Soon-ae Kim still awakes several times from her repeated dream of her former-husband battering her to death when she denies his sexually perverted demands. For five years, the Korean immigrant, now 61, was compelled to emulate the sex depicted in porn because otherwise he would indiscriminately beat her up with golf clubs in their isolated home in Pontiac, Illinois.
All alone in the small city without a single person she could communicate with, she was blaming her fear and her inability to speak English, and deceiving herself that everything was her fault.
“I tried reporting my ex-husband to the police, but every time, he threatened me with words like ‘you would get deported or locked up in jail because you are an illegal immigrant,” Kim said. “How stupid and naive was I to believe everything he said.”
Korean American Women In Need (KAN-WIN) was her lifesaver. When Kim’s daughter from her previous marriage visited her in the U.S after sensing frustration in her mother’s voice over the phone, she learned of her predicament and found the organization. Although her mother initially refused, she eventually sought out the support and safety of the domestic violence organization.
KAN-WIN immediately arranged a pro bono immigration lawyer for Kim to help her get out of the marriage and petition for permanent residency in the U.S. under VAWA or Violence Against Women Act. After two years of legal proceedings, Kim was officially divorced her ex-husband in 2013, with assurance of safety from his violence; the judge enforced the order of protection, a “stay away” order that protects victims of rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse from the offender.
But it wasn't always that way between Kim and her former-husband.
Kim was struggling financially after her first divorce in Korea when a friend introduced her to him in 2008. The owner of a laundry factory in Chicago, he appeared to be a gentleman with great wealth, despite his history of sexual abuse and violence, which drove his first and second wives to flee.
His "honeyed words" coaxed her into believing that they would live happily for the rest of their lives together, and she eventually accompanied him to the U.S. with blessings from her family and relatives. However, just two weeks into the marriage, her ex-husband's old habits returned.
“Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one person to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner or family member,” said Jeong-rim Lee, counselor and content manager at KAN-WIN. “These people [who resort to violence] always blame their violent acts on their victims by saying that they deserved it or they provoked them.”
Most often, victims become indoctrinated by these excuses and start to believe that they are the root cause of their spouse’s violence, Lee said.
Lee conducted countless counseling sessions with Kim in order to gain her trust and boost her self-esteem.
“As with other victims, Kim had no hope and no self-esteem because all she heard throughout her marriage was that she was a useless person who deserved violence,” Lee said. “It took a long time for her to rebuild her life completely.”
Two years after her divorce, Kim is finally enjoying a more settled, safer life in the U.S. Kim now has a green card and runs her own laundry shop in Pontiac, which she won as part of their divorce settlement.
KAN-WIN is a not-for-profit organization in Des Plaines, Illinois, which receives the Crime Victims Fund, a major funding source for victim services throughout the country, addressing issues of domestic violence that many immigrant women face. It provides help to the victims through its multilingual 24-hour hotline, legal advocacy and transitional housing program. More than 80 percent of its clients are Asian Americans including Koreans, Chinese and Indonesians.
“I am happy that I got to know KAN-WIN,” Kim said. “People currently experiencing domestic violence should immediately reach out for help rather than putting up with what they don’t deserve.”