Domestic violence in Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities is an urgent problem requiring cultural expertise in formulating system-based responses and community-based strategies that encompass the ethnic and demographic diversity of the population. The urgency is compounded by several issues: high prevalence rates, unique dynamics and types of abuse, isolating socio-cultural barriers, and the tenacity of traditional cultural attitudes.
41-61% of Asian women report experiencing domestic violence (physical and/or sexual) during their lifetime (Yoshihama & Dabby, 2009). This is higher than the prevalence rates in the general population: Whites (21.3%); African-Americans (26.3%); Hispanic, of any race, (21.2%); mixed race (27.0%); and American Indians and Alaskan Natives (30.7%); and the 12.8% rate reported for Asians and Pacific Islanders (Tjaden & Thoennes Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence 2000).
Domestic violence in API families has some unique dynamics, requiring different approaches to prevention and intervention. For example, there can be multiple abusers in the home i.e. male and female in-laws and this can mean that a battered woman may need restraining orders against several family members. Another difference is the way API battered women experience ‘push’ factors from their partners (“give me a divorce, I can always find another wife,” etc.) more frequently than ‘pull’ factors (“come back to me, I won’t do it again,” etc.). This affects how API battered women make decisions and respond to advocates’ interventions.
Battered women, particularly non-citizens and/or those with limited English proficiency face language, economic, cultural, religious, or identity-based barriers when trying to access social and legal services. They are isolated not only by system barriers, but also by the tactics of their batterers who often threaten them with deportation and loss of children. Cultural competency means advocating despite these barriers, and devising prevention and intervention strategies in response to new trends that further isolate women.
Community reinforcements that keep gender violence in place utilize victim blaming, silencing, shaming, and rejecting battered women who speak up or seek help. Culturally prescribed gender roles can inhibit women’s self-determination: the nexus of public disclosure and shame is strong and covert or overt community support for batterers undermines accountability. Hence, community organizing has become synonymous with prevention, with programs using a range of approaches to educate families, promote help-seeking, and change norms.
The enormous ethnic and demographic diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander communities; their levels of acculturation based on immigration histories and socioeconomic status; and the fact that they are the fastest growing population in the U.S.; attests to the need for diversity in culturally specific prevention and intervention. Because attitudes and dynamics differ across ethnic groups, a one-size-fits-all approach is inadequate. For example, in the Boston Asian Task Force study, 74% of South Asian respondents supported a battered woman calling the police for help, whereas 47% of Cambodian, 52% of Chinese, 27% of Korean, and 49% of Vietnamese respondents agreed (Yoshioka & Dang, 2000). Understanding such differences makes the work of culturally specific organizations relevant to their communities.
Cultural competency means more than hiring a multi-lingual staff person or stocking rice in the shelter. It means engaging in outreach to the community in a way that builds trust, connecting up various forms of social and familial oppression, working within innovative models based on the socio-cultural contexts of Asian immigrant and U.S.-born battered women’s lives. Programs learn from each other – a successful strategy used by a Hmong program may be replicated by a Korean one. Such cross-fertilization deepens community-based prevention, grows new approaches and strengthens leadership, all the while keeping safety for battered women and their children as a core value. Finally, trends and newer problems like forced marriages, and the increasing complexity of multi-system work such as child welfare and domestic violence systems, pose greater challenges to culturally sensitive services and prevention.
Persons depicted are models and are used for illustrative purposes only.
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