DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & ITS EFFECTS
Reason why people left their own home (country)
General idea about domestic violence/welfare and API
Domestic Violence Specific to API Women – Vietnamese
Meaning of physical abuse
Abusive community norms
Negative Effects on the community
Language as well as culture
Issues of Family & child rearing
Question & Answer for Immigrant and Refugee Women
You have a right to be free from violence in your own home.
Confront the problem of resettlement.
The different individuals deal with their heritage and create a new life for themselves in a country that is not always welcoming them.
Domestic Violence and Its Effects
This paper analyzes domestic violence against Asian-American women. Specifically, it discusses domestic violence among Asian-Americans in the United States.
Domestic violence is an important problem facing all sectors of American society, but few studies have been conducted on the Asian-American sector, even though it seems prevalent in some Asian-American settlements throughout the country. For example, in California’s Silicon Valley, 18% of the population is Asian-American, but Asian-Americans comprised 31% of deaths by domestic violence in that community. In addition, in Massachusetts in 1992, Asians made up only 2.4% of the population, but made up 13% of the women and child fatalities in domestic violence disputes (Wong, et al. 137). Clearly, domestic violence is common, or even pervasive, in many Asian-American communities. Why is this so? Is it the clash of cultures that occurs when Asian-Americans settle in the United States? Is it because of other compelling factors that have not been studied? There are many reasons that any person engages in domestic violence. Asian-Americans may be more prone to it for several reasons, which this document will attempt to explore and define.
Asian-Americans have immigrated to the United States for over a century, and for a variety of reasons. In the 1985s, many Chinese immigrants came to America to better themselves and to escape poverty in China. Many of them went to work in the goldfields of California and the West, or worked on the transcontinental railroad. These immigrants eventually established settlements in many of America’s largest cities, and today, immigrants continue to pour into the United States for a number of reasons, from personal freedom to refugee status. In addition, many female Asian immigrants may have had little choice in the matter of immigration. Their husbands may have desired immigration, and they simply had to leave their homes and immigrate with their family. Many Asian immigrants have difficulty assimilating in their new homes for a variety of reasons, from cultural to language barriers and more. People immigrate for a variety of reasons, and some of those immigrants who have come to America may not be happy with their choice, or with the culture they are asked to blend into. Therefore, they may begin to have domestic disputes and quarrels that lead to more disputes and even violence.
Domestic violence is widespread in the United States, and widespread among Asian-American women. Studies indicate that some form of domestic abuse occurs in one out of two marital relationships (Rimonte 328). Researchers estimate that domestic abuse involves at least 2 million married Americans each year. The number rises even more when researchers add in the numbers of abusive non-married and gay couples (Hamberger and Renzetti xi). As the numbers indicate, domestic abuse can occur in any relationship, from male-female to gay and lesbian. In the American community, many of these abusive relationships go unreported, and the same is true of the Asian community. Most abusers have a pattern of abuse as children, or are prone to violent and/or antisocial behavior. In fact, many abusers have much in common with violent criminals. Many research studies have found that a greater part of domestic abusers have psychological disorders. These researchers note, “The most frequently reported [psychological disorders] are the borderline, antisocial, and compulsive personality disorders and […] the violence-prone personality” (Hamberger & Renzetti, 1996 xii-xiii). In addition, it is common for abusers to come from abusive homes; they simply repeat the violent patterns they learned as children. Most of these studies have been conducted on the general American community, it is only recently that studies have occurred with any depth in the Asian-American community, and so, the numbers on abusive relationships in this community as a whole are still being complied.
There are a number of options open to American women who are victims of domestic abuse, from police support to social workers and even safe houses where they can remain anonymously, safe from violent husbands. Many women do not report domestic abuse for a number of reasons, and so even the numbers for American women may be skewed, because the true number of abuse cases may never be known. However, more American women are likely to seek help from outside sources than Asian-American women are.
Vietnamese women are especially vulnerable to domestic violence for some reason, and several studies indicate that domestic abuse is prevalent in many Asian homes. The Massachusetts study indicated that 72% of Vietnamese female respondents were hit by their parents on a regular basis when they were children. In addition, 39% know a woman who has been abused or injured by an abuser. Even more telling is the fact that most Vietnamese believe the man “has the right to discipline his wife, can expect sex whenever he wants it, is the ruler of his home, or that wives deserve beatings” (Yoshioka and Dang 25). This is in contrast to many other Asian groups, who do not have as high percentages in either of these categories. Vietnamese women tend to be the most subservient of Asian women, even more than Korean women are. They may initially fight back and argue with their husbands, but usually, this only exacerbates the eventual abuse.
