California State University, Long Beach
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Global Fight Against Domestic Violence

Published: December 2, 2014

CSULB’s Department of Psychology faculty members Alyce LaViolette and Courtney Ahrens joined the global fight against domestic violence when they participated in a U.S. State Department-sponsored visit to Vietnam this summer.

LaViolette is an acknowledged expert in domestic abuse as well as a member of the CSULB alumni board and a former College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumni. Her invitation to visit the Southeast Asian nation from the U.S. State Department followed other State Department invitations to address issues of domestic abuse in Israel, Cape Verde and Katmandu. Ahrens joined the team with the support of CSULB provost Dave Dowell who recognized the fit between Ahrens’ National Institute of Justice funded research on domestic violence in the Vietnamese-American community and the work being done in Vietnam.

The pair departed Los Angeles in late July and returned in early August. ”Vietnam is struggling with many of the issues we faced in the late 70s and early 80s. We were trying to alert the public and governmental agencies about the problem of spouse abuse and to get community support for battered women’s shelters and outreach programs,” said LaViolette. “Later, we were outreaching to get referrals to our male perpetrators’ programs. The Vietnamese activists were interested in prevention programming, funding for shelters, legislation and perpetrator programs. Their energy was amazing.”

Upon arrival in Hanoi, the pair began a series of community and government meetings that ranged from high level meetings with government officials to meetings with survivors in rural provinces. The trip began with a meeting with U.S. Consulate officials followed by a presentation to more than 40 representatives from local non-governmental organizations working to combat intimate partner violence in Vietnam. LaViolette and Ahrens then met with faculty, students and social workers at the Vietnamese Women’s Academy and with Ministry of Justice officials, visited Yen Bai province for a two-hour presentation to the local chapter of the Vietnamese Women’s Union Ha Nam Province and met with a support group of survivors and local government officials. Also, they toured one of the only two domestic violence shelters in Vietnam and concluded their visit with a press conference.

Ahrens and LaViolette were pleased with the program organized by their hosts, the U.S. Embassy.

“Their overarching goal was to facilitate cultural interaction between Americans and the Vietnamese while discussing topics that could be helpful,” Ahrens said. “Domestic violence is an issue of emerging importance to the Vietnamese people so the topic was timely.”

It is the people who stand out in LaViolette’s memory. “I was impressed by the courage of the battered women we met,” she said. “I was impressed with the warmth, enthusiasm, creativity and leadership of the activists that we met.”

The focus of their presentations was on programs for perpetrators of domestic abuse, adult and child victims, funding, legislation and prevention programming. “Given the culture and economics of modern Vietnam, women aren’t terribly likely to leave an abusive relationship,” said Ahrens. “They want the abuser to change. They want the abuser not to be abusive. They were also very interested in understanding what happens to children who grow up in those homes. What services ought to be provided to these children?”

Alyce LaViolette and Courtney Ahrens with group in Vietnam.

Many of the meetings involved brainstorming, problem solving and the sharing of ideas. “When we talked to them about developing women’s shelters, I explained that California attached fees to marriage licenses in 1980s to fund women’s shelters,” LaViolette said. “They explained that Vietnam does not charge for marriage licenses.”

Another highlight was a meeting in HaNam Province with survivors of domestic violence who traveled for miles on bicycles and motorbikes to participate in a support group run by CSAGA, a local NGO working to address domestic violence. “The topic was ‘Negative Feelings,’” said Ahrens. Later that afternoon, they met with a group of local officials who were implementing a pilot program to respond to reports of domestic violence. “We were impressed by the multidisciplinary team approach they were implementing. This approach mirrors what we have learned in the U.S. about how important it is to work as a team. But in Vietnam, the top priority seems to be mediation between the couples. We tried to explain that we have found having both the abuser and the victim in the same place at the same time doesn’t always work. Having separate groups for victims and perpetrators works better. They can be brought back together when the abuser accepts responsibility,” Ahrens added.

LaViolette is the author of It Can Happen to Anyone: Why Battered Women Stay and founded Alternatives to Violence in Long Beach. She received her B.A. in Psychology in 1968 and her M.S. in Psychology in 1974. Ahrens received her B.A. from Smith College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 2002.

LaViolette sees her commitment to the issue of domestic abuse as permanent. “My commitment is bigger than fighting domestic abuse,” she said. “I believe that feminism is about creating choice. That means choices for men and women. Let’s look at how we’re allies for each other.”

Ahrens admired the passion she found in Vietnam. “This is not something I always see in the U.S. where the movement has become a little more political and professional,” she said. “The people we met in Vietnam were enthusiastic about addressing issues like domestic abuse. These are people who want to change the world and, at this point, nothing will stop them.”