By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
On Saturday, February 15, dozens gathered at the Faith Assembly Church in Richmond Hill for a symposium on safety and protection for victims of domestic violence.
The event was organized by the Caribbean Voice (TCV) in collaboration with the Faith Assembly and Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus. Annan Boodram, President of TCV played a critical role, primarily from behind the scenes, to ensure that the event was informative, thorough, and well-orchestrated.
I had the opportunity to co-chair the event with Neela Pawaroo Naraine of TCV. The morning opened with remarks from His Excellency Riyad Insanally, ambassador of Guyana to the United States. Insanally spoke of the work happening in Guyana to combat mental illness and substance abuse, which many link to incidence of domestic violence. Consul General of Guyana Barbara Atherly was also in attendance. Dr. Taj Rajkumar, State Committee Member, educator and civic leader, spoke about curbing a culture of alcoholism and focusing energies on engaging with men in bars, where the rhetoric uttered is particularly oppressive towards women.
Susan Jacob, Executive Director of the Queens Family Justice Center (QFJC), housed in the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, gave an overview of the services and resources provided by the QFJC. Jacob indicated that the most dangerous time for a victim in an abusive relationship is typically when the victim makes the choice to leave the relationship.
NYPD Community Coordinator Enid Ocasio highlighted that February is Teen Dating Abuse Awareness Month and that violence shows up in teenage relationships more often than we think. Ocasio indicated that oftentimes law enforcement involvement heightens existing tensions in a relationship. She underscored the need to be on the ground working with community.
Christine Perumal, attorney and Director of Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project spoke about legal options that might be available for those looking to get out of abusive relationships. Among the tips she provided was choosing to file an order of protection in a different borough than the one in which you live, so that an abuser cannot identify your whereabouts. Perumal also indicated that pursuing alegal route may not be for everyone. “If you’ve gotten to court, we’ve already failed,” said Perumal.
Dr. Sharla Khargi, who is among senior faculty at St. John’s University, brought her expertise in clinical psychology coupled with light humor at times when comic relief was much needed. Part of Khargi’s presentation explored reasons why domestic violence exists. Among the reasons, men could resort to violence as an expression of social power and a way to control their partners. Additionally, men could resort to aggressive forms of control over women particularly when they feel powerless.
In a storytelling segment moderated by Shivana Jorawar of Jahajee Sisters, Judith Naraine, who hails from Suriname, told her personal story of experiencing and healing from abuse. She described the challenges associated with having a teenage daughter at the time she decided to leave, and indicated that due to the abuse, she ended up in the City’s shelter system.
Pastor Ejaz Nabie, stated that domestic violence has been endemic to Caribbean culture, reflecting on the lyrics of a popular Mighty Sparrow calypso song “Black up their eyes, bruise up their knee, and then dey love you eternally.” Pastor Nabie walked attendees through ways faith leaders can support survivors of gender-based violence including using sermon time to preach about domestic violence using “the right theology,” namely Scripture that is egalitarian, and listening without judgment.
Judge Karen Gopee, who presides over Queens Criminal Court, gave a rousing message about how patriarchal culture prevails generation after generation and how we can make a difference in the ways we raise our children.
The speakers and organizers of the event were awarded citations from both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State Assembly Member David Weprin, delivered by Rohan Narine and Harpreet Singh Toor respectively.
If you are in an abusive relationship and in need of services, visit the Queens Family Justice Center located at 126-02 82nd Ave, Kew Gardens, NY 11415 near the Kew Gardens – Union Turnpike E and F train station, as well as the Q10, Q37, Q46, and Q60 buses.