Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Domestic violence rates, culture and refugees.

It is very difficult sometimes to know how to respond to someone who believes that they are both knowledgeable and correct when one knows them to be wrong. And when they consider their point of view to be morally superior as well, then it is extremely awkward to know how to respond. For better or worse, my initial reaction is to just tell them to go away. There are, however, many problems with such a response and one of them though is that you can bet your booty that no matter how wrong they may be there are others somewhere out there who agree with them.

Therefore a disagreement has arisen on these pages about whether or not culture effects the rate and form of domestic violence among people and refugees in particular.

As stated I am not an expert on domestic violence but have studied many forms of violence including child abuse. There is a recognized correlation between rates of violence of many kinds and poverty. This is sad but easily confirmed. (In fact, when I was in graduate school one of the campus publications came under fire for publishing an article arguing that African-Americans committed crimes at a higher rate than Whites. A sociology professor of mine took one look at it and said, "Their entire argument could be reframed by removing the racial statistics and just correlating the violence with the poverty rates among the two populations. If done that way their facts would remain the same but the racial discrepancy would probably largely disappear.")

So, sadly, an assumption could be made that since refugees tend to live in poverty at a higher rate than the dominant population of the United States, they are likely to have a higher rate of violence of all kinds, including domestic vioelnce. Again, this is an assumption, a theory, and nothing more but I suspect further research would bear it out. If found such a correlation would be independent of culture and merely reflect the stresses of living under worse conditions and in neighborhoods with higher rates of crime and violence.

And yes, of course, domestic violence affects all populations but the issue is at what rate? I would suggest and believe it to be documented that such factors as economic independence, availability of marriage counselors, availability of good babysitters, access to economic opportunities, even access to automobiles and transportation to flee a bad situation and ability to afford a hotel room after one flees all affect the likelihood of domestic violence either taking place or continuing.

But let's set aside economics and look at the effect of culture. Defining culture is difficult. Defining domestic violence is difficult. But we can get a quick image of whether or not domestic violence rates vary from culture to culture by comparing their rates in different nations, although we must also express that caveat that culture and nation are not synonymous. And of course one should dig deeper to find out how these rates were determined before accepting them. But if we can prove that domestic violence rates vary from nation to nation then it seems logical to assume that they vary within the United States among people from different nations although, for several reasons, the actual statistics would probably vary somewhat. (For instance, should we find a nation where domestic violence is accepted and there exists no legal mechanism to stop it, we could assume that this hypothetical ethnic group would have a high rate of domestic violence in the United States when compared to other ethnic groups although we would have to also assume that since these actions are illegal and our nation does have legal mechanisms to prevent them, then the rate would lower here than in the hypothetical home nation as some of these legal mechanisms should have lowered the rate once this hypothetical ethnic group is within our borders.

To begin casual research, one place one can go is "Wikipedia." With all its flaws, Wikipedia is often still useful, especially when carefully footnoted and in the initial stages of doing research.:

Therefore from the Wikipedia article on Domestic violence accessed at 9:51pm Eastern Standard Time on August 19, 2009 we find the following large paragraph reproduced here in its entirety.:


Domestic violence occurs across the world, in various cultures,[14] and affects people across society, irrespective of economic status.[6] In the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics women are about six times as likely as men to experience intimate partner violence.[15][16] Percent of women surveyed (national surveys) who were ever physically assaulted by an intimate partner: Barbados (30%), Canada (29%), Egypt (34%), New Zealand (35%), Switzerland (21%), United States (22%).[17] Some surveys in specific places report figures as high as 50-70% of women surveyed who were ever physically assaulted by an intimate partner.[17] Others, including surveys in the Philippines and Paraguay, report figures as low as 10%.[17] South Africa is said to have the highest statistics of gender-based violence in the world and this includes rape and domestic violence (Foster 1999; The Integrated Regional Network [IRIN], Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 May 2002).[18] 80% of women surveyed in rural Egypt said that beatings were common and often justified, particularly if the woman refused to have sex with her husband.[19] In India, around 70% of women are victims of domestic violence.[20] The Human Rights Watch found that up to 90% of women in Pakistan were subject to verbal, sexual, emotional or physical abuse, within their own homes.[21] Up to two-thirds of women in certain communities in Nigeria's Lagos State say they are victims to domestic violence.[22] Statistics published in 2004, show that the rate of domestic violence victimisation for Indigenous women in Australia may be 40 times the rate for non-Indigenous women.[23] The rate of intimate partner violence in the U.S. has declined since 1993.[24] Results will vary, depending on specific wording of survey questions, how the survey is conducted, the definition of abuse or domestic violence used, the willingness or unwillingness of victims to admit that they have been abused and other factors.

Martin S. Fiebert examined 219 studies on intimate partner violence and concluded that "women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners".[16] However, studies have shown that the nature and consequences of spousal violence are much more serious for women than for men; the severity of the abuse inflicted on women is worse. A Canadian study showed that 7% of women and 6% of men end up abused by their current or former partners, but female victims of spousal violence were more than twice as likely to be injured as male victims. Women were also three times more likely to fear for their life, and twice as likely to be the targets of more than 10 violent episodes. Overall, female victims were twice as likely as male victims to be stalked by a previous spouse. [25]

Domestic violence against women in lesbian relationships is about as common as domestic violence against women in heterosexual relationships.[26]"

Please note that during the cut and paste process the numbering system became distorted. Footnote "14" became "1" and "15" became "2." Should you wish to check a footnote then please add thirteen to the number shown below.

