AAPI domestic violence survivor recalls her abusive relationship: ‘I was living in survival mode’

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

HOUSTON, Texas — Tackling the issue of domestic violence can be extremely complicated and nuanced because of all the varying circumstances that may play into the challenges that victims face when leaving an abusive partner.

One way that advocates believe they can improve survival rates is to look at how this problem uniquely impacts people of different cultural backgrounds and provide tailored resources to meet their needs. For Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, ABC13 wanted to explore how domestic violence is viewed and handled in AAPI communities.

ABC13 spoke to a Southeast Asian survivor, who shared that it has been two years since she left an abusive relationship with her ex-husband. Due to concerns about her safety, she asked to have her identity concealed before she felt comfortable enough to open up about her traumatic experience.

“We met online. We really connected in a very good way. We would finish each other’s sentences. He was amazing to me and a very kind guy. I wanted to settle down and he opened up to me. He just made me feel safe,” she said.

However, Jane Doe shared that things quickly took a dark turn only about six months into her relationship. She said he allegedly began looking through her phone, accusing her of things she didn’t do, destroying her stuff, making threats, and physically assaulting her.

“At one point, he told me that if he caught me cheating, he would cut my throat open. I had to sleep with a fanny pack with my ID and some money. Just in case he got difficult, I could just run somewhere,” she recalled. “I was living in survival mode the whole time. It was fight or flight for me and I was mentally drained.”

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She thought about leaving many times, but constantly doubted if she could make it on her own. The survivor said her partner sabotaged her work permit application and kept her without a car, phone, and internet access. The people she initially turned into made her feel as if this was something she was just supposed to accept.

“People in our culture will stay in a relationship when they’re being physically and mentally abused because they’re married. We’re not used to divorce,” she said.

Maryam Kamal Eldin with Asians Against Domestic Abuse (AADA) explained these are unique issues she commonly sees with Asian women dealing with violent relationships. Cultural stigmas, language barriers, and immigration status can often discourage victims from reaching out for help.

According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, up to 55% of Asian women in the U.S. have experienced some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. However, advocates believe this number could be even higher due to underreporting and normalization of domestic violence in Asian cultures.

“Some cultural communities think that it’s okay for men to hit women since they are the head of the household and have that kind of control. When the woman wants a more equal and stable environment in their home, their partner may think that they’re becoming too Westernized or empowered. In turn, the partner may become even more possessive and controlling,” Eldin said.

RELATED: Domestic violence accounts for 18% of Houston homicides, data shows

Doe connected with AADA after calling the domestic violence hotline, which provided her with the resources she needed to walk away. The organization, which has been around since 2001, offers survivors a wide range of culturally competent services, including translators in 15+ languages, transitional housing, legal guidance, group therapy, and career training.

“There’s a lot of barriers that they have to overcome. So when domestic violence happens, they don’t know where to go or what to do. They usually don’t have family around. So they get even more isolated,” Eldin said. “There’s a fear of law enforcement for women from these communities that stems back to their home countries.”

Each day is still a step towards healing for the survivor. But she hopes that by sharing her story, she can empower others in similar situations to reach out for help before it’s too late.

“You need to be thriving, not just surviving. Sometimes, if you’ve been in an abusive relationship for so long, it feels normal. Well, it’s not. You should have to tolerate that. Love yourself enough that once you know you’ve made the wrong decision, you’re willing to leave,” Doe said.

If you are Asian, Middle Eastern, or North African and have experienced physical or emotional violence in your family, you can call AADA at (713) 339-8300 and a trained advocate/staff member will answer your call. You can also fill out this form on their website, or reach them on Facebook or Instagram.

For other communities, if you need help getting out of a domestic violence situation, call the Houston Area Women’s Center 24/7 hotline at 713-528-2121 or call AVDA at 713-224-9911. You can also click here to chat with an advocate online. If you are deaf or hard of hearing and need help, call 713-528-3625.

For more on this story, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, X and Instagram.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.

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