Thursday, January 16, 2014

Changing Cultural Attitudes on Domestic Violence

By a Hmong Domestic Violence Survivor and Advocate

As a domestic violence survivor, I can honestly say that until abuse is understood by both Hmong women and Hmong men, many Hmong women will continue to say that their husbands never abuse them and many Hmong men will continue to say they have never abused their wives. Death due to physical abuse is what most of the Hmong community understands domestic violence to be, but it’s more than that. Hmong women and men need to know that death is the last stage in abuse.

Being a Hmong woman comes with lots of obligations. During a traditional Hmong marriage ceremony, the bride is given advice from clan leader, elders, and at times, the parents of the bride, on how to be a “good wife”:
  • A good wife is to be exactly as her husband, because being the opposite of him will lead to conflicts in the marriage. If your husband wakes up early, so should you. If he wakes up late, so should you. Whatever he does, you are to follow. Do not talk about your marriage problems because doing so means you are degrading your own marriage. A good wife listens to her husband and is obedient.
  • When a husband takes a wife, she becomes his responsibility. If she walks uphill, you are to follow. If she walks downhill, you are to follow. If you don’t control her and she errors, you cannot blame her. A good husband is patient with his wife.
  • A husband and wife are to be supportive of and good to each other, and love each other so both sides of the families’ relationship remain civil.
Maintaining the name of a good wife in an abusive marriage leads to depression and shattered dreams. If a woman has children with her abuser, it is another reason to endure the abuse. No one wants a broken home for her children. There are some Hmong women that have found the strength to leave, and most of these women are labeled as terrible wives, adulterers, and bad mothers. I have not encountered one woman who walked away from her abusive husband that has not been judged or labeled. Just about every Hmong woman is at fault if she decides to leave.

When educating Hmong community about domestic violence, it is very important to convey all types of abuse. Hmong women and men need to understand that abuse comes in different shapes and forms — not just physical, but also verbal and emotional. Most Hmong women would say, my husband never abused me. He’s just mean to me in the following ways:
  • He degrades me in front of other people and compares me to other women.
  • He forces sex on me. He says he is my husband and that gives him the right any time.
  • He tells me I am not smart enough so my opinion does not matter.
  • I am only allowed to visit my parents 1–2 times per year and talk to my sisters only when he can listen.
  • He checks my cell phone and my monthly billing statements.
  • I am not allowed to drive. He says he will take me wherever I want to go when he has time.
  • He says if I love him, I will let him do whatever makes him happy.
I know this because I lived with an abuser for over ten years and thought that the way a man loves a woman was how I was treated. It’s not until I met my current husband that I learned what love really feels like. Everyone, men and women, deserves to have this feeling; the feeling of being appreciated, respected, and most of all, valued.

Abuse should not be tolerated and people should be educated. Let’s work together to understand the different types of abuse so that we can once and for all, eliminate this issue, because abuse is not just happening in the Hmong community; it’s in every community, everywhere.