Domestic violence victims and offenders represent all ethnicities and races. The United States is a culturally diverse society, and the problem of domestic violence and how to deal with batterers should be examined across these different cultures. When discussing an issue in relation to the major ethnic groups found in America, it is important to remember that only generalities can be used, as there is great diversity within each ethnic group as well. The main ethnic communities found in the United States, and covered in this research paper, include Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.
The breaking of a law or the commission of an act which is classified as breaking a norm or as being antisocial can cause society to react with a sanction against the offender. What is deemed an appropriate sanction for a particular act, such as domestic violence, varies from culture to culture. There has been little systematic research conducted and few clinical interventions developed specific to populations of color. While some aspects of domestic violence may supersede culture, cultural considerations need to be made when developing community response mechanisms and designing treatment or other interventions.
Acknowledging that domestic violence exists in minority cultures may be viewed as criticizing a culture itself. Cultural members may fear that the dominant society will use any information about domestic violence to reinforce negative stereotypes. Race is not always an indicator of who is at risk of domestic violence. as many of the statistics are generally consistent across racial and ethnic boundaries. One of the important differences is that domestic violence is thought to be more prevalent among immigrant women, who already face unique legal, social, and often economic problems compared with U.S. citizens.
Cultural dynamics may affect the woman’s acceptance of domestic violence as a part of her ‘‘role.’’ The same dynamics may discourage her from ‘‘leaving’’ her partner. The partner may in turn view his behavior as normal. Many minority women have a distrust of the court system and may believe that only men or those who are wealthy or have ties to the government will be believed or helped. Immigrant women may also fear deportation if they seek help or try to find a program for their batterers.
Many minority groups have a deep-seated distrust of the dominant culture and thus may believe that the police, social services, courts, and other institutions will not actually act in a protective fashion, and so they will not seek help. The stress of racism, discrimination in employment opportunities, and other economic inequalities may create additional barriers to the victim’s being able to leave or the batterer’s changing of his violent behavior. Even simply the lack of bilingual personnel may prevent minorities from utilizing available services. Additionally, many services ignore or negatively label cultural beliefs which may be helpful in addressing interpersonal violence.
Minority batterers may view therapy or treatment programs as another attempt by the dominant culture to be oppressive and controlling. This view may contribute to underutilization of treatment and premature dropout of those who do use the services. If one of the goals of the program is to raise self-esteem, providers should address cultural oppression as an important factor.
Many who provide treatment services to minority groups have the conviction that attempting to change behavior without recognizing their unique beliefs, traditions, and cultural differences results in inaccurate perceptions and limited success. By fostering admiration of one’s culture and stressing the importance of cultural connectedness, perhaps the ability to modify the offender’s behavior will improve. Until quite recently, much of the focus on cross-cultural issues relating to work with batterers has been found only at the grassroots level within a small number of varied male batterer programs. Only now are researchers finding that ethnicity and culture are critically important in designing treatment interventions for offenders. Recognizing differences in history, experiences of racism and oppression, as well as cultural and religious beliefs is important in designing responses.
The nature, extent, and meaning of ‘‘family’’ and its support differs among various racial and cultural groups. Even when dealing with minority batterers, the main goal of safety for all family members must remain. Oppression is not an excuse for violence; of course, a great many minority individuals are victims of racism yet do not resort to domestic violence. It should be stressed that it is important not to overgeneralize and assume that all members of a specific ethnic group think or act alike.
According to Census 2000 there are currently 2.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. There is little research on domestic violence batterer programs in Native communities. In addition to difficulty accessing services, Native American victims and batterers may also face the complex issue of jurisdiction, which depends on where the crime was committed, who committed the crime, and what exact crime was committed.
To many Native Americans, family is part of a broad kinship and tribal network, and its strength is based on interdependence and group affiliation, so a high value is placed on cooperation and harmony. While most Native Americans do not condone domestic violence, they do view it differently than does the mainstream Anglo culture. Because of extended kinship networks and the general view that there is relative equality and interdependence between men and women, violence in the family is not seen as a gender or feminist issue, where the man alone is to blame. Since both men and women bear responsibility for domestic violence, shelters and court systems that seem to blame and punish the man, while not helping to resolve the underlying problem and ignoring the woman’s behavior, are typically avoided.
