Tag Archives: DV

The Hmong: Slow to change

26 Oct

The Hmong community is slowly turning around—and I do stress the word “slowly.”  It has taken the patriarchal Hmong society 30 years in the US to finally realize that we have a problem with domestic violence (DV).

via Flickr (wordcat57)

In July of this year, a conference called “Breaking the Silence Collaboratively: Creating Healthy Families for the Present & Future” took place in Wausau,WI.  This conference was to train Hmong clan leaders in mediation and give them protocols as to how to deal with victims of DV.  This conference was the result of Vang Pao’s efforts in putting a stop to DV in the Hmong community in 2009.  From what I’ve heard and read, the 18 clans in Wisconsin did not initially cooperate with DV advocates.

Mai Tong Cha, executive director of Hmong American Women’s Association in Milwaukee, stated in an interview that she did not agree with the protocols the 18 clans have developed.  She believed that the clans will not help victims because the clans don’t address the abuser and make him accountable for his actions.  In the same interview, Pa Vang, from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, didn’t think the guidelines are fair to Hmong women.  Pa stated that the new protocols don’t differ from the traditional clan system.  The protocols only tell a woman who she can turn to when she needs help—and law enforcement or DV agencies are not an option.  Additionally, Hmong DV advocates in Wisconsin banded together to sign a letter stating that they did not agree with the new guidelines the 18 clans have developed during “Breaking the Silence.”  They were concerned and felt these new guidelines will only jeopardize the safety of Hmong women in abusive relationships.

As a result of this division between the clan system and DV advocates, on October 15th 2011, there was a public meeting called “Hmong Mediation Protocols: A Public Dialogue and Input Session” in Wausau, WI.  The purpose of this is (1) To inform the public of how the 18 Clan Council works in Wisconsin and how it affects the Hmong community; and (2) Set up new policies for the 18 clans to follow when dealing with victims of DV.

Right after this, the 18 Clan Council in Wisconsin came up with guidelines, such as a DV victim can now call 911 or other agencies that will help them, in addition to calling their clan leaders and family members.  It’s a shame that in today’s world, a victim being abused still needs to get “permission” from her clan to call for help from “outsiders” or she’ll be negatively labeled.  I don’t think the Hmong clan system should trump the American laws.  What kind of culture neglects to follow the laws of the land they’re living in and create their own legal system?

I am shaking my head in disbelief and wondering why it has taken the Hmong 30 years to finally acknowledge domestic violence as a community, but I am glad the community is slowing changing.  There is still a lot of education that needs to be done: Educating the Hmong around power and control, different types of abuse, effects DV has on the children, effects of traditions, etc.

Although I live in California and the change took place in WI, I am hoping that this change will create a ripple effect and influence the Hmong everywhere else in the United States, and hopefully the world.  It may seem a surprise and not much of a big change for my non-Hmong readers that DV victims can finally call 911 for help.  However, this is a big leap because—if you’ve been following me this month—involving law enforcement is not the answer.  The clan system plays a huge role in family mediation and calling law enforcement or seeking help from DV/SA agencies are greatly discouraged.

Domestic violence advocates are planting tiny seeds in hopes that they will grow into blooming trees.  It’s a struggle, but well worth it.  The older generation—those whose strings are strongly attached to traditions—are retiring.  It is up to us, the younger generations, whether we are immigrants or first generation Hmong in the US, to educate ourselves and work towards making positive changes in our culture and community.  I am not saying to let go of our culture and traditions completely, but let go of those that are holding us back.  We need to work together to stop the cycle of violence from continuing from one generation to the next.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Hmong murder-suicides

22 Oct

In November 1998, Young Sayaxang Lee (37) fatally shot his wife, Maichao Vang (28), and also shot and killed himself.  The oldest daughter (11) discovered her mother’s body in the bedroom of their home and called 911.  Police discovered Young’s body in the basement.

