Transforming the Epidemic of Gender-Based Violence: The Case of Caribbean Immigrant Communities The 7-Step Integrative Healing Model

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Patricia Mura Desert & Dr. Ani Kalayjian


Patricia Mura Desert

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is defined as abuse that is directed toward women and girls because of their gender (International Organization for Migration [IOM], 2018). GBV includes “gendercide, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, emotional abuse, economic abuse, denial of resources and forced sex” (IOM, 2018). GBV is considered one of the “most rampant human rights violations against women and girls in the world” (United Nations Population Fund [UNPF], 2018). According to the World Health Organization (WHO) global report (2014) conducted in 133 countries, “1 in 5 women was sexually abused as a child.” GBV, when used as a weapon in war through mass rapes and killings of women, is referred to as gendercide. GBV also occurred in 1895-1918, by the Ottoman Turks during the genocide towards Armenians and Greeks, as well as during the genocide in Rwanda (Kalayjian & Eugene, 2010, p. 309). According to WHO (2015), over 30 percent of the world’s women have suffered physical or sexual abuse by a partner. Between 100 and 140 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. More than 60 million women were married before their 18thbirthday, many of them by force. GBV is a global pandemic and a public health crisis. GBV can take different forms in different parts of the world based on cultural perspectives on gender equality and patriarchal traditions. Despite increased consciousness of violence worldwide and widespread human rights education, levels of violence against women remain unacceptably high.

Dr. Ani Kalayjian

Discriminatory policies and practices affect, not just women, but entire communities and nations. These discriminations are often done in the name of culture, honor, or tradition. Research shows that countries where women lack ownership rights to land or access to credit have significantly more malnourished children (2012, United Nations, Secretary-General message). Therefore, investing in women is investing in humanity and international sustainable development.  Even countries such as the United States of America with its diverse resources still maintain disparity in what women and men are paid for the same work, as well as continuing under-representation of women in political and business decision-making.


GBV is a challenge especially affecting immigrant women from Caribbean countries, where sexual violence against women is predominant. A recent report by the United Nation International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stated that “42.7% of girls in the Caribbean are forced into their first sexual experience by the age of 12, and the rate of sexual violence in Caribbean countries is “higher than the global average” (UNICEF, 2013).  Studies suggest that Caribbean women suffer greatly from the psychological impact of family violence even after immigrating to the United States (U.S.), and they continue to face cultural barriers preventing connection to mental health services (Balboolal, 2016; Edge & Rodgers, 2005; Greenidge, 2016; Greenidge & Daire, 2010). Researchers found that there is a culture of silence in Caribbean communities that prevents female victims of intimate partner violence, rape, incest, and other forms of domestic violence from reporting these incidents or seeking help (Jeremiah, Quinn & Alexis, 2018; Reid, Reddock & Nikenig, 2014).

Although there is a scarcity of organizations targeting specifically Caribbean survivors of domestic violence living in the U.S., there has been development addressing GBV internationally through non-profit organizations. This paper is a review of the work that the IOM, the UN, and the Association for Trauma Prevention and Outreach Meaningfulworld are doing to address GBV and find ways to intervene, heal, and transform.

What is International Organization for Migration doing about GBV?

The IOM’s operational model outlines important steps that should be considered when addressing GBV in the community. These three important steps are to “1) mitigate risks, 2) support survivors and 3) address the root causes” (IOM, 2018). In the first step of the operational model, “mitigating the risk,” IOM recommends for service providers to take a “do no harm” approach when setting up programs to assist women and girl victims of violence in order to preserve the dignity and safety of each individual (IOM, 2018). The second step is to train staff on how to best address these challenges, improve community access to preventive services, and educate survivors about these services (IOM, 2018).  The third step is to design services that address the root causes of violence in the community such as inequality, low access to services, or patriarchal cultures (IOM, 2018). This operational model is not only effective for international outreach but can also be applied locally to serve immigrant survivors in the U.S. who continue to face family violence geared towards women.

What is the United Nations doing about GBV?

In 2015, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) invested $93 million dollars to improve access to social services for survivors, and the funds were used to reform national policies, develop local programs, and initiate partnerships with communities toward ending GBV (UNFP, 2017). The development of local social service programs has proven to be effective in addressing GBV on individual and community levels (IOM, 2018). The UN has also developed a mobile outreach program equipped with mental health professionals to assist local domestic violence survivors (UNFP, 2018). Through the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, the UN has developed a diversion program aiming to educate perpetrators and evaluate the impact of such intervention in the lives of women (Jeremiah et al., 2014).  In the past five years, the UNPF and the IOM encouraged organizations to “think global and act local” to move toward accomplishing goals such as ending violence against women. UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide guides to help women. For example, SDG 3 addresses working toward health and well-being, SDG 5 addresses working toward equality, SDG 10 addresses reducing inequalities, and SDG 16 addresses working toward peace and justice.

