Forum links domestic violence to other community ills

By 
Martine Louis
Aug. 22, 2007

Dozens gathered at the Haitian Multi-Service Center on Columbia Road last Saturday to promote awareness and discuss how domestic violence impacts our community. The 11th annual domestic violence forum, hosted by the Association of Haitian Women (AFAB) along with the Haitian Roundtable on Domestic Violence, provided an opportunity for community members to express their feelings on the subject.

For a period of the meeting all men, women, and youths were able to attend various group discussions on topics such as: how the media glorifies aggression and its influence on youths. Other topics included teen dating violence and helping youths make the right decisions to protect themselves. Another dealt with helping overwhelmed parents and teens cope with family conflicts.

"The way a child is raised is what they will later give back to society," said keynote speaker Marlene Bastien, the executive director of Famn Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami). "Young children are witnessing abuse amongst the parents and they learn to believe it is normal to mistreat others and be mistreated. They learn to accept violence."

While generational and cultural gaps between parents and their adolescents often add to the difficulties of communicating, Emmanuel Daphnis says parents must understand the struggles that youths are facing.

"Our children are dealing with two set of norms: The values their parents try to instill in them and the influence of the outside society," said Daphnis, a mentor at Brookline High School.

"Kids are brought up by a society that teaches them not to appreciate their culture, a society that disrupts family values," Daphnis said. "Parents are frustrated because they cannot understand their children, but we need to find a way to communicate without the raised voices. When we, as parents, can show our youths we understand they will listen a little bit better. The last thing any parent should do is throw up your hands and surrender because that is when the real trouble will begin."

Michaelle Silva, a supervisor for the state's Department of Social Services, believes the wave of violence in local neighborhoods is connected to the lack of communication in the home.

"When parents are from an older generation where kids are to be seen and not heard, it creates conflict with their adolescents who are from a new generation of independence," said Silva. "Youths who feel neglected at home tend to seek out group support which many times leads to affiliation with a 'bad' crowd. Working with adolescents is complicated, but it is necessary. There needs to be a 50/50 willingness to compromise-it's about mutual cooperation."

Does the increasing rate of violence that thrives throughout our community begin in the homes of the perpetrators and victims? Many agreed that the source of crime in our neighborhoods was due to youths that have grown accustomed to violence.

"I was married to an extremely abusive man for 8 years," one woman shared, "and there was nothing anyone could say to make me leave him. My parents also had an abusive relationship- it was all I knew. My mother never left my father, in fact she always taught me that divorce was wrong. She never told me the abuse was wrong though. So, I stayed to keep my family together. It wasn't until I realized the effect our relationship had on my son that I decided to leave."