Improving Performance at the Point of Decision 

A Proposal to Develop Cultural Sensitivity Training from A South Asian Perspective

For all frontline staff: police, teachers, medical staff, social workers, council officers, public servants and all voluntary and statutory bodies

Executive Summary

Introduction Critical Situation/Opportunity

Dealing with women’s issues in South Asian communities is a complex problem, and it can be daunting for all service providers.

“Violence and abuse in South Asian families are rooted in complex family dynamics and broader systemic barriers,” she said. “These dynamics differ from the dominant mainstream culture and, therefore, demand different kinds of interventions and approaches. Newcomer victims of partner abuse remain mute because they lack knowledge of our health, social service and judicial systems. Religion and culture are often used to justify and excuse violence and keep women oppressed within South Asian communities. In South Asian families, victims want the violence to stop, but not if it means their family will be torn apart. There are a number of institutional and systemic challenges that contribute to the continuance of violence in South Asian homes.” Social Services Network executive director, Dr. Naila Butt

South Asian women experiencing abuse in the York Region, rarely seek help due to fear of stigma, family shame and jeopardizing their immigration status.

Awareness of the great risks for South Asian women in their culture is imperative for all frontline staff in Ontario.  To ignore these risks or attempt to not understand them, has far reaching effects. The economic impact of violence and abuse affects all areas of the system, and the hidden costs to health care, emergency hospitals, policing and the court system is apparent.
One victim’s story:

“I repeatedly told police my family were trying to kill me.  But I was not taken seriously, even after an instance of escaping my father.  After my escape, the interviewing officer described me as being melodramatic and manipulative instead of being culturally aware and understanding that I was crying out for help.”

It is only after these types of situations (and often resulting tragic circumstances), that failures of the processes are exposed and the system is criticized for doing too little to protect vulnerable women.  Taking a developed country model, translating it and applying it to the South Asian community in another country by mere translation only, does not work.  Why?  The processes do not necessarily address the culturally sensitive issues in Canadian infrastructure.  The key is early identification.  Women in danger need to be identified early and dealt with properly to improve protection for victims.

“Work on the causes (roots), not necessarily the results (fruit).” 

Current Cultural Sensitive Problems in South Asian Communities

Forced Marriages

Abduction and Imprisonment

Forced Abortion and Hymen repair

Domestic Violence

Honour Killings 

Things that police, agencies or schools can do wrong:

  • Be affected by personal perceptions/interpretations of cultural difference.
  • Judge the potential victim according to personal perceptions of her/his culture.
  • Dismiss or belittle their fears.
  • Send them back into a harmful environment.
  • Send the potential victim away because the belief is that their problem doesn’t concern the agency.
  • Approach the family or community leaders. These may collude with the perpetrators.
  • Underestimate the risk: perpetrators of HONOR BASED VIOLENCE really do kill their closest relatives and/or others for what might seem a trivial transgression to others.
  • Share information without the consent of the individual.
  • Attempt mediation. This may expose your potential victim to further danger.

Repercussions of These Actions:

The social and economic costs of violence against women are enormous and have ripple effects throughout society.  Women may suffer isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities, and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.

45% of domestic violence results in physical injury. The psychological effects of this can be far-reaching: 85% of abuse victims indicate that they have experienced some type of negative emotional effect including anger, fear, becoming less trusting, suffering from lowered self-esteem, depression, anxiety, shame and guilt.  In order to combat these effects, 25% of these victims report having used alcohol, drugs or medication.

Key facts with Violence Against Women in South Asian Communities:

Violence against women is a major public health problem and a violation of human rights.

  • A lack of access to education and opportunity, and low social status in communities are linked to violence against women.
  • Violence by an intimate partner is one of the most common forms of violence against women.
  • A wide range of physical, mental, sexual and reproductive, and maternal health problems can result from violence against women.
  • Many women do not seek help or report their experiences when violence occurs.

What Needs to be Done:

  • Establish & follow new risk assessment models to ensure women are taken seriously if they complain.
  • Introduce a “flag” for any forced marriage or honour crime cases, so they can be logged and monitored.

Why is Cultural Sensitivity Training, focusing on domestic violence in the South Asian community, so important? 

