By Mala Datta
One beautiful summer evening, about 20 years ago, I was at my town library with my children. We had just moved to the town and the Library was screening a movie that evening. The movie was ‘The Lion King’. My kids were excited. It was around 6.00 pm. I remember the weather was perfect, the sky was a beautiful blue and the sun was brilliant. There was a light breeze, though two giant fans were placed outside as well. A lot of people were milling around, finding a good spot to sit and relax. The blankets were on the ground, I had my cup of tea with me. I was looking forward to meeting other parents. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see another Indian American women standing next to me. She had salwar kameez on. Her dupatta was around her neck and she was wearing sun glasses. Her hair was dark, neatly tucked away. She had two young kids with her. I was happy to see another Indian face. I remember I was ready to introduce myself, when she spoke and said ‘Can you help me’?. And thus began my introduction to Domestic Violence in the South Asian Community in the US.
Since then I have been working with volunteer organizations who help women in domestic abuse/ violence situations. Domestic Violence/ Abuse happens in every community and in every socioeconomic strata of the population. I have met women who are highly educated, women who are poor and often powerless. The story line is the same. Most often, in heterosexual couples, it’s the man who is abusing the woman. Men who abuse also come from every community and socioeconomic group in the society. Sometimes there is no physical violence; there is emotional abuse, and control exerted on the partner. It is most often power and control exerted by the abuser on the one being abused. I have met and worked with women who were beaten, neglected, socially isolated, raped within the family, etc. In the South Asian context sometimes the woman’s in-laws are also abusive. There is no excuse for domestic violence/ abuse. It is never justified.
Adults who are abused can have long term physical and emotional problems. These include chronic pain, generalized anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Similarly, if there are children at home, even if they have not been abused, they may suffer the consequences of witnessing the abuse. Research tells us that children are often abused or neglected in this situation. Children can get aggressive, feel anxious and depressed, academically they may fail, and find it difficult to focus their attention, they may have poor social skills and fail to make friends. Some children may believe that violence is acceptable and perpetuate the cycle when they grow up.
Domestic violence is a complex issue. I am often asked why don’t the women leave? Most often that is not an easy option. She may have no passport, no money, he or the family may hold the children, she may have no social support and many other reasons. As the South Asian community comes to grips with the fact that domestic violence happens in our community, it is my hope that education will raise awareness that violence will never be accepted. The religious leaders, community leaders, and volunteer organizations all have a part to play and pledge to end domestic violence and abuse.
The lady I first met 20 years ago, went on to a safe place and, with the support of her family, friends, and community, is happy and successful.
Below is a link to a list of South Asian organizations
General Domestic Abuse Resources
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE / www.rainn.org
House of Ruth Hotline: 410.889.7884
Baltimore County-wide hotline: 410.828.6390
Domestic Violence Program at Northwest Hospital: 410.496.7555
Family Refuge Center, W.VA: 1.866.645.6344
DCCoalition Against Domestic Violence
My Sister’s Place: 202.529.5991
Doorways for Women and Families
International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies
If you need more information, please contact me on 201-952-9905.
Mala Datta, PhD
NYS Licensed Psychologist