Domestic Violence in Asian Families: Breaking Barriers
BY VALERIE ORLEANS
From Dateline (August 19, 2004)
Imagine being beaten by your husband or threatened
with deportation and having your children removed from you. Perhaps
police show up in response to a call or complaint but you can’t
speak their language. How would you deal with family members angry
with you for bringing shame to your family ... to your community?
For many Asian women, particularly newer immigrants,
these are all too common scenarios.
Mikyong Kim-Goh, associate professor of human services,
saw the devastation of domestic violence on Asian women while serving
as a psychiatric social worker and completing her doctoral dissertation.
“For many of these women, options were minimal
because of language and cultural barriers,” said Kim-Goh,
who recently interviewed Korean and Vietnamese community members
in Orange County to gauge perceptions and attitudes toward domestic
violence, as well as to discover the size of the problem. “Ironically,
there would sometimes be more support groups for men to discuss
ways to end or even brag about their behavior, but it’s the
victims who end up living in shame with fewer options.
“I remember several years ago, an educational
video was presented on domestic abuse and it featured a Korean family,”
she added. “The Korean community was outraged because they
felt the video reflected badly on them.”
And that, she said, is part of the problem.
“I think domestic violence is vastly underreported
in Asian communities for a number of reasons. One, the language
barrier is a huge obstacle. Second, there is a great sense of bringing
shame to the family. And third, for many Asian women, their entire
sense of identity is wrapped up in relationship to their families.
I am someone’s wife. I am someone’s mother. They often
don’t introduce themselves or other women by name. So how
can they just drop everything and leave?”
Another problem is the link between violence and
love in some Asian families.
“Many Asian immigrants grew up in a society
where corporal punishment was acceptable. As a result, children
grow up equating beating with love,” Kim-Goh explained. “If
children are hit because of misbehavior, they think, ‘Well,
Daddy’s hitting me because he loves me and wants to correct
me.’ As time goes by, that notion can become more ingrained.
So when a woman’s husband beats her for some perceived infraction,
the woman blames herself. The beating seems almost justified.”
Almost. And many programs and resources, such as
those offered by local churches, haven’t been as helpful as
they could be, said Kim-Goh.
“Especially in Korean communities, the church often plays
a central role,” she said. “But when women seek help
there, they are told to pray or forgive the batterer or to try to
be a better wife.
“Police agencies also have been remiss in dealing
with these problems, because officers often couldn’t speak
the language or understand what was happening.”
Fortunately, churches and police departments have
taken steps to better understand and address these problems. Yet
there is much work to be done within the Asian communities as well.
“Addictions play a role in battering,”
Kim-Goh explained. “For Asians, this means not just alcoholism,
but gambling. When the ‘breadwinner’ has lost hundreds
of dollars of his salary, he often takes out his frustrations on
If a husband isn’t working or is “underemployed,”
performing a job that he feels is beneath him, he may take out his
frustrations on his partner, she noted.
“Asian women, for centuries, have often played
a traditional, subservient role. There is resistance from men to
accept accountability for their own actions because for many, beating
is considered acceptable behavior.”
In fact, if a woman reports her husband, her family,
especially her in-laws, often react angrily because she has brought
shame on the family.
“They won’t be angry with the husband,”
said Kim-Goh, ruefully, “but with the wife who was being beaten.”
There is progress. Kim-Goh’s research indicates
that the longer Asian women spend in the United States, and the
more acculturated and well-educated they become, the less likely
they are to put up with abusive behav-ior. Younger people (who may
be more influenced by Western laws and culture) are less likely
to be in abusive relationships.
“What makes this topic appealing to me is the
sense that I can help these women and their children,” said
Kim-Goh. “By not only exposing these problems, but working
to develop solutions, we provide a service to those who often can’t
speak for themselves.”
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