  • Looking at an incident, may it be domestic abuse or honour killing, must include looking at the different players as a family unit. To address or eradicate the problems, the entire family needs help to stop the cycle of abuse.
  • In a South Asian family, when a victim calls the police they want the abuse to stop, but do not want to sent the perpetrator to jail may it be husband
  • After the reporting, the victim feels guilty, is pressured by the family and may have financial consequences to consider and in many cases changes her story.
  • South Asian people are extremely emotional people and women may minimize or exaggerate the incidents as well. Once the victim has cooled down, they change their story.
  • Taking a North American solution and translating it in different languages does not solve the problem.
  • A danger assessment has to be determined by the police, social workers and school councilors to determine, if the person is really in danger.
  • If all the players have cultural sensitivity training, they would be better equipped to deal with these situations.
  • Later on training for new immigrants and family including: victim, parents, men and children

Helping at the Root of the Problem:

Solutions – Knowledge at the right time

One comprehensive interactive video training for all frontline staff: police, teachers, medical staff, social workers, council officers, public servants and all voluntary and statutory bodies.
The below provides the right response of Canadian police, justice department and the department of public to implement a cost effective training to create a solution.

The use of interactive training videos provides a cost effective, higher level of learning engagement for decision making.

Our vision is to help you change the world of cultural sensitivity training to provide engaging interactive scenarios that stress and test the assessor’s judgment of when and why to apply techniques for situational awareness, proper risk assessment and right response.

The Immersive Culture Simulation Application
We combine the science of adult learning, high-definition live-action video and engaging storytelling. The result is a compelling training module—accessible over the Internet, a stand-alone computer or any mobile device—that immerses the trainee in an individual or team-playing scenario.  The trainee interacts with the action and is given repeated chances to make decisions and continuous feedback that shows the consequences of those choices.
Our endeavour is to hook an audience and to hold them in rapt attention so that they are receptive to new information and to get them to retain that information.  The process involves getting people’s attention, then their interest, then their understanding and finally, a complete altering of their perception to act and react according to the tenets of effective law enforcement.

Often, videos are used as reportage merely presenting and explaining without inspiring. Ineffectively presenting information that is best delivered on paper or in person. We intend to exploit the full potential of film’s capabilities to plant insights that grow into full-blown belief systems.

For all of our clients, we work with them and industry subject matter experts to weave together a storyline that includes best practices and training objectives. The portability and serial nature of training modules keeps trainees engaged, minimizes travel costs and encourages completion.

Our team of experts work with our clients to fully understand and meet any training needs. We deliver innovative, live-action e-learning courses—each with multiple decision points and recurring feedback—that allow students to learn and master critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Our products are compatible with all mobile devices and are measurably effective in terms of quantity of information delivered, retention rates and readiness to use the information.

What is HLP’s specialty?

HLP provides the opportunity to implement one cost effective solution, through an interactive learning experience that is extremely engaging, outlines solutions, and is distributed freely and ubiquitously.

HLP is an easy choice for government departments and agencies charged with training and maintaining a large, highly skilled workforce, capable of critical thinking and peak performance in stressful conditions. (For example, Canadian police officers that have regular interaction with the South Asian communities.)

With proprietary software, HLP combines the science of adult learning, high-definition live-action video and engaging storytelling.  The result is a compelling training module—the trainee interacts with the action and is given repeated chances to make decisions and continuous feedback that shows the consequences of those choices.  It’s immersion in training, where they explore and come to understand ethics, leadership skills, negotiation strategies, security issues, and cultural awareness. 

Examples: Army 360, Immersive Culture Simulation

InVisM / US Department of Defense (US Army)

Gaining the trust and support of local populations in areas where US troops are operating is crucial, and being sensitive to their cultures, customs and their way of life is essential to building this trust.  ”Army 360: The New Mission” is a highly charged 8 episode series, that combines powerful dramatic content with interactive education as a incredible means of teaching this military necessity.

Work Sample:



Contact:            Henry Less
Company:             HLP+Partners (e-learning)
            219 Dufferin St., Suite 4B
Toronto, Ontario
M6K 3J1
416 849 4880       Fax:
416 534 2782





Company Overview/Personnel


We are the premier provider of interactive training and simulation products and services for the global education and training markets. We integrate educational content with emotionally engaging storytelling and high-quality multimedia gaming technology to deliver the depth and breadth of information our clients demand.


HLP + Partners is a leading producer and global provider of broadcast and multi-platform content that is smart, responsible and above all, entertaining. With an unfaltering desire to create and produce groundbreaking programming, our productions always push boundaries in their ideas, form and unique visual style. Our collaborative environment empowers the brightest stars to shine on all platforms.



