Domestic violence among Southeast Asian women

*This was written by my sister, Khonnie who has worked in the social service field for over ten years.  This is her viewpoint.  I decided to post this because domestic violence is a problem in the Laotian community as well as the Asian community in general, but hardly ever openly discussed. Abuse such as domestic violence and rape are experienced by all cultures, some are more open than others about it.

I read an article a few months back in Audrey magazine that domestic violence is a huge problem for Southeast Asian women. The main reason is because when these women come over to America with their husbands they are at the mercy of their husbands’ actions because they are in a foreign country. They have nowhere to run and no one to talk to because they feel ashamed. In big metro cities like LA and NYC they have hot lines specifically for Asian women that are staffed with Asians who speak the language-Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese but not Laotian. I asked why this was and they told me it is a catch 22-there are not enough reports from the Laotian community to warrant a Laotian staff member. Domestic violence is something that frustrates me because of my strong independent personality. I have been lucky that I have never been a victim of physical abuse from the men that have been my boyfriends or husband. When I say that it frustrates me I mean the vicious cycle-the women usually stays with her abuser. I know the reasons why but I also know that some are able to leave. Although I have worked with victims of domestic violence-I have never specifically worked with a DV shelter or at a place where mainly the clients were victims of DV. I do not think that I can because I would not have the patience that is required to support the women (and men sometimes) through this vicious cycle and not get upset with them. I think it would break my spirit too fast and I would lose hope that I was helping them. So I admire the people who work day in and day out in a domestic violence shelter.

In a related issue-during grad school I volunteered at a rape crisis center in Albuquerque for about three months. The reason I did it was because for my stats class I wrote the hypothesis that if there was an Asian volunteer there would be more rape victims who are Asian who would seek the services from the rape crisis center. I researched stats on what the number of Asians who reported that they were rape and surprisingly it was a low number-less than one percent. Of course that is probably not true because I am sure it happens more than that but in Asian culture like other cultures this kind of shame would be too much for the family and community not just the victim. Sad fact but a real fact of life nevertheless. During my volunteer stint,I would be on call for one day out of the week and if there was a rape victim who showed up at the hospital a survivor advocate (they referred to rape victims as survivors) would meet them there. If they consented an exam would be done. As an advocate I was there for moral support and to give them resources that would help them. During that 24hr period at any time day or night I could get called to the hospital to assist the survivor of rape. It was heartbreaking to see the women and/or girls at times go through this. I could not imagine the nightmare they were going through and would go through for the rest of their lives. There were a few cases that it was just a teenage girl lying because she wanted to get her boyfriend in trouble or she did not want to get in trouble by her parents because she was at a party and had sex when she was not supposed to. Then there were cases that involved a victim of domestic violence but she would refused to file charges afterwards because she did not want to get him in trouble. She would go back to him because he said he was sorry or that he would change. One of the saddest cases involved a 3 year old little girl-she was molested by her grandmother’s boyfriend who was babysitting her. I felt so bad for the mother because she felt so guilty. It broke my heart to see this little girl who was helpless against her perpetrator-again when an adult decides to stay in an abusive relationship-she is adult enough to know the consequences. However when it happens to a child-that is the most cruel and vile thing an adult can do to a child. She was Native American so the reservation police were handling it. I never knew what happened to her or the other survivors after they left the hospital. I would call to check up on them after a certain amount of time and usually they would not return my calls. Which I understood could be for a lot of reasons. I had to quit volunteering after three months because between my school and full time job I could not do it any longer. I felt guilty though because I should of stayed on longer.

 During my volunteer stint, it was not surprising that I did not come across one Asian survivor of rape. One weird coincidence from my volunteering at the rape crisis center was that I did see one of them-a girl of about 12 after the one night where I held her hand while she was being examined. I was the admissions coordinator for the treatment foster care agency at the time and a few weeks later I get a packet from the psychiatric hospital for a possible placement. I go to meet the girl and the family and it was her. What was ironic was they did not recognize me and I did not let on that I knew them. However I told my bosses that this child would not be appropriate for our families who took in kids because of the history of the family. Not because of the girl being raped but by their history. This family had a history of suing people who took care of their daughters. And when the poor girl was at the hospital because she was raped by “a black man” on the way home from school-the story was fishy. First of all the nurse did not find any evidence of rape. Her parents were acting suspicious. Her mom was milking the system by playing up on her daughter’s problems so that she would be placed in residential treatment. She had another daughter who was already at a residential placement. And the dad was acting like he was coaching his daughter to say things such as she was raped by a “black guy” and the poor girl did not seem like she wanted to go along with it. I could not tell the hospital after I met with the girl and her family as to why we could not admit her into our treatment foster care agency. I felt sorry for her because clearly her family were using her and her sister to take advantage of the system. It was a miracle that the director took my word for it that this family would not be appropriate because all she cared about was the numbers we had in our program.

I hope domestic violence shelters continue getting the monetary support and volunteers that they need. One of these days I need to become a volunteer at a rape crisis center again. I hope more Asian women seek the help that they need if they are a victim of domestic violence and/or rape. However this is highly unlikely because Asians overall do not seek these types of services (rape crisis centers, mental health services).

Is physical, sexual, and mental abuse overlooked in our Laotian community? Is language or culture partly to blame?


2 thoughts on “Domestic violence among Southeast Asian women

  1. dallaslao

    I don’t think it is overlook. I think it is the mentality our parents and some us grew up with. We don’t have the treatment in Laos like we have here in the States. I think we tend to fixed our own problem. Also, Lao women (Asian women) in general does not leave their husband. Maybe the wife will loose face within the community and embarrassed by having such a bad husband.

    I think domestic violence is even among various group. Regardless it is such an evil act. Recent news about a Vietnamese man that threw his four children age 4months, 1yr,2yrs, and 3 yrs off the bridge.

    When I hear something like this it really get to me. It just make me want to scream. It make me stop whatever I am doing and go give my children a huge hug.

  2. Laotian Teacher

    Dallas, you are right that we are brought up with this mentality of fixing everything ourselves or keeping our probems within the confines of our home or community. It is indeed rare that a Lao woman would leave her husband no matter how unhappy she is. When she does leave she is sometimes ostracized by the Lao community or gossiped about. I remember my mom’s friend left her husband of twenty years for her American boss. People were shocked and couldn’t believe that she would abandon her kids and husband for someone else and go raise the other man’s kid instead of her own.

    What that Vietnamese man did was so horrible! It saddens and sickens me to see such cruelty and injustice.

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