Many distinguishing dynamics affect female victims of domestic violence and make them especially unwilling to report the abuse to authorities or even friends or family members who might be able to help. Many victims hope for change. Often the abusive partner will promise never to abuse again, and seek forgiveness, and the victim will believe them and hope they will change because they love them. Some abusers use fear to intimidate their victims. They threaten them or their children with harm or even death. In addition, many victims feel as if they have failed somehow, and they blame themselves for bringing on the abuse, and that they are the ones who need to change to make the abuser stop abusing them (Wong, et al. 138). These dynamics are common to almost all victims of domestic violence, but there are even more barriers and dynamics for the Asian-American woman in a violent relationship. These barriers include “culture, economics, immigration status, and social structures” (Wong, et al. 138), and they can have a great deal to do with Asian-American women not reporting violence and abuse in their homes.
In the Asian-American culture, much emphasis is placed on fate. Many victims may feel they have somehow brought on the abuse, but many women may also believe that the abuse is somehow fated, and they are supposed to be in this situation for some reason or destiny. In addition, abuse is often seen as a forbidden subject, and so Asian-American women are not willing to discuss it or bring it out into the open. Many Asian-American women may also have fears of losing their immigration status if they leave their husbands. In addition, most Asian-American women do not work outside the home, and so, if they leave their abusive relationships, they have little way of supporting themselves and their children. These dynamics keep many women in abusive relationships because they see no other way out. In addition, many men may actually capitalize on these dynamics, keeping their wives isolated from friends, family, and anyone else who might be able to help them in their hour of need. Thus, they maintain their control and their ability to dominate their wife and their family.
In many Asian marriages, the meaning of physical abuse is more representative of oppression and domination. Males in Asian society are taught to be in charge leaders, who rule their homes and their families. Thus, their behavior is not seen as abusive, but normal for the leader of a family. In addition, most people who abuse their victims do so to remain in control and to have dominance over a partner. It is important to remember that in the Asian culture, the man’s rights are often seen as the most important in the family, and so, many Asian women may not perceive they are being abused, they may see their treatment as absolutely normal in Asian society. They may not understand the negative connotation that physical and even mental abuse holds in this country, and they may not recognize they are being mistreated. Thus, the meaning of physical abuse may be different to them than it is to others in the community. Education is one way to reduce this misunderstanding and misconception. Asian-American women must learn that abuse is not acceptable, and they do not have to submit to it to be “good” and “dutiful” wives.
The community norms of the entire American community indicated that domestic abuse is extremely widespread, and it is common in the Asian-American community. Abuse has negative affects on the entire community, because it creates an aura of shame and degradation over the community, and it creates discord between families, friends, and acquaintances. Finally, it places the entire community in jeopardy, because Asian communities are extremely close-knit. There are leaders in the Asian communities who want to make sure the Asian culture exists and thrives in America. Because of this, they often counsel women to stay in abusive relationships because it supports the culture and belief systems of the group in general. One writer notes, “community gatekeepers are interested in maintaining the status quo in order to preserve the culture. Church leaders, for example, preach the acceptance of private suffering for the sake of peace” (Rimonte 331). Thus, the community can keep women bound into abusive relationships rather than supporting them to leave relationship and make it on their own.
Majorities of women do not report the abuse because of language and cultural issues. Researchers in Massachusetts note, “many immigrant adults are unaccustomed to using formal services to solve personal problems; and deep cultural issues of privacy, obligation, and shame prevent women from reaching out” (Yoshioka and Dang 1). Even in the most understanding communities, there are often few social workers that speak Asian languages, and so the victims are often marooned with no support, no friends, and what seems like no hope. The communities need to recognize that abuse is not acceptable, and rather than condone it, community leaders should lead the march for change and additional support services for abused women in their communities.
Mental health issues are some of the most important in the study of domestic abuse. It has been shown that many abusers have psychological issues, and continued abuse causes women to feel as if they are “wrong,” “bad,” and deserve the abuse. Thus, the abusers continue to dominate them because they threaten them with more violence and convince them the abuse is their own fault. It is quite common for Asian men to dominate their wives sexually, including withholding any type of birth control to continue dominance over the women. There is tremendous pressure on Asian-American women to hold the family together, present a harmonious family unit publicly, and “save face” at all costs. These researchers note, “For some Asian communities, the family/group unit takes precedence over an individual’s life. The obligation of the individual is to be loyal and committed to the family” (Wang et al. 140). Thus, the mental health of the group is more important than the mental health of the wife, and even then, the mental health of the group may be entirely dysfunctional, but the family must always put forth the best face, never admitting there is anything wrong behind closed doors. This belief system does not encourage personal growth and transformation, and so the mental health of the entire family may suffer. The mental health of many abusive relationships is shaky at best, and this can filter down to the children as well.
