Abuse in AAPI Communities

Abuse in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities occurs at high rates, especially with women experiencing intimate partner violence. According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, up to 55% of Asian women in the U.S have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, while 18% of AAPI women experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. In addition to increased domestic violence rates, barriers to receiving help can include cultural and heteronormative patriarchal standards, language barriers, and reluctance to accepting LGBTQ+ relationships, and abuse occurring within them.

Obstacles to reaching safety that people of AAPI heritage face:

Victim blaming.

Victim blaming by the partner who chooses to abuse and surrounding family members can make the survivor feel that their actions are causing the abuse to occur. This form of emotional abuse can cause survivors to silence themselves in any conflict with their partners. Survivors also face being shamed for desiring to leave and may even be rejected by family or friends.

Financial limitations.

Some AAPI survivors may have low-wage employment and may not be able to support themselves if they were to leave. A lack of financial resources coupled with an unsupportive family system may leave survivors dependent on their partner who choose to abuse, who may also be the breadwinner for the family.

Language barriers.

Language barriers may be an issue as English may not be the primary language for the survivor. This can create problems when seeking help and can limit how and where the survivor can access support. In addition to being unable to access support, the survivor may not be able to depend on family and friends to seek help because of cultural norms and stigmas surrounding domestic violence. The limited English proficiency may also be used by the partner who chooses to abuse to demean the survivor. A partner who chooses to abuse could use phrases like:

“Who will hire you? Your English is terrible!”

Or “Who else will take care of someone like you who does not speak the language?”

This form of emotional abuse can create doubt and fear for the survivor in creating a safety plan.

Cultural/religious expectations.

Cultural/religious expectations are strong in many societies. In the Asian culture, heteronormative patriarchal structures are common and reinforced by family and friends within the community. According to Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, many AAPI women may be expected to keep the abuse a “secret.” At the same time, family members and community leaders may protect the partner’s reputation who chooses to abuse if a survivor does decide to be vocal about their experiences. Religion, in some cases, may also cause the survivor to stay, so their community and places of worship do not ostracize them.

In addition to gender-based barriers within the culture, AAPI people who identify as LGBTQ+ may face additional issues because of heteronormative cultures and/or religions. Their sexual orientation may not be accepted, allowing for fewer opportunities to be believed, and receive access to resources and help when they need it.

Immigration status.

Immigration status can also create fear as the survivor may be undocumented, forcing them to remain in hiding to avoid deportation. This vulnerability can be exploited by a partner who chooses to abuse, constantly threatening to report the survivor to immigration if they do not do what they have asked. This ever-present fear can cause the survivor great emotional distress and deter them from seeking help because of possible separation from their children and other family members. No matter your culture, religion, sexuality, or immigration status, domestic violence is never okay, and there are organizations like The Hotline that can assist in guiding survivors to the resources they need the most. With connections to resources such as Women’s Law (provides referrals to immigration attorneys and other legal information), access to shelters, and advocacy in over 200 languages, we can give direction when you need assistance.

We recognize the added challenges members of the Asian American/Pacific Islander community may face when they are in an abusive relationship. Our advocates are available 24/7 through phone, chat, and text if you have questions or want to speak more to your specific situation. No one deserves to experience abuse, and everyone deserves to be in a healthy and loving relationship.

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