Intimate partner violence against Asian American women: moving from theory to strategy.

Author:Lee, Donna H.
Position:Introduction through II. Interpreting Data and Conceptualizing Categories, p. 315-344

Despite theoretical advances in understanding intimate partner violence (IPV), practical strategies for addressing the destruction it wreaks on individuals, families, and communities have stagnated. Criminal prosecutions of domestic violence, legal services to help IPV survivors obtain civil orders of protection, emergency shelters, and social services counseling provide help, but fall short. Examining social science data through an intersectional lens, this Article generates new approaches that are tailored to a specific demographic group: Asian American women. Analysis of the research done by social workers, sociologists, psychologists, and organizers about the experiences of Asian American IPV survivors yields three conceptual frames: individual, situational, and structural. I use these frames to construct and support specific proposals for working with women who choose to stay with their abusive partners, and for effecting systemic change in state court systems.

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION I. Providing Context A. The Work that Went Before B. Describing Asian American Women II. Interpreting Data and Conceptualizing Categories A. Understanding the Social Science Literature B. Individual Factors: The Prism of Culture 1. Family Primacy 2. Patriarchy 3. Gender Role Norms C. Situational Factors: Immigrant Experiences 1. Patrilocality 2. Economic Dislocation 3. Isolation III. Structural Factors and External Impediments A. State Courts' Continuing Failure to Provide Necessary Interpretation Services B. Racialized Opposition to Opening A Domestic Violence Shelter For Asian American Women IV. The Work that Lies Ahead A. Helping Asian American Women Who Stay 1. Thinking Expansively About Safety Planning 2. Building Supportive Communities 3. Implementing an Anti-Subordination Principle B. Helping Asian American Women Who Go To Court 1. Providing Language Access 2. Improving Fact-Finding and Remedies CONCLUSION INTRODUCTION

This Article seeks to move from a theoretical discussion about violence against Asian American women to evidence-based proposals for addressing the problem. Critical race theory and feminist theory have long called for the inclusion of other voices in the discourse about our individual and collective experiences. Scholars and activists have worked to recognize and name the ways in which race and gender shape our perspectives and choices. Understanding and describing, however, is not enough. The next step is to prescribe: how can we use the insights we gain through particularized examination? Focusing on a defined problem as experienced by a discrete demographic population, I conclude by proposing strategies that are targeted to assist Asian American women. The problem is intimate partner violence (IPV)--that is, violence between people who are or have been in an intimate partner relationship. (1) The population is Asian American women, (2) and the proposals are rooted in their experiences. (3)

Mining social science research, (4) I first analyze IPV against Asian American women through two lenses: individual and situational. These lenses represent an internal, identity-based perspective and an outward looking perspective. The studies that discuss individual identity reveal culturally-defined (1) family primacy, a presumption that family interests trump individual interests, (2) patriarchy, and (3) gender role norms as risk factors for IPV and barriers to help-seeking behavior. Consideration of situational factors is dominated by the immigrant experiences of the more than half of Asian Americans who are foreign born. (5) The social science literature identifies the following external circumstances correlated with IPV: (1) patrilocality, or physical proximity to one's patrilineal family, (2) economic dislocation, and (3) multiple forms of isolation.

Refocusing more broadly, I next examine how societal and governmental structures intersect to exacerbate the problem of IPV against Asian American women. This third, structural lens reveals an immigration system that empowers abusers, and the continuing failure of state courts to provide adequate interpretation services. These institutional barriers deny Asian American women equal access to the courts. State court systems adjudicate civil orders of protection, custody and visitation, child support, and divorce cases, and the failure to provide adequate interpretation renders critical legal remedies unavailable. A case study of a local New York City community's racialized opposition to opening a domestic violence shelter for Asian American women and children provides one example of the particularized structural barriers facing Asian American survivors.

The work of effecting change for individuals, their families, and their communities requires both long- and short-term strategies. For many Asian American women, the cultural pull of family primacy and the post-immigration construction of family as a site of refuge on unfamiliar shores require the development of alternatives for those who choose to stay with their abusive intimate partners. Shifting from the prevailing paradigm of conditioning assistance on the act of leaving necessitates a focus on home-based strategies. Patrilocality and the enabling behavior of family members, whether acquiescence or participation in abuse, calls for education in the community and in the courts. Naturally, real access to state court remedies, like civil court orders of protection, depends on providing adequate interpretation services.

Part I provides the theoretical and empirical context for this Article. I review the scholarly literature on IPV against women of color, reexamining the relevance of culture. Using census data, I then outline pertinent demographic information. Part II analyzes the social science literature on IPV against Asian American women from the six country groups that census data identifies as having the largest populations in the United States. Part III explicates structural impediments that limit options for Asian American women who experience IPV. Part IV outlines two strategic approaches for working with Asian American survivors: (1) developing frameworks for supporting those who choose to stay in abusive relationships, and (2) identifying reforms and training that would improve access to and the effectiveness of civil orders of protection.

  1. Providing Context

    1. The Work that Went Before

      The idea of moving women of color from the margins to the center of analysis and discussion has been in the public discourse for over twenty-five years. (6) One element of this centering process has been an examination of the intersection of race and gender in the context of IPV. (7) The shift from treating violence against women as a private matter to recognizing it as a public matter, subject to legal and governmental regulation, represents critical progress. Yet, the development of public responses to IPV has been critiqued as too narrowly focused on the concerns of white, middle-class women. (8) While women of different races and ethnicities experience gender violence differently, systemic responses such as shelters for battered women and the criminalization of domestic violence were developed for women in general. In practice, white women have served as a proxy for "women in general."

      Social science and legal scholarship that focuses on racial identity and racialized...

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