Remember Laudrinah Kubeloso.

Last year, we lost one of our own to domestic violence. Refugee and immigrant victims and survivors are affected by gender-based violence. They share the risks of all women in the United States to gender-based violence, although they experience increased vulnerabilities and isolation to its effects because of the cultural context in which they experience violence and barriers to accessing services.

Gender-based violence is in every community. It has no color, ethnicity, cultural background, religion, economic status or age. It takes on many forms and can occur throughout the life cycle. Examples of gender-based violence include: sexual violence, including female genital mutilation; physical, verbal and psychological abuse; elder abuse; sex trafficking; and sexual coercion and forced marriage.

Many refugees and immigrants come from war-torn countries where law and order is nonexistent. Under many African countries and traditions, gender-based violence often goes unpunished and under-reported. Often these cultures use the elder system that is responsible for making decisions within their respective clans and tribes. It is shameful and a taboo to report abuse in many cultures. Cultural and language barriers can also make it difficult to access services.

Our community has a long way to go to address gender-based violence. Although there are significant barriers to accessing services, there is also a glimpse of hope. Our community members are beginning to engage in open discussions about gender-based violence and its effects on women and children. Through education and public awareness campaigns, we are working to educate, develop leadership and prevent gender-based violence.

Laudrinah’s death has allowed our community to openly engage in discussion and talk about the impact of gender-based violence.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Laudrinah’s death has motivated us to speak at churches and mosque, and has created increased access to services. Her death has allowed us to learn from this tragedy, to help others in the same situation and circumstances. As a community, we need to stand up against domestic and sexual violence. This is a disease that is destroying many lives and it needs to stop.

We have the power to say “no” to domestic and sexual violence. There is help out there. We live in a country where we have rights and deserve a better life. Many refugee and immigrant women have experienced human rights violations where we have no voice and a right to our body.

No more of that in the United States.

We are human beings and can decide on our future without being dictated to it by someone else.

We need to speak up. We need to break our silence. We need to find ways to help people receive effective and culturally meaningful services.

For domestic violence services, call the confidential statewide domestic violence hotline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-866-83-4HELP.

For sexual violence services, call the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Violence hotline at 1-800-871-7741.

Fatuma Hussein is executive director of United Somali Women of Maine.


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