Some alternative approaches to the intervention of the dominant society’s criminal justice system include tribal justice systems, restorative justice which turns to community support rather than the formal legal process to provide group conferencing, and sentencing circles. In tribal communities there is typically a large supportive group of people able to help both the victim and the offender. If the batterer was told to leave the community temporarily, when reentering the community the offender has to ask forgiveness from the direct victim as well as any indirect victims, such as other family members and friends as well as their community. While the tribe has a say in what will happen to the offender, in many tribes the direct victim also has a say; in other tribes the direct victim has no say in the matter. Depending on the traditional practices of the tribe involved, forms of redress for the victim of domestic violence will often include some type of offering by the batterer to the victim for the benefit of the tribe and to appease the spiritual beings associated with the tribe.
When working with Native Americans, counselors may wish to allow longer periods of silence, as is normal within the culture, and they may have greater success by posing general guiding questions rather than direct ones. Due to the complexity of the issue of domestic violence among Native Americans, a number of community resources may need to be involved in batterer programs, including tribal health, social services, law enforcement, legal assistance, mental health services, and addiction treatment centers.
The Hispanic population in the United States is mainly young, and two-thirds are concentrated in the states of California, New York, and Texas. The United States has 35.3 million Hispanics, which is the fifth largest such population in the world. Latinas and Latinos in the United States come from various countries throughout Central and South America as well as the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Some Latino families have been in the United States for generations, while others have arrived only recently.
Many Hispanic American cultures value group affiliation and sharing in the community. Even children are often viewed as belonging to the collective group of elders, so that no one would be unloved or not respected. Despite their diverse backgrounds, Hispanics tend to view any type of child abuse very negatively, although they are rather tolerant of domestic violence. Many Latinos value a linear approach to problems and prefer to comprehend relationships in the more solid terms of traditional ‘‘roles’’ rather than the abstract concept of ‘‘equality.’’ Thus Latinas may be less likely to view themselves as victims, and both Latinas and Latinos are less likely to seek help. While overall rates of domestic violence are similar between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, young Hispanic females experience higher rates of violence than non-Hispanics. Hispanic women also experience higher rates of sexual abuse by their significant others than non-Hispanic women.
Family is very important to Latino groups. Family is more important than the individual and is a source of pride, self-esteem, and self-worth. The emphasis on family can protect against violence and stress from the outside world but it can also make an individual unwilling to admit abuse and seek help with dysfunctional behaviors for fear that it might harm or bring shame to the family unit. Some Hispanics may have difficulty communicating to English speakers and may fear exposing members of their community to investigation regarding immigration status. There may also be a hesitance to involve an ‘‘outsider’’ and possibly threaten the family’s integrity.
Latino families often adapt to incorporate the immigration of other family members. They typically are involved in their Latino neighborhoods, so much of their socialization takes place in the barrios. They take pride in their heritage, and there is usually a strong involvement in and allegiance to the Catholic Church. As Catholicism is the primary religion of Hispanics, many abusive Latinos will turn to their priest for advice and assistance with their violence rather than seeking batterer services offered through a shelter or other program in the community. While some churches are ready to help victims with their plight, few are ready to offer services to the batterers.
Hispanic culture is also influenced by the concepts of machismo and marianismo. Machismo includes concepts of honor, courage, and a man’s obligation to be head of the family and provide for it. The negative side of machismo can be men’s use of violence to fulfill their role and an unwillingness to seek or accept help or services from outsiders. Marianismo is the female ideal of being like the Virgin Mary in terms of morality, integrity, or spiritual strength and self-sacrifice for the family. This norm may encourage women to tolerate abuse and pain in order to keep their family together. Many Latinas assume that violence is a part of marriage and the husband has the right to use physical discipline on her. They may also assume that if they told extended-family members of their abuse, they would not receive support and understanding but instead would bring shame to the entire family.