In 2006, Joanne Khang (25) was stabbed to death by her husband, Kou Khang (30).  Kou also stabbed himself to death.

In Weston, WI, Chor Xiong (39) shot and killed his estranged wife, Padalina Thao (29) and critically wounded her boyfriend, Pao Chang (41) on September 14, 2006.  Padalina was staying at a women’s shelter in Wausau.  Chor laid in wait in the basement for Padalina and her boyfriend to pick the children up at 7am and shot them when they arrived.

On August 20, 2007, May Yang (31) moved to Fresno, CA to escape her abusive common law husband, Ker Vang (41).  Ker traveled from MN to Fresno, tracked down his wife, and fatally shot her and himself in front of family members.

Around the same time, Chor Thao killed his pregnant wife, Pa Houa.  Chor later stabbed himself to death after being chased by police.

In 2008, Ying Moua (33) fatally shot his wife, Bouavanh Moua (32), their 2-year-old twins, and wounding their 3-year-old daughter, then turned the gun on himself.

In 2009, Dang Xiong (24) shot and killed his wife, Pa Hou Vang (22), outside their home around 11 pm.  He, then, shot and killed himself.

In August of this year, Jenny Moua (22) was shot to death in Merced, CA.  Her ex-fiance fled the scene to Fresno, informed a family member of what he did, and fatally shot himself.

The Hmong community credits murder-suicides to adultery, when wives cheat and leave their husbands for their boyfriends.  In July of 2009, the late and former Major General Vang Pao was invited as the keynote speaker to address domestic violence (DV) in Wausau, WI.  This was the efforts of Hmong social service groups in WI, MN, and CA after a string of murder-suicides were committed in the Hmong community in 2008 and early 2009.

Although I know that Vang Pao’s message meant well, there were a lot of it that shouldn’t have been said.  He stated that the number one reason why the Hmong can’t support each other and live peacefully (in regards to domestic violence; Hmoob txoj kev tsis txhawb nqa thiab txoj kev tsis sib haum xeeb) is because of adultery.

He goes on talking about how Hmong women in the US don’t care for traditions and do whatever they please despite what the clans say.  Vang Pao stated that when the Hmong were still in Laos, they had their own laws, and this—women doing whatever they please, adultery, murder-suicides, DV—didn’t happen.  Now that the Hmong are in the US, the idea of freedom changes us.  According to him, the US legal system is very different from the Hmong traditional ways, and takes the women’s sides most of the time.  Vang Pao stated that a woman can report sexual assault by her husband and he’ll be jailed.  (FYI: In the state of California, it is a felony for anyone to sexually assault their spouse. PC 262).

The part of his speech that offended me the most was when Vang Pao stated that a man is very possessive of his wife.  Even a male fly cannot land on his wife without invoking the jealous wrath inside of him.  Women have to know that their husbands are controlling and possessive in this way, so they shouldn’t do anything to provoke him.  If a man worries about his wife wandering off, he should not allow her to work and just stay at home.

When someone as respected and honored as Vang Pao stands in front of the Hmong community and tells them that victims of DV should know that their husbands are possessive and jealous and for them to not provoke their husbands in any way, he is telling them that it’s their fault if they’re abused.  I may have misconstrued what Vang Pao said, but that was the message implied.  I respect Vang Pao for his efforts to put an end to DV in the Hmong community.  Why, in early 2010, Vang Pao helped with the funeral arrangements of DV victim Mai See Chang when her husband’s family would not give her a funeral.  On November 28, 2009, Mai See died mysteriously right before her husband was set to go to trial for DV charges.  Mai See was a DV client at Valley Crisis Center in Merced, CA.

Domestic violence is the underlying cause of murders and murder-suicides in intimate partnership.  It is the last and most extreme form of abuse and power and control: If I can’t have you, no one will.  A woman’s danger level increases drastically when she leaves her abuser.  Men are more likely to kill than any other time in their abusive relationships when they know their partners are leaving or have left.  This is because when a woman leaves, he no longer has control over her.  In order to maintain control, the abuser resorts to extreme measures: taking away the children, escalated physical abuse, or—as a last resort—murders or murder-suicides.

