By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Asian American high school students Helena Nguyen, Jelina Nguyen and Cindy Leung know about the amazing power of healing. Their words are a bright, comforting light to those in dark, unhealthy relationships.
They are strong, independent young women who provide hope to victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Their message to other Asian American and Pacific Islander youth is: “It’s not your fault you’ve gotten into this.”
The three high-school seniors volunteer as advocates for the Teen Peer Advocate Program (TPAP) at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). The program – its Seattle-based leadership component nicknamed Asian Pacific Americans Against Dating Violence Involving Community Education (AP ADVICE) – trains young women to provide information about dating violence and outreach to both young women and men and adults in the community.
Helena Nguyen acknowledged why she participates in TPAP saying, “Yes. It sounds cheesy, but I love to reach out to my peers and listen to their problems or provide them with the support they need.” Leung said, “I feel like dating violence is a big issue, especially in the Asian community, and I want to change the way it is seen in the culture.”
TPAP supervisor and ACRS clinical supervisor Souchinda Khampradith said, “We are also providing our teen participants a lifelong connection to caring adults even after they leave our program.”
Jelina Nguyen and Leung have volunteered about two hours a week since their sophomore year. Helena Nguyen says she’s been “completely devoted” to TPAP since her freshman year and is now a confident public speaker. After 40 hours of training at ACRS, all 25 Seattle teen advocates and 10 Bellevue teen advocates are allowed to give presentations to youth groups or organizations.
Since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, they want their classmates to become more aware of dating violence and what to do to if they are either facing the problem or know someone who is.
Part of the problem stems from a belief – by mostly male perpetrators around the world – that domestic violence is acceptable. For example, one Korean proverb states: “The real taste of dry fish and tame women can only be derived from beating them once every three days.”
Unlike many young women in their age group, Helena Nguyen, Jelina Nguyen and Cindy Leung speak openly about a problem that affects many Asian American females who suffer in silence. “It’s more of an uncomfortable topic for people to talk about so it’s more taboo,” explained Helena Nguyen.
Jelina Nguyen added, “Girls don’t have enough of a voice in Asian communities and it’s time to change that.”
“Asian families are really protective of, especially, their younger daughters because they are thought of to be vulnerable sometimes,” said Leung.
A double standard exists say the three teens, and how closely Asian American parents watch their kids and their rules for teen dating differ depending on the gender of the child. “I think it just comes down to the basic fact that girls can come home pregnant and a guy can’t,” said Jelina Nguyen. “They seem to encourage the guys to go out there and find that girl.”
“A lot of girls are supposed to be timid and shy and not outgoing in the Asian culture and not as social as boys are supposed to be,” pointed out Helena Nguyen.
Jelina Nguyen points out about her participation, “TPAP is raising a group of strong girls to go out and empower others, and I want to be a part of that movement, a movement to give every girl her voice.”
For more information about the Teen Peer Advocate Program and a copy of “My Dating Bill of Rights,” call 206-695-7600 or go to www.acrs.org/programs/_APADVICE.htm.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the U.S., a 2004 Department of Health and Human Services report – “Dating Violence Common Among Teens” – found:
More than one in four female college students say they have suffered rape or attempted rape at least once since age 14.
About one in 12 eighth- and ninth-graders suffered sexual violence in dating.
In a study of eighth- and ninth-graders, one in four reported nonsexual violence in dating.
ACRS conducted focus groups last spring and found dating violence takes place in the home of one of the teens. Rape is also committed against boys, but less often. ♦