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In the wake of the video release showing Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator, private stories about #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft have been flooding into public spaces like Twitter and other media outlets, as women and men step up to tell their stories of domestic violence. Asian-American voices, many of whom are often silenced due to cultural pressures, are now starting to speak out.
“Leaving an abusive situation is already a tremendous challenge for many survivors,” says Texas attorney Ramey Ko who has worked with many domestic violence survivors, “Financial support, safe stable housing, and child care for themselves and their children already pose significant challenges. When you add language and cultural barriers, immigrant status, and other similar issues into the mix, AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) victims can be even more marginalized and face greater barriers to leaving that are too often forgotten or ignored.”
According to a compilation of studies by the Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, 41–61% of Asian American respondents reported experiencing intimate, physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime. This violence, experts say, is often underreported.
Ko points to the importance of support—either through a personal network or through social services —as a key factor leading to resolution. But that support, Ko warns, may not be available for a number of reasons in Asian American families, including: if individuals have limited English proficiency, if breaking their silence means overcoming cultural stigmas, if ethnic or religious community groups aren't equipped to handle domestic violence issues, or if social service agencies aren't able to provide culturally or language appropriate assistance.
Immigration status adds an additional complication, in cases in which the victim, or other family members, may be dependent on the abuser to legally stay in the U.S., may not be authorized to work or support him/herself, or if there's mistrust of authorities.
Culturally-focused social service agencies, Ko says, are a great resource, but only when individuals know about them, so continued outreach and education are key.
Jong-Ling Wu, Senior Advocate/Hotline Coordinator with Center for Pacific American Families (CPAF), offers this advice for anyone attempting to help a survivor of domestic abuse: “Above all, remember that domestic violence is not the survivor’s fault: the abusive party made a choice to use violence. If someone discloses to you that they are abused, listen to them without judgment. Provide support and assurance that they are not to blame.”