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Korean Domestic Violence Essay, Research Paper

Korean Domestic Violence

A 48-year old Korean woman, mother of two sons, has been living in Los Angeles for seven years now. On the evening of July 15, 1997, her husband comes home late at night from his financially shaky liquor store in East LA. He is tired and frustrated from the deception of an American dream once promised to him eight years ago. A small negative remark by the Korean woman causes the husband to unleash several strikes to her face with his open hand. She sustains several bruises on her face and a bloody nose, yet she says nothing and accepts the punishment as if it were inescapable event. She goes to sleep that night angered at herself for causing the outbreak and despaired with the fact that she will be offered no guarantees of safety for the next day.

Spousal abuse has been a consistent problem in American society. A general survey has shown approximately 4 million cases of domestic violence had occurred in America in one year. Among those 4 million, 95% of the cases are reported to be women. (Ho Kim, 1999, pp.5-7) The common emphasis is on America as a whole, but the situations of Korean American women have been seriously overlooked until recent times. Underneath the vague statistical lines, several contributing factors mark a great difference when approaching this problem. The cultural background and pressures of acculturation into the American culture have left Korean women as “legitimate victims” and have also left them with even smaller avenues of escaping abuse.(Agnew, 1998, p.2)

The national statistics reveals that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44. (Mehrotra,1999, p.16) There has yet to be a distinct number of domestic violence surveys on Asian Americans alone. The few surveys that have been conducted recently show dramatic numbers.

In Massachusetts, Asians made up 18% of the victims killed as a result of domestic violence in 1997 but comprised only 3% of the state?s population. In California?s Santa Clara County, a report of showed that Asians accounted for 33% of domestic violence related deaths from 1993-1997 while Asians made up 14% of the county?s population. (Ho Kim, 1999, p.12)

In addition to the few surveys, the indirect facts of shelters and family counselors show the height of the problem. According to Vijay Agnew of the Center for Pacific Asian Family, the Asian Women?s Shelter in San Francisco turns away 75% of women who need their services due to lack of space. (Agnew, 1998, pp.8-10) Yet, many of these statistics are grossly misrepresented due to the subjects? conscious effort of underreporting. It is difficult to understand that the average Korean American battered wife will not report their case to another agency outside the family. Uncovering the details of the cultural background in which they are isolated to can see the perspective of the Korean wife.

The Korean immigration to the United States under went their third and largest wave within the past three decades. A majority of Korean American families that reside here in the coastal areas are first generation immigrants. What is important to realize about this first generation is their unwillingness to compromise their strong traditional values and norms. The great majority of both wives and husbands adhered to the traditional role patterns brought over from the old country. (Ho Kim, 1999, pp.14-15)

The social status of Korean wives has had strong implications for domestic violence in the family. A Korean wife plays a subservient role to the husband and is considered to be a “possession” to the husband. (Huisman, 1996, p.9) Their roles are clearly defined as the husband being the breadwinner in the family and the wife remaining home to do the household chores. Cultural myths, folklore and religion all reflect an image of women as second class citizens. The traditional value of a “good wife” is a wife who will be loyal, obedient and unquestioning to the husband. (ibid.,p.10)When looking at today?s Western standards, this can only be seen as barbaric, but the consistency at which Korean immigrants retain such values is strong. A large reason as to why a family would hold on to their traditions is because of the difficult acculturation process. The differences in lifestyle and beliefs from the Asian culture to the Western culture are so drastic that it is easier to grip what is familiar rather than adapt to what is foreign.

The Korean culture, just like many Asian cultures, do not encourage violence but instead accept physical forms of discipline. When dealing with relationships, intimacy and expression are frowned upon. This lack of intimacy allows violence and abuse to seep through into the cultural norms. These Korean wives come from a culture where there is an old saying that a bukuh (a kind of dried fish) and a wife must be beaten once a day. This saying makes an analogy of the wife being beaten for her disobedience as to a dried fish being beaten for its preparation as food. When a wife is found beaten, it is understood not only by others but also by the wife herself that she has deserved the beating. (Ho Kim, 1999, p.17)

The self-esteem and individualism for these women has been taken away by the society to such an extent, that the woman believes she should not anger her husband into violence. Korean women have endured the physical abuse involved in this society and the immigrants have brought this to the table of the Korean American culture. These norms extend into the individual mentality of the women causing an even further acceptance of domestic violence.

