Opinion: Anti-Asian Racism Compounds the COVID-19 Crisis for Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence

AFSSA Executive Director Darlene Lanham asks Central Texans to take a stand against coronavirus-motivated racism and to support our Asian communities

Opinion: Anti-Asian Racism Compounds the COVID-19 Crisis for Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence

In the new world of COVID-19, Asian and immigrant survivors of violence face a triple threat: health risks posed by the pandemic, scarcity of basic needs and economic resources, and heightened risk of physical and verbal attacks by those who blame Asians for causing the virus.

An Austin-American Statesman story on March 30 recounts incidents right here in Austin. In one, an irate driver tried to run over a UT graduate he blamed for the coronavirus. In another, an Avery Ranch family endured verbal abuse from a man yelling, "You give us a virus, you [expletive] Chinese."

According to the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, more than 650 acts of discrimination against Asians were reported across the U.S. between March 19 and 25; two-thirds of the reports included verbal harassment, and one-tenth involved physical assault. The federal government has now issued an official statement warning of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

I'm terrified for Asian communities throughout the U.S.

I'm particularly terrified for people of Asian heritage in Central Texas who are survivors of abuse, because they are AFSSA's clients and community.

AFSSA (Asian Family Support Services of Austin) is a nonprofit agency that serves survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Our clients were in crisis before the pandemic. They have been victimized by violence. In their journey to freedom, they have had to navigate U.S. justice, health, and economic systems that are entirely different than what they know. Many speak limited English. Some do not drive. Some depend on their spouses for basic needs. Some are trapped at home with their abusers. And now, many may be fearful of leaving because some are blaming them for the virus.

With the pandemic, survivors of violence who are of Asian heritage face health and safety concerns related to the virus itself, scarcity of economic resources due to the virus, and the heightened danger that comes from being blamed for the pandemic fallout. Are these the conditions that create hope for someone to leave, or confidence that they can stay away from their abuser if they've already left?

Many violence survivors of Asian heritage cannot stay home for 14 days at a time because they don't have the financial means to stock up on groceries. They have to go out more often to more places to end up with fewer basic needs. They risk exposure to the virus. They risk being seen by their abuser while in public. And now they risk physical and verbal attacks spurred by blame for COVID-19.

We have heard from our elected officials that we people of Asian heritage are to blame for bringing COVID-19 to the U.S. And clearly, some are believing that message and using it to justify violence toward other Americans.

Whether or not we identify as survivors of violence, the Asians in Central Texas do not need this kind of additional trauma to our safety and security. So, how can you help?

Interrupt exclusionary and racist rhetoric when you hear it. Find ways to be authentically welcoming of Asian people, such as the recent effort started by Austin Public Health and the Asian American Quality of Life Commission to open dialogue about how xenophobia harms our whole community. Patronize immigrant-owned businesses. And if you can, donate funds to Asian human services organizations – Asian people may not feel safe seeking help from mainstream agencies, especially during this time.

Asian people are the fastest growing population in Austin and most of Central Texas. The actions we take today can help create a safe and welcoming world. You have the power to create a welcoming space for everyone, including Asian immigrants.

And in the long term, that's not just good for AFSSA's clients ... it's good for all of us.

Darlene Lanham is executive director at Asian Family Support Services of Austin. AFSSA supports survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Central Texas with a 24-hour hotline (877/281-8371), safety planning, crisis intervention, and other resources; it specializes in culturally grounded programs for immigrant communities, including outreach in schools, at cultural events, and in places of worship. Since its 1992 founding as Saheli, AFSSA has provided services in 35+ languages.

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COVID-19, AFSSA, Asian Family Support Services of Austin, Darlene Lanham, domestic violence, anti-Asian racism

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