Dynamics of Domestic Violence in API Families

Domestic violence is a universal problem, but its cultural expressions differ. Drawing attention to such differences can serve to confirm stereotypes because nuanced complexities are hard to convey; but advocacy that is not rooted in cultural contexts is even more problematic. For some (but not all) Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, the patterns, types and dynamics of domestic violence differ.


Two Significant Differing Dynamics

Multiple Batterers, Single Victim

  • Perpetrators can include marital family members: husbands, mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, ex-wives, new wives; and/or members of a woman's natal family - her parents, aunts, uncles, adult siblings.
  • Multiple batterers may act separately, each using different types of abuse.
  • Multiple batterers can act together, playing different roles in one incident.
  • In-laws may encourage or support domestic violence, but not perpetrate it themselves.
  • Multiple abusers may use coercive control tactics; exercise micro-controls on her movements - monitoring, tracking, and reporting on them; exert power and control from afar through texting, webcams, other technologies.

Push & Pull Factors

Terms used to explain immigration -negative circumstances that 'push' people to leave and positive attractions that 'pull' them to migrate- are applied to battered women's experiences.

  • Pull factors are behaviors and statements that 'pull' or lure her back into the relationship by offering apologies, reassurances and promises to change.
  • Push factors are meant to 'push' her out of the relationship, rather than draw her back in.
  • API women report feeling pushed out of the relationship or marital home ("leave the house, give me a divorce, I can always find another wife") more frequently than they are pulled or enticed back into it ("come back to me, I won't do it again").
  • Push and pull factors affect how decisions, especially about leaving, are made.

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Physical Abuse Can Include

  • Battering by multiple abusers including male and female in-laws.
  • Intensive surveillance, cyber-stalking, monitoring utilizing multiple technologies.
  • Withholding food, healthcare, medication, adequate clothing, and hygiene products.
  • Hyper-exploitation of household labor to serve members of the extended family.
  • Homicides that can include honor killings, contract killings, dowry related deaths, killing a female partner's family members, or driving her into committing suicide.

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Emotional Abuse Can Include

  • ‘Push’ factors out of the relationship use by abusers more frequently than ’pull’ factors back into the relationship.
  • Tightly prescribed and more rigid gender roles for women and men.
  • Severe isolation by inhibiting contact with family and support systems.
  • Using religion to justify domestic violence and to threaten loss of children, social status, financial support and community.
  • Pressure from the natal family to stay in the marriage and tolerate the abuse.
  • Silencing battered women and blaming them for bringing dishonor to the family.

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Sexual Abuse Can Include

  • Excessive restrictions designed to control and threaten women’s sexuality.
  • Blaming victims for rape, incest or coerced sex, being forced to marry a rapist.
  • Denying the right to choose or express a different sexual orientation.
  • Being forced to watch and imitate pornography.
  • Coercion into unprotected sex, potentially resulting in sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Extreme sexual neglect and coldness.
  • Sexual harassment from co-workers, family members, community leaders, clergy.
  • Forced marriages (not to be confused with arranged marriages) to unknown and generally much older men – marital rape is exacerbated in such situations.
  • Ignorance about sex, sexual health and anatomy.
  • Sexual violence in war zones, refugee camps, on unsafe immigration routes or against cultural minorities that are then used by batterers to demean, reject, silence, blame or further violate their intimate partners.

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Abuse of Women Who Are Mothers Can Include

  • Forced or sex-selected abortions, or multiple, repeated pregnancies to bear sons.
  • False reports and accusations so mothers lose custody of their children by manipulating social service, child protection, immigration, child custody, and criminal and civil legal systems.
  • Separating mothers from children by sending children to paternal grandparents, abducting couple’s children and returning to the batterer’s home country.
  • Stigmatizing divorced women as unfit mothers.
  • Losing custody based on cultural beliefs that children belong to their father.

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Same-Sex, Same-Gender Domestic Violence Can Include

  • Greater harms, threats, risks, and fears are associated with same-sex domestic violence in ethnic communities that severely ostracize homosexuality.
  • Outing a partner, or threatening to, are part of the abuse and heightened risks.
  • Perpetrators claim to be victims and are credible to service providers untrained in addressing same-sex domestic violence.
  • Lesbians and gay men are set up in forced marriages by their parents.
  • Homophobia is used by same-sex abusers to silence their partners.

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Abuse Based on Immigration Status Can Include

  • Making false declarations to I.C.E., claiming she entered into a fraudulent marriage.
  • Failing to regularize a spouse’s immigration status, leaving them as undocumented.
  • Threatening deportation.
  • Withholding or hiding passports and other important documents.
  • Trans-national abandonment i.e. “marry-and-dump”.
  • Serial marriages, entrapment or abandonment of foreign brides.

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Barriers Limit Access, Services & Support

  • Language, economic, racial, cultural, religious barriers to social and legal services.
  • Barriers due to immigration (particularly undocumented) and refugee status.
  • Sophisticated manipulations by batterers so their victims are treated as perpetrators.
  • Stigmatizing LGBTQ individuals, divorced women, single mothers, widows.
  • Nexus of public disclosure and shame is a barrier to disclosure and help-seeking.
  • Community attitudes use victim-blaming, silencing, and shaming to reject survivors and overtly support batterers, and end up increasing abusers' impunity and entitlement to violence.

The differing dynamics described here have implications for advocacy and systems interventions, as do the barriers and biases Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women/survivors face. Culturally relevant and multi-lingual services designed to meet the complex needs of minoritized communities empower their access to safety and justice.

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