Domestic Violence and the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Community

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Domestic Violence and the AANHPI Community

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over another person. It can happen to anyone without regard to age, gender, sexual orientation, race, or socio-economic status.

 

It's important to note that it is impossible to adequately represent the experiences of abuse for all members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community due to the vast differences in culture, religion, heritage, and lived experiences. There would be substantially different barriers to seeking assistance for both a Japanese American male and a Pakistani American woman experiencing abuse.

 

With this in mind, we have done our best to represent common themes and barriers to assistance that may present across the AANHPI community. 

Factors to Consider:

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Intergenerational Relationships and Multi-Generational Homes

According to a study conducted by the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, intergenerational relationships played a significant role in informing a person's perception of domestic violence. Even if messaging around abuse was never explicit, observing behavior in parents and grandparents led participants in this study to connect "to their own relationship learning and perceptions about healthy relationships." 

 

As detailed by the Asian Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP), there is a tendency for members of the AANHPI community to live in multi-generational homes. This is important to note because domestic violence is not limited to abuse that occurs between intimate partners.  "Domestic violence can happen beyond a heteronormative idea of a nuclear family and can be perpetrated by anyone including in-laws, aunts, uncles, parents, siblings, etc."

 

If abuse is present in a multi-generational home, there could be numerous people victimizing one person. According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, people using abuse "may act separately, each using different types of abuse" or "act together, playing different roles in one incident."

 

In-laws may even condone or encourage control, coercion, or abuse but never perpetrate it themselves. 

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Expectations Around Dating and Relationships

In a study of five Asian American communities including Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, North Indian Hindu, and Pakistani Muslim, the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council found that “virtually all” participants struggled to speak to their parents about dating and intimate relationships. Some felt their parents would not be supportive of their dating relationships because they were not perceived to be old enough to date, they were dating outside of their culture, or felt “their parents, many of whom had arranged marriages or got married for reasons other than romantic intimacy, did not know much about dating."

 

Many second-generation immigrant youths from other Asian American and Pacific Islander communities also reported that they did not share their parents beliefs about when they should date or who they should date (Nesteruk & Gramescu, 2012). This type of environment made dating taboo and led some members of the AANHPI community to date in secret (Ravagen et al, 2018). As one 18-year-old South Asian victim of domestic violence said some parents " would be more supportive because it is okay to talk about dating. They will drive you to your date when you are 13. But, a conservative Indian mom, they don’t want you dating, that closes off the entire conversation regarding dating and violence if it is happening."

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Strong Adherence to Patriarchal Beliefs 

The definition of patriarchy is a “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family”.  While patriarchal beliefs are not exclusive to the AANHPI community, numerous studies have indicated that a strong adherence to patriarchal structures influences the behavior within that community. “This norm is reinforced by many aspects of culture including religious scripture and practices, social networks, mass media, and other cultural activities.”

 

Despite the numerous subcultures within the AANHPI community, patriarchal beliefs are prevalent across many of those subcultures because those beliefs have served to keep both familial and social order intact (Bernstein, 2007; Renita Wong & Tsang, 2004). In a study of South Asian survivors of violence, Ahmed at al. (2019) noted that patriarchal beliefs “are not only played out between couples, they are exacerbated by the assumptions that exist within their own communities and are reproduced in families.”

 

 As illustrated in a case study of Gender Relations in the Pacific (2014), this adherence to patriarchal belief systems is common across the Pacific Islands with men having “more decision making power within the household and community than the women” which makes married women more vulnerable. This could make it particularly challenging to leave an abusive relationship.

“I grew up with violence, my father hit my mother, my grandfather hit grandmother, my brothers abused their wives, my sister was abused. I was supported by my female family members until I reached out for help. They said I was betraying the family honor by reaching out."

