Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boyd Alumna Researching Domestic Violence Among Ethnic Groups

Kathleen Ja Sook Berquist '09, a UNLV Professor
in the School of Social Work

Professor Kathleen Ja Sook Berquist’s
interest in the care of victims of domestic violence began before she graduated from the William S. Boyd School of Law in 2009. 

Bergquist will be pursuing that interest this year as she completes research work identifying possible linguistic and cultural barriers among local domestic violence providers that may affect education, outreach and intervention within the Spanish-speaking and Asian communities in Southern Nevada. The Lincy Institute recently awarded her a fellowship to conduct her research.

“I heard about the fellowship and thought my research would be perfect to create a community-university partnership,” Bergquist said.

The Lincy Institute at UNLV awards four to six fellowships each year to UNLV faculty who design research projects that pertain to topics of relevance to community need within the areas of education, social services and health; directly involve community agencies in Southern Nevada and contribute to the necessity of the agencies; add to data in any of the named fields; or provide immediate and potential funding opportunities from federal, state or private sources.

Bergquist, who already had her doctorate in counselor education before pursuing her Juris Doctorate, has long been involved with the Asian-Pacific community. She noticed that the three shelters in Las Vegas that provide services for victims of domestic violence report low numbers for domestic violence care within the Asian-Pacific community.

“National and regional numbers on domestic violence do not tend to look at specific ethnicities,” Bergquist said.

“Within the Asian community,” Bergquist said, “data has shown that domestic violence occurs just as often as it does within the non-Asian population, but the fatality rate tends to be higher. The reason is that there is a general distrust of law enforcement or anyone not within the Asian ethnic group, a cultural expectation to not discuss family issues and a different definition of what constitutes domestic violence.”

“Also, because of the rate of population growth among the ethnic communities,” Bergquist said, “shelters have trouble keeping up. Of the people who use the shelter’s service, about 30 percent of them are Hispanic.”

“Maybe the headway has been made there where is hasn’t been made elsewhere,” she said. Bergquist’s legal background has helped her with her current research. In addition to teaching at UNLV, she also does pro bono work for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Part of what brought her attention to the subject of domestic violence among minority groups was her work at Legal Aid, where she primarily sees Asian-Pacific clients. 

“Immigration often goes hand-in-hand with family law,” she said, “because immigrants face unique circumstances that U.S. citizens don’t.”

“Immigration is often used by the batterers,” Bergquist said. “Sometimes, the person committing the domestic battery will say that filing a police report will lead to one or both being deported as a way to keep the victim from reporting the crime.”

Bergquist plans to go out to the service providers, along with eight research assistants, and conduct interviews and focus groups to find out who is using the services and what things are being done right. The project must be completed by the end of the year, and Bergquist said the initial research should be finished by the end of the semester.

“My hope is that it will provide valuable information, “ Berquist said. “Just by asking questions, it will raise awareness about the issue.”

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