What is ATOP Meaningfulworld doing about GBV Internationally?

The Association for Outreach and Prevention (ATOP) Meaningfulworld, as a humanitarian organization, has embraced the slogan, “Think global, act local.” In the past 30 years, ATOP Meaningfulworld has traveled to 46 countries and 25 U.S. states to educate communities affected by natural and human-made disasters. Researchers have found that GBV increases after natural disasters (Elisabeth et al., 2016; Kalayjian & Eugene 2010; Khan, 2016). ATOP Meaningfulworld humanitarian service is three pronged: first, it provides healing and education; second, it conducts research; and third, it informs policy revision. Team members share knowledge on emotional intelligence, resilience, mind-body-eco-spirit practices, and integrative healing methods in order to prevent GBV and promote peaceful healing. ATOP Meaningfulworld has been successful with its outreach in many regions of the world, including Africa (Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, DR Congo, and Burundi), Asia (China, Korea, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), the Caribbean (Haiti and Dominican Republic), the Middle East (Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia), previously Soviet countries (Armenia, Romania, and Russia), North America (25 U.S. states), and South America (Mexico and Argentina).

Since 2010, immediately after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and continuing until today, our teams provide workshops, healing groups, and educational programs on mindful education, emotional intelligence, human rights, and gender sensitivity. We work with men and women, young and old. We work in children’s centers (orphanages), women’s centers, men’s centers, universities, seminaries, prisons, bars, military, Ministries of Health, Education, and Social Welfare, police, and coast guard to ensure that our workshops have been inclusive and our outreach has been as wide as possible.

Although initially the Haitian community shared extremely discriminatory views about women and girls, after our workshops almost 60% of the attendees showed reduction of violence against women in their expressions, thoughts, and views. Ultimately, what is clear is that interventions comprised of mindful education, knowledge building, skill building, assertiveness training, head-heart-hand alignment, and emotional intelligence show the most promise and investing in these educational programs is a necessary investment in humanity.

The Seven-Step Integrative Healing Model 

ATOP Meaningfulworld utilizes the Seven-Step Integrative Healing Model (Kalayjian, 2010) to achieve its goal of reducing GBV. The Seven-Step Integrative Healing Model is an integrative tool that can be taught to psychotherapists and non-mental health providers. The model promotes the assessment and expression of feelings, empathy and validation, discovery of positive meaning, sharing resources, connecting with Mother Earth, and “Soul-Surfing” (Kalayjian, 2017). Soul-Surfing is an exercise that integrates deep breathing with movement, positive affirmations, color and organ consciousness, and essential oils (Kalayjian, 2017). This healing model embodies the core concepts of IOM of mitigating risks, supporting survivors, and addressing the root causes. By educating locals on how to balance their emotions and care for their mental health, ATOP Meaningfulworld empowers communities in distress, contributes toward sustainable positive change, and reduces the cycle of violence.

The Seven-Step Integrative Healing Model has been demonstrated to be effective in both international and national Caribbean communities because of its culturally sensitive and integrative nature. The model combines spiritual, ecological, and psychological practice into one model in order to facilitate the healing process for survivors. The model places the survivor at the center not only to receive resources, but to seek and restore emotional health. During several Humanitarian Missions to Haiti, ATOP Meaningfulworld ambassadors have engaged local survivors and perpetrators alike in the healthy expression of emotions, sharing empathy, understanding each other’s experiences, and, most of all, connecting to ecological resources as a source of healing power. During the process, participants reported feeling safe to share their personal trauma surrounding family violence and beginning to develop healthy coping habits to expedite their healing.

The following statements exemplify the negative thoughts they initially possessed: “Girls can’t play basketball,” “women can’t own a farm,” “women are weak and can’t lead the home,” and “women can’t be leaders, because they menstruate.”

Fortunately, after our workshops, these negative statements transformed into: “Girls could play any sport they wish,” “Women and men have different physical strengths, we could help one another,” “women can lead well, as they are very compassionate, forgiving, and give unconditional love.”


