Learning to Listen - an interview with Sachi Nakajima of Resilience
Sachi is the Founding Director of the Japan-based NPO Resilience - which supports women affected by domestic violence.
Welcome and thanks for taking time to speak with us today, Sachi.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this very important topic of domestic violence.
Please tell us a little about your background? Where did you grow up? How long have you been in Japan?
I was born in Osaka but I’ve spent most of my childhood and adolescence growing up in Colombia and in the United States. Aside from those years, I’ve lived in Tokyo, so I would say that I have been here for most of my life.
Unfortunately, there is a lot written about domestic violence in the press. Would you mind defining it for us?
Domestic violence is sometimes referred to as Intimate Partner Violence, which might be a more accurate term as it refers to someone being violent towards his/her partner. Such violence includes physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, and financial abuse. It sometimes involves stalking and internet technology. Internet based violence is referred to as cyber or digital violence.
Would you say domestic violence is prevalent in Japan?
Yes I would definitely say so. It is pervasive.
What do the official statistics say and can they be relied on?
I view statistics for topics such as domestic violence as what is essentially a tip of the iceberg. Statistic rely on “reported” cases, meaning it cannot truly capture the whole picture.
Having said that, there were over 77,000 calls made for domestic violence to the police in 2018. These numbers have been increasing every year for the past 15 years.
Is it possible to identify specific causes of domestic violence? If so, what are they?
Since domestic violence is usually a gender based violence, gender plays a key component. One only needs to look at WHO’s gender equality ranking to see that Japan ranked 110th out of 149 nations last year. We live in a society where men are often regarded more highly than women. As this notion is projected onto family dynamics, many men feel that women ought to be subservient to men’s needs in the home.
Gender, however, is not always the reason nor is it the only reason, as such violence can occur in same sex partnerships as well.
I would also say that a sense of entitlement and lack of respect for your partner are other reasons.
I think it’s important to note that respect and abuse are mutually exclusive notions.
You spend considerable energy helping people affected by domestic violence. What triggered this?
I am a survivor of violence myself. It happened when I was much younger. I did not become an advocate until in my thirties. But I knew that someday I would take part in advocating for the survivors of violence.
When and why did you establish Resilience?
To state that “I established Resilience” would be inaccurate because I had not set out to create an organization. Resilience came about because several women, including myself, felt the need to organize ourselves so that we could do more for society as an organization. We came together in 2003 and have been working together for the last 16 years.
What are the main activities of Resilience?
We offer classes to women who have been hurt or are hurting, here in Kanto area (4 locations) and will start another one in Osaka this fall.
We also conduct about 200 presentations/workshops/trainings across Japan.
What kind of people do you encounter through your work? Victims and perpetrators? Family members? Law enforcement officers?
Venues for our talks and trainings vary from general population to schools, hospitals, government entities, churches, law enforcement, juvenile prisons, and of course, survivor groups. So we meet people from all walks of life, as violence affects everyone.
It seems that some situations of domestic violence continue for long periods. Why is that?
That is a frequently asked question that deserves an extensive answer. To put it somewhat succinctly, violence that is repeated can create what is known as traumatic bonding between the survivor and the offender, which makes it very difficult for the survivor to leave the relationship or sometimes, even to seek help.
What can people (including those unaffected by domestic violence) do to make a positive difference?
There must be an array of ways to make our society better. We can all become better listeners to the survivors and be better role models for our children, for starters. Perhaps people could offer their services, whether as volunteers or otherwise, to raise awareness or to contribute in our efforts to eliminate violence. Donations are much appreciated. I am not just talking about Resilience but also for any other organization that is working towards this cause, because donating for a cause is not a big part of the Japanese culture, as it is in many other Western cultures. Corporations could do more than to provide funding for the cause; they could offer venues for more trainings to take place, for example.
The most fundamental and the most important ways that someone can make a difference in this world is to really listen to someone who is hurting, to try to understand what it is that they are going through or have gone through, and to become their ally. I am not saying that one should listen to someone for hours on end (this in fact is not recommended), but you can truly listen and then be the one to connect the survivor to resources in the community so that s/he can receive the support that s/he needs.
You are a published author (in Japanese) on this subject. Where can people find your book?
Book information can be found on Resilience Web site ( http://resilience.jp/books-order) and also on Amazon. We have not been able to have our site nor the books translated into English so they are only available in Japanese.
How can people donate to Resilience?
Can you describe something in your work that makes you hopeful? Perhaps something which indicates the problem can be reduced or overcome?
I have had women come up to me, usually after one of my talks but sometimes on the streets and trains of Tokyo, where they tell me that Resilience’s classes and/or books had helped them in leaving the abuse behind. Those are the moments that give me hope.
I also go into juvenile prisons to talk to girls and boys. They are in there because they have “committed” unlawful acts of some kind. But most of them are survivors of abuse themselves. When these children open up and tell me their stories, they are sometimes filled with hurt and hopelessness.
I do my best to simply listen and to say something that might give them hope. I had a boy who broke down crying when I thanked him for asking me a question. It breaks my heart to see such pain but what the children write in their essays afterwards give me hope because I can sense their resilience despite their plight. Those are some of the most rewarding moments in doing this work.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Sachi and best wishes for your important work.