Henry Less

Partner / Executive Producer

Henry Less is the driving force behind HLP, universally respected in the industry for his incredible talent and innovative approach to storytelling and high impact content. Henry has created a unique and deep body of work, as a Director of Photography, Director and Producer of films, television programs and commercials over a stellar 30-plus year career. This body of work was so unique, so visually stunning that it became the seed of what is known in the industry as the Henry Less brand.


Sissy Federer
Partner / Executive Producer

From her vast management experience in retail and the fashion industry, Sissy provides strong business leadership through a full slate of HLP projects. From the internationally successful and award winning lifestyle series Made to Order to the critically acclaimed and Gemini winning comedy Three Chords From the Truth, Sissy has executive produced 70 hours of ground breaking series in drama, documentary and variety.


Lee Herberman

Lee spent 15 years with CBC-TV Network Sports as a Gemini Award-winning Executive Producer, including 5 Olympic Games broadcasts. In 1996, he was named Vice-President, Programming & Production at The Score, launching the specialty network from start up. In 1999, Herberman joined Summerhill Entertainment Inc. as President, responsible for leading the Company’s rapid growth in factual entertainment production and distribution and subsequently joined HLP in February, 2010.


Angela Donald
Vice-President, Production and Operations

Angela’s experience in broadcasting spans lifestyle, documentary and comedy programming and she has led the production team through tremendous growth over the past 8 years. Prior to joining HLP, Donald’s work with Alliance Atlantis Communications included producing, casting and post-production supervision for network branding, promotions and commercials.


April Mullings
Director, Finance and Business Affairs
Mullings holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Toronto and has worked in the accounting field for the past eleven years. She has been a member of the HLP + Partners family since 2003 and has played an instrumental role in its financial management.


John Schick

Business Manager

Schick’s experience in accounting, finance and business affairs for broadcast and non-broadcast programming spans 5 years. During his time with HLP + Partners Schick has implemented numerous accounting systems and business procedures to accommodate the company’s growth.


Sawntv President
Working in Collaboration with President of South Asian Women Network TV (

Born and raised in Pakistan, she came to Canada in 1992. She has first hand experienced most of the issues facing South Asian culture. Her in depth knowledge and experience in addition to professional business experience, education and resources are a key factor in this endeavor. Her passion and commitment to serve has sparked our initiative for the South Asian community and Canada at large.




Suggested HONOR BASED VIOLENCE basic response measures:

Planning for Protection.



Be Aware:

  • All frontline staff: police, teachers, medical staff, social workers, council officers, public servants and all voluntary and statutory bodies dealing with women need to be aware of the risks of HONOR BASED VIOLENCE
  • It is important to understand the nature of ‘honour’ whether this is described as izzat, sharaf, namous or in other terms. Learn about HONOR BASED VIOLENCE and forced marriage.
  • Suicide rates are very high within the populations of risk of honour-based violence. Consider if depression or self-harming behaviour may be related to problems of violence at home.
  • Understand the situation of people at risk of HONOR BASED VIOLENCE. HONOR BASED VIOLENCE tends to occur in close and interdependent families and potential victims may be disempowered and find dealing with their issues as an individual difficult. Potential victims may have internalized the values of their family or community and feel guilty and responsible for the supposed offence against ‘honour’, and they may also feel very isolated when trying to rebuild their lives after leaving their families. Potential victims may need counselling and other forms of emotional support.
  • If the case appears to have a high level of risk, using Witness Protection Program measures may be necessary.
  • Potential victims of HONOR BASED VIOLENCE may have their movements restricted by family members. Reaching out for help may be difficult and dangerous. If the family is aware that the potential victim has contacted persons outside the family this will escalate the risk of violence.
  • Be aware of the risks of child abduction and make sure protection measures cover children as well as the primary potential victim.