-Survivor at Texas Muslim Women's Foundation

Barriers to Seeking Assistance

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Collectivist Culture

Cultures within the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community tend to be more collectivist. This means that there is less of a focus on individual liberty and a greater focus on a more “tightly-knit social framework and a subordination of individual desires and freedoms to the wellbeing of a larger social group” (Hofstede et al., 2010; Rajkumar, 2023, Wagner, 2022). In South Asian culture, “individuals (especially women) are expected to base their actions not on their own wishes but also on familial, community, and societal norms.” (Ragavan et al., 2018).

 

In a study of relationship violence in Asian American communities many participants "described marriage as a familial or social institution rather than a romantic or relational one." This made family members heavily invested in the success of individual marriages. Participants reported that their families depended on them to “keep the family intact and to demonstrate family strength in the community.” This can make it exceptionally challenging to leave an abusive relationship because there can be more consideration for the collective wants of your social group over your individual relationship. As one survivor wrote, parents believe their children "should get married to whoever we say and spend the rest of their lives with that person even if they want to [leave].”

 

The prevalence of this belief system is also reflected in a study of Native Hawaiian, Filipino, and Pacific Islander women. All 22 of the Chuukese respondents, a Micronesian-speaking ethnic group indigenous to the island of Chuuk, indicated that it's a woman's "responsibility in a relationship to 'keep the peace'" and "women are expected to be strong and resilient in family and martial life." There is greater priority given to the collective societal structure than individual safety, satisfaction, and needs. 

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Fear of Bringing Shame on the Family

“[My family] wanted to brush it under the carpet for the shame of it,” said one survivor of sexual abuse.  This fear of bringing shame upon one’s family is “one of the most common barriers to reporting violence” for people within the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community.”  As one study noted, shame could silence victims of domestic violence due to fear of negative attention or social ostracism for their family.

 

To avoid this shame, many victims of domestic violence may feel forced to remain in their marriages or hesitant to reveal they experience abuse to anyone else. In Unheard Voices: Domestic Violence in the Asian Community, one survivor of violence stated that “we do not hold somebody accountable for that kind of violence…you see that the [person using abuse] gets invited to the parities, it’s the [victim] who gets isolated.”

 

This sentiment is echoed in the experiences of a South Asian survivor of sexual violence. She writes “My mum, she’s more like…you’re going to put your dad’s name in the ground and look at the high izzat (a term used to describe personal dignity or honor in some South Asian communities) he brought up and stuff like that.”

 

This shame is further intensified if a person experiencing abuse is in a relationship with someone outside their culture, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, or with someone who does not have their parents' approval. According to a 2024 fact sheet compiled by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, more than 50% of transgender Asian Americans, "experienced abuse or violence from a romantic or sexual partner." 

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Culturally Specific Concerns

Due to the vast arrays of subcultures within the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community, it is important to note that there are numerous barriers to seeking assistance that specific to those subcultures. For instance, religious beliefs about divorce could be a barrier for the Filipino American community (the vast majority of whom identify as Catholic) while the Confucian family value of harmony and the role women play in maintaining that harmony could prevent Chinese Americans from seeking help for abuse. 

 

One study reported that Cambodian Americans may struggle to leave abusive relationships because of a strong cultural stigma about appearing weak, Indian Americans may fear leaving their partner because of access to educational and economical opportunities, and Pakistani Americans may not want to disturb the family image, making parents more “willing to stay in violent circumstances to preserve the family unit.”

 

For Korean Americans, the concept of “jeong” or “a combination of love and affection with an emphasis on attachment” could lead victims of abuse to remain in unhealthy relationships as a sign of sacrificial love. According to one Korean American, “I hear parents or mom[s] talk about why they can’t leave a very toxic or very terrible [relationship]  whether it be from domestic violence or abuse or gambling, addiction, all of that. It’s because they’re sacrificing that relationship to stay together because of, let’s say, the children. I’m sacrificing for the kids. I’m staying in this relationship for my kids.”

 

These varying and unique cultural considerations and concerns could present additional challenges for people experiencing abuse when they're considering leaving their partner. 