Many people, including the Hmong, don’t see it this way.  Yes, some women cheat on their husbands.  Yes, some women leave their husbands for their lovers.  I don’t condone these actions.  However, the actions of the wives do not give the Hmong men any right or excuse to harm or kill their partners.  (Back in Laos, it was very acceptable to “punish” your wife in this way).  And most of the time, the reason why the men would resort to such resolution is when there is already domestic violence in the home.

All of the murder-suicides mentioned are examples of extreme cases of domestic violence.  It is clear that each couple had a history of DV, even if it wasn’t openly stated by reporters.  “Domestic discord” that plagued the family.  They loved each other, but “turmoil plagued the marriage.”  Suspect making “terrorist threats” to the victim.  Sugar-coating or glossing over domestic violence does not do justice to the victims, their families, or survivors of DV.

It’s unfortunate that DV would catch the Hmong community and its leaders’ attention only after so many women were killed by their husbands or partners.  Yet, this is the reality.  To many cultures—especially the Hmong—it is not considered DV until there are bruises or someone dies.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

The biggest challenges for Hmong domestic violence victims

18 Oct

Those who do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence (DV) believe that a victim can just leave her abuser whenever she wants to.  “If it’s that bad, why don’t you just leave?  It must not be that bad, because you keep going back to him.  You have been married to him for 20 years; why’d you stay for that long?”

There are numerous reasons as to why a woman stays with her abuser.  Fear, no money, no support system, the children, immigration issues, addiction, disability, having no self-esteem/self-confidence, and the list goes on and on.  Hmong victims of DV experience these challenges in addition to others specific to the Hmong society.

The biggest challenge any Hmong woman face associated with DV in America is their tie to their culture and community.

Just imagine growing up in a culture where the males have the authority and you’re taught from the day you were born to respect your family over your own needs.  Before a Hmong woman can reach outside her community for help, she would have to jump over this hurdle.  And doing this takes a lot of strength and courage.

I don’t conform to Hmong traditions that oppress women.  And because of this, sometimes, when the subject arises, people question my loyalty to my culture.  “Why do you hate your people so much?  Why do hate your own culture?  Why are you not a good daughter/daughter-in-law?”  It’s not because I hate my culture or my people; I love my culture—our history, the food, our traditional clothing, our language, music, etc—I just don’t appreciate traditions that oppress my rights as a human being simply because I am a woman.

Sometimes not conforming to culture may lead the community to look down on you, say that you have abandoned your culture, and ostracize you.  Keep in mind that the Hmong value reputation and so being excluded from the community is not something a woman may want.  Many Hmong women only seek help within their Hmong community because of this.  One form of help—which, in my opinion is not very helpful to victims of DV—is the clan system.  Your clan (or family) takes care of your problems.

As stated in an earlier blog, there are 18 official Hmong last names.  These make up 18 official clans.  (I am from the Yang clan; My spouse is from the Xiong clan, which makes me a part of the Xiong clan as well).  The elders (fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, great-uncles) in the clan are the leaders.  When you have problems, you seek out your clan leaders for help.

When a couple is having marital problems, they discuss their problems with their clan leaders.  DV has always been a taboo topic.  You simply just sweep it under the carpet, and this is what the clans have been doing for a very long time.  If a woman requests a mediation with the clan leaders because her husband is abusing her, they will—almost always—tell her to go back home, be patient, and deal with it  (Note: Telling a DV victim to go back to her abuser with no safety plan is very careless and dangerous).

