Luke: Despite progress, domestic violence survivors still grapple with stigma, lack of support

Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke took the stage to discuss the latest in domestic violence prevention...
Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke took the stage to discuss the latest in domestic violence prevention across the state and nation on Thursday.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 5:23 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2023 at 5:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii has made progress in addressing domestic violence and broadening support to survivors, but there’s most work to be done, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke told advocates Thursday.

Luke was among those who took the stage at the annual conference for the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition tackles the social, political, and economic impacts of domestic violence in Hawaii.

Luke, who has been instrumental in several key domestic violence prevention funding measures, delivered opening remarks touching on the need to speak openly and frequently about the topic.

“We have to talk about it,” Luke said.

This year’s conference, “Reimagining a Path to Health and Safety,” marks the event’s return to in-person for the first time since the pandemic.

The eight-hour-long conference held training sessions to teach attendees about domestic violence prevention strategies and ways to provide support to survivors.

Luke attended to show her support for domestic violence organizations.

In her almost 25-year-long political career in Hawaii, Luke said that she has seen more domestic violence awareness now than in the past.

While she said there were few places for domestic violence survivors to go even just 20 years ago, she now sees a “gamut of organizations around all the islands in the state, including Lanai.”

Awareness is important, she said, because in many cases, domestic violence survivors hesitate to come forward because they do not know where to turn for help.

Though she has seen change, Luke said there is more that needs to be done.

“They shouldn’t feel shame, and they shouldn’t feel that they have no recourse, so there has to be a lot more wraparound services,” Luke said.

According to Coalition Executive Director Angelina Mercado, one of the greatest issues plaguing domestic violence prevention efforts in Hawaii is a lack of free or affordable services.

Mercado said many survivors who file for temporary restraining orders against abusers may be self-represented. Some survivors who need to file a divorce against an abusive partner can not afford a divorce attorney.

“When your abusive partner has access to that attorney you are definitely at a disadvantage,” Mercado said.

Events like the conference promise to make these changes, she added.

“We specifically brought in our local and national experts to introduce new skills, share ideas so we can bring them into practice,” Mercado said.

The conference’s sessions covered firearm usage, community trauma and support systems, the criminalization of domestic violence, substance use coercion, and available housing services for survivors of domestic violence.

Gabriela Zapata-Alma, associate director of the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health, spoke to conference attendees about the harmful effects of substance use coercion and strategies to aid survivors.

Substance use coercion occurs when one partner undermines and controls their partner through substance use related tactics, actively keeping them from achieving their treatment and recovery goals.

“This is a form of abuse that has been around,” said Zapata-Alma.

“And yet, there’s so much advocacy work that still needs to happen, especially in creating more acceptable treatment systems for survivors of domestic violence and trauma.”

Judge Sherrill Ellsworth, first judicial consultant of the Gifford’s Law Center, spoke about the current state of gun violence and domestic violence at the conference.

Just last week, Gov. Josh Green signed a bill banning firearms in “sensitive places.” Mercado was part of the team pushing for the definition of “sensitive places” to include locations where domestic violence survivors seek services.

While Hawaii has some of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country, domestic violence victims are still five times more likely to be killed if their abusive partner has access to a gun.

“I’m not taking your guns,” Ellsworth said, “but I am here to take the guns from prohibited individuals who have been identified as risks to their communities, to their families.”

When there are effective laws in place to remove firearms from abusive partners, Sherrill said there are 16% fewer intimate partner gun homicides.

Ellsworth also cautions the community to be skeptical of low rates of intimate partner violence in Hawaii.

Nationally, 1 in 2 women has experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

In Hawaii, that figure is 15.8 percent. While this number is lower than the national average, Ellsworth said domestic violence in Hawaii is probably underreported due to limiting factors including shame.

“Data only tells a story if we ask the right questions,” Ellsworth said.

Current data shared at the conference reveal that in 2021, 14.4% of Native Hawaiian women have experienced physical intimate partner violence.

Statewide, Hawaii County had the highest rate of intimate partner violence that same year. Among LGBTQ+ Native Hawaiians, 25.8% experienced physical intimate partner abuse in 2021.

Native Hawaiian women have the highest rate of domestic violence, according to Dr. Dayna Schultz, founder of Pouhana ʻO Na Wahine, the first federally-funded domestic violence resource center for Native Hawaiians.