CALIFORNIA, USA – Filipino American domestic violence prevention advocates are taking the lead in commemorating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month with their 11th annual Free from Violence on October 1 at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in South San Francisco.
ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment Kumare and Kumpares have tapped Colma Council Member Helen Fisicaro – a staunch promoter of access to health and social justice – to headline the event. She has been a friend to Filipino Americans since she was elected over 20 years ago, thwarting a recall election for having supported a FilAm enterprise.
Voted mayor 6 times by her fellow council members, Fisicaro will join Consul General Henry S. Bensurto Jr and Kaiser Permanente Physician-in-Chief John Skerry, who will reinforce the message that intimate partner violence is a community issue.
"Education enables the community to support and comfort the person experiencing domestic violence," Fisicaro emphasized. "A neighbor, co-worker, classmate, or relative of the victim can assist or recommend the variety of services that can help stop the domestic violence cycle."
Knowing the facts can empower everyone, Fisicaro said as she echoed statistics showing that children who witness domestic violence are twice likely to become abusive or abused in adulthood.
"It is not good for children to observe this kind of behavior because it gives children the wrong message that domestic violence is a way of life," she stressed.
"There are no cultural, nationality, economic, gender boundaries for domestic violence," she said, noting the prevalence of incidences. "All walks of life experience it, unfortunately. There are no stereotypes and it may surprise the community who is a domestic violence victim."
Fisicaro's own colleague Joanne del Rosario, current mayor of Colma and 2010 president of ALLICE, broke her silence in 2009 by sharing her experience of abuse in a previous relationship. Del Rosario's public disclosure showed that successful, powerful individuals may become abused if they become involved with abusive partners.
Fisicaro said she confronted domestic violence as a supervisor at Pacific Gas and Electric Company where she worked for almost 40 years until she retired in 2010.
"I observed one of my employees coming in to work with multiple bruises, a black eye, and other injuries that seemed to always be an accident," she recalled. "In private, I recommended to her to utilize the Employee Assistance Program to get help. I was not only concerned for my employee but also our peers."
The experience alerted Fisicaro to the effects of intimate partner violence beyond the couples involved.
"The spouse showed up at our office building so we needed to protect the whole department from this employee’s violent spouse," she said. "We increased our security access to the office. It was important to not only help the employee but also protect the employees who worked with her."
"I was not only trying to be a concerned co-worker but a good friend showing support and concern for my employee. By utilizing the confidential Employee Assistance Program, this employee was empowered to seek safe services, not live in fear, move on and lead a productive life," she added.
Fisicaro and Del Rosario are among the few elected officials visibly active in the campaign to prevent domestic violence. To this day, many still consider intimate partner violence as a "women's issue" and a "private matter" best resolved behind closed doors.
Fisicaro tends to disagree. She believes those in public office have the privilege and opportunity to enhance the movement to deter domestic abuse.
"We as public officials can educate our community by sharing domestic violence prevention information in the city newsletters, linking ALLICE and CORA (the domestic violence service agency in San Mateo County) with our public website," she said, listing some options.
"We can make sure our employees who work with the public are trained in signs of domestic violence," Fisicaro said.
She said that brochures can be made available at all public buildings such as recreation centers, libraries, police stations, fire stations; while articles about such services can be featured in community newsletters.
"Having speakers from the referral agencies make a presentation to the different populations of the community. Referrals can be made to our Police Department who in turn can make recommendations about the services available to the victim. Survivors need to know about available counseling, legal assistance, shelter, food, etc. in order to live productive fearless lives," she said.
Fisicaro is especially proud of the protocols established by her town's law enforcement.
"Colma police respond to incidents of domestic violence and violations of related court order and stress enforcement of the law to protect the victim and communicate the philosophy that domestic violence is a criminal behavior," she said.
Policy relates to both victims and offenders, giving them access to appropriate civil remedies and community resources.
Officers carry brochures regarding the services and resources available through private and public programs. They are required to take domestic violence courses with a mandated two-hour domestic violence update. Police employees view a DVD produced through the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office.
Fisicaro impressed Fil-Am leaders in 1997 when she and her husband and then-fellow council member Dennis Fisicaro and two other colleagues opposed a move to charge a $100,000-fee for financial reports on Lucky Chances Casino, which was under construction at the time. Dennis Fisicaro believed an existing $20,000 permit tax already covered the cost. Casino opponents petitioned for a recall election that Colma residents voted down.
Lucky Chances Casino, part of a chain of businesses owned by Rene Medina and his sons, continues to generate income for Colma, a town famous for its cemeteries and auto dealerships.
"She is our friend," community leader Alice Bulos described Helen Fisicaro.
The testimony of Marlene Caballero, a domestic violence survivor, highlighted the program sponsored by Union Bank, the Philippine Consulate General, Thomasians USA, and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Our Lady of Mercy Church Knights of Columbus and Legion of Mary received commendations as outstanding allies in the campaign against dating and domestic abuse.
Representatives of AARS, API Legal Outreach, California Highway Patrol, Catholic Charities, CORA, FBANC, FMHI San Mateo, FCCC, FALEO, HART, HICAP of San Mateo County, HPSM, Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, Peninsula Family Service, Pyramid Alternatives, Rape Trauma Services, Star Vista, Victim Services, and West Bay Pilipino Multi-service Center talked to attendees about their programs to promote healthier interaction.
Donor allies San Mateo Behavioral Health & Recovery Services, Philippine Association of University Women, Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center, Rappler.com, The Filipino Channel, Philippine News, Philippines Today, FilAm Star, Positively Filipino, Lucky Chances, Moonstar, Hapag Filipino, Chalet Ticino, Café Savini and Noah’s Bagels supported the annual event through their products and services.
ALLICE is all-volunteer nonprofit based in San Mateo County dedicated to promoting healthy and safe relationships through education.
Founded in 2003, members call themselves Kumares and Kumpares: Alice Bulos Allen Capalla, Bettina Santos Yap, Cecile Gregorio Ascalon, Cherie Querol Moreno, Edna Murray, Elsa Agasid, Erlinda Galeon, Jeannette Trajano, Jei Africa, Jennifer Jimenez Wong, Joanne del Rosario, Jose Antonio, Malou Aclan, Maria Segarra, Nellie Hizon, Paulita Lasola Malay, Randy Caturay, Sarah Jane Ilumin, Teresa Guingona Ferrer and Father Mark Reburiano. – Rappler.com