Violence within Cultures (American, Spanish, Indian)
This week we wanted to take a look inside abuse within different cultures. Though all abuse is based in power and control, there can be individual beliefs, reactions, and legal ramifications that are unique in some cultures. Let’s start with American culture.
In the last few years, sexual violence has taken the “main-stage” in terms of debated topics. When a survivor comes forward, they can be met with:
“Were you drinking?”
“What were you wearing?”
“Had you been intimate before?”
“Were you dating?”
“Are you sure you aren’t confused?”
“Did you say no?”
“You’re looking for attention.”
“You want money and fame.”
“But you’re a man! Men are always fine with sex.”
“You’re just a fast girl.”
In American culture, some are quick to paint victims as liars, exaggerators, or someone looking for an opportunity to “get rich quick”. The belief in American culture is that victims must have some driving force behind coming forward, like money, fame, or attention rather than reporting what happened to them. While it may seem on the surface that the justice system punishes convicted abusers harshly in America, that is not often the case. When we compare the lifetime that victims have of healing and coping, a few years in prison or being put on the sex offender registry is really just slap on the wrist for abusers.
Multiple studies have reported that there is no higher instances of sexual violence in hispanic communities as compared to non-hispanic communities and families (Source 1). Though latinos and Latinas do not see higher rates of sexual violence, the learned culture response and lack of support after victimization can impact a survivor greatly. Another important fact is that no hispanic family or specific culture is going to be the same, and they do not all view themselves within a common culture.
Survivors of sexual abuse, especially incest, can be called liars, be believed but told to “avoid that family member”, and even punished for coming forward by the person they have disclosed to. A survivor who seeks help from a rape crisis center might even be seen as a traitor, someone who didn’t put family first and “aired their dirty laundry.”
In a culture immersed in “machismo” and domination over women and children, victims are ignored and left to deal with abuse on their own. When it comes to reporting to police, hispanic victims in the united states may fear deportation and being punished for trying to get help. Or maybe they decide not to go to the police but rather turn to a rape crisis center for counseling and education. But rather than receiving culturally competent support, they are met with no resources in their own language and face a barrier to communicate their struggles.
When it comes to disclosing in India, an estimated 2% of sexual assaults are reported (Source 2). The largest stigma surrounding the reporting of assault is the acceptance of rape myths within the culture and within families. These attitudes often blame victims for their assaults, rather than placing blame where it belongs: with the perpetrator. These myths are reinforced by the misogynistic attitudes many have towards women, sexism, and the strict adherence to gender roles and expectations. For example, if a woman is out alone and night and is assaulted, it is her fault for being out late without an escort. When women and children are shamed and or even killed for coming forward about the abuse they endure, we see ripples of silence throughout whole communities.
So, what is our takeaway? No matter the culture, the beliefs, or what has happened in past generations, we need to stand together. We need to provide support and resources in culturally competent ways, with empathy and the understanding that no two people, even within the same culture, are going to have the same experience.
The differences in our cultures can be beautiful and bring a certain uniqueness to our world. But when it comes to sexual violence and supporting victims, culture should not matter. When it comes to abuse, we are all deserving of empathy, support, and validation because we are all HUMAN. Every person, no matter the culture, whether man, woman, or child has a right to live safely and free from interpersonal abuse. We can change the way the world views sexual violence if we change the way we reposed in our own cultures and especially within our families.
Source 1: www.cdc.gov
Palermo, T., Bleck, J., & Peterman, A. (2013). Tip of the iceberg: Reporting and gender-based violence in developing countries. American Journal of Epidemiology, 179(5), 602–612. www.doi.org
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
It’s Victor. I want to welcome you to another Be Seen and Heard Journey. Thank you so much for taking the journey with me today. I want to share today something that’s very important and very near and dear to my heart. The topic is violence within cultures. And what I’ve learned is this, violence is violence. Violence has no boundaries. It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, it happens, you know, whether it’s domestic violence, whether it’s sexual abuse, whatever crime, crimes are crimes, they happen without borders. And I want to share a very personal story with you today. And it’s a story that is still really hard to talk about, but I shared it because quite honestly, it’s therapy for me and it has helped some people to get through some of their pain. On September 3rd, 2001 I received a phone call from a police officer and it was a call that I never thought I would ever get in my life.
And I had found out that my sister was involved in a shooting along with her husband. They were both involved in this shooting and I thought right away, could you please tell me what it is? And he couldn’t tell me over the phone. My first thought was they were robbed. They were not robbed. I got to the hospital and found out that my sister had been shot four times by her husband. He then shot himself and he committed suicide. He passed away the next day. I had so many thoughts going through my head. And just to give you a little background, my brother-in-law is from Hispanic culture and he had always been pretty controlling with their relationship. I don’t attribute that to him being Hispanic. I think a lot of men are controlling no matter what background they’re from. I always noticed that about him. He was pretty controlling. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it.
There were a lot of thoughts that raced through our minds that day when I was in the hospital with my family. As we were leaving the hospital, my girlfriend at the time, we got into in the car to leave and she said, “Do you want to go see your brother-in-law?” That was something I didn’t even think about. I was only focused on my sister and she made me realize, you know, wow, his family is probably just as torn up as we are. At first I said no. And then as we’re driving I said, “Okay, let’s go.” This was a very difficult decision, but I went and here’s what I learned. We got to the room where his family was sleeping and crying. They turned on the lights and saw me. They came to me and hugged me and I hugged them.
I realized that they were crying the same tears. I was crying. It didn’t matter that hey were Hispanic. It didn’t matter that I was from an Italian background. It didn’t matter that their family member did this to my sister. They did not commit the crime. He did. And that’s what I learned. I learned at that moment, I could’ve been hating them for this. It wasn’t easy believe me. I was really confused. I was in shock. Then they asked if I wanted to go see my brother-in-law? I agreed…they let me go in by myself. I looked at him and I started crying and I said, “Why would you do this?” I don’t know why. I never will know that answer to that question. But at the end of the day, we did come together because we had two beautiful girls that we had to raise.
And although it wasn’t always easy with both families, we did the best job we could because at the end of the day, those two girls, their children, my brother in law and my sister’s children were parentless and it was up to us to be human about it and to say, you know what? We’re going to take care of you. So all I’m saying today is that no matter where you are in your life, no matter what background you’re from, to know that every person, no matter the color of their skin, no matter the culture they’re from, they, everyone deserves a happy life. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. And I think that’s the lesson today. And although it’s not always easy, it’s important to remove our blinders and to be aware of our surroundings and to be there for people that we care about.
And that’s the story today and that’s the lesson. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to listen or watch this. Please share this with your family and friends. And again, you, everyone has the right to be seen and heard. Thank you.