Joyful Heart in the News

Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Are Serious Issues for Hawaii

March 1st, 2012
Civil Beat
Kata Issari

I will never forget the first time I answered a sexual assault hotline and spoke to a woman on the other side of the line. She had just been raped by a family member and her voice shook as she hid in a closet in the basement of her house, yet she bravely stayed on the phone for two hours while we explored how to help her find a path to safety.

Thirty minutes later I received another call — this one from a woman at a payphone behind a grocery store. It was the only place where she could talk freely without her abusive husband overhearing.

To say I was deeply moved by these conversations is an understatement. I was angered by the violence these women described, yet inspired by their courage to make the bold choice to reach out for help.

Since that day more than 30 years ago at the Assault Crisis Center in Michigan, I’ve been privileged to work with thousands of survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse across the country, and for the past 15 years here in Hawai‘i. I never cease to be inspired by the resilience and strength these women, children and men have shared with me about their abuse, nor have I ever forgotten the moving call to action I experienced during that very first phone call.

Sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse are serious issues for our nation, and for Hawai‘i. Every year, here in Hawai‘i an estimated 50,000 women experience domestic violence, and as many as 44,000 children bear witness to domestic violence in their homes.

In 2010, Hawaii's state Child Welfare Services received 4,199 reports of child abuse. Whether or not we are aware of these alarming statistics, violence in our communities does permeate our consciousness and our communities: according to a recent survey of Hawaii households, 80 percent of Hawaii residents believe that child abuse is a major problem in our society.

For the Joyful Heart Foundation, Hawai‘i has always been a special and important place. In fact, it was here in Hawai‘i that the idea of the Joyful Heart Foundation was conceived by actress and advocate, Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2004, Mariska’s time on the Kona coast inspired her own heart awakening — a powerful, healing connection to her own and others’ potential — from the joy she experienced through her connections to the local community and the beauty of Hawai‘i. It was here in the islands that Mariska committed herself to creating a space for survivors to heal — mind, body and spirit — while building collaborations with existing organizations and fostering innovative programming to support all members of the local community — survivors, families, children and the many practitioners who are dedicated to assisting victims of violence and abuse everyday across our islands.

Today the Joyful Heart Foundation works both nationally and locally in the service of survivors and the broader field of family and intimate partner violence to fulfill our mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.

All of us know someone, whether it’s a friend, sibling, aunty, co-worker or neighbor, who has experienced violence in their romantic relationships, or at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them. For myself, and for the Joyful Heart Foundation where I now work as Hawai‘i Regional Director, this knowledge is more than an invitation, it’s my motivation to create lasting, meaningful change—for survivors and for our state by working together for a future that promotes peace, safety and healing.


About the author: Kata Issari is the Joyful Heart Foundation’s first Hawai‘i regional director. In her position, Issari plays an integral role in leading the organization’s growth locally and dissemination of innovative, statewide programs to serve island residents. She also works to fulfill the Joyful Heart Foundation’s mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Prior to joining Joyful Heart Foundation Issari was the program director at Parents And Children Together’s Family Peace Center for 12 years where she managed one of the few comprehensive domestic violence programs in the country that provides services for survivors, perpetrators and children as well as community education and training. She also served as a lecturer at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and has collaborated with UH faculty on research projects involving children and domestic violence.

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