Spouse / Partner Abuse > Chapter 3 - Cultural Factors

Chapter 3: Cultural Factors

Cultural Factors

‘An estimated 6 million American women are physically abused one or more times each year and 1.8 million women are severely battered each year. This violence, moreover, cuts across class, race, ethnic, and cultural boundaries and, while domestic violence is most often a crime against women, it has been found that women also perpetrate intimate violence against their husbands, boyfriends, and lesbian partners. Violence against intimates--that is violence against those we purport to love, honor, and cherish--is, in this light, an equal opportunity crime.’(Baba and Murray, 2003)

Cultural factors play a role in how spousal/partner abuse is perceived and responded to within each grouping. Academic, community agency, and criminal justice responses to victims of domestic violence…have also displayed differences—they are not uniform. For instance, research has shown that violence against poor women, women of color, gay men, lesbians, and immigrant women may not receive equal academic, community agency, and criminal justice support and response as does violence against American-born, white and middle-class women (Baba and Murray, 2003) In the various groups there are also differences in the severity and frequency of abuse incidents. Closely associated to these cultural characteristics of spousal/partner abuse are the cultural factors that impact resource linkage. These range from values of self-reliance, cultural norms and family cohesiveness.


A study reported by Rennison and Welchans (2000) found that African American women were not only more likely to be abused by an intimate partner than white women, but they were much more likely to be killed by them, too. The study found African American women are victimized by partner abuse at a rate 35% higher than that of white women and 2 times the rate of women of other races. African American men suffered domestic abuse at a rate about 62% higher than white men and 2.5 times that of men of other races. The leading cause of death among African American women ages 15-45 is homicide at the hands of an intimate partner.

Dr. Nathan Hare, a clinical psychologist and sociologist in private practice in San Francisco, sees common traits among men who batter women. He says while abusive men are found in all races and socioeconomic groups, most Black male abusers are jealous, insecure and are attempting to imitate the classic "street pimp," playing a "mind game" with the women by showing a loving and warm side to sustain interest - then inflicting pain.

Due to alcoholism, low self-esteem, a lack of ethnic pride and a sense of helplessness in supporting their families, Black men have been reported as being more likely to be abusive toward Black women, says psychiatrist Dr. Carl Bell in The State of Black America 1990, published by the National Urban League. Dr. Bell, who bases his findings on work he has done at Chicago's Community Mental Health Council, also concludes Black husbands are more likely than Black women, White men or White women to be killed by a spouse who is acting in self-defense (Barber, 1990).

Factors that may limit the African American woman from accessing service include the perception that services are for white women and a reluctance to involve police, as well as fearing the perception that they have been disloyal to their community. Some researchers have postulated that African American men have suffered strain that have prevented them from taking on the typical male roles of provider and protector in the family, and that this role conflict may be contributing to the violence in the family. Disparate educational or professional levels have also been found in couples where domestic violence exists.

African American women also have a tradition of relying on inner strength and being expected to cope with pain. African Americans are less likely to seek traditional mental health and social services and are more likely to rely on naturally existing support systems than their non-minority counterparts (Kanuha, 1994). They see this as a sign of strength and conversely needing to get help as a sign of weakness. Finally, African Americans have strong extended family networks, which work in their favor for help and assistance, but might make them reluctant to get help from outside sources when it would be beneficial. (Sleutal, Champion, Rodriguez, Moss, Sullivan, Campbell, Neville )

Domestic violence can be especially dangerous without intervention for this culture as Domestic Violence is the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 15-45 (Campbell et al, 2005)


With Latina women there are other factors such as language, economic status and male and female role expectations that can act as barriers to getting help.A large amount of Latinos are members of the Catholic Church which strongly encourages that married couples stay together. The traditional Latino male role of “Machismo” may also play a role in victim not seeking assistance. Some studies have shown that those who are most comfortable with the English language are the most likely to seek assistance. (McCloskey, Perilla, West)

Studies have found in regards to the Mexican American Populations that rates of spousal violence among Mexican Americans vary according to immigration status. Mexican Americans born in the United States reported rates 2.4 times higher than those born in Mexico. This study suggested that this higher rate of violence may be in part related to cultural conflicts resulting from discrepancies between immigrants' familial culture of origin and the dominant culture in which they reside (Sorenson & Telles, 1991).

