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.
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.