Obviously, just as abuse affects the victim and her mental health, it affects the family and the child rearing of the parents. If children watch their parents fight, and their father hit their mother, they begin to form the idea that it is all right to beat or hit a woman. The Massachusetts study concludes, “As adults, child witnesses are more likely to believe that men have the right to discipline their wives” (Yoshioka and Dang 29). Many researchers believe that corporal punishment of children can lead to behavioral problems in the children later on, including the belief that corporal punishment is an appropriate solution to domestic difficulties. Thus, if the Asian-American child is to grow up NOT to be an abuser, Asian-American families may have to rethink how they discipline and rear their children, to assure less family violence in the future. Unfortunately, research shows that when women are abused in the home, children are often abused as well. One writer notes, “At the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, for example, two-thirds of the population in the shelter are children. One-fourth of them have been abused; the remaining three-fourths are at risk of abuse by both the father and mother” (Rimonte 335). Thus, domestic abuse affects the children as much as it affects the adults, and if abuse continues, the children may carry on the tradition in their own families. Children who witness ongoing abuse are often traumatized and afraid. Sometimes, they believe they are the cause of the abuse. Clearly, children are negatively affected in many ways. They are often “passive and withdrawn, use aggressive behavior to handle situations, and have impaired peer relations” (Rimonte 336). Often, because their mothers cannot communicate with social workers, they are the “go-betweens,” and take on adult responsibilities when they are still too young to be burdened with such matters. Children suffer in these relationships, and their suffering can follow them into their adult relationships.
Asian-American women must learn that they have the right to be free from abuse in their own homes. They must learn there are places where they can go to get help. Massachusetts researchers note, “The lack of natural, informal support networks among recent immigrant populations, as sense of isolation stemming from language barriers, unemployment or underemployment, and the experience of discrimination cause many women to live in fear with few alternatives” (Yoshioka and Dang 1). As the problem of domestic violence in the Asian community is studied more effectively, new recommendations and solutions will certainly be established. One recommended solution is to actually address the high rate of domestic abuse in the Asian community. The problem cannot be swept under the run and ignored. It is an important problem that affects all aspects of the family unit. Asian-American communities need more domestic abuse facilities and shelters, and they need to do more to educate women about abuse, and what they can do to stop it. In addition, there should be screening for domestic violence at all health centers, especially those that primarily service the Asian-American community. In the case of Vietnamese women, they need to be educated that men do not have the last say in the home, and they do not have the right to abuse their wives, no matter what their culture dictates. Currently, there is a great need for social workers that speak Asian languages and dialects. Because there are few workers who can help native women, and so, the problem is exacerbated in the Asian-American community because there are few resources available for women to help themselves. More programs need to be developed with the Asian woman in mind. In addition, more research needs to be done into the causes of Asian-American violence and abuse, and researchers need to discover the unique dynamics in Asian-American relationships and culture that lead to abuse in the first place. If educators can then educate Asian-American women what to look for, and what to avoid in their relationships, then abuse may decline, and the cycle of continued abuse that runs in families may come to a stop. Asian-American children also have an influence in the home, and there should be educational programs in school that teach children about abuse in the home, and how to reach out to social workers and family centers for help.
Asian culture often creates barriers for women to stand up for themselves, but these barriers must be removed to create a better environment for Asian-American women everywhere. There are certain dynamics present in almost all abusive relationships, and if more women could understand these dynamics, they might be better able to avoid abuse or remove themselves from abusive relationships. Asian cultural barriers do not have to mean that women must take abuse. If women are to break the cycle of abuse, many researchers believe that Asian-American women must be able to see themselves as victims, and understand that abuse is wrong. Husbands do not have the “right” to abuse their wives, no matter what. There are many ways to help women stand up from themselves, but if these problems are not addressed, more women will become abused wives, and more children will continue the cycle in their own relationships.
The attitudes of Asian-American women must change, and this is difficult for Asian-American men. Often, male immigrants have their own issues when they move to the United States. They may be facing economic difficulties that force the wife to work. While women may find this liberating, men may find this threatening to their domination and masculinity. Men may feel they lack control in this new world that empowers women, and so, they may abuse their wives as a result of their own feelings of inadequacy and shame. As researcher Rimonte notes, “Already humbled by his lack of control in the new and alien world, and perhaps also feeling a sense of failure, the Pacific Asian man resists the change” (Rimonte 329). As more research creates a better understanding of these cultural difficulties that may lead to abuse, more social workers may be able to recognize symptoms in the family, and reach out to stop the abuse and the lack of understanding it creates. Women can help their husbands adapt to the new culture by helping change occur slowly, so the male is not so threatened and shocked by this new and different culture and what it requires of everyone in the family.
