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Excerpted From: Karin Wang, Battered Asian American Women: Community Responses from the Battered Women's Movement and the Asian American Community, 3 Asian Law Journal 151 (May, 1996) (187 Footnotes) (Full Document)


KarinWangHe hit me, held a knife to my throat, a gun to my head, and choked me with a golf club. My arms, legs, and body were often covered with bruises. He would kiss them, cry and say, “Baby, I didn't mean to hit you. I don't know why . . . I lost my temper.”

He would drag me by my hair down the stairs, smash my head into the wall, throw me down on the floor then kick and hit me all over. . . . He would spit on me when I got dressed . . . .

These brutal experiences are familiar to many battered women, but these two stories belong to battered Asian American women. Their stories are unique, not because Asian American women necessarily experience domestic violence differently from non-Asian American women, but because the stories of battered Asian American women are still relatively unheard and unknown. While the movement against domestic violence has made tremendous gains in the past twenty years, not all battered women have benefited equally. Women of color have gained less from the progress of the anti-domestic violence movement, which has been primarily “white-centered.” And within communities of color, including Asian American communities, domestic violence has yet to become a priority issue.

Although battered women experience universally similar abuse, the needs and concerns of Asian American domestic violence victims require special attention. Battered Asian American women are situated differently than other battered women in the United States, especially white women. Domestic violence is a complex psychological and sociological phenomenon which is further complicated in Asian American communities by other factor such as language, immigrant status, culture, and racial stereotypes. Battered Asian American women stand at the intersection of multiple identities, not only as women and domestic violence victims, but also as Asians and often as immigrants. However, American society and laws, which are constructed largely along binary lines (e.g., the “black-white” paradigm of race) have great difficulty recognizing intersectionalities and effectively ignore those--such as battered Asian American women--who exist at intersections of identity.

In this Comment, I address the social and legal disenfranchisement of battered Asian American women.

In Part I, I examine domestic violence generally and critique the predominantly “white-centered” domestic violence movement for failing to address adequately the needs of non-white women-- namely, Asian American women.

In Part II, I define the battered Asian American woman and argue that Asian American women face unique problems as a result of immigration status, cultural norms, and harmful stereotypes.

In Part III, I examine the Asian American community's male-centered perspective on civil rights issues, and its subsequent failure to address women's issues. I conclude by arguing that both the anti-domestic violence movement and the Asian American community must affirmatively address the needs of battered Asian American women. Because Asian American women are not “just women” or “just Asian Americans,” both women's rights advocates and Asian civil rights advocates must move beyond their current limited visions and adopt a new paradigm which simultaneously embraces race and gender.

[. . .]

Similarly, the adoption of an intersectional framework by the Asian American community will enable its civil rights struggles to progress beyond the current male-centered focus. By recognizing that racism cannot be so easily separated from other “-isms,” the Asian American community can begin to adopt a gender-conscious civil rights agenda. Asian American civil rights organizations must also recognize that violence against Asian Americans manifests itself in more than purely race-based ways. For example, while some victims, like Vincent Chin, are victims of aggressors who have been motivated purely or primarily by racist beliefs, other Asian American victims of violence are targeted for intersecting reasons: race, gender, sexual orientation, economics, among others. In addition, the Asian American community must move beyond beliefs which subordinate Asian American women, in order to allow the community as a whole to address violence which victimizes Asian American women. This would be the first step toward bringing domestic violence into the Asian American civil rights agenda; such violence will no longer be able to be ignored and treated as a non-civil rights issue. Including violence against women and domestic violence in the Asian American civil rights agenda will provide battered Asian American women access to a great many existing resources, including legal, cultural, and social resources which have historically been reserved for racial civil rights issues such as hate violence.

It is important to push both the battered women's movement and the Asian American community towards an intersectional framework because battered Asian American women face certain unique obstacles which are rooted in both their gender and race. These obstacles must be addressed together, not in discrete and insular packages of race as separate from gender. Only within such an intersectional paradigm can the unique needs and concerns of Asian American women be adequately addressed.

I conclude this Comment with a quotation from two women who are both battered women's advocates and Asian American community activists. Their vision is one which I hope both the anti-domestic violence movement and the Asian American civil rights community will adopt as their motto in addressing domestic violence and other gendered issues affecting Asian American women:

This is a wake-up call to APA activists fighting on the frontlines for the civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans, as well as all peoples. We as a community can never hold our heads high and claim a righteous struggle for civil rights unless we fight hand-in-hand for the rights of our sisters to be free from violence of the body, mind, the spirit . . . . There will never be a strong and healthy community unless violence in the home . . . is eradicated. We can never reach the potential that is our birthright unless we stop denying the impact of domestic violence on our own lives and start dealing with its effects. It is futile to hope and work for a better society when we pass on a legacy of violence and dysfunction.

Associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP, San Francisco; B.A. 1992 University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; J.D. 1995 Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley.

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