NY City Council Committee on Women and Gender Equity Hearing

New York City Council's Committee on Women and Gender Equity Oversight: Barriers to Accessing Survivor Services in New York City

February 22, 2022

"Thank you for this opportunity to submit written testimony to the New York City Council's Committee on Women and Gender Equity on behalf of Womankind and the survivors we have the privilege of serving. My name is Taykina Chowdhury, Associate Director of Helpline and Residential Programs at Womankind. We are here today as a culturally-humble, gender-based violence organization, with over four decades of experience, to provide insight on the barriers our communities face while accessing survivor services and victim compensation funds. I will do this by highlighting our work through our community-based programming and sharing the various barriers victims and survivors encounter, especially in the communities we serve.

Womankind uses the multidimensionality of our Asian heritage to work alongside survivors of gender-based violence as they build a path to healing. We are working tirelessly to create a future where we Rise Above Violence and our communities can innovate towards collective well-being, restoration, and social justice. We provide innovative culturally relevant and linguistically accessible services to survivors across the lifespan in 18+ Asian languages as well as Spanish. Our services include trauma-informed counseling, safe and confidential emergency housing, 24/7 helpline, family law and immigration legal services, economic empowerment workshops, mentoring programs for youth, creative arts therapy, wellness activities, and support groups.

Rooted in the community, we understand the complexity of navigating trauma and crises. Many of the survivors we serve face legal, institutional, and social barriers to accessing services such as: limited English proficiency, lack of knowledge of one’s rights, a pending legal status, lack of financial independence, dearth of culturally and linguistically relevant mainstream services, and discriminatory attitudes. During COVID-19, these barriers have been further heightened as Asian and survivor communities are disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn and rise in anti-Asian violence.

Specifically, accessing services and crime victims' compensation is tied to reporting cases to law enforcement. Survivors, especially immigrant low-income Asian survivors, are less likely to report cases to formal sources and instead rely upon their respective community for support. Womankind has cultivated long-time trust with diverse survivor communities across NYC and has been a safe haven. Early 2021, in order to comprehensively understand the barriers to accessing these funds, we conducted an organization-wide survey of Womankind Advocates. Our findings show that many survivors are unable to or choose not to seek solutions through the criminal legal system; many are hesitant and fearful of involvement with the police; and there is often a cultural and linguistic disconnect. In some cases, survivors’ interactions with the police lead to greater harm associated with criminalization and revictimization. In addition, the process to file a claim has been difficult to understand and lengthy for our clients. Our Advocates have had to take additional time to make sure that survivors understand what the compensation process is while working alongside them to assemble the long list of required documents. Unfortunately, this underreporting further invisibilizes Asian survivors, who exist at the nexus of multiple marginalizations – thus exacerbating existing barriers. Survivors need this critical compensation support to cover costs of loss wages or loss of support, medical and dental needs, mental health counselling, as well as travel expenses.

In some cases, even after the many barriers to accessing services and support are somewhat overcome, there are additional challenges. During the pandemic, one of our clients had difficulty filing the paperwork as they direly needed financial support to cover the cost of counseling. Womankind's OVS Specialist had to work collaboratively with them to gather all of the many documents needed. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic they were not given any updates from OVS for a while and had to re-send the paperwork. In the meantime, Womankind further supported them by providing emergency funding so that they would be able to cover rent and groceries as well as access to our special healing program. After months of anxiety, their claim was finally accepted and they were able to continue accessing crucial services needed for their healing. Stories like this are not isolated incidents - but rather the norm.

In addition to working directly with survivors to file these claims, we’ve also created special OVS victims' compensation fund posters in Womankind’s core languages, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Bengali, and Spanish, and have them posted in our various community and residential offices. This way, information needed to access these funds is readily available.

We call on the New York City Council's Committee on Women and Gender Equity to support Womankind and the survivors we serve by increasing equitable access to vital services and expanding eligibility for victims and survivors of crime to access victim compensation funds. We also believe in deepening investment in community-based organizations that serve as the entry point of access and ongoing culturally and linguistically accessible support for many in our communities. These steps would go a long way in promoting healing, preserving safety, and ensuring that survivors are provided much-needed support as they navigate increasingly challenging circumstances. Thank you."

You can watch the testimony here.