In a small clinical sample of immigrant families, Flores-Ortiz, Esteban, and Carrillo ( 1995) found a propensity to "freeze" particular cultural beliefs to maintain homeostasis. Specifically, patriarchal sex roles expectations were rigidified, leading to prevalent post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of open communication about specific issues (sexuality, previous pain with infidelity, and prior violent episodes), and an intergenerational transmission of the same frozen beliefs and attitudes to the next generation. The clinical issues described here are from an immigrant population and were found to be characteristic of families that have multiple problems, including family violence, alcoholism, marginalization, and discrimination. (Carrillo and Tello 12)


Although there are many different Asian cultures, these cultures have many similar values that influence their response to spousal/ partner abuse. Asian cultures place the family and family cohesion at levels of strong importance. Asian community and family also disapprove of divorce. These values may inhibit the victim from going outside the family structure to seek help. It is also part of the culture to not speak of family matters outside of the family lest it brings shame to the family. In spite of similarities of culture the study below manifests significant differences between spousal abuse in Vietnamese communities and those of Chinese who reside in Hong Kong.

According to the report by the Women's Task Force in San Francisco (1990), only 2% of Asian immigrant respondents who experienced domestic violence had ever sought help from the police or a battered women's shelter. Because Asian cultural traditions emphasize respect for and subservience to elders and persons in authority, to receive outside assistance reflects loss of face for individuals and their families. The Asian concept of loss of face implies that the entire family loses respect and status in the community when an individual is shamed. Due to the pressure to prevent loss of face, Asian Americans tend to hide domestic violence within the family and avoid outside intervention (Ho, 1990) (Baba and Murray, 2003).

As Yoshihama et al. (1998) notes other reasons that domestic abuse reporting may be low is that:

Immigrants from war-torn countries such as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia may deny the seriousness of relationship violence because it may not be as severe as their other experiences, whether of war, oppression or the flight from their homelands.

Baba and Murray (1990) found that the level of abuse in Vietnamese couples correlated with three variables: 1) Decision making power, 2) cultural adaptation and beliefs in traditional gender roles and 3) marital conflicts

Other things that impact victims getting help are similar to the Latino culture such as the ability to communicate in English, immigration status and economic status. Asian immigrant women have expressed openness to discuss experiences of abuse if they are asked in a sensitive manner.

(Chan, Cloutier, Preisser, Rimonte, Friedman, Bui, Rodriguez)

For those who have immigrated to the United States, such as in Vietnamese Communities, the past history and immigration experiences of a family significantly affect the way they regard domestic violence significantly affect the way they regard [domestic] violence. For example,the experiences that family members have had with authorities in their native country often influence their wish to avoid any entanglement with law enforcement or other agencies in the United States. The family may have witnessed or been subject to law enforcement officers who accepted bribes, exploited the oppressed, carried out oppressive practices, including unjust accusations, arrest and torture, and generally created a deeper feeling of helplessness for those individuals the law is suppose to protect. (Baba and Murray, 2003)

The decision making power is related to the father’s abusive behavior. Vietnamese fathers who make decisions alone are more likely to abuse their spouses physically than those who do not make decisions alone.When fathers and mothers make decisions together, the former are less likely to abuse their spouses mentally.

In the second variable, fathers who have not embraced American culture are more likely to abuse their wives mentally than those who have embraced American culture. In traditional Vietnamese society the law allowed for men to physically sanction their wives. When fathers have adopted American cultures, they are less likely to abuse their spouses emotionally. Unlike fathers, when mothers have adopted American cultures, they are more likely to be abusive toward their spouses mentally. At the same time, when mothers embrace beliefs in gender equality, they are less likely to abuse their spouses physically.

The amount of abuse related to marital conflicts, the third variable, was associated with fathers' and mothers' using reasoning in problem solving, mental abuse, and physical abuse. Interestingly, the sources of marital conflicts appear to be strongly related to the areas of cooking/ cleaning and social activities more than managing money.

