"Victims of domestic violence need time to heal"

Editor L.Byambadorj

2016-06-17 15:15 GMT+8

GoGo Mongolia interviewed U.S. experts who came to Mongolia in frame of "Combating Gender-Based Violence in Mongolia" project.

Visiting U.S. experts Katherine Tepas, Senior Policy Advisor and Program Director at the Office of the Governor, State of Alaska and Michelle Dewitt, Executive Director, Bethel Community Services Foundation (BCSF).


Katherine has experience in building teams within governmental and non-profit sectors and developing the capacities of culturally diverse stakeholder groups in urban and rural communities. Katherine Tepas has worked to combat intimate partner violence and child exploitation for over two decades. One major accomplishment was the development of a "dashboard" to monitor key statewide indicators and performance measures. She has engaged and collaborated with over 170 Alaskan communities. Ms. Tepas also served as the governor's senior policy advisor on public safety and corrections issues.

Michelle’s duties include developing and managing endowed and non-endowed funds, managing BCSF's community capacity-building interests throughout the community and Yukon-Kuskokwim region, supporting existing and emerging projects that support the health and well-being of the region, partnering with other funders to leverage capital for community projects and managing BCSF's real estate holdings. Before BCSF, Michelle served as the Executive Director of Tundra Women's Coalition (TWC) in Bethel.  TWC is a shelter and outreach program serving Bethel and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. In 2012 Michelle was appointed to serve on the State of Alaska Task Force on the Crimes of Human Trafficking, Promoting Prostitution and Sex Trafficking.


- Please tell us more about the project?

- Katherine: Well, the project is combatting gender violence against women in Mongolia. It has three phases. It's a one year project. In Phase one 13 Mongolians individuals (and two translators) travelled to Alaska and stayed there for 10 days in January 2016. They went to several parts of Alaska like Anchorage and our capital Juneau where they met with professionals at our shelter houses, law enforcement and medical group of people. Then the Phase two, is us, which they referred as U.S. expert consultation where we will specifically work with local shelter houses on best practices and management. And the last Phase 3, is the Implementation of Training Program phase which will be a follow-up project for NCAV to conduct a nationwide training program building upon the results of the “Combating Gender-Based Violence in Mongolia: U.S. Engagement” Project (or Part One: Phases 1&2)

- Michelle: So basically the whole project is engagement between NCAV and the State of Alaska. We came to further deliver the information and resources on site here in Mongolia.

"Combating Gender-Based Violence in Mongolia" project has 3 phases

- How did NCAV select those 13 individuals who are part of the project?

- NCAV staff: Those professionals are from different areas. Some are NCAV staffs who work at shelter houses and others are from One Stop Crisis Centre and Family & Children’s Development Center. Additionally, director of police shelter house and police officer who is in charge of domestic violence unit at the general police agency, representative of NGO based in Erdenet were part of this group. So we had variety of people from diverse fields but all of them work on domestic violence and sexual violence issues.

How did NCAV and the State of Alaska came to collaborate on this project?

- Katherine: It wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership of USA-Mongolia, specifically I think Alaska has a very long history of our government officials working on variety of issues with Mongolia. So I think we are considered as sister or partner state. One of the government agency in Alaska is called “Council on domestic violence and sexual assault” and they worked with NCAV regarding their trip helping them plan and NCAV asked who would be a good people to come as U.S. experts and our name was given.

- Michelle: In terms of skills and expertise, Kathy and I come from somewhat different backgrounds on sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska. Kathy spent most of her career working in government, policy aspects of domestic violence and sexual assault. I operated for 13 years in shelter houses in rural Alaska.

- Have you visited shelter houses in Mongolia? What did you think of their conditions?

- Katherine: Yes, we visited police shelter house, one stop shop at trauma hospital and NCAV shelter house.

- Michelle: This sector always needs constant improvements. Each shelter house we visited shared one thing in common – that is dedicated staffs. They really set the tone, creating welcoming and safe environment for victims. And each shelter houses had their own unique environment or feeling to it.

- Katherine: I believe these shelter houses would benefit from Mongolians contributing and basic contributions. Basic ways to contribute can be donating food, clothing, toiletry, toys for children and books etc.

- What is the focus of phase 2 and when is the deadline?