Divorce is highly discouraged, so to many Hmong women, divorce is not the answer.  And if she does have a divorce, she ends up having a bad reputation.  It doesn’t matter what the reasons are for her divorce.  A Hmong woman could’ve divorced her husband because he was cheating or he was abusive, but to others, she has failed as a wife.  And if she were the one to want the divorce and get divorced, many people will change the story to her husband divorced her because of her inability to provide for him.  (Hmoob yuav thuam thiab hais tias nws yog ib tug poj niam tsis zoo es nws thiaj li nrauj nws tus txiv).

Sometimes, because the clan leaders do not grant a divorce, the wife may leave her husband (ua nkauj fa).  Leaving your husband without a divorce is the worst thing a Hmong woman can do to ruin her reputation and that of her family’s.  She is leaving her husband without the consent of her clan, so she is abandoning her duties as a wife and as a daughter.  Leaving your husband is a bigger stigma than divorce and has a history of adulterous wives who leave their husbands for their lovers.  Because of this connotation, even if a Hmong woman’s intentions are genuine, others may not believe so.

Feeling obligated to follow traditions, believing that divorce is not the answer, and not having the support system that a victim may need to gather enough courage to seek help (because family continuously tell her to go back to her abuser) are the biggest barriers a Hmong woman may have.  Other barriers may be not speaking English, being misinformed or not informed of resources available, and—like all DV victims—the feeling of helplessness.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Hmong views on domestic violence

13 Oct

Enough is enough! (via Wild Heart Association)

The Hmong are very resistant to change.  It’s because of our refusal to change our culture that we were in war with the Chinese for such a long time.  In Asia, the Hmong mainly live in remote regions, so they practice their culture with no interference.  They are slower to assimilate.  In America, we live in the midst of everything.  Those who came to the US as babies or little children assimilate quickly to the American culture.  Most of those who came here as adults are very stubborn to change.

Domestic violence (DV) is tolerated and accepted as a norm in the general Hmong communities.  It is not encouraged, however, the abuser does not get punished if he does abuse.  There is no such thing as DV and what many DV agencies around the nation consider DV is considered normal marital disputes.  (Keep in mind that not every Hmong person accepts DV or abuses their partner).

If you ask any older Hmong person about DV, they will claim that there has never been DV in the Hmong culture until life in America.  Many Hmong claim that the American lifestyle has turned Hmong men toward violence because of the changes that they cannot control, such as their female partners straying from the traditional norms that hold a marriage and household together and demanding independence.

This is an excerpt from a news article online about addressing DV in the Hmong community from Suab Hmoob Broadcasting, a very popular Hmong news source.

In America, many of the Hmong couples’ issues arise when Hmong wives ignore Hmong clan system and cross over to the American law.  When this happens, the two clan involved are powerless to help resolve the issues for the couples because American laws do not recognize the Hmong clan system.  Now, the couple must cope their issues with the American law by paying court fees, counseling fees, deal with restraining orders, and etc….  In some cases, Hmong wives try to drop the cases because they see the unnecessary consequences that they were going through, sometimes by mistake, but the court denies them.  These are parts of the pressures that lead to the many killings in Hmong couples.

The author of this article states that the reason why there are Hmong murders or murder-suicides in America is because a woman seeks help away from the Hmong community.  And a man kills his wife because of being pressured to do so.

Another example from WSAW-TV from 2007.

The Hmong community says violence isn’t part of their culture, but that some Hmong families are struggling with a big change in culture.  Everyone I spoke to said things like DV, murder, or suicide has never been accepted in Hmong traditions.  In fact, Dr. Mia Na Lee at the University of MN told me DV rarely happened in their home country of Laos, and it didn’t become a real issue until they began moving to the US.  Dr. Lee said that’s because many Hmong families are still dealing with some culture shock, trying to adapt their traditionally male-dominated society, to one where women are independent.

I disagree that DV is not a part of the Hmong culture.  If you look at the Hmong culture through the lens that DV consists only of physical abuse and murder-suicides, then yes, DV is not part of the Hmong culture—or any culture for that matter.  However, as you have learned from my first post this month, DV is much more profound than being beaten or killed.  The intention of domestic violence is to gain and maintain power and control (Please refer back to the Power and Control Wheel).  And do the Hmong men desire to have the authority and control in a relationship or marriage? Yes!