Native American

Issues that Native Americans may face in reporting abuse include the lack of confidentiality as a result of small tribes, loyalty to the tribe, fear of outsiders, or that members of the tribe might desert her.There are also fewer counselors who can provide culturally applicable assistance.It has been found that counseling in the home was more successful than in the office of the provider (Norton, et. al, 1997)

Reporting is Generally Less Likely for People of Color

It is to the provider’s advantage in helping clients to know where some of the most vulnerable groups of battered women appear for services. It is useful to know that women with fewer socioeconomic resources seek public assistance, women with lower employment levels seek substance services, women of color appear for medical treatment, older women seek help from counseling and religious services, and that women involved with the perpetrator seek help from domestic violence and counseling services. The results suggest avenues for targeting screening efforts for vulnerable populations such as socioeconomically disadvantaged, culturally diverse, and older women. Social workers in health care, public assistance, substance abuse treatment, religious, and counseling settings should have the skills to make referrals and provide resources to help women with safety. It is worrisome that women who have fewer socioeconomic resources or who are involved with their perpetrators may face barriers in obtaining access to other services (for example, legal services) that may facilitate safety. Targeted programming and outreach may be required to connect vulnerable women with needed services (Lee, Thompson, & Mechanic, 2002), such as placement of domestic violence specialists and legal advocates in neighborhood and public assistance centers and health care offices. (Macy, Nurius, Kernic, and Holt, 2005)

Although women across socioeconomic lines sought help from domestic violence service providers, those seeking legal services were more likely to be white and have higher education and income levels. These findings indicate possible challenges for social workers helping women of color and lower incomes and education obtain legal services and reinforce the utility of providing legal services in domestic violence agencies and the importance of social work collaboration with legal services (Macy et. al 2005)

Same-Gender Abuse Dynamics

Domestic violence in same-gender relationships is similarly prevalent as to those in spousal relationships. It has been estimated that one in four gay men and one in four lesbian women have been involved in domestic violence. Same gender partners also suffer from physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, economic and verbal abuse. Like spousal abuse, the purpose is to acquire and maintain control over one’s intimate partner and the victim may feel isolated, terrified and debilitated.

The cycle of violence is the same.If there is not an intervention in the cycle, the violence gets worse.The victim often is blamed and even accepts blame for the abuse and the batterer is difficult to recognize in public.

Along with the similarities between same gender and heterosexual domestic violence, there are also differences.Most of these difference revolve around public perceptions about gay relationships, lack of resources and cautions of public entities. (GMDVP, 2005)

Barriers for victims in same- gender relationships to get assistance

Victims of abuse in same gender relationships have barriers to seeking assistance.These include the fact that most shelters are heterosexual in orientation and also a fear of the response of law enforcement. Many same gender abuse victims do not utilize hotlines or call the police.The most common response of a lesbian victim is to tell someone they trust.In addition, the fear exists that reporting such abuse will challenge beliefs that lesbian relationships are violence free.Finally, there is a fear of losing support of the gay/lesbian community if one leaves their partner.(Browning, Morgan, Hammond, Coleman, Bernhard, Lie)

There are various myths about same gender abuse.These include that between the same gender it is not abuse but a fair fight, that it is a sexual behavior; a type of sadomasochism, that it mostly happens to gay men who hang out at bars, and that the law will not protect victims of same gender abuse.All of these things are false. (GMDVP, 2005)

Question No.8. The leading cause of death among African American Women ages 15 – 45 is:

a. Domestic violence homicides
b. Car accidents
c. Heart attacks
d. Natural disasters

Question No.9. Many Latina victims of spousal abuse will not go to the police because:

a. They may have difficulty speaking English
b. Economic status
c. Established male/female roles
d. All of the above

Question No.10. Partner abuse occurs as often in same-gender relationships as in heterosexual relationships:

a. True
b. False

Question No.11. According to the report by the Women's Task Force in San Francisco, what percentage of Asian immigrants who experienced domestic violence had ever sought help from the police or a battered women's shelter:

a. 2%
b. 5%
c. 15%
d. 25%

Question No.12. Asian immigrants who are victims of spousal abuse are hesitant to go to the police or other agencies because:

a. Fear brought over from family interaction with authorities in their native countries
b. Traditions emphasizing respect for and subservience to person in authority (the husband)
c. Getting outside assistance results in a loss of respect and status for individuals and the family.
d. All of the above

Spouse / Partner Abuse > Chapter 3 - Cultural Factors
Page Last Modified On: June 19, 2015, 10:46 PM