Tong Ho Kim conducted an interview with ten Korean American women and ten Korean American men who had battered their partners. In this study, he was able to reveal the mentality of Korean women in an abusive relationship. Almost all participants reported that they had experienced substantial gender discrimination as children. However, all of the men indicated that they thought such stereotyping and discrimination was the way thing “should be.” (Ho Kim, 1999, p.3) Further, most of the women participants also felt that such inequality in the household was acceptable. This highlights the fact that Korean-American women still generally hold traditional cultural beliefs devaluing the role of women. Why wouldn?t the Western culture influence the mind of a Korean American wife, and why does the traditions remain so strong so far away from their home country?

The transition from one society to another society has become a huge obstacle for many of the immigrant families from Korea. The acculturation process has indirectly sustained a large number of domestic violence cases. The families that immigrate to America are usually a nuclear family consisting of the husband, wife and children. Families in Korea are somewhat of an extended family and in this extended family the elders do not agree with repeated incidents of physical disputes between the husband and wife. When the Korean nuclear family is isolated as it is in America, the husband can often beat his wife without any resistance. There is also the greater dependence that the wife will have to the husband in a foreign environment. The husband as stated before is the breadwinner of the family; the wife who is usually uneducated and unskilled becomes economically strapped to the husband. The Korean wife is essentially isolated to remain in her designated family. She has great difficulty with the language and this would deter her from seeking any form assistance from outside the home. But before the wife can even begin to think of escaping the abusive relationship, she first considers her own cultural binds. The Korean society discourages divorce or separation, where the negative effects would fall upon the wife. She is thought to have lost “face” to the family, brought a sense of shame, because not only has she lost responsibility to the children, but also she has failed to please her husband. (Abraham, 1995, p.4-6) Although the women are usually physically and emotionally tired, they still feel obligated to fulfill their “duties” as Korean wives. (ibid., p.11) The Korean culture lacks the quality of individualism and expression, therefore the empowerment of women is a distant issue and often unimaginable.

The existence of the domestic violence issue among Korean American family has become a shared topic among the entire Asian American community. There are an increasing number of studies by sociologists, psychologists and family therapist that acknowledge the relative difference in handling battered wives in an immigrant family. New programs are evolving where they address a unique set of issues ranging from language and cultural barriers to getting help for immigrants and overcoming fears of deportation by abusive partners. Asian females such as Carole Ching, youth project coordinator for Sacramento-based Asian Resources Inc., and Beckie Masaki, executive director and co-founder of the Asian Women?s Shelter, are taking the initiative, pioneering programs that will heighten the awareness and educate the community on domestic violence. (Agnew, 1998, p.5) There has always been a great need to aid the battered wives in the Korean American community; it has just been a stubborn process in opening the doors of the issue to this strong traditional culture. Kimberly Huisman stated that the solution would come once the entire community acknowledges that domestic violence exists within itself.

The story told in the introduction comes from a personal experience of my own. My own mother being of first generation has fallen into the category of a battered wife. I never recognized how different and how grave the situation was for her. I soon realized it was not my family alone, as other Korean American children saw the same at their homes. As the assimilation process continues with the Korean American families of the first generation. There needs to be an open mind on what values and norms to accept. For the most part, the sentiments have been to accept the old traditional ways, but this continuing cycle is too devastating and senseless to ignore. With the understanding of the traditional norms and values and the empowerment of women on this issue, an evolution of new values and norms will help alleviate the prevalence of domestic violence in the Korean American family.

Gelles, Richard J. “Domestic Violence Factoids.” University of Rhode Island Family Violence research Program. December 17, 1996. October 20, 1999

Wong, Bet Key, “Domestic Violence and Asian Families.” March 13, 1999. October 10, 1999.

Rimonte Nilda. “A Question of Culture: Cultural Approval of Violence Against Women in the Pacific-Asian Community and the Cultural Defense.” Stanford Law Review, 43(6) (1991): 1311-1326.

Hurh, W.M., and Kim, K.C. Korean Immigrants in America: A structural anlaysis of ethnic confinement and adhesive adaptation. Macomb, IL: Western Illinoes University Press. 1984.

Kitano, H.L., and Daniels, R. Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 1995.

Ho Kim, Tong. “Cultural aspects of marital violence in first generation immigrant Korean-American families.” Family Systems Research and Therapy. Encino, CA: Philips Graduate Institute, 1996, Volume 5. 127-137.

Yip, Althea. “When Violence Begins at Home.” Asian Week. October 16-22. 1997. October 23, 1999.

Yoon, Yoeng-mi. “Intimate Crimes Bitter Reality.” Korea Times. July 21, 1999. October 23, 1999.

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