The Seven-Step Integrative Healing Model can be used for outreach to domestic violence survivors residing in the U.S.  Many GBV survivors who have since immigrated to the U.S. continue the cycle of violence and silence because they now face additional barriers to services such as documentation, language, and foreign culture. The interpersonal nature of the model has also been shown to be a fit for Caribbean survivors, who tend to utilize informal resources such as their family and friends, when seeking help. This framework encourages sharing of information and resources from their own traditional practices and eliminates the fear of going directly to a formal source as a first step to getting help. Just as the UN created the mobile team for assisting survivors who would not otherwise seek services, ATOP Meaningfulworld provides local monthly workshops for small groups of individuals. Instead of simply giving a prescription, ATOP Meaningfulworld initiates a community healing and dialogue. This community dialogue can be a powerful tool in creating sustainable outcome where survivors can contribute toward ending the generational cycle of GBV.

Recommendations for Further Research

GBV in the Caribbean community is highly underreported and the literature around Caribbean women’s experience of GBV is scarce. Researchers can explore the effectiveness of existing social services in serving Caribbean immigrant survivors. Further research is recommended to corroborate the effectiveness of the Seven-Step Integrative Healing Model in Caribbean communities. Additionally, research could focus on ending the perpetual silence in Caribbean communities regarding GBV.


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Edge, D., Rodgers, A. (2005). Dealing with it: Black Caribbean women’s response to adversity and psychological distress associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood. Social Science and Medicine, 61(2).

Greenidge, W. L. (2016). Help seeking attitudes and behaviors of English-speaking Caribbean students: A review of the literature and implications for clinical practice. Vistas Online, 58.

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Dr. Ani Kalayjian is psychology faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and at Meaningfulworld.  She is a multicultural and multilingual Psychotherapist, Genocide Prevention Scholar, International Humanitarian Outreach Administrator, Integrative Healer, author, and United Nations Representative. She was awarded Outstanding Psychologist of the Year Award from the American Psychological Association (2016, Trauma Division),  a Humanitarian Award from the University of Missouri-Columbia (2014), the 2010 ANA Honorary Human Rights Award, the Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Long Island University (2001) recognizing 30 years as a pioneering clinical researcher, professor, humanitarian outreach administrator, community organizer & psycho-spiritual facilitator around the globe and at United Nations. In 2007 Dr. Kalayjian was awarded Columbia University, Teachers College’s Distinguished Alumni of the Year; the citation stated: “You have devoted your life to studying the impact of trauma and to helping others to heal. That calling grows out of your family’s history and your own: As an Armenian child in Syria, where your family had sought refuge from the Ottoman Turkish Genocide of Armenians, you lived with the constant sadness & fear.  In a sense, your life since then has been- to borrow a phrase from your own writings- about channeling the sense of helplessness that one feels in such moments into the work of helping others. You have treated, studied, and helped transform survivors of both natural and human-made disasters from around the world. As your protégé wrote ‘What is extraordinary about my teacher and mentor is her unrelenting commitment to bettering society by unifying minds, hearts and spirits; emphasizing likeness in human beings and celebration of differences. She is steadfast in her optimism that prevention of human-made trauma and resilience post natural disasters can be realized and nurtured through forgiveness, tolerance, ancestral healing and respect for all humanity and mother earth.” She has over 100 published articles in international journals, is an author of Disaster & Mass Trauma, as well as Chief Editor of Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Psychological Pathways to Conflict Transformation and Peace Building(Springer, 2010), Chief Editor of II Volumes on Mass Trauma & Emotional Healing around the World: Rituals and Practices for Resilience and Meaning-Making(Praeger, ABC-CLIO 2010), author of Amazon bestseller Forget Me Not: 7 steps for Healing our Body, Mind, Spirit, and Mother Earth(2018), author of a meditation CD called “From War To Peace” transforming generational trauma into healing and meaning-making, Soul-Surfing, and has created 10 films on Meaningfulworld Humanitarian Outreach Programs around the world.

Patricia Mura Desert is a Master’s degree Candidate at the Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in May of 2019. Her degree concentration is in Social Enterprise Administration with a special focus on mental health, and health and disabilities. She has ten years of experience in the field of human services working with diverse vulnerable populations. Patricia is the founder of Vision League, an organization aiming to assist Caribbean students in the United States who are survivors of sexual trauma. She has authored a non-fiction novel based on her childhood in Haiti called “In Beautiful Shadow: The Sunrise.” Patricia has also contributed to an academic publication on screening women for intimate partner violence in the emergency room. She joined ATOP MeaningfulWorld, in 2018. Meaningfulworld welcomes Patricia Mura Desert as Outreach Coordinator.