January 24, 2017

Gender-Based Violence in Asian-American Communities


by Shannon Lam


I was ten years old when I was first sexually harassed.

I was at the grocery store with my parents. Normally, I stick by my parents, walking next to the cart, admiring the vast options of chips and cookies. However, at one point, my mom realized we had forgotten to grab the milk. Me, adventurous and trying to be as independent as a ten-year-old could be, offered to quickly go grab it. My mom was hesitant at first, but since the milk aisle was just a few aisles down, she let me go.

It was only for a brief second, but as I leaned into the fridge to pick up the milk, I felt a hand on my butt. I turned around and a middle-aged man quickly walked past me.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I was taking up too much room in the empty aisle, maybe I was in the way, maybe it was my fault. When I walked back to my mom, there was a sinking feeling that was hard to describe at ten-years-old. Something didn’t sit right with me. I felt lost, I felt guilty, I felt violated. At ten years old.

In 7th grade, a boy called me flat-chested jokingly. When I was in 8th grade, a boy asked for nude pictures. When I was 16, another man put his hand on my butt and let it linger in a crowded mall. I could go on and repeat every instance of sexual harassment I’ve encountered, but it will not change what has happened. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and gender-based violence is an issue that affects everyone, all races, all genders, all sexualities.

From my experiences, in the Asian-American community, these situations are rarely brought up or addressed. In part, it comes from our culture, where sex and intimacy is often a taboo topic. Many immigrant women are afraid to go to authorities in these situations in fear of potential deportation. To add, there are cultural differences and language barriers that often provide great difficulty when victims do want to step forward.

As the “model minority,” we’re only ever brought up in conversations regarding academics and work ethic. In the conversations of racism and sexual abuse, we are often left out. We are forgotten and unheard, as if our experiences don’t count, as if we aren’t affected by gender-based violence. But the statistics show something different. In a study conducted in 1992, it was discovered that from a group of 150 Korean women living in America for less than 10 years, 60% of them had been abused by their husbands (Lee and Hadeed, 2009). In respect to Asian-American women and intimate partner violence, Asian-American women are one of the lowest groups to report cases. Since we’ve ignored and forgotten Asian-Americans in our advocacy work to fight against sexual and gender-based violence, we have contributed to this underreporting and stigma. There is a “high value placed by Asian cultures on female willingness to endure suffering (Ho, 1990) [that] often inhibits women from disclosing family problems to the outside world” (Lee and Hadeed, 2009). We do not consider this cultural difference, and mistakenly assume that since Asian-American women do not report, they are not affected.
This isn’t just an issue regarding Asian-American women, but Asian-American men as well. They are painted in such a way where they are seen as “less than” in comparison to white individuals. They are viewed as weak and fragile, and the motivation to report is decreased further.

It is clear that this is an issue in Asian-American communities, but Asian-Americans are so underrepresented that there are lack of studies and statistics that truly reflect the sexual abuse and gender-based violence that they face.

Ten-year-old me should have felt comfortable enough to speak about it.

Ten-year-old me should have not been violated.

Ten-year-old me should have known what sexual abuse was and knew that it affects all communities, and that my experience wasn’t some sort of anomaly.

Asian-Americans are not passive. We are not your “china dolls” or “exotic beauties” ripe for the picking. We are not your “flower boys” or “ninja warriors.” We are human beings with names, complex and intersectional identities who deserve to be included and treated with respect. It’s time we start including Asian-Americans in the conversations regarding sexual abuse and sexual and gender-based violence.


Works Cited
Lee, Y., & Hadeed, L. (2009). Intimate Partner Violence Among Asian Immigrant Communities: Health/Mental Health Consequences, Help-Seeking Behaviors,        and Service Utilization. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 10(2), 143-170.


Shannon is a Sophmore with a double major in Human Biology and Gender Studies.  She is a Year 2 VOICE member, Dornsife Ambassador, part of GlobeMed at USC, Alpha Gamma Delta and USG (Diversity Affairs).