Monday, July 30, 2007

Iranian-Americans tackle domestic-violence secret

Posted by Hannah at 8:49 AM

Someone emailed me, and asked me to post the below story. Its a story of hope, and breaking the silence of domestic abuse. What a blessing this family and organization is giving to the world!

Direct Link to Story

(COMMUNITY VOICE: Dr. Mohsen Alinaghian and his wife Shahin Nojan-Alinaghian help abused Persian woman. The woman at left says she's fearful and does not want to be identified. MINDY SCHAUER, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER )

Men form a group to stop abuse of women.

She was a 24-year-old Iranian woman with thick black eyelashes, milky skin and a terrible story.

Imported to Los Angeles from Iran to marry a man she barely knew, she was isolated, ignored and abused.

She was now a runaway from the man who she said slapped her, stripped her of her money, cell phone and other possessions, and locked her in their house.

She was pregnant.

Mohsen Alinaghian and his wife, Shahin, found the young woman, whose name and location are being withheld because she fears retribution, in a battered-women's shelter. They brought her home and sheltered her for nearly two months. Shahin cut the woman's umbilical cord. They found her an apartment, baby-sat and became "grandparents" to her newborn son.

Mohsen, 64, joined a new group of Iranian-American businessmen and male community leaders dedicated to speaking out about a subject little discussed among the Iranian-American population.

The group is called the Keyholders. The issue is domestic violence. Mohsen thought he had a success story to tell.

Then in June, the young woman picked up the telephone, and the safe world she had been building collapsed.

Her mother was on the phone. The man she left had called her family in Iran to pass on a message: I know where you live. I can make your life miserable. I can even kill you.

"I was really upset," Mohsen says. "We became really afraid for her and the baby. We gave her all these instructions – 'Don't open the door; don't talk to strangers; when you go shopping, make sure you have the baby with you at all times.' "

It was a harsh education in the issue The Keyholders had formed to address.

The fledgling group of more than 70 members is organized by Stopgap, the Costa Mesa-based arts organization that uses theater, among other things, to raise awareness about issues such as domestic violence.

Alinaghian, an Irvine optometrist who volunteers widely for charitable groups and ran for City Council in 2004, was a perfect candidate, according to Stopgap's director Don Laffoon. "He is so committed and so involved with the community."

The group consists only of men because, "Ninety-four percent of domestic violence is done from men to women," Mohsen says. "(Men) are the ones who have to learn to face the fact, to control, and don't be abusive."

Membership in the Keyholders requires a $1,000 donation and a willingness to talk about domestic violence with family, friends and colleagues.

The second criteria may be the harder sell, Stopgap's Nadia Babayi says. Although Babayi emphasizes that domestic violence occurs in all communities, she says Iranian-Americans "don't talk about it."

"The Persian community here is really different because (they) are very educated, very sophisticated," Babayi says. "They are so used to wanting to be recognized as a success that many of them fear that by lending their name to (the Keyholders) they are acknowledging that yes, there is domestic violence in the Persian community. That scares some men away."

Mohsen says he has met resistance when he tries to talk about the issue with other Iranian-Americans.

"In Persian culture you really don't want to hear bad news," Alinaghian says. "The attitude is, 'When you don't know it, it doesn't exist.' "

• • •

The Alinaghians found the young woman in a women's shelter in June 2006. She had come to the United States in May 2005 to marry a man she said she had met only a few times before. At those meetings arranged by a family member he was charming, she says.

In the United States things changed.

Although he said he would marry her upon her arrival, she never saw a marriage license. Months later, she learned she had never been married at all.

In the meantime, the man took her cell phone and locked her inside the house. When she didn't get pregnant immediately, she suggested he see a doctor.

"He became very angry," she says. "He said, 'Do you mean I'm an old man?' And he started hitting me."

Four months later she fled to a mosque with the clothes on her back and a limited command of English.

"I was thinking: 'What should I do? I don't know anyone. I don't have any money.' I didn't even have 25 cents to make a call," she says.

She ended up in a battered-women's shelter "absolutely depressed," Shahin says. The Alinaghians invited her home.

"That baby has become my lifeline now," Mohsen says. "He's so innocent. … I don't want him to get involved with anything bad."

The experience made Mohsen "more determined that (domestic violence) is a matter that we have to pay attention to it," he says

Mohsen says he has never seen or experienced domestic violence in his family.

His father "turned us on to charity," encouraging Mohsen to serve and give to his community.

That lesson, paired with the discipline instilled at a West Virginia military school he attended from 1961 to 1965, turned the eye doctor into a compulsive organizer. He founded and used to lead the Network of Iranian Professionals of Orange County and has served on the board of various Orange County Lions Clubs and Boys & Girls Clubs. He is also active in The Jewel of Persia, an Iranian-American cultural center planned for development in Irvine.

"I've always been outspoken to the point when it drives people crazy," Mohsen jokes.

His activism on behalf of an abused woman, however, he kept secret for a full year.

"We wanted to keep it kind of quiet for a while," Mohsen says. "Until we knew she was safe," he says.

Keeping her safe involved taking out a five-year restraining order against the man she left and finding her an Orange County apartment after her child was born in August.

Now that the man she left has said he knows where she is, the Alinaghians say they will move her again on Aug. 1.

Mohsen does not use the young woman's name because he says he fears retaliation. But in June, over plates of kabob at Irvine's The Caspian restaurant, he stood before a gathering of current and prospective Keyholders members and described the experience of the past year for the first time.

"With her it came out in the open space, and we could finally talk about it," Mohsen says. "Now we hope people will say: 'Wait a moment. … (This) is something we need to talk about.' "

Contact the writer: 714-932-6358 or

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Kat on 8:24 PM said...

I am SO glad they are getting involved.... praying for them and the safety of all they help!

Mitzy3 on 10:38 PM said...

What a blessing that this group of men are working to get the word out about domestic violence. It must not stay hidden!

I'm praying the best for this woman and her child who has been rescued.

Thanks for sharing the story.

Anonymous said...

. I sold 2 huses in the USA and left a great job. Since he was a Moslem I gave away three of my small dogs and kept one. He is a control freak. He says that if I do not submit, like the Quran says then he will not sponsor me. He also threw me out of the house I mainly financed on Christmas and I decided to control my own finances. I am on a work permit that has to be renewed every year. He verbally abuses me in front of my son, his children and my mother and then blames me for not being submissive and keeping quiet. He doesn't admit whenn he is wrong he will blame you and ask you to sya you are sorry because you think he is wrong. I have never met someone so troubled that doesn't see themselves for what they are and hides behind the Quran. He constantly is in the Mosque which is a good thing f all this prayer actually made hime a decent human being but according to his Muslim family and friends he meets at the Mosque I must be the problem. I am also a Muslim but I see how people use it to control and abuse women. It is not how the Propehet Mohammed, Peace be upon Him, lived his life. I wish this Moroccan family saw things for what they are and stop living in their fantasy world where their oldest brother is always right even though he has done this to other women before, they should be ashamned of themselves for turning a blind eye.

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