Most clients are adults. Children are part of a DV survivor’s family rather than our primary clients. Number of individuals served is constantly increasing and hard to predict at this time. Our current trajectory is around 532 individuals. Locations served (counties): Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, some central CA counties. Occasionally we get a client from the East Coast or South Asia.