By Yumhee Park
Program Assistant for the Health and Reproductive Rights Department, National Women’s Law Center
For the past month, during my morning and evening commute, I have been welcomed with a sign that says 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4. That means out of my 3 college girlfriends and me, one of us will or have experienced violence from an intimate partner or spouse. Sadly, whenever I look at this sign, it rings true to my life. Domestic violence and everything it encompasses is one of the issues that drive my passion in women’s rights. From a young age, I have seen how lightly it can be taken and how cultural pressures can muffle the voices that domestic violence affects the most.
My ethnicity is South Korean. I come from a culture that is rather patriarchal. Though my country has made great strides, my parent’s generation still influences my generation both in the States and in South Korea. During my parent’s generation, moving to America symbolized a new start. Folks truly believed in the American dream – a chance to recreate one’s life in a land with limitless possibilities and resources and in a country that encouraged individualism. Because of instability in South Korea from the 1960s to ’80s, my parents, like many other families, sought to immigrate to the United States. Women followed their husbands with a hope for a wildly different and better life.
Unfortunately, moving to America did not immediately translate to stability for many Korean families. Finding a place to belong proved difficult and many Korean men would become easily stressed, dealing with both providing for their family and continuous language barriers. In a study [PDF] done by the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, “256 Korean men from randomly selected Korean households in Chicago and in Queens in 1993: nearly 39% of husbands who were categorized as experiencing ‘high stress’ perpetrated domestic violence during the past year.”
Both the wife and husband experience stress from moving to a completely new country and it’s natural that anxieties will be taken out on the other. However, due to the patriarchy that’s so deeply rooted in the culture, domestic violence is almost normalized. The woman is encouraged not to seek help but to deal with it for the sake of her family and most of the time made to think that it is her fault. Sometimes it’s due to not wanting to bring embarrassment to the family or to the woman personally. Sometimes it’s due simply to not knowing where to turn. In fact, a localized study again done by APIIDV in Boston found that 29% of Korean respondents said a woman who is being abused should not tell anyone about it [PDF]. Children grow up being exposed to violent behavior, see that it is encouraged to keep quiet and this in turn is detrimental to the family as a whole – perpetuating future generations that have a skewed perception of violence against women.
America should send a message loud and clear that domestic violence will not be tolerated. Instead of silencing the women suffering from these issues, we as a country should encourage discussion and work on providing resources to the communities that need it most. Instead of allowing behavior that is detrimental to both women and the family to continue and to go under the radar, the United States should serve as hope for all people that things can and will change.
Although I was born in the States, I still see myself as somewhat of an immigrant because of my parents and because my childhood was spent in Korea. America provided me the education and knowledge to really explore my passion in women’s rights and to be able to see the Korean community in the States with a different lens. My hope for future immigrants is that America doesn’t fail them, especially when it comes to basic human rights and the fact that they have sought America so their voices would be heard.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2013 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.