Be Ready:

  • Create plans to cover every contingency in advance of demands from help. Plan for appropriate protection for a wide range of potential victims, including those who cannot speak the majority language, who have children, and those with insecure immigration status.
  • Build links with other agencies in preparation, including immigration, domestic violence police, and solicitors. Identify NGOs who provide assistance to women, and source a reliable interpretation service that has robust confidentiality standards.
  • Ensure the security of all shelters and housing; be aware that female relatives of a woman at risk of HONOR BASED VIOLENCE may infiltrate domestic violence shelters on the pretext of having themselves suffered domestic violence.
  • Women at risk of HONOR BASED VIOLENCE may lack knowledge of their rights and have little information on how to access help. They may also be reluctant to speak about their problems with outsiders and require sensitive encouragement.
  • Be respectful, empathic and listen to their concerns without giving in to prejudice. Allow the potential victim to express her fears.
  • Recognize and respect your potential victim’s wishes
  • Treat potential victims with sensitivity and take their concerns seriously
  • Reassure them that everything they say is confidential. Within community contexts where the behaviour of women is considered.
  • Establish a means of discreet contact at the earliest opportunity; if it is known that a potential victim has sought help her family may restrict her movements making follow-up impossible. Consider using a code word in case another relative answers the phone, or masquerades as the potential victim.
  • Involve an appropriate community organization where possible, but check in advance to establish whether this organization follows guidelines and does not use mediation in cases where ‘honour’ is an issue.
  • Do not speak to the potential victim in the presence of any other family members, and ensure that family members cannot discover any meetings.
  • Seek advice from experts and organizations where necessary
  • If the potential victim is under 18, consult child protection guidelines: these may be particularly appropriate in forced marriage cases where victims are often legal minors. Consider making the potential victim a Ward of the Court.


  • Consider confiscating passports where this is possible to ensure a potential victim is not taken abroad to be forced into marriage or subjected to violence beyond the reach of your country’s criminal justice system
  • Try to establish the networking potential of the family. Consider that relatives with professional access to computerized records might be able to discover the location of a potential victim; that taxi services may be used as detection networks, and that some families may have access to paid hit men or ‘private detectives’ who specialize in tracking down runaways.




Definition of Different Problems


Forced Abortion and Hymen Repair

If a woman becomes pregnant before marriage, and this is unknown outside the family circle, it may be considered a better solution to procure an abortion and surgical hymen repair procedure than to commit a crime.  However, if her condition is common knowledge, more severe responses may be required to quell negative responses from the community. Women’s consent to such medical procedures is acquired under duress, if it is acquired at all: it is impossible to make a free choice between an unwanted abortion and hymenoplasty and death at the hands of a relative. Such practises deny women’s sovereignty over their own bodies.


Abduction and imprisonment

Where women are subjected to violence at their hands of their families this may include abduction, if they have fled the family home to seek protection. Within certain diasporic communities, professional agencies exist who are dedicated to the location and retrieval of runaway women and girls. In other countries, the State may play a role: in Afghanistan, a girl running away from home is considered to have committed a criminal and may be imprisoned and returned into the hands of her family..Imprisonment may also be part of a family’s strategy of control over a woman in order to keep her out of the public eye. This may be accompanied by threats and assaults, and may even be the prelude to violence, forced marriage or murder.


Forced Marriage

In some cases, a woman who is perceived to have violated family honour may be forced into marriage. This has a double effect of saving face and increasing surveillance and control over her by increasing the number of persons who are able to control and police her behaviour. Such marriages may involve an undesirable spouse who is unable to contract a marriage by other means. Such marriages are often abusive and may be intended as a punishment against the woman as well as a means of restoring ‘honour’. Cultures in which ‘honour’ killings occur are very often those in which arranged marriages are expected, and the refusal to accept a marriage approved by the family may result in that same marriage being forced upon an unwilling person.


‘Honour’ suicide

Where ‘honour’ killings are robustly prosecuted, families may deploy a strategy of forcing women to kill themselves in order to remain technically innocent of murder. This is particularly associated with regions of Turkey.  However, it may not be clear in any country whether an individual woman has committed suicide due to direct coercion, to spare her brother the jail sentence he might face as her murderer, whether an outright murder has been disguised as self-killing, or whether a woman has killed herself due to the unbearable pressures of the restrictions upon her life and her family’s disfavour or abuse.


Honour Killing

‘Honour’ killings, as the ultimate sanction against a woman who has deemed to have offended collective morality, may be a highly organized and premeditated crime, decided upon through a collective decision-making process involving a family ‘council’ meeting, in which the murder is planned to the last detail.  Alternatively, it may also be less organized, but still be supported by a wider collective than the apparent perpetrator. In either case, the risks to an individual are extremely high, and it may be beyond the capacity of mainstream domestic violence services to provide adequate protection.

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