Supporting asian survivors

background information

  • Good Practice Guidelines for ‘Mainstream’ Sexual Violence Crisis Services - Working with Asian survivors (Feng & Hauraki , 2016) 

  • Woodley, A, Davis, R, Metzger, N.  (2013).  Breaking the silence but keeping secrets: what young people want to address sexual violence. Auckland: Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation Trust and Tu Wahine Trust.  
  • Parackal, S., Ameratunga, S., Tin Tin, S., Wong, S. and Denny, S. (2011).  Youth’07: The health and wellbeing of secondary school students in New Zealand: Results for Chinese, Indian and other Asian students. Auckland: The University of Auckland.  

Essential Learning - What we need to know

  1. Asian is a broad term used to refer to individuals who originate from a plethora of countries and cultures on the Asian continent.  Asians now account for 12% of the entire New Zealand population according to the 2013 census, with the eight largest Asian ethnic groups in New Zealand being Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian and Thai.
  2. Tackling the ‘model minority’ myth.  Professionals need to recognise that the often purported label of a ‘model minority’ and low sexual violence statistics in Asian communities, perhaps due to underreporting, does not mean that sexual violence is not occurring in Asian communities (Allnock, Radford et. al, 2012; Kanukollu & Mahalingham, 2011; Sue, S., Nakamura, Chung & Yee-Bradbury, 1992; Takeuchi, Zane et. al, 2007; Yoshioka & Dang, 2000). 

  3. Rates of unwanted sexual touching or forced sexual behaviour experienced by high schools students in New Zealand are similar for Asian and NZ European students.  Chinese students – 10% reported sexual abuse in their lifetimes with 67% of these never having told anyone.  Five % reported having been abused more than once in the previous 12 months with 43% of these describing the abuse as severe.  Indian students, 12% reported sexual abuse with 71% not having told anyone.  Seven % had been abused more than once in the previous 12 months, with 51% describing this as severe.  Other Asian students – 9% reported sexual abuse, with 66% not having told anyone.  4% had experienced more than one episode in the past 12 months, with 43% describing this as severe.   

  4. Conservative attitudes towards sex and a lack of knowledge around sexual violence.  There is a lack of necessary space for discussion and education around sex and sexual violence due to the taboo nature of the topic within Asian communities (Futa, Hsu et al. 2001; Ohio Alliance to end sexual violence 2014; Robertson, Chaudhary et al. 2016) 

    -  There is often a lack of terminology or concepts pertaining to sexual violence (e.g., unwanted and unacceptable sexual behaviour), and if present, the meanings attributed may differ for different individuals and cultural groups within Asian communities.   
    -  Within Asian communities, there is limited knowledge around the rights of an individual, the potential difficulties that one may face in the aftermath of sexual violence, as well as the services available to support survivors and how to access these.  

  5. Shame and stigma.  Asian survivors often fear bringing shame on oneself and one’s immediate and extended family due to the emphasis placed on family duty and harmony, and the far-reaching effects of shame and stigma attached to being a survivor of sexual violence (Kanukollu & Mahalingham, 2011; Rastogi, Khushalani et al. 2014; Robertson, Chaudhary et al. 2016; Yoshioka & Dang, 2000).
    -  Prioritising the reputation of family is important. Asian survivors can remain silent due to this fear, and the focus is often on denial or minimisation. 
    -  The shame and stigma is further augmented due to the ethnic minority status and consequent smaller Asian communities in New Zealand.  

  6. Somatisation.  There may be a tendency for Asian survivors to somatise and present under the guise of other issues (e.g., stress, sleep difficulties, asking a question for a friend) and professionals need to be aware of these “tell-tale” signs. 

  7. Cultural dynamics and patriarchal norms.  The dynamics surrounding the topic of sex and sexual violence in Asian communities often reinforces patriarchal norms and values where male rights, dominance and authority is championed (Cowburn, Gill et. al., 2015; Kanukollu & Mahalingham, 2011).  This, coupled with the formal and hierarchical nature of families in Asian families (Futa, Hsu et. al. 2001), can mean:
    -  An Asian survivor’s experiences of sexual violence may not be recognised as such within their families and community. 
    -  The decision of whether an Asian survivor seeks help and where this help comes from may rest with individuals (usually male) within a survivor’s family and even wider community (e.g., religious group or organisation). 
    -  Informal sources of support (e.g., talking with relatives or friends) are often the first-port-of-call. 
    -  There can be a greater endorsement of rape myths in Asian communities meaning the survivor is blamed, and they may be questioned about their role in precipitating the sexual violence.   

  8. The role of acculturation.  An individual’s level of acculturation to and internalisation of Western culture and values is important since it can mediate the level to which an Asian survivor (and their family) is affected by issues such as conservatism and a lack of knowledge pertaining to sexual violence, stigma, shame and adherence to patriarchal norms, and consequently their decision to disclose and seek help (Futa, Hsu et al. 2001; Kanukollu & Mahalingam, 2011; Kim & Ingrid, 2015; Te Pou, 2010).   

