Domestic Violence and Asian Immigrant Women

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Domestic Violence and Asian Immigrant Women

Marianne R. Yoshioka, Ph.D.
Domestic Violence and Asian Immigrant Women is a descriptive study focusing on

attitudes toward and associated psychosocial factors of partner abuse among the diverse Asian immigrant community. From the collected sample, the Revised Attitudes toward Wife Abuse Scale (RAWA) was developed. This article presents initial findings of this research.
During the last decade partner abuse has emerged as a prominent issue in Asian immigrant communities in the United States. Since 1985, 10 different South Asian community organizations in the New York City area alone have developed programs to address the problem of partner violence in their communities. The New York Asian Women’s Center, a New York City domestic violence agency focusing specifically on East Asian women, reported approximately 3,000 inquiries for service during 1996, up from approximately 2,000 in 1990. This increase indicates a growing recognition that domestic violence is a problem within Asian American communities.

Asians are one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States. From 1980 to 1990 the number of Chinese, Koreans, and South Asians in the New York City area increased by 105%, 216%, and 103%, respectively (City of New York, 1995). In the social science and social work literatures, however, information regarding community attitudes towards domestic violence as well as the cultural context of service for battered women from these communities is virtually absent.

The limited research available suggests that a complex interweaving of cultural, environmental, and interpersonal factors contribute to risk for violence among immigrant families. Traditional Asian values of privacy, honor, self-restraint, harmony, and order (Hofstede, 1984; Hu & Chen, 1999; Kirkbride, Tang, & Westwood, 1991; McLaughlin & Braun, 1998) may encourage minimization and hiding of serious family problems (Ho, 1990). Also, recent immigrants lack the natural informal support networks customary in their native countries and are often unfamiliar with the organization and function of American social service systems. The resulting isolation can be compounded by a limited command of English (Das Dasgupota & Warrier, 1996).

Each of these factors contributes to understanding the circumstances of battered Asian women. Empirical research is needed to provide information necessary for the design of culturally competent domestic violence and batterer related services, and for training professionals working with Asian women living with violence.

Study Aims

The study described in this article was designed to address these needs. The study had three aims: (1) to describe attitudes toward partner abuse of the diverse Asian immigrant community; (2) to identify correlates of these attitudes; and (3) to identify psycho-social factors associated with abuse among Asian immigrant families.

Methods and Findings

Investigators have completed attitudinal surveys of 650 Chinese, Cambodian, Korean, Vietnamese, and South Asian adults. Analysis of the responses of the Chinese and Cambodian samples is complete. Inter-group differences of pro-violence beliefs have been examined and analysis of the responses of the other ethnic groups is underway. In addition, the investigators have completed revision of an existing measure of wife abuse attitudes.

Based on the sample of Chinese and Cambodian adults, the Revised Attitudes toward Wife Abuse Scale (RAWA) was developed (Yoshioka & DiNoia, 1999a). Originally developed by Briere (1987), the revised scale measures attitudes toward domestic violence in three related dimensions: situation-specific approval of violence; endorsement of male privilege; and perceived alternatives to abuse. For clinicians who work with battered women or batterers, the RAWA is a useful tool to assess attitudes toward violence in each of these dimensions. It provides social workers with a simple, easily scored, and reliable measure for assessment and intervention planning. The ability of the measure to detect ethnic differences suggests its utility in clinical settings, as a tool for identifying culturally relevant areas of risk, and for developing culturally sensitive intervention strategies.

Analyses of these attitudes found significant gender and cultural differences (Yoshioka & DiNoia, 1999b). A regression analysis found that gender, ethnicity, and witnessing parental domestic violence were significant predictors of attitudinal responses. Gender was a consistent predictor of each of the sub-scale scores. In each case, men endorsed attitudes more favorable toward wife abuse. Ethnicity was found to be predictive of attitudes of male privilege and perceptions of lack of alternatives available to women living with violence. In both cases, Cambodians scored higher than Chinese. Finally, witnessing a parent being hit by a partner predicted both approval of violence in specific situations and attitudes of male violence. Despite the fact that Asians are considered as one monolithic group, these analyses clearly demonstrate inter-group differences in attitudes toward wife abuse.

Additional objectives of this research have been to describe the health, employment, and family circumstances of battered Asian immigrant women, and to identify significant correlates of wife abuse. To date, in-depth interviews have been conducted with 15 battered Chinese immigrant women. Additional interviews are being conducted. Due to the investigators respect for the importance of privacy in this community, data collection is proceeding slowly. Preliminary analysis suggests that the overwhelming majority of women is under-employed in low paying jobs and sees few alternatives to living with violence.

Despite significant cultural barriers encountered in conducting this research the investigators are dedicated to understanding the circumstances of these battered women and identifying ways by which they may be better served.

The study’s principal investigator is Marianne R. Yoshioka, Ph.D.


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Das Dasgupta, S., & Warrier, S. (1996). In the footsteps of “Arundhati”: Asian Indian women’s experiences of domestic violence in the U.S. Violence Against Women, 2(3), 238-258.
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Yoshioka, M. R., & DiNoia, J. (1999b). Attitudes toward marital violence among Chinese and Cambodian adults. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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