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

Author:Lee, Donna H.
Position:III. Structural Factors and External Impediments through Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 344-370

III. Structural Factors and External Impediments

Examining IPV against Asian American women through a structural lens contextualizes the preceding discussion of individual and situational factors. (139) Broader societal forces and institutional failures profoundly limit the range of options available to Asian American survivors. For example, although one's sense of family primacy may derive from cultural norms, the dearth of language-accessible, culturally appropriate social, legal, and criminal justice services obviously hinders help-seeking. Similarly, an immigration system predicated on marriage creates vulnerability to abuse, amplifying the impact of patrilocality. Culturally specific norms may pull Asian American women towards abusive families and unsympathetic ethnic communities, but indifferent or hostile social and legal service providers push hard in the same direction. Societal racism and racialized responses to community-based organizations that focus on minority groups exacerbate the problem.

Given that more than half of Asian Americans are immigrants, familiarity with the system for achieving legal status and citizenship is critical. Family-based immigration law generally gives the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse control over the citizenship process. (140) In the context of IPV, privileging the marital sponsor fosters an immigrant beneficiary's dependency and facilitates the development of an abusive relationship. (141) A batterer can harm an intimate partner by failing to initiate the necessary administrative process. (142) Manipulation of employment-based immigration law is another form of abuse. Those who enter the United States on work visas are dependent on their sponsoring employers, and "[b]atterers have been reported to disrupt and threaten immigrant women's jobs." (143) Additionally, deportation provisions based on relatively minor crimes, such as shoplifting, can fuel victimization: "[A] batterer ... who successfully involves his partner in criminal activity can use this criminal history to threaten or to have deported any noncitizen immigrant partner, even legal permanent residents." (144)

The difficulty that Asian American women experience in trying to gain access to language-specific, culturally appropriate legal services compounds the problem. As a practical matter, survivors who do not speak English or have limited English proficiency cannot access immigration or other legal remedies absent adequate interpretation services. Despite explicit funding provisions in VAWA 2005 that seek to target underserved communities, (145) the capacity of organizations serving non-English speaking populations falls short of the need. State governments have also recognized the imperative to serve racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups, (146) but this recognition has yet to yield sufficient programmatic capacity to serve these minority populations.

  1. State Courts' Continuing Failure to Provide Necessary Interpretation Services

    State court systems generally handle not only requests for orders of protection, but also issues related to child custody, visitation, and support that critically affect the lives of IPV survivors. Nevertheless, these systems routinely fail to provide the interpretation services necessary for equal access to the courts. The lack of interpretation has diminished public confidence in the courts; for example, "[i]n California, two-thirds of Asians and Hispanics believe that the courts treat English speakers better than LEP individuals." (147) A 2006 National Center for State Courts report examined nationwide access to interpreter services for individuals seeking civil orders of protection. (148) It documented systemic failures that impede non- and limited English speaking women's access to legal remedies such as orders of protection. (149) Non-English speaking persons seeking orders of protection most commonly spoke Spanish, according to 84% of responding state courts; however, Vietnamese was the next highest response (47%), followed by Russian (41%), and Korean (37%). (150) Other Asian languages that were commonly spoken included Mandarin (30%), Laotian (30%), Cantonese (29%), Farsi (25%), Tagalog (20%), and Punjabi (20%). (151)

    With respect to comparative demographic data, the Census Bureau estimated that in 2010, the foreign-born population constituted approximately 13% (40 million) of the total U.S. population, and that 28% of this population was born in Asia. (152) With more than a quarter of all foreign-born residents having emigrated from Asia, addressing the language access needs of Asian American women should be a priority. Census data from 2010 additionally show that the three states with the highest numbers of Asian Americans are California (5.6 million), New York (1.6 million), and Texas (1.1 million), and that these states account for just under half (47.6%) of all Asians in the United States. (153) Reform efforts concentrated in these states could significantly improve language access for Asian American survivors.

    The failure to address language barriers denies meaningful access to federally funded government benefits and services in violation of Title Vi's prohibition against national origin discrimination and Executive Order 13166. (154) Since "most local and state government agencies, including ... courts, are supported through federal funds," these federal requirements apply more broadly to state court systems. (155) Pursuant to Executive Order 13166 and a Department of Justice policy guidance document, state court systems receiving federal funds must provide interpreters in civil as well as criminal matters "during all hearings, trials, and motions during which the LEP individual must and/or may be present." (156)

    The percentages of interpreter availability for persons seeking orders of protection in state courts was higher in large, urban settings, and significantly lower in rural counties. For example, "interpreter availability for Vietnamese-speaking persons ranged from 66 percent in population centers to 33 percent in rural counties." (157) The capacity of state courts to provide interpreter services fell "substantially short of what [was] required to meet the needs of the LEP population they serve." (158) Similarly, a 2009 report by the Brennan Center found that forty-six percent of the thirty-five states with the highest density of LEP individuals fail to require that interpreters be provided in all civil cases." (159)

    Inadequacies in the quality and professionalism of court interpreters presents another serious concern. (160) Despite some progress, (161) the lack of professionally trained, neutral interpreters presents multiple risks. These include having an interpreter who lacks the English language skills and sufficient familiarity with the court system to provide adequate interpretation. (162) These failures may, in turn, endanger the safety of the interpreter and petitioner. (163)

    Implementation of other language access measures are similarly lacking: "Fewer than 17 percent of the courts use language identification cards or posted signs informing the public of the availability of free interpretation services." (164) Moreover, "[t]here is no systematic data collection that would allow courts to assess the quality and range of their service provision to LEP persons." (165) Over fifteen years ago, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution recommending that "all courts be provided with qualified language interpreters," and over ten years ago, the Conference of Chief Justices passed a similar resolution recommending, in part, the removal of language barriers. State courts nevertheless continue to fall short of providing "'meaningful access' to protection orders and court services for the LEP population." (166)

    Structural barriers are reflected both in institutional failures, such as the lack of sufficient interpretation services discussed above, and societal hostility, such as that experienced by a domestic violence organization that explicitly focuses on the needs of Asian American survivors.

  2. Racialized Opposition to Opening A Domestic Violence Shelter For Asian American Women

    Societal discomfort and hostility to racial difference can deter Asian American women affected by IPV from seeking and receiving help. Examining a community's response to the opening of a shelter for Asian American survivors illustrates how racialized NIMBYism can impede resource development. (167) Creating shelters is a well-established strategy for combating IPV. However, when mainstream shelters cannot provide language specific, culturally appropriate services, Asian American survivors face an added burden. Opposition to a shelter equipped to help Asian Americans limits access for those unable or disinclined to use mainstream services. (168) The case study below reveals one iteration of structural subordination against a racially-identified domestic violence organization.

    Since 1982, the New York Asian Women's Center (NYAWC) has been working with individual Asian American survivors of domestic violence to help them live safe and independent lives. (169) NYAWC's residential services evolved over time, starting with "safe homes" in which volunteers provided emergency housing by opening their homes to women and children fleeing violence. NYAWC later offered "safe dwellings" for women and children who needed longer-term transitional housing, and in 2001, NYAWC opened its first 24-hour, professionally-staffed domestic violence shelter. (170) The controversy underlying this case study occurred during the transition from renting to owning shelter space.

    NYAWC decided to buy a building to minimize the operational drain caused by renting. Whenever a landlord chose not to renew a lease, all of the administrative work of opening a shelter, such as obtaining a certificate of occupancy, would be undone. Moreover, confidentiality concerns make...

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