Domestic Violence in South
Asian Communities in America
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
from an article of the same title by:
Amita Bhandari Preisser
Violence Against Women, V. 5(6), June 1999, 684-699
What is the purpose of this article?
The author presents a "culturally sound" model for American
social service providers to better equip them to serve South Asian victims
of domestic violence living in the U.S. She recounts the founding of the
Asian Women's Self-Help Association (ASHA) in Washington, DC. Numerous
case examples in the article illustrate how South Asian culture shapes
the issues and problems of this population. Data from the Asian Pacific
Islander/Domestic Violence Resource Project's survey (API/DVRP, 1997)
and ASHA's own service statistics are presented to describe the extent
and nature of domestic violence in South Asian communities in the U.S.
The Asian Women's Self-Help Association (ASHA)
ASHA was created to address the unmet needs of women and
children in the South Asian community in Washington DC who were victims
of domestic violence, but were reluctant to use or misunderstood by mainstream
social service agencies. A group of representatives of the Greater Washington
Metropolitan South Asian Community took an account of the issues surrounding
domestic violence in their communities and the barriers to help. They
hypothesized that South Asian community women prefer to discuss their
problems with people of similar ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds.
In 1991, their efforts resulted in the formation of a federally tax-exempt
organization that provided peer counseling, financial loans and information
about legal, medical and shelter services to women in crisis because of
violence in their homes.
What has been learned from serving South Asian victims of domestic
Asian community women asked for help when culturally appropriate
and sensitive services were provided. API/DVRP reported that they served
almost 500 victims of domestic violence in 1996. Calls for help to ASHA
quadrupled between 1995 and 1997.
Although lack of English language skills was a problem for almost half
of those served by API/DVRP, immigration issues and misunderstandings
due to differences between American and Asian family values and expectations
were thought to hinder access to services from mainstream social service
What interventions does ASHA recommend?
Mainstream service providers are encouraged to inform themselves
about the cultural background of ethnically diverse clients they are trying
to serve. Through literature, workshops and discussions with clients themselves,
service providers should try to understand the larger contexts (e.g.,
family, community, culture, immigration status and religion) of problems
presented by South Asian clients. Looking to established South Asian women's
groups, such as ASHA, for guidance and as a resource for this population
When counseling South Asian clients, clinicians should explore the client's
expectations for help, and should determine whether psychological counseling
or counseling for practical problems, such as employment, is desired.
A non-assuming, inquisitive attitude that conveys caring and warmth is
Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, LCSW Center for Trauma Recovery University
of Missouri St. Louis
June 14, 2001