Speakers at 2020 Domestic Violence Summit encourage a community approach to stop the problem

At the first of three webinars scheduled during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, speaker after speaker encouraged better interventions through a supportive community.  

By Emily Burkhart.

At left, lehua blossom. At right, 6th Annual Domestic Violence Virtual Summit 2020, 'Auamo Kuleana it is out responsibility, with a dozen logos of sponsors.
The theme of this year’s statewide Domestic Violence Summit centers around ʻauamo kuleana, the responsibility of the community as a whole to address and eradicate the pervasive issue of domestic violence.

The 2020 ʻAuamo Kuleana Domestic Violence Summit is going virtual this year. The annual event, now in its sixth year, is held in October as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A statewide community effort of the University of Hawaiʻi System in partnership with UH Hilo, Hawaiʻi Community College, and many community groups, this year’s theme centers around ʻauamo kuleana, the responsibility of the community as a whole to address and eradicate the pervasive issue of domestic violence.

The Oct. 9 webinar, the first of three, was titled “Domestic Violence 101: Establishing Foundations, Partnerships, and Calls to Action.” UH Hilo student Summer Tawney hosted, with participants engaged in a series of discussions led by panelists who are experts in the field of domestic abuse. Malu Dudoit, UH Hilo alumnus and Native Hawaiian leader, opened the webinar with a kīpaepae ceremony, acknowledging the interconnectedness of the community, and the mutual responsibility shared in caretaking each other’s wellbeing to ensure not only health and safety, but also the building of a network of outreach and support in confronting domestic violence.

Bonnie D. Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin shared personal testimony of her experiences as a survivor. She considers the many resources, such as friends, family, colleagues, and bosses who helped her during this difficult period in her life as integral to her recovery process. Though deeply grateful, Chancellor Irwin also acknowledged that not all experience that web of support. Domestic violence, she says, can happen to anyone, and we must be ready to intervene and assist our neighbors when necessary.

Though COVID-19 seems to be the most immediate public health crisis, “domestic violence always was a silent pandemic,” says Jennifer Rose, JD, director of the Office of Institutional Equity for the UH system and keynote speaker at the event. In her role as director, she is often called upon as an expert authority on policy and strategies to combat gender violence and discrimination.

Jennifer Rose
Jennifer Rose

Rose says societal disturbances like the pandemic can cause upsurges in the “silent pandemic” of domestic violence. Already a pervasive issue, with one in three women experiencing some form of domestic violence in her lifetime, this “pandemic within a pandemic” has been increasing since last March, when shelter-at-home orders made survivors more vulnerable to unsafe situations with an abuser.

Domestic violence, as Rose notes, does not discriminate, crossing structural lines of race, class, sexuality, and gender. However, its negative effects are often concentrated in historically marginalized groups, like communities of color. Though there are no “magic bullet” solutions to domestic violence, Rose encourages better interventions through a supportive community. “Listening with tenacity and humility,” she says, is one of the best ways to support someone experiencing domestic violence.

Matapuna Levenson
Matāpuna Levenson

Community organizer Matāpuna Levenson also spoke. She was born in Sāmoa and raised on Oʻahu’s North Shore, and is a former victim advocate who recently completed her graduate studies in social work at the University of Southern California. She specializes in systems of change, specifically intersections of gender violence, historical trauma, Pasifika cultures and community, decolonizing healthcare, and violence against women and girls of color. She now works as the training and technical assistance director for the Hawaiʻi State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“It’s not just a domestic family problem,” Levenson says about domestic violence. Her research illustrates the massive societal costs of unaddressed domestic violence, and like Rose, she notes that the presence of a supportive community significantly increases the chances of a safe departure of a survivor from their abuser.

Levenson says a good support system means active listening, respecting a survivor’s choices, being honest about concerns, responding with compassion and empathy, and helping to create a safety plan for the friend or loved one. “If there is one thing you can do, it is to believe what [a survivor] is telling you,” she says.

Notably, Levenson focused on Hawaiʻi’s unique sociopolitical history, geography, and other factors to find solutions to the perpetuation of domestic violence in Hawaiʻi. She advocates centering and uplifting Kānaka Maoli and Indigenous communities to create a “culturally relevant, competent, and responsive movement” in the fight against domestic violence. This includes “holistic and place-based perspectives which recognize relationships to each other, the land, and our ancestors.” This holistic model also incorporates holding abusers accountable for abusive behavior and including their healing in strategies to end domestic violence.

Jennifer Stotter
Jennifer Stotter

Jennifer Stotter, director of UH Hilo’s Office of Equal Opportunity (she is temporarily assigned to the UH System Title IX and Office of Institutional Equity) and an expert in compliance with non-discrimination laws, affirmative action, and equal employment opportunity, shared information about the Hilo office. OEO provides resources to any UH Hilo or Hawaiʻi Community College student or employee seeking assistance with domestic violence. This includes food, counseling, and resources.

Stotter explains that Title IX was created as part of the Education Act of 1992, a bill signed into law by Hawaiʻi State Representative Patsy Mink, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace. “Each case is different,” says Stotter. “Intervention is not a one size fits all.” She says OEO staff strives to think outside the box when necessary and stay creative in helping people develop strategies for success during a life disruption like domestic violence.

Dorinna Cortez
Dorinna Cortez

The summit wrapped up with moʻolelo from Dorinna Cortez, vice chancellor for student affairs at Hawaiʻi Community College. She called for everyone to “create our beloved community” by recognizing that each person can do a unique part to address the complex problem of domestic violence and help create a web of support for the community.

Upcoming webinars

The next two webinars of the series will be held:

  • Oct. 16, 2020: “ʻAuamo Kuleana—Cultivating Healthy Relationships: Addressing Intimate Partner Violence, Exploring Family Dynamics, and Supporting Survivors.”
  • Oct. 23, 2020: “ʻAuamo Kuleana—Resiliency: Trends, Advocacy, Culture, and Community Support.”

Register online.


Story by Emily Burkhart, a senior double majoring in English, and Gender and Women’s Studies, at UH Hilo.