3 Stereotypes About Asians That Prevent These Domestic Violence Survivors from Getting Help

In case you missed it, the “Black male boogeyman” has overrun our newsfeeds these past weeks.

With Adrian Peterson’s child beating and Ray Rice’s elevator pushing on everyone’s lips, it’s a tough time to be both black and male. Images of the towering black male body come to mind, and commentators theorize about the “nature” of black men, black families, and black values.

And things slowly spin out of control.

Are we still talking about domestic violence, or are we letting race take over the conversation?

Racial assumptions are made about domestic abusers and survivors every day, and they are active obstacles for domestic violence survivors.

Just as our persistent stereotypes about black males have made Peterson the face of child abuse and Rice the face of domestic abuse, persistent stereotypes about Asian culture have systematically erased Asian/Pacific Islanders from the domestic violence conversation.

In some cases, these stereotypes have also prevented survivors from receiving the same assistance, making it even harder for them to leave their abusive relationships.

Stereotypes are powerful.

Approximately 41-61% of Asian women in the US report physical and/or sexual abuse in their lifetime from an intimate partner. Compare that to the general statistic that one-in-four women in the United States will experience some form of partner abuse.

These numbers are significantly disproportionate, and stereotypes play a huge role.

Here are three persistent Asian stereotypes that actively prevent Asian/Pacific Islanders (A/PI) survivors of domestic violence from accessing resources and ways you can help.

1. Asians Are All the Same!

When we fill out forms, we are typically given five choices for our ethnic identity: White/Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Other. If we’re lucky, there will be an extra category for Native American.

An Asian person, according to the US Census, is “[a] person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.”

That’s a lot of geographical locations, traditions, languages, religions, and cultures lumped under one umbrella.

For example, a Catholic Korean would not have the same experiences as a Muslim Indonesian. Pacific Islanders are also sometimes lumped under the Asian umbrella. This means a Native Hawaiian could be considered “Asian” in some instances.

Asians are not all the same!

Also, “the Far East?” Come on. You might as well say “Silk Road.”

Why Is This Harmful for Survivors?

Did you know that Asia actually is composed of more than forty different countries?

When we try to fit people of such diverse backgrounds under one (very problematic) umbrella term, survivors have difficulty gaining access to resources.

For example, language access for Latinx domestic violence survivors often means providing a Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking translator or language line.

Language access for A/PI domestic violence survivors is much more complicated. When the A/PI community consists of 100+ distinct languages, service providers such as the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) must prepare and train multilingual advocates in each of those languages.

Asian is a vague term that agencies have come to rely on when making big decisions in funding. What the Cambodian community needs may not be the same as what the Pakistani community needs. But we cannot uncover these nuances when the term Asian continues to represent such diverse communities.

What Can I Do to Help?

Are you proficient in a specific A/PI language? Put your language skill to use and help A/PI domestic violence survivors. Bilingual advocates are always needed in languages such as Sinhalese, Pashto, Burmese, Nepali, Lao, Mandarin, Khmer, Dari, and many others.

Bilingual advocates translate technical terms and offer moral support. If you are in a stressful situation, it helps to have an advocate who speaks your language. Even if they just say “I’m here for you.”

If you can’t speak an A/PI language, you can still help. Stop using Asian in your everyday conversations without acknowledging all the rich cultures that fall under the Asian umbrella.

Say Asian/Pacific Islander or A/PI instead. Ask questions to educate yourself about others’ cultures without making broad assumptions.

Just remember to be culturally sensitive. Asking “What kind of Asian are you?” is just as antiquated as using the term “Far East.” There aren’t different kinds of Asian when Asian, itself, is a problematic term.

2. Asians Are Very Successful. They Don’t Experience Abuse!

When we lump Asians into one group, we also produce false positives. We think that all Asians are doing pretty well for themselves.

Asians are moving into good neighborhoods, excelling in school, and climbing out of the middle class (which isn’t even true if you look across different groups). Since Asians are so successful, they supposedly also don’t experience abuse.

That’s false. No one (or group of people) is immune to domestic violence.

Why Is This Harmful for Survivors?

This assumption is harmful for A/PI survivors of domestic violence because it forces survivors to maintain a public image of success. See, even when stereotypes are supposedly positive, they can have negative effects.

Survivors may feel pressured to stay in abusive relationships in order to save face in an already small community. Sometimes survivors may also experience in-law abuse or be afraid of calling the police because they are undocumented. (It’s important to note that legal papers and proceedings are often controlled by abusers, and survivors have minimal control over their documentation.)