Examples:

  • Not allowing partner to have or go out with her friends.
  • Not allowing partner to pursue higher education or discouraging her from doing so.
  • Needing to know where partner is at all times.
  • Not allowing partner to go anywhere unless he goes along.
  • Strict gender roles where the women serve the men.
To blame an abuser’s actions on changes in lifestyle is not making him accountable.  The dynamics of power and control within the Hmong culture existed before the Hmong immigrated to the US.  In Asia, Hmong men exerted power and control over the women.  It was just that the women never questioned the patriarchal lifestyle.  Yes, the American lifestyle may have empowered Hmong women to seek individuality, education, and independence, but it did not turn Hmong men toward violence.  The Hmong culture sets the stage for violence with every traditional norm that gives the men power and control over the women.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Discussion question:
Do you agree or disagree that Hmong cultural norms such as gender roles, weddings, and marriage dynamics set the stage for DV to happen?  Why or why not?

Traditional Hmong weddings and marriages

8 Oct

The Hmong consists of 18 last (sur) names, making up 18 official clans.  It is taboo to marry someone from the same clan.  For instance, someone with the Yang last name cannot marry another Yang.  In some families, it is also taboo to marry someone with the same clan name as your mother’s maiden name.

There are 3 different ways a couple can initiate a wedding.

The first one is a formal proposal.  This is when a man and representatives from his family do a formal house call.  They bring gifts and money and ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage.

The second one is the most common way couples get married.  When a man is interested in marrying someone, he gives her a gift.  If she accepts it, it means she agrees to marry him.  The gift isn’t necessarily an engagement ring; it could come in the form of jewelry, clothes, or simple trinkets.  American Hmong nowadays rarely practice this tradition of gift-giving before marriage.

The groom will then “take” his bride, or she will “run away” with him, on a later date.  This symbolic elopement is to “prove” to the guy that she loves him enough to leave her family.  After the couple gets to the groom’s house, his family will send an envoy to the bride’s family to announce that their daughter is with them.

The third is bride-napping (zij poj niam).  This is a very abusive tradition.  This happens when a man has no respect for the female’s feelings and decides that even if she doesn’t want to marry him, he will force her to.  Sometimes the man will give her a gift (refer to above) and not let his intentions be known.  Here, in the US, he may tell the girl he wants to take her out and instead take her to his house.  In Asia, he may come to her house when her parents are not home and literally carry or drag her home with the help of male friends or relatives.

Now, if the bride had accepted a gift from the groom, there’s basically nothing she or her family can do to stop the wedding from taking place.  (This is why growing up, my grams and mom advised me over and over again to never accept gifts from any boys even when there wasn’t a motive behind it).  If the groom did not give her a gift, or if she didn’t accept anything, she can go back to her family.

Because many Hmong are so tied to their traditions, that even if the tradition is a bad one (like bride-napping), they accept it as a norm.  In the US, the girl’s parents don’t call law enforcement.  And if they call up their clan leaders to object to the wedding, the leaders may say that what’s done is done and there is nothing they can do about it.  The girls—even if they were born in the US and are accustomed to American culture and laws—will abide by whatever their parents say because that is their culture and those are their parents.

Many times, the groom’s family will tell a kidnapped bride that if she calls the police, she will disgrace her family.  Additionally, the groom may rape his kidnapped bride so that she will be too shameful to go back home because now, she is damaged goods.  (Virginity is valued in traditional Hmong culture.  You don’t have premarital sex.  The only time you should have sex is after marriage with your spouse).  Remember that the Hmong culture values family and reputation.  And everything you do, you have to think about saving your family’s face or their reputation.  So, you don’t go to the police and you marry the man who kidnapped and raped you.  And if you had accepted a gift from him, society put the blame on you.

