Domestic Violence in South Asian Communities in America

Reviewed by
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 violence?

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 agencies.

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 is suggested.

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 recommended.

Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, LCSW Center for Trauma Recovery University of Missouri St. Louis
June 14, 2001

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