Asians and Pacific Islanders are people who trace their origins and/or ancestry to the countries or diasporic communities of the region and identify as Central, East, South, Southeast, or West Asians; Native Hawaiians; and Pacific Islanders.
In community-based studies compiled by the Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence in San Francisco, 41% to 60% of Asian women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime. This is higher than the prevalence rate found in the National Violence Against Women Survey for other Asian and Pacific Islander (API) women or any other group.
Domestic violence in API communities has some distinct patterns, forms, and dynamics of abuse, warranting distinct approaches to prevention and intervention. The similarities between all battered women’s experiences are not enumerated in this essay. Some dynamics occur in one ethnic group, and some are common to many, thus cautioning against stereotyping or universalizing API cultures. Gender violence is experienced in the context of gender oppression as well as oppressions based on race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, type of labor performed, level of education, class position, disability, and/or immigration or refugee status. Domestic violence in the lives of API women may involve physical abuse, multiple batteries, push and pull factors, sexual abuse, abuse of mothers, samesex violence, immigration-related abuse, and isolating sociocultural barriers and victim-blaming community norms,
Physical abuse can include culturally specific forms such as abuse by multiple perpetrators, severe isolation compounded by immigration, abandonment, hyper exploitation of women’s (including elderly women’s) household labor, withholding health care, and the mistreatment of widows. Domestic homicides include murder by an intimate or family member, honor killings, contract killings, dowry (bride price) related deaths, targeting a woman’s family members in the home country, and/or being driven by the marital family to suicide (abetted suicide).
Multiple batterers in the home can include members of a woman’s family of origin, members of her partner’s family of origin, or her partner’s exornew wives. The implications of multiple batterers include greater or more severe injuries; family collusion and increased impunity; legal remedies requiring protection orders against several individuals; deeply internalized victim blaming and devaluation by survivors; diminished credibility afforded to battered women by systems, families, and communities; and uncomprehending systems that respond inadequately.
Push and pull factors are experienced by many API battered women: “push” factors, such as being pushed out of the relationship by a partner (e.g., “Leave the house, I’m divorcing you after 3 months of marriage, I can always find another wife”; “I don’t want you and these children around”), may be more frequently experienced than “pull” factors (e.g., “Come back to me, I won’t do it again”) back into the relationship. These factors affect how women’s agency is understood— about “decisions” to stay or leave; how often, if at all, women return to their abusive partners; if they leave with or without their children; and how dangers connected to post separation violence and the loss of children and financial support are assessed.
Sexual abuse includes excessive restriction and monitoring of women’s sexuality and sexual activity; blaming women for rape, incest, or coerced sex; and keeping women ignorant about sex, sexual health, and anatomy. Asian women are disproportionately victims of sex trafficking, entering servile marriages through international marriage bureaus and forced marriages (as opposed to arranged marriages). Refugees and immigrants may have been raped in war zones, refugee camps, police custody, and on unsafe immigration routes, and/or because of their status as cultural or religious minorities in their home countries. In addition to marital rape, there can be extreme sexual neglect; being forced to watch and imitate pornography; and coerced unprotected sex resulting in sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies.
Abuse of mothers increases the vulnerability related to mothering. This may start with pregnancy, as the abuse includes forcing women to undergo abortions and to endure multiple pregnancies to have sons in the family. Loss of children is a constant threat to mothers and may result from the mother’s deportation, needing to send children to paternal grandparents in the home country, kidnapping, manipulative reporting of the mother as a child abuser or batterer, and individual and family abusers seeking custody because of prevailing cultural beliefs that children belong to their father and the stigmatization of divorced mothers. Batterers have increasingly manipulated social service, child protection, immigration, and criminal and civil legal systems to their advantage, most effectively around women’s status as mothers.
Same-sex domestic violence in API couples carries greater threats associated with outing a partner in communities where homosexuality is severely ostracized.
Immigration-related abuse includes threats of deportation, taking away children, making false declarations to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency about the victim, withholding passports and important documents, and/or not proceeding with applications that regularize the victim’s immigration status. Permanent abandonment in the home country immediately after marriage is increasing, as (untraceable) husbands return alone to the United States on the pretext of filing papers.
Isolating sociocultural barriers and victim-blaming community norms concern particularly noncitizens and those with limited English proficiency who may face language, economic, racial, cultural, religious, professional, and/or identity-based barriers to social and legal services. Warranted fears about their immigrant status include that they or their abusers could be deported. Living away from natal families adds to their isolation. Community reinforcements that keep gender violence in place utilize victim blaming, silencing, and shaming, and rejecting battered women who speak up. The nexus of public disclosure and shame is strong in API communities, as are covert and overt support for batterers and a lack of sanctions and accountability. Barriers and community attitudes are exploited by batterers and incorporated into their abuse.
Oppression of victims and resistance to oppression by victims are constantly in conflict. Hence, in addition to daily acts of private and public resistance by abused API women and their children, nationally, API advocates have established over 90 community-based organizations, with new ones emerging regularly for API survivors of violence.
- Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000, July). Extent, nature and consequences of intimate partner violence: Research report. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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