Other times, forced marriages are results of sexual assaults and/or pregnancies.  You have to marry the person who sexually assaulted you and/or got you pregnant.  Why?  Because you have to save face.

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Before a wedding can take place, both clans have to agree on a bride price.  The bride price ranges from $3,000 – $10,000, depending on the worth of the bride (e.g., if she has no sisters, she is worth more; education level—sometimes this may lower or increase the bride price depending on the values of the family; her repuation).

The bride price is given to the bride’s family by the groom’s family.  The bride price is to compensate the bride’s family for the “loss” of a hand to help around the house.  Additionally, the bride price was an assurance for the bride’s family that the groom will treat her with respect.  The higher the bride price, the higher the value of a bride, the more her family expects her new husband to treat her well.  However, this tradition has lost its meaning with time.  The bride price now suggests to the groom that he is “buying” his wife, which means, he owns her.  (The word for “to get married” in Hmong means “to buy”).

Because the bride price carries such a bad connotation, some Hmong families today do not practice this tradition.  And if they do, they give the bride price money to the newlywed couple to start their lives.

It is normal to see age gaps between Hmong married couples.  A middle-aged man may have a wife as young as 16 years old (sometimes even younger).  If a man can’t find a willing young bride in the US, he will travel overseas, mainly to Thailand and Laos, to marry one.  I have heard numerous middle-aged men talk that the Hmong females in America are independent and “hard to control.”  It is much easier to marry someone from overseas who will serve them well as an ideal housewife.

Although it is becoming rare in 1st generation children in the United States, the Hmong still practice polygamy.  (First generation children refers to those born in the US of immigrant parents).  Polygamy gives the Hmong men a message that women (or wives, for that matter) are easily replaced and dispensable.  If you are not happy with your wife, marry another one.  If you cannot have children, it’s the wife’s fault, so marry another one.  If your wife does not bare you sons, marry another one (ignorance towards reproduction).

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Discussion question:
What do you think of the Hmong traditions in regards to weddings and marriages?

The Hmong patriarchy and values

3 Oct

The Hmong culture is very patriarchal.  The men make the rules and the women follow them.  The men are the clan leaders.  The men are the head of the families.  The men make all the “big” decisions.  Sons are valuable assets to a family because they are the ones who will carry on the clan name and are expected to take care of the parents in old age.

Women are viewed as second class.  Our role is to simply take care of the men and bare their children.  Daughters are not desirable because once we’re married, we belong to our husband and take on his clan name.  Women are considered properties of their husbands.  Thus, there is a general lack of respect for women and our opinions.  (Too many times have I heard the commonly used phrase, “You’re just a woman; you don’t know anything”).

The Hmong society has very rigid gender roles.  A man should be strong and never show emotions.  A man should have a job to support his family.  He is the “man of the house.”  He should put his wife “in check.”  A man is in control, he is never at fault, and he is always right.  A man’s needs are above that of a woman.

A Hmong woman should be submissive, listen to her husband, and know her place.  She is not encouraged to have an education or a job, although this is changing in America.  And because of this change, it has caused a lot of conflicts in marriages where the husband still holds on to traditional norms or is slow to assimilate.  And in order to control his wife from being educated and/or independent, a Hmong man may resort to domestic violence.

The Hmong put great emphasis on their families, clans, and the good of the group as a whole.  Every major decision made by an individual should be based on how it will benefit the family, not how it would benefit the individual.

Reputation and “saving face” are valued above all.  You should not do anything that will taint your name or the name of your family.  Until you are married and make a name for yourself, you hold your father’s reputation.  If he is a bad person, people will attach his image to yours.  If he is a good person, you will be viewed as a good person and/or people will have high expectations of you to uphold your father’s honor.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

Discussion question:
How do you think a patriarchal society and high values of family and reputation affect victims of domestic violence?

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

1 Oct

Display a purple ribbon; Raise awareness about domestic violence.