- Michelle: Phase 2 focuses on three priorities First, Helping Mongolia start a coalition Second, Helping Mongolian shelter houses think about sustainability, planning sustainability and financial sustainability, and Third, training of shelter house staffs. In this phase, we are providing material and training shelter house staffs which sets the stage for phase 3 that will be delivered by NCAV.

Katherine: Phase 2 will finish in July 15 and phase 3 will begin where NCAV will take the training materials and further train shelter house staffs across Mongolia. 

Shelter houses would benefit from Mongolians contributing and basic contributions. Basic ways to contribute can be donating food, clothing, toiletry, toys for children and books etc.

- What are some of the root causes of domestic violence and sexual abuse?

- Katherine: We had shelter house system in Alaska for 40 years. We have evolved to where we are today with best practices over significant amount of time. If you asked Alaskans 40 years ago about the causal factor of domestic violence, they would say alcohol. Through research, study and training many Alaskans, not all, understand that alcoholism is contributing factor to cause domestic violence and sexual abuse. What it means is alcoholism makes it worse but not the root cause. I believe most domestic violence is same all around the world whether it is in Alaska, Mongolia or China.

- Tell us about best shelter management and practices internationally and particularly in Alaska?

- Michelle: Well, Alaska has adopted empowerment based advocacy approach for folks who are requesting services from our shelters. This means that victims identify what they need, and staffs at shelter houses support them in achieving or accessing those goals or services. We delivered 12 best practices for shelter management to Mongolian individuals for three days. Some of the highlights include example of best practice shelter house management is how to handle medications and medication policies. Many shelter houses in the past in the US, people would come to shelter houses with medicines and the medicines would be taken from them so shelter house staffs would hold them and give them the medicine when it needed to be delivered. The new way, in this best practice approach people keep their own medications unless they choose to give them to staffs to hold. Similarly, we discussed confidentiality, informed consent, services to vulnerable populations, elders, people with disabilities and LGBTQ and reducing rules at shelter houses during the training program.

- What kind of advices would you give regarding ways to prevent domestic violence and improve shelter services?

- Michelle: Generally, community engagement is really important. Educating and empowering community members helps us understand and identify the issue and creates safety net. Also in the states, our shelters operate 24/7 and we have hotline to help victims of domestic violence.

 - How to deal with domestic violence and sexual abuse victims?

- Katherine: Historically, in old practices social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists would sit down and talk with the victims/patients for psychological trauma treatment. This would be talk therapy. But now we realized that is not always the best practice. There are some basic things we have learned that that most shelter houses can do at very basic levels. Yoga and meditation is two of them. When people suffer trauma they no longer feel safe in their body, they feel numb. So doing yoga and meditation grounds them in themselves and creates environmental safety. Lately, the United States really using different approaches and we have implemented them all over the states. And Alaska is still learning these. Another interesting approaches are eye movement technique, animal therapy where people feel more safe around animals.

- Michelle: It’s really important to create safe environment where victims can feel safe. They might not feel safe all the time but we try to create points of time of safety so they can start the healing process.

- What are some of the challenges to implement this kind of project in Mongolia?

- Katherine: It will take some time to implement this kind of project in Mongolia, because Mongolia’s system is newly established. But this challenge can be easily overcome through time and additional training. I think this process can be quick here because Mongolians are very inquisitive, asking questions and have desire to learn. So developing expertise is one challenge.

- Michelle: Capacity is an another challenge. Many shelter houses across Mongolia are working with limited staffs, resources and financial resources. Within Mongolia, capacity will be an issue for such small NGOs or small units of governments because they are busy responding and dealing with crisis. So working out training and resource development takes time.

- Katherine: In addition, Mongolia just passed domestic violence legislation which is huge and wonderful. However, all of that takes additional funding. I think nobody knows yet how much funding it will need but I think one challenge that Mongolia will have which is the same challenge that Alaska has had is community and public support for the work. And that only comes true doing public outreach through interviews and educating public on the issue.

- What kind of training materials and packages are being delivered to Mongolian shelter house staffs? Were they developed by experts in the states?

- Michelle: Well, Kathy and I already had previous presentations and we supplemented those through research and reaching to other peers and experts and customized them to NCAV staffs.

- Where does the funding for this project come from?

- The funding for this project came from the U.S. Embassy and directly to NCAV.

Thank you so much for you time. We appreciate your work and wish you all the best for your future work.

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