Domestic Violence in the African-American and Asian Communities
By Lyn Twyman
Written for a magazine debuting for Blasians
Domestic violence is a social pandemic that has no color barriers. Every race, nation, society and culture experiences it. No one is immune from knowing someone who has been affected by it. Unfortunately, domestic violence is more prevalent in some cultures than others. By comparison, U.S. statistics show that African-Americans have higher reported incidences of domestic violence than Asians. According to a study released this year titled “Nearly Four Million California Adults Are Victims of Intimate Partner Violence“, in California alone, African Americans experienced the highest number of intimate partner violence since turning age 18 at a rate of 30.6 percent. This number was recorded for a 12 month span from April 2010 and preceding. In the same study, the Asian community had a reported rate of 23.4%. According to these numbers, it does not mean that domestic violence occurs less necessarily, but what this does mean is Asians are less likely to report abuse and one reason for this is societal factors.
I am a bi-racial American; my mother is Filipino and my father is black. Unfortunately, I grew up experiencing domestic violence in the home. After years of research of my family history, background, understanding more about both cultures and a little bit of therapy, I came to the same conclusion that the way we view and treat domestic violence is often a culturally based experience. How else could I explain that my mother, a young, college educated Filipina could subject herself to psychological and financial abuse by a man who only had a GED and a few years in the military? Myths surrounding domestic violence say that people who are educated wouldn’t become victims of domestic violence but countless stories of people with plenty of education, fame, and money have proved the opposite.
Understanding who you and I are as blacks, African-Americans, Africans or Asians and how we relate to domestic violence is extremely important because so much of how we naturally view the world around us, even when it comes to dealing with abuse, is rooted in our culture. The culture of African-Americans is rooted in the days of slavery, in Africans and other African-American ancestors, as most do not know what tribes we descended from. As painful as the past of our ancestors is, this is a part of our cultural history and it was a highly impactful one, even for Africans that endured colonization in their own homelands. Historically, blacks have been stripped from their tribes, clans, their communities then molded into someone’s else culture only to be defamed, deprived, stripped, beaten, raped or killed. Families were broken apart and women and children were used as commodities.
Then our ancestors transcended into eras such as Civil Rights (1955 – 1968) and South African Apartheid (1948 -1994) and we see yet another generation of blacks, African-Americans and Africans who had yet to contend with more hostility and the breakdown of families and self worth, the core of any healthy society. The end of both violent and degrading eras still did not quail the number of fatherless homes, or reverse the affects from governmental atrocities that frivolously imprisoned black men for looking at white women. The end to these eras did not reverse the effects of those who were chastised for stepping foot in “Whites Only” establishments or the harsh sentencing that was handed down for stealing something as simple as a loaf of bread to feed ones family.
So when we look at the alarmingly high number of domestic violence incidences within the Black community, we may often wonder ‘Why’, even though most Black communities are considered the minority around the world. In part, it is due to the residual effects from the years of historical oppression from institutionalized racism, and note I said residual effects. Low income, unemployment, inadequate education and urban over-crowding are all factors that correlate to higher incidences of domestic violence (Ref. Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence). Lack of money, resources and education have all been contributing factors that has affected our communities for generations. In other words, the generational hostility, aggression, lack of healthy support systems and limited access to mental health services resulting from years of injustice has lent to the violence and this cannot be ignored.
The Asian culture, on the other hand, has strong patriarchal values and emphasizes the obedience of girls and women which contributes to a different dynamic of domestic violence. A sense of family honor is something taught from an early age and to speak ill of one’s family is often considered a disgrace. Thus, we see less reported incidences of domestic violence in Asian communities. Psychological abuse is heavily carried out. Physical punishment is often viewed as deserved or warranted under most circumstances between husbands toward their wives. It often seems that it takes severe and multiple counts of punishment before it is finally declared abuse in many Asian cultures.
Domestic violence isoften seen as a “family matter” in Asian culture. Additionally, Asians have been very accustomed to strong religious influences like Confucius, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Catholicism that emphasizes emotional control and duty, thus resulting in little recognition of psychological abuse when it is present. The factors mentioned all contribute to why Asians are less likely to report abuse.
Unlike the California report on African-Americans and domestic violence that looked at reports within the State, 41 – 61% of Asian women report experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.1 This is higher than the rates in a national study reported by Whites (21.3%), African Americans (26.3%), Hispanics of any race (21.2%), people of mixed race (27.0%), and American Indians and Alaskan Natives (30.7%), and Asians and Pacific Islanders (12.8%).2 This goes back to my point that Asians are less likely to report abuse so numbers could very well be skewed in some instances.
In no way am I excusing domestic violence but I do believe that we must understand how blacks and Asians view domestic violence and the psychology behind those views in an effort to better help our communities. More importantly, we must address this issue in a proper, tactful way with family and friends, perhaps even helping us gain more understanding if we are the ones being abused. Understanding our culture is especially important if we are to properly advocate for immigrants who are new to our perspective countries. If we fail to understand these historical and cultural factors of which we are as a society, why he/she hits or why he/she remains silent and stays in a relationship with abuse, then victims will continue to not receive the proper help they deserve and live safer, healthier lives.
If you find yourself in a situation where there is domestic violence, please contact your local domestic violence organization or call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) 1.800.787.3224 (TTY). You can also visit the Hot Peach Pages at http://www.hotpeachpages.net/index.html to find more information for your perspective country.
- The low end of the range is from a study by A. Raj and J. Silverman, Intimate partner violence against South-Asian women in Greater Boston Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association. 2002; 57(2): 111-114. The high end of the range is from a study by M. Yoshihama, Domestic violence against women of Japanese descent in Los Angeles: Two methods of estimating prevalence. Violence Against Women. 1999; 5(8):869-897.
- Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Research Report. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2000.
Lyn Twyman is an advocate, activist, consultant, radio personality, entertainment producer and founder of CourageNewtork.com, an online community and resource for domestic violence. Lyn is also a first generation Asian and African-American. She grew up with the many facets that come with being a bi-racial individual in America. She also grew up watching all forms of abuse in the lives of her parents. As a survivor of child abuse and intimate partner violence she chose to break the cycle of violence within her own family and families across the country. Lyn is passionate about ending domestic violence, awareness for its root causes, prevention, family issues and diversity. For more information about Lyn, please visit www.lyntwyman and also visit www.couragenetwork.com.