When working with Hispanic Americans, sensitivity to patriarchal family patterns, the importance of developing rapport, and the incorporation of spiritual practices may be advised. Factors to address include language barriers, experiences of racism and discrimination, lack of awareness of available services, viewing the violence as a private family matter, and fear of deportation. Due to the complexity of the issue of domestic violence among Hispanic Americans, a number of community resources may need to be involved in batterer programs, including religious services, public health, social services, interpreter services, law enforcement, legal assistance, mental health services, and addiction treatment centers.
According to Census 2000, there are 35.5 million African Americans in the United States, which is 13 percent of the total U.S. population. There seems to be a considerable range of tolerance of domestic violence in the African American community. This range of views probably stems from the differences in culture between African Americans who are descendents of slaves brought to this country, descendents of black freemen, and twentieth-century immigrants.
Traditionally, African American women had roles similar to Native American women, in which they were separate from but cooperatively interdependent with men. From pre-slavery days to the present time, African American women have endured hardship and discrimination to provide for their families. This stereotypical role may lead African American women to sacrifice their own needs and safety to take care of others.
Many African Americans value kin-structured networks where there is support both within and between families. While households are often quite adaptable and willing to care for children of friends, two-parent relationships in which both parties are treated equally are also valued. Many African American adults are steadfastly optimistic that things will be better for their children and succeeding generations. The children themselves are often resilient and able to take part in the dominant culture while respecting the values of their black heritage.
The propensity for domestic violence is not an African American biological or cultural trait. African Americans are disproportionately influenced by the societal factors of low income, unemployment, inadequate education, and urban crowding, which are correlated with higher rates of domestic violence. It should be recognized that African Americans are harmed by the police at much higher rates than whites, so their trust in batterer services offered by, affiliated with, or working in conjunction with the criminal justice system may understandably be lacking. There is evidence that African Americans may commit more physical domestic violence than members of other ethnicities, though the influences of poverty, education, health, and employment rates are important variables as well.
Whether the current rates of domestic violence in African American communities are traced back to white colonization and slavery or to current institutionalized racism, macro-level societal attitudes and policies (as with all minority violence) need to be examined and adjusted according to the needs of these communities. Additionally, assistance and guidance at the individual level for victims and for batterers need to be provided. African Americans view themselves in terms of their role within the bigger group rather than as individuals, so this role needs to be a focus in batterer intervention programs. There may also be an emphasis on the importance of extended family and cultural spirituality. When working with African American batterers, the value of extended family and the batterers’ roles in it should be recognized, and attention should be paid to nonverbal cues given by the client as well as by the counselor in return.
Census 2000 showed 11.9 million Asians in the United States, making up 4.2 percent of the U.S. population. Within the broad category of Asian American, there are more than twenty-four specific group affiliations, though Chinese and Filipino are the most common. Each Asian American group has a distinct culture and a different migration history. Many Asians are influenced by Confucian values which emphasize patriarchy, emotional control, duties, and obligations. Other Asians are typically Catholic, though others are influenced by Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Thus Asian Americans represent a very broad and diverse set of religions, a diverse range of ethnicities, and a diverse range of countries and cultures of origin.
Many Asian communities have strong patriarchal values that devalue women and girls and emphasize the importance of obedience. Suffering is seen as important in building a strong character, and harmony is valued over conflict. Many female Asian Americans may not report abuse in an effort to maintain harmony in the family and to avoid bringing shame to their family and community by involving outsiders. Many of these women may feel intense shame and anger about their abusive situations and do not wish to tell anyone about them; instead, they accept them as fate. Many Asian American males may view their behavior as acceptable and even expected according to cultural norms.
A number of factors contribute to the typical underreporting of domestic violence in Asian American communities. These factors, like those faced by Hispanic Americans, include language barriers, experiences of racism and discrimination, lack of awareness of available services, a ‘‘private matter’’ viewpoint, and fear of shame and/or deportation. Asian Americans tend to be quite accepting of physical punishment of children and are less likely to offer praise or public signs of affection. These views carry over into domestic violence; in fact, in many Asian languages there is no term for ‘‘domestic violence.’’