In conclusion, there are many issues that factor in to the widespread domestic abuse in the Asian-American community. Some of the problems are due to resettlement issues, including fear of losing immigration status. Many women struggle to deal with their heritage and create a new life for themselves in a country that is not always welcoming to them, and so, they often do not know where to turn when abuse happens. They have no friends and no support system, and often their own community turns away from the issue of abuse in order to retain the culture of the homeland. Abuse is prevalent in many Asian-American households, and the women of these households must be educated so they know where to turn for help, and to understand it is not their fault. Abuse can be stopped, but it must be confronted first. Asian-American women must learn to stand up for themselves, blend their new culture with their old, and take a stand against domestic abuse, no matter where or when it occurs.
In summary, this paper contains information on Asian-American domestic violence and its prevalence in American society. The reason people left their homes and immigrated to the United States give a background on the culture and environment of the people involved, and may indicate why some Asian-Americans have trouble adapting to American culture. Studies indicate domestic violence may be more prevalent in Asian-American homes for a variety of reasons, and much of it goes unreported due to cultural and language barriers.
The general population also suffers greatly from domestic abuse, it is estimated that one in two married relationships suffer some kind of abuse. However, the general population has a better chance of stopping the violence, because many more American women seek help for abuse problems that Asian-American women do. There are cultural and language barriers that Asian-American women have much more difficulty with, and so, they tend to stay in relationships because they feel they have no alternatives. Vietnamese women seem to suffer more domestic abuse because of their culture and their belief systems. Men are even more dominant in their culture, and women believe men have all the rights in a relationship.
The paper discusses a number of distinguishing dynamics present in abusive relationships, including fear, hope for change, and feelings of failure. These dynamics are often present in abusive relationships in the general population, too. While these dynamics are common, there are ways to combat them, and Asian-American women need to learn how to break the cycle of these dynamics in their family to improve the entire family relationship. There are also other dynamics present in the Asian-American abuse pattern, from fears of deportation or loss of residence status to fears of poverty and cultural isolation.
Physical abuse may mean different things to different people, and some Asian-American women may not perceive their treatment as abusive. Thus, education programs need to be developed that will seek out these women and make them understand that the abuse is wrong, and they do not have to submit to abuse to keep their relationship together.
The community may also help foster continuing abusive behavior by condoning it as a way to maintain and preserve culture. The Asian-American community must also be educated to understand that abusive relationships are not a good measure of culture, and they are not acceptable, no matter what the justification in the community. The relationships can have incredibly negative affects on the entire community – in fact, if left unchecked, they can bring a community down, or even destroy it.
The mental health of the entire family can be adversely affected by abuse, and so can the ability to successfully rear and raise happy, healthy children. Children may be the most affected by parents who abuse each other, and they may continue the cycle of abuse in their own families because they do not know any other behavior. Thus, not only can abuse affect the community, its’ first and foremost affect is in the family, and it can traumatize children as well as harm adults.
Most all researchers recommend more research into the problem of Asian-American domestic abuse, more education and outreach into Asian-American communities, and health screenings for abuse at healthcare facilities, clinics, and doctors’ offices. Clearly, much more needs to be done to educate and enlighten Asian-American women to their rights, their needs, and what they can expect from the social work community in regard to abuse issues. More social workers that speak the native Asian languages need to be hired, and more programs need to be developed that especially target Asian-American women and their specific needs. If abuse is to be reduced in the Asian-American communities, all of the items must be addressed.
Hamberger, L.K. & Renzetti, C. (Eds.). Domestic Partner Abuse. New York: Springer, 1996.
Rimonte, Nilda. “Domestic Violence among Pacific Asians.”
Wong, Joann M.; Huang, Vivian Yi; Chan Sue Shu-Kwan; Park, Susan; Jung, Donna; and Lee, Debbie. “SOS: Shame, Obligation, and Survival: Asian-Americans and Domestic Violence.”
Yoshioka, Marianne R. And Dang, Quynh. Asian Family Violence Report: A Study of the Chinese, Cambodian, Korean, South Asian, and Vietnamese Communities in Massachusetts. Boston, MA: Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, Inc., 2000.
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