December 17, 2014

Breaking the Silence: From Stigma to Sisterhood

by Ela Schwartz
Stavroula Kyriakakis_final_opt

Stavroula Kyriakakis, Ph.D.

Stavroula Kyriakakis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Adelphi University School of Social Work, has seen the results of women who suffer through years of psychological abuse: depression, suicidal ideation, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. A survivor can also exhibit a psychosis that lifts when she leaves her abuser.

Dr. Kyriakakis specializes in intimate partner violence in immigrant communities. A recent study she conducted focused on Mexican immigrant women in the United States to better understand intimate partner abuse in this population and determine health, criminal justice and social service interventions.

The sample of mostly undocumented Mexican immigrant women from New York City and St. Louis, Missouri, had endured intimate partner violence not typically physical in nature, but emotional and psychological. The men employed tactics such as isolating the women from friends and family, preventing them from leaving the house, working or taking classes or depriving them of money to feed themselves and their children, as well as limiting their access to information, particularly about the United States. Like their South Asian counterparts, the women feared deportation if they sought help.

Yet, Dr. Kyriakakis said, “We have a stereotype of battered women as helpless and immobilized by the abuse. That’s not the case.” She said a key finding in her study was the ability of the women to seek and identify other survivors, who became allies and valuable resources. “It’s like a bridge, in which women directly linked to domestic violence services form a pathway into services for isolated women.”

She recommends that domestic violence programs serving this population have peer survivor advocates provide outreach, education and accompaniment for women seeking orders of protection, public assistance or other services.

Dr. Kyriakakis is in the initial stages of planning another study, this time in the Caribbean in collaboration with a colleague and a local agency that assists women engaged in transactional sex. She hopes to investigate the women’s experiences, whether these women endure abuse, the extent they become marginalized from their families and society and the economic conditions that lead women to this work.

“The more I do this research, the more I think about the economic piece,” she said,  “especially for women who are not connected.”

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