Photo: Hooikaika Ohana Program Graduates
Renewed and strengthened, these victorious wāhine celebrate their graduation from the Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana program for domestic violence survivors. - Photos: Courtesy of DVAC

By Marsha Heu Bolson

Addressing Domestic Violence

“I’d never been to a courthouse before, ever. I was so terrified every time I had to be there. Julie helped me by showing me breathing techniques and helping me to keep everything in perspective. She often just showed up early so that we could walk into the courthouse together. Her moral support was a priceless reassurance in such an intimidating environment. I am so grateful to her and the DVAC team, who helped pick me up and prepared me to go out there and take on life again.” – Domestic Violence survivor, 2020

Over the last few months, we have been consumed with fears and anxiety over COVID-19. In addition to inflicting dire physical illness and death, the pandemic has increased threats that domestic violence (DV) victims face, trapped in their own homes with their abusive partner.

Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC), says, “‘Safer at home’ is not necessarily true for everyone.” Kreidman said the DVAC Helpline has experienced a 68% increase in calls and a 77% increase in website hits since February. In April alone, DVAC received 230 Helpline calls, a 28% increase over last year; their client contacts increased 485% (3,038 compared to 519 in April 2019) and DVAC has created 1,066 Safety Plans.

There has been a staggering rise in domestic violence worldwide, too. On April 6, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls linked to government lockdowns. And in early April, police departments across the country reported spikes in domestic violence cases. Experts believe the increases in DV are almost certainly underreported because some victims cannot get away from their abusers to call for help.

Native Hawaiians Impacted by DV Significantly More than Other Ethnicities

Photo: Woman holding a sign that reads No Excuse for Domestic AbuseEven prior to the pandemic, the single largest ethnic group receiving support from DVAC were Native Hawaiians. Statistics from 2019 show that 25% of Helpline callers and 27% of victims who received long-term advocacy services identified as Native Hawaiian. Nearly one-fourth of Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) petitioners assessed as DV victims identified as Hawaiian, as did 23% of victims receiving Legal services. Between April 1-May 8, 2020, DVAC had more than 250 contacts with Native Hawaiian clients.

How do we Achieve Long-term Change?

Ironically, the pandemic has raised new awareness about just how tenuous harmony and safety are in our homes and families. To address this problem, Congress set aside $47 million for domestic violence in the March 27th $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. But more than money is required. Kreidman envisions several important steps that can help.

  1. Safe Families = Safe Communities. “Communities must understand that safe families are at the core of a healthy community,” says Kreidman. Domestic violence does not discriminate – all ethnicities, ages and socio-economic groups are affected, including children. Especially in times of unprecedented stress and trauma, it’s important to support DV survivors and not judge or blame them for their decisions. With greater understanding and acceptance of the undiscriminating nature of DV, victims are more likely to seek help without the fear of shame and retribution.
  2. Identify and Mitigate the Consequences of DV. The powerful and damaging consequences of DV are not well understood. When a victim finally decides to leave her abuser, she may be instantly homeless with no ability to support herself or her children. To cope with the violence, victims may succumb to drugs or alcohol, or develop eating disorders. Children of DV often live in constant terror and have difficulty functioning in school or may themselves live out a pattern of intergenerational abuse. Emotional and psychological impacts are never as obvious as physical injuries. Broader understanding of the consequences of domestic violence could lead to more comprehensive strategies to address the problem.
  3. Families Under Stress Can Choose a Different Path. Healing and restoring Hawaiian families torn apart by domestic violence is most successful when anchored in Native Hawaiian values and practices. In a culture-based approach, family members choose to move forward together with self-respect, respect for each other, and a commitment to focus on healing, restoring stability, personal growth, and rebuilding relationships with ʻohana. (See related article).
  4. It is Important We All Do Our Part. DVAC implores all community-based organizations, allies, businesses, law enforcement, clergy and medical professionals to actively look for red flags of abuse. Reach out to friends, family, co-workers or neighbors who may be in danger and simply ask them how they are doing. Suggest a plan, a simple code word or an image that they can send you to signal distress or that they need help. Check on loved ones and acquaintances, let them know you care, and plan for ways to get them help.

There is Hope. There is Help.

The challenges continue as DVAC and other community service providers help DV survivors on their long journey to family safety and peace. Using technology and following social distancing rules, direct services and client support continues with greater urgency than ever before. Advocacy for victims and their families, more public education, professional training and system reform will also continue, hopefully, with increased community awareness and financial support. If you’d like to help, please contact DVAC. Mahalo nui loa.


Marsha Heu Bolson is a retired communications professional with educational degrees in Fine Arts and International Business. After more than 30 years of service at Kamehameha Schools, she now enjoys volunteering for non-profit organizations, and pursuing hobbies and interests she never had time for while working. She is a longtime Windward Oʻahu resident and now resides in Heʻeia.

Hoʻoikaika ʻOhana

Developed by a hui of community leaders, content experts, cultural practioners and survivors, Hoʻikaika ʻOhana (HOʻO) is designed to meet the unique needs of Native Hawaiian survivors and their ʻohana who have suffered from domestic violence. The program honors the need for services based on Native Hawaiian values and practices that better support survivors and their families towards healing and rebuilding. HOʻO utilizes a survivor-defined group environment where, aided by staff, participants can share, encourage and heal with one another.

Survivors who participate in the HOʻO program have generally moved beyond their crisis. They are ready to focus on healing and their long-term health, stability, personal growth, cultural connections and family harmony. The first three-month phase gives the survivor the opportunity to begin their personal healing process and receive needed support.

HOʻO understands that ʻohana are critical and so the children and ʻohana of the survivor are invited to take part in the second and third phases of the nine-month program. Together, they mend relationships through moʻolelo and cultural practices such as lei-making, planting kalo, making poi, oli and hula.

HOʻO groups are held across Oʻahu, in safe and peaceful locations. The program is supported by federal money made available through the Violence Against Women Act, the HMSA Foundation and the Atherton Family Foundation.

For more information about Hoʻoikaika ʻOhana call (808) 531-3771.

Hoʻoikaika ʻOhana Client Testimony

“Hoʻoikaika ʻOhana has become an instrumental component in my healing and recovery, not only as a Native Hawaiian woman, but as a surviving, victorious woman. As I gather weekly with the group, I find I have gained a newfound value, significance, purpose and family. My mind has been restored to a place of peace and security, and my spirit has calmed. Hoʻoikaika ʻOhana gives me an overall sense of wellbeing. My children have come to be thankful for life’s simplest pleasures and look forward to being able to run freely without fear. Their minds and spirits are renewed with hope and the promise of life. Mahalo.”


Webinar Series on Domestic Violence Targets Men

“He Huewai Ola,” a webinar series developed by ʻAha Kāne, Kanaeokana, Papa Ola Lōkahi and the Consuelo Foundation seeks to address domestic violence in Native Hawaiian households by educating men and boys about traditional male roles and responsibilities and providing instruction on traditional skills and cultural practices as a means of positive redirection.

The webinar is being offered as part of Kanaeokana’s network of programming and is broadcast live every Friday at 2 p.m. via the Zoom videochat platform and archived on YouTube and Facebook. The show officially launched May 1.