“My mother worries too much about family, what people are going to say, 'oh my god, what's this auntie going to say, they're going to say it's your fault'"

-Survivor 

Abuse in Subcultures

Unless otherwise indicated, all information in the section below was gathered from the 2020 Facts & Stats Report of Domestic Violence in Asian & Pacific Islander Homes from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. It is important to note that these statistics could be skewed due to underreporting for certain populations and that every subculture within the AANHPI community is not represented below. More research needs to be done to uncover how abuse presents throughout the subcultures of this community. 

Cambodian:

  • 47% of Cambodians surveyed by the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence said they knew “a woman who has been shoved, pushed, slapped, hit, kicked, or has suffered other injuries by her partner.” 
  • 44% said they knew of “a woman whose partner insults or humiliates her regularly.”
  • Find more information here. 

Chinese:

  • 9.7% respondents in one study reported having experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence during the previous year. 
  • 61% of Chinese respondents in another study reported being hit regularly as children. 
  • Most Current Chinese Factsheet. 

Filipino:

  • 20% of Filipina women report having experienced some form of intimate partner violence, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in a study conducted by the Immigrant Women's Task Force of the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Services 
  • Most Current Filipino Factsheet. 

Hawaiian:

  • 12.6% of Native Hawaiian respondents reported having ever been hit, slapped, pushed, kicked, or hurt in any way but a current or former intimate partner in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey. 
  • 4.7% of Native Hawaiian respondents reported having ever experienced unwanted sex by a current or former intimate partner.
  • Find more information here. 

Hmong

  • 8% of Hmong women reported experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from a partner within the last year, and 15% had experienced such abuse in their lifetime according to the Minnesota Asian Women’s Health Survey
  • 41% of respondents believed that about half of the men in their community hit their wives
  • Most Current Hmong Factsheet

 

Japanese

  • 55%  of respondents in a face-to-face interview of a random sample of people of Japanese descent reported having experienced one or more forms of partner’s physical and/or sexual violence sometime during their lifetime
  • 2.8% of Japanese respondents reported having ever experienced unwanted sex by a current or former intimate partner in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 
  • Find more information here. 

Korean:

  • 50.2% of respondents in a survey conducted by Shimtuh, a project serving Korean women in crisis, reported that they knew of a Korean woman “whose husband or boyfriend insults or humiliates them regularly.”
  • 41.9% of respondents said they knew of a Korean woman “who has been slapped, hit, kicked, or suffered any physical injury by her husband or boyfriend.” 
  • Most Current Korean Factsheet 

Pacific Islander:

  • 56% of the women were subjected to verbal abuse daily, 24% weekly and 12% monthly. 72% assessed the intensity of verbal abuse as “extreme,” while 20% considered it “severe" according to a study of mothers in domestic violence programs in Hawaii.
  • 41% of people interviewed by the Utah Department of Health reported having experienced verbal abuse as children.
  • Most Current Pacific Islander Factsheet 

South Asian:

  • 96% of Indian and Pakistani victims reported having experienced having experienced physical violence by an intimate partner according to the Lifecourse IPV and Help-Seeking Study. 
  • 6% reported having experienced emotional abuse by in-laws according to a convenience sample of 169 South Asian women.
  • Most Current South Asian Factsheet

Vietnamese:

  • 22.4% of Vietnamese respondents reported having experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence during the previous year according to a face-to-face interview study of Asian Americans in Houston, Texas. 
  • 69% of the overall respondents and 72% of Vietnamese respondents reported being hit regularly as children according to a study conducted by the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence
  • Most Current Vietnamese Factsheet

What If I Recognize These Behaviors In Myself?

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Just like every population, members of the AANHPI community may use abuse in their relationships. If you recognize any abusive or controlling behaviors in yourself, then JBWS can help: jbws.org/jcnv or 973-539-7801