Domestic Violence in Interracial Relationships and among Immigrants

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Domestic Violence (DV) is a violation of human rights. More definitively, it is a pattern of physically, sexually, verbally, and psychologically/emotionally abusive behaviors.

These behaviors are perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. Purposely enacted, these behaviors are meant for the abusers to maintain, gain, or regain power and control in their relationships. Abusers may inflict violence using a variety of methods including tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, and injure one’s partner (Click here for more information). Extreme forms of abuse may even lead to the death of the partner.

In the United States, October is observed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month as designated by the Government since 1989. However, the issue of domestic violence or intimate partner violence is certainly not limited to the United States.

DV Facts

Domestic violence is also experiencing abuse long after the tangible threats have passed. Click To Tweet

DV is more than living under the constant threat of physical, sexual, verbal, and psychological abuse. It is also the reliving of these experiences long after the most tangible threat has been dispelled. This is the fear of violence – the violence of living in a climate of fear, shame, coercive control, and devaluation, according to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. (The API-GBV’s website is a wealth of information and resources). Their Lifetime Spiral below reveals patterns of victimization “by enumerating the types of violence, vulnerabilities, and harms women and girls face”.

Lifetime Spiral
Credit: Domestic Violence Lifetime Spiral image by Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence

Domestic Violence in Interracial Marriages

Marking a significant increase since 1967 when only 3% of all marriages in the United States were interracial, a 2015 Pew Research Center study of U.S. Census Bureau Data revealed that this number had risen to 17% – more than a fivefold increase! While this is good news, the nature of mixed marriages also means that they are more vulnerable to cases of domestic violence. According to Neha Gill, the Executive Director of Apna Ghar (Our Home), a domestic violence shelter in Chicago, USA, “[In interracial marriages] There is often an added component of racialized violence. There is also some predatory behavior – White males seeking Asian women, for example, because of stereotypes of them being subservient, but also seeking immigrant women because they think they will be able to control them and exploit their unfamiliarity with the culture/language.”

Added component of racialized violence is some predatory behavior. Click To Tweet

Interracial Relationships DV

 Interracial couples did indeed report higher cases of mutual intimate partner violence compared to monoracial white couples but ones that were similar to monoracial black couples.   

Researchers Brittny A. Martin, Ming Cui, Koji Ueno, and Frank D. Fincham explored cases of intimate partner violence in interracial relationships vis-à-vis monoracial relationships (full study available here) and found that interracial couples did indeed report higher cases of mutual intimate partner violence compared to monoracial white couples but ones that were similar to monoracial black couples.

The reason that even though monoracial black couples may not face the challenges uniquely encountered by interracial couples, they had their own set of stressors such as racial discrimination, unemployment, and lack of advancement opportunities.

Interracial couples have higher cases of domestic violence compared to monoracial white couples. Click To Tweet

Domestic Violence among Immigrants  

Immigrants’ cases of DV are made complicated by the sheer number of moving parts informing any particular case. Recently, the case of an Indian man who invited his parents over to the United States, where he lives with his wife and child, to help him with his “disobedient” wife made headlines. The husband “repeatedly and forcefully” beat his wife while the father-in-law threatened to stab her with a kitchen knife.

The woman was left with bruises on her face, neck, and torso, and her baby whom she was holding during the abuse, was accidentally struck in the face.

The woman was left with bruises on her face, neck, and torso, and her baby whom she was holding during the abuse, was accidentally struck in the face.  Unfortunately, cases like these are not unusual for those working in the field of domestic violence. There are many reasons why immigrants may be vulnerable to DV.

Immigrants DV

To understand more, read Is this abuse? Carolina Phillips is a Domestic Relations Justice System Advocate for the Domestic Violence Child Advocacy Center in Ohio, USA. She believes that immigrant survivors of DV are more vulnerable to abuse for all the aforementioned reasons (see image above). In addition, she says, that if immigrants are from a country where there are no laws to protect victims of domestic violence, then they may have grown up thinking that, that is how it is supposed to be. They may also be fearful of sharing information about their abuse to friends who may also be friends of the perpetrator.

DV Hotline

Furthermore, the abuser may have used the knowledge of the law to their advantage by warning a victim that should she seek help, the police may not speak her language and may not believe her.

Threats of deportation are common as seen in this Time article that discusses how this threat often silences some victims of DV.

In addition, myths prevalent in our communities may discourage victims from coming forward. Ms. Phillips enumerates these as:

  • The Judicial System: Male judges whom the majority female victims of DV may not trust. They may fear being charged with home abandonment or fear that the court would call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on them.
  • Individual shame related to failing to pursue the “American Dream”. Without steady employment, they may fear losing their children to the abuser. They will also not be allowed to have custody of their children if they (the survivors) are undocumented and in which case, Child Protective Services may take the children.
  • Depending on their home country’s state of law enforcement, they may not believe that law enforcement in their adopted country actually wants to protect them.
  • They may believe that as immigrants they do not have the same rights as non-immigrants with regard to DV.

books on dv

In fact, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a lot of detailed information on the legal rights that are available to immigrant victims of DV, including facts about immigrating on a marriage-based visa. Click here to read more. Also read, Is an Immigrant Convicted of DV deportable?


Also read:  Trailblazers of Racial Literacy: Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo

There is a lot more that can be written about this topic but we wanted to bring up some of the more important aspects of domestic violence as experienced by intimate partners in interracial relationships and immigrant women, as is directly relevant to our readers. 

If someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, Ms. Gill recommends trying to talk to the person if possible, and providing information on national and local helplines and service providers, something Ms. Phillips also condones. In addition, Ms. Phillips also urges family and friends to provide victims with all the support they need as well as to find out about organizations close to them that deal with DV situations and are specialized in providing care and help. Calling the police is also a real option. 

Read – 13 Ways any Adult can make ending DV His or Her Business

DV Hotline

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 USA –

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 USA - #domesticviolence Click To Tweet

Note on terminology: We have used the word victim and survivor somewhat interchangeably. We understand there may be definitional differences in the minds of some people and we respect that. We use the term victim to refer to a person facing abuse and use survivor to those who have no immediate danger of abuse and may be currently in a shelter or settled elsewhere. Our interviewee Ms. Phillips who prefers the term survivor believes that “they are survivors because they are here, fighting for their lives and their children’s futures. We have to give survivors some credit, managing their life, keeping their family safe day by day, and looking for resources to get out of this terrible situation. They know they would need all the help they can get to be successful and give their children the American Dream that they deserve.” We wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Phillips. 

The author completed the State of Illinois Certified Domestic Violence 40-hour Training offered by Apna Ghar in 2013.

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About Suchitra

Suchitra is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at theParentVoice.Com. In a previous life, she has worked as a journalist, and a professor of Communication Studies before trading professing for parenting full-time. She is the author, co-author, and co-editor of three academic books. She is also a dot mandala artist and runs a small business from her home studio.

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