Just because everything is calm on the surface does not mean there isn’t a problem.

Right after the Ray Rice incident gained media attention, many A/PI domestic violence organizations reported a surge in calls from survivors. Some survivors may call and hang up, only to call back again in two years when they gain more courage — or, unfortunately, when their situation reaches the breaking point.

Just because some Asian/Pacific Islanders have done a fantastic job academically and economically does not mean that things are alright at home. By perpetuating this stereotype that all Asians are always success all the time, we systematically erase A/PI survivors from the domestic violence conversation.

Because when you think about your typical domestic violence survivor, who do you see?

What Can I Do to Help?

Recognize that abuse is not a cultural thing. It’s an education thing. No one is immune to abuse, but everyone should talk about it. Just because it’s not obvious doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Don’t make assumptions about someone else’s relationship dynamic; listen and pay attention to the signs. It’s not okay to think “Well, they’re having issues in their relationship, but it’s different for them, because they are [insert any race or identity].”

Abuse is abuse.

If you think you know someone in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for a TTY. If you live in Maryland, DC, or Virginia and need to speak to someone in your native language, call the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project at 202-833-2233.

But please be aware that Internet and phone activity can be monitored by abusers.

3. Asian Women Are Naturally Submissive. They Actually Like Being Pushed Around!

Even if A/PIs did experience domestic violence, it’s not considered “abuse” in the Asian culture, right?

Popular media images paint Asian women as quiet and docile. Asian women love doing housework, because they are, by nature, nurturers. They do what they are told with a smile. In porn, they are the flexible ones, wide-eyed and ready to serve.


Don’t buy into these racial stereotypes. It’s 2014, and we are better than these lyrics that degrade Asian women.

Why Is This Harmful for Survivors?

No one group of people is naturally submissive. No one likes being pushed around. These are harmful stereotypes that actually perpetuate the myth that Asian women are “asking for it.”

This stereotype is also harmful for A/PI survivors of domestic violence because we can easily let assumptions take over and distract us from the real problems.

For example, many survivors appear shy or complacent, but in reality, there may be a language barrier. Other survivors may simply lack the knowledge of the legal system in place and the resources available to them.

It’s not natural subservience if there is a clear difference in power and access.

Abuse can also happen in many different ways. An abuser can hold power over a survivor financially, emotionally, through the fear of losing custody over children, and through their legal status.

When a survivor is submissive through fear and lack of power, there is nothing natural or enjoyable about it.

What Can I Do to Help?

Be critical about the movies, music, and TV shows that you support. If they perpetuate the “submissive Asian” stereotype, call them out.

It’s not “just entertainment” when stereotypes make a real impact on people’s lives. It’s not “just one song/movie/show” when these stereotypes add up to create inaccurate caricatures about a group of people.

If you hear anyone using a harmful stereotype, call them out on it! It’s not okay to perpetuate stereotypes when stereotypes have real effects on people’s lives. You can tell a story or get a laugh without disparaging a whole group of people. If you can’t, you’re not trying hard enough.

But let’s be real. It takes a while to break down cultural, social, and emotional barriers. Be patient with the progress.


Racial assumptions are made every day, and they are active obstacles for domestic violence survivors.

Yes, stereotypes are powerful. But there is also power in speaking up and standing up for misrepresented individuals.

Let’s focus on the issue of domestic violence and making sure all survivors get access to resources, regardless of preconceived notions about their race.

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Amy Sun is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She has worked with providing resources and support for Asian/Pacific Islander survivors of domestic violence in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia areas. She also holds her Masters in Women’s Studies from the George Washington University, where she has researched the coming out processes for trans* who identify as FTM and MTF. In her past life, she was a middle and high school math teacher.

This article was written in collaboration with Haruka Nobukuni, the Senior Case Manager at Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). Since 1995, DVRP has provided culturally and linguistically appropriate services to survivors. DVRP’s programs and structure is survivor-created and survivor-driven. DVRP has been providing services to A/PI survivors in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, empowered community leaders to speak out against violence and provided trainings to various audiences on cultural competency and domestic violence awareness.

Haruka has worked as an advocate, case manager, and mental health professional at DVRP and other agencies. She has provided advocacy/case management services to immigrant domestic violence survivors and to chronically homeless individuals with disabilities including serious mental and physical health problems. Haruka holds Master of Education in Counseling and Development with concentration in community agency counseling from George Mason University. Find out more about DVRP at www.dvrp.org.