  1. ^ Watts C, Zimmerman C (April 2002). "Violence against women: global scope and magnitude". Lancet 359 (9313): 1232–7. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)08221-1. PMID 11955557.
  2. ^ Bachman, Ronet and Linda E. Saltzman (August 1995) (PDFNCJ 154348). Violence against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  3. ^ a b c d References Examining Assaults By Women On Their Spouses Or Male Partners: An Annotated Bibliography
  4. ^ a b c "Ending Violence Against Women - Population Reports" (PDF). Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). December 1999.
  5. ^ The Interrelationship Between Gender-based Violence and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. (PDF) Journal of International Women's Studies Vol. 6#1, November 2004.
  6. ^ Widespread violence against women in Africa documented. Source: UNFPA.
  7. ^ India tackles domestic violence. BBC News. October 26, 2006.
  8. ^ PAKISTAN: Domestic violence endemic, but awareness slowly rising. IRIN UN. March 11, 2008.
  9. ^ Half of Nigeria's women experience domestic violence. afrol News.
  10. ^ Domestic Violence in Australia—an Overview of the Issues. Parliamentary Library.
  11. ^ "Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. - Overview". Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Fact Sheet: Lesbian Partner Violence

Should you wish further information you may consult a good library or the internet. You may also try google or google scholar

Should this not convince you that rates of domestic violence vary among cultures, well . . ., I'll go back to "Plan A" and just say "Please go away and argue with someone else. I just don't have the time or interest, especially if you have a moral or political agenda, when you can go to the library instead."

As an aside, (always an aside) I recently skimmed through the high recommended work, "The Little Black Book of Violence --What every young man needs to know about fighting," by Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder, 2009. YMAA Publication Center, Wolfeboro N.H. On pages 93-99 the work contains a nice but brief discussion of men as domestic violence victims, a subject that I feel is often much ignored.

All the best,


Peter Huston


  1. Peter,

    I did not argue that prevalence doesn't very between countries. It *does* vary, and culture is a contributing factor. Attitudes about women's status in society and the acceptability of violence against women vary across geographic and demographic boundaries. I know these things. I have known them for a long time. Moreover, I am not trying to pick an ideological fight with you.

    My point was simply that one cannot assume that what is true at a *population level* is true at the level of an *individual.* Any decent social scientist or public health expert will tell you this. (Think of it this way: most people from the state I went to high school in support the death penalty, but I staunchly oppose it.)

    One cannot assume (without any evidence, that is --an important caveat) that a refugee is abusing his wife or daughters just because said refugee comes from a society where women experience a great deal of gender-based violence.

    If there is a study that shows domestic violence is more prevalent among refugees in the US than the US general population, I have not seen it. I posted those other articles and studies because they provide counter-evidence to the common claim that non-citizens are more likely to commit violent crimes of all kinds, which includes crimes that would fall under the broad category of domestic violence.

    Remember, too, that for reasons related to how they came to be refugees and were then selected for resettlement, resettled refugees are not always representative samples of the populations they come from. (For example: most Afghan women are illiterate and do not work outside the home, yet all my female Afghan refugee friends are well educated and employed.)

    I believe Artan Serjanej's *statements* to Sarah Foss (I am not in a position to comment on anyone's opinons) were insensitive because they could easily have been --and were, by the Refugee Resettlement Watch bloggers-- interpreted to imply that the refugees who attended the workshops either were engaged in violent acts at the time, or were likely to be in the future.


  2. Una, quite frankly I think most of what you say, particularly in the first two thirds of your response, should be obvious to most people.

    Even if one were to prove that a group of people had a higher rate of participation in a given activity, whether it be a good or bad activity, it does not follow that all members of the group engage in that activity.

    Secondly, I think you overstate the influence Serjanej had on RRW. Although I think the bloggers at RRW do ask some questions that few people are asking and that should be addressed (i.e. How are these decisions about refugee policies being made? Where is the money going? Are refugee centers and resettlement charities doing a good job? And considering that few refugees will complain about the organizations that handle so many important details of their lives someone needs to raise these questions.) I think that if you browse their site they have always expressed anti-Muslim sentiments and ever since she's started her blog she's been bombarded with counter-arguments and continues to assert that Islam is a dangerous ideology and will do so for the foreseeable future as it is part of the reasons she started her blog. She specifically states we are bringing too many Muslim refugees to America and many agree with her. (A quick look at the RRW recommended reading list will confirm this.) I personally found Serjanej's statements valuable and insightful and think that the refugee resettlement field is not helped by people who offer white-washed statements that many people find questionable.

    There are good refugees, bad refugees and a lot who are in the middle. Refugees are people and people sometimes do bad things and they sometimes do good things.

    Based on my cursory research, and I wish again to emphasize that I do not claim much expertise on the issue of domestic violence and refugees, there really is not much out there that I've found so far on rates and such, but then again the methodology would be difficult and the motivations need to be taken into account. There is, however, much more on frequency and form of domestic violence among specific immigrant and refugee groups, and should people wish to do further research this might be a good place to start.

    All the best.