Individuals from Asian cultures typically do not include in their way of thinking psychological abuse as a type of domestic violence. They also tend to be more accepting of greater amounts of physical violence, depending on the circumstances, before they consider it abuse. If a woman flirts with another man or argues with her husband, physical force may be considered an appropriate response. This tolerance of abuse and blaming the victim may make many Asians less likely to view the way they are treated or the way they treat others as abuse and make them less likely to report the abuse or seek services for battering or advice from programs in the larger community. When working with Asian Americans, counselors should appreciate their concern with privacy, hierarchical family roles, and a strong relatedness between emotional problems and physical ailments.
Being a battered immigrant woman in America heightens the emotional trauma of domestic violence; the lack of culturally competent services and resources compounds the difficulty of escape. Some of the barriers that immigrant women face include personal issues such as shame and fear, institutional barriers such as strict immigration and welfare policies, and cultural barriers such as accepting their fate and gender role or the unacceptability of divorce.
Domestic violence victimization is thought to be more prevalent among immigrant women, who may have higher rates because they come from cultures which tend to accept domestic violence. Additionally, immigrant women may have less access to social services. The penalties and protections of the American legal system may not apply to them, or they may fear deportation if they turn to the legal system. Even legal residents distrust official channels based on their experiences with the systems in their native countries, where only those who were wealthy, had ties to the government, or were male were believed. There may also be language barriers, and victimized immigrant women may not have access to bilingual services to obtain financial assistance or food, be able to report a complaint to the police, or understand proceedings in court. Many immigrant women may not know basic survival skills such as how to drive a car or use public transportation. They also may not know how to use the phone or read a newspaper to locate a job or housing.
Strict immigration policies may make it difficult for women to leave an abusive spouse or sponsor, especially if they wish to have custody of a child born in America. Additionally, immigrant women may have been sending money to their parents or siblings in their country of origin. Being forced to leave the abuser would end this source of support for their family.
Batterers are typically aware of the plight of the immigrant victim. Some batterers will use these concerns to their advantage to further their control over the victim and ensure compliance. Other batterers may not realize that their behaviors are considered abusive in the United States, and even if they do realize it, they may fear seeking help due to their own or their spouse’s immigration status. Due to the complexity of the issue of domestic violence among immigrants, a number of community resources may need to be involved in batterer programs, including a wide variety of interpreter services, literacy education, religious services, public health, social services, employment assistance, law enforcement, immigration services, legal assistance, and mental health services.
To address the issue of domestic violence among minorities, both citizens and immigrants, several improvements could be made. Beyond offering bilingual services for victims and batterers, workers in the system should reach out to those who could use their services and explain what the services provide and how to obtain them. Culturally sensitive service providers need to build trust with the minority communities, understand how social and cultural discrimination against the minority group has impacted that group over time and how strengths within the minority culture can be used to facilitate change. Workers should take the first step toward bridging any barriers, racial or otherwise. Partnerships with immigrant and minority communities should be made so that close relations can be maintained, and needed adjustments to batterer and other programs will be recognized as early as possible.
Minority-group values and histories may explain the presence of violence, but they do not excuse it. Each minority group comprises a diverse set of communities. All minority groups have been subjected to racism and discrimination at a societal level. Efforts should be made to address poverty, racism, and other societal problems faced by minority communities on a large scale. Rather than simply incarcerating men of color who commit domestic violence and sending the abused wives to shelters, communities may benefit from integrating discussions of and services for victims and batterers into the ethnic community settings. Better options such as the development of batterer programs in lieu of incarceration may be viewed as a positive step as long as victims’ safety is ensured.
- Dasgupta, Shamita Das. ‘‘Women’s Realities: Defining Violence against Women by Immigration, Race, and Class.’’ In The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims, and Workers, edited by Barbara Raffel Price and Natalie J. Sokoloff, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004, pp. 361–373.
- Malley-Morrison, Kathleen, and Denise A. Hines. Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective: Defining, Understanding, and Combating Abuse. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2004.
- Presser, Lois, and Emily Gaarder. ‘‘Can Restorative Justice Reduce Battering?’’ In Price and Sokoloff, eds., The Criminal Justice System and Women, 2004, pp. 403–418.
- Walker, Samuel, Cassia Spohn, and Miriam DeLone. The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America, 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2004.