October is Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States.  I am dedicating this month’s blog posts to something that I am very passionate about: Domestic Violence (DV), especially in the Hmong community.  Each blog entry during this month will be a segment of how Hmong traditions/traditional norms set the state for DV and how these norms affect Hmong DV victims.

Last year, I wrote a blog about how hard it is for DV victims to seek help outside of the Hmong community.  This month, I will repost that blog (in parts) and add to it.

Before I examine the Hmong culture and traditions, I am give an abridged educational session on the dynamics of domestic violence so that you may understand where I am coming from.  My Hmong readers may think I must certainly dislike the Hmong culture or hate my own people for why would I judge the Hmong and our cultural norms.  I am simply expressing my opinions from the perspective of a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate.

What is domestic violence?  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines DV as:

…the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.  It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background.  Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control.  Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death.  The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and truly last a lifetime.

Domestic violence is a learned behavior.  An abuser’s behavior is learned and reinforced through their culture, social groups, and the media.  It is not caused by illness, genetics, alcohol/drugs, behavior of the victim, stress, or problems in the relationship, although these are the excuses an abuser and/or others will use to justify his actions.  An abuser is responsible for his actions and should be held accountable.  It is never the victim’s fault that she is being abused.

When people hear about domestic violence, they generally associate it with physical abuse because it is more apparent.  In many cultures around the world—including the Hmong—it is not considered DV until there are blood and bruises or someone dies.

The following are the different types of abuse found in an abusive relationship:

  • Physical abuse: It involves pushing, hitting, kicking, holding, strangling, pulling hair, slapping, throwing things, and hickeys.
  • Sexual abuse: Rape, sexual harassment, touching, grabbing, molestation, statutory rape, coercion, etc.
  • Verbal & Emotional abuse: I’ve lumped these two types of abuse together because abusers use verbal abuse to cause emotional abuse.  Examples are: name calling, yelling, shouting, sarcasm, swearing, humiliating, insulting, put downs, neglect, threats of harm (either to self, victim, or victim’s friends/family/pets).
  • Mental/Psychological abuse: Punching walls, destroying properties, mind games, manipulation, stalking.
  • Economic abuse: Not allowing partner’s name on bank accounts or mutual assets, giving an allowance, not allowing partner to spend money unless given permission.
  • Isolation: Not allowing partner to have friends or ties to family.  Demanding to know where partner is going, who will be there, and how long partner will be gone.  Or may not allow partner to go anywhere at all.

Domestic violence is never an isolated behavior.  The Duluth Power and Control Wheel below visually demonstrates the patterns of violence that an abuser intentionally uses to gain and maintain power and control over another person in an intimate relationship.

The Duluth Power and Control Wheel. Click for a larger view.

Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that allow others to become aware of the problem.  However, regular use of other abusive behaviors by the batterer, when reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger system of abuse.  Although physical assaults may occur only once or occasionally, they instill threat of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to take control of the woman’s life and circumstances.

Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of these other types of abuse.  They are less easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship [www.ncdsv.org].

The rim of the wheel, or the tire, displays physical and sexual abuse.  This is what gives the abuser strength and holds the wheel together.  Each spoke of the wheel represents a particular tactic that an abuser uses (e.g., intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, etc).  The hub, or center of the wheel lies the intention of abuse: to gain power and control.  And an important thing I want to stress is that there doesn’t have to be physical or sexual abuse for anyone to be in an abusive relationship.

Domestic violence does not discriminate.  It can happen to anyone from all parts of the world, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education level, or religion.  In the United States, 1 in every 4 women (25%)  will experience violence in her lifetime.

Although the dynamics of DV may change a little for Hmong women because of culture, the element of power and control still exist.  The unchanging thousands of years old patriarchal culture of the Hmong—in the midst of a modern world—sets the stage for DV and allows for social tolerance.  Join me this month to discover how traditions influence Hmong societal views on DV and how that affect women impacted by violence.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.