  9. Vulnerable populations within Asian communities.  International students, visitors/tourists, refugees and recent migrants may be more vulnerable due to more idealised perceptions of New Zealand (e.g., “New Zealand is no crime, clean and green”), less understanding around individual rights and boundaries regarding acceptable/unacceptable behaviour (e.g., “New Zealanders are friendlier, it’s normal to hug and kiss, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable”), as well as a lack of established support networks from family, friends and individuals within their communities. 

Essential Practice - What we need to do

On the frontline

1.  “One size does not fit all”.  It is important to take an individualised approach in working with Asian survivors due to the vast diversity amongst the different communities.   

  • Take into account the issues, beliefs and values that are important to the survivor’s culture and country of origin, and examine how these intertwine with the survivor’s own experiences as an individual within their own culture and community, as well as in New Zealand, especially acculturation to and internalisation of Western concepts and values. 
  • For some, having a professional who matches their gender, age, culture and language is really important.  For others, having such a culture match may be a deterrent due to the shame and stigma and consequent fear of exposure with having someone from their comparatively small community (when contrasted to countries of origin). 
  • Do not assume that widely held beliefs, values and ways of working associated with a particular Asian culture may apply to an Asian survivor from that culture.   
  • It is important to have a service that is able to match the gender, age, culture and language of a survivor AND have professionals (who are not from a survivor’s culture) be able to “pick and choose” from a culturally appropriate and sensitive “toolbox” of knowledge and skills in order to individualise their approach. 

2. The importance of rapport building and confidentiality.  Time should be spent on rapport building and ensuring confidentiality in order to address the significant effects of stigma and shame attached to being a survivor of sexual violence and speaking about such experiences. This is particularly important for young people who want to protect themselves from the views and reactions of parents and others, and to protect their families from feeling shame and guilt and being criticised by others.    
3. The importance of normalisation and education.  It is important to normalise an Asian survivor’s experiences and fears (particularly with regards to disclosure and help seeking) in order to combat the stigma attached to sexual violence.  Due to the lack of discussions and education around sex and sexual violence in Asian communities, it is valuable to: 

  • Provide some information around boundaries of behaviour and individual rights, particularly in helping the survivor label their experiences.  
  • Provide some education about sexual violence, the common experiences of other survivors in the aftermath of such trauma and the supports and services available in the community.   

Crisis Support Services 

  1. Where possible, employ staff from the Asian communities in the service area.   
  2. Young Asian students prefer that a qualified and same gender person provide them with assistance, who is preferably Asian but not from their particular community, and who is young enough to understand the particular issues that they face in their families and communities. 
  3. Ensure all frontline staff have training in working with Asian survivors so that they have sufficient skills and knowledge to meet the needs of the individual client. 
  4. Provision of cultural consultation will enhance those skills and knowledge and allow for continued recognition and discussion of the issues pertinent to the culture of the survivor (e.g., shame and stigma, patriarchal norms, acculturation) and is vital to tailoring an individualised approach to each survivor. 
  5. Young Chinese and Korean students have expressed a preference for on-line services.  They would look here for help, and would prefer skype or internet based counselling through on-line messaging to avoid being identified seeking help.  Young Indian and South Asian students might look on-line, but their internet use was monitored so they would prefer face to face assistance.  

Sector and community development 

  1. Provide education to the wider Asian community. This will not only educate and empower Asian survivors to recognise the need to seek help and the appropriate services, but also provide the platform to increase knowledge and reduce stigma in their communities, paving the way for greater recognition and support amongst family and friends, who are often the first-port-of-call for Asian survivors.  Providing language-appropriate resources is a good way to promote education, including written materials about what is acceptable and unacceptable, when to seek help, the services available and how to access these.  Other forms of resources can include audio or video recordings of Asians talking about sexual violence, to further provide education, reduce shame and stigma, and normalise help seeking.   
  2. Young people are most likely to disclose to a friend, so education targeted to assisting friends could have great value.  It could also inform survivors without directly addressing them as such. 
  3. Young women wanted to hear more stories from young people who were sexually abused and got through it.  They also believed that such stories could assist their parents to consider their own reactions.    

Improving cultural competence 

This very useful booklet is intended for those working in the fields of mental health and addiction, but also contains much general information about Asian cultures and the use of counselling and other therapies.   

Other related research 

Allnock, D., et al. (2012). "In demand: Therapeutic services for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse." Child Abuse Review 21(5): 318-334. 

Cowburn, M., et al. (2015). Speaking about sexual abuse in British South Asian communities: offenders, victims and the challenges of shame and reintegration. Journal of Sexual Aggression 21(1): 4-15. 

Futa, K. T., et al. (2001). Child sexual abuse in Asian American families:  An examination of cultural factors that influence prevalence, identification, treatment. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 8(2): 189-209. 

Ministry of Health. (2006). Asian health chart book. Ministry of Health. Wellington. 

Kanukollu, S. (2010). Model minority myth and perceptions of child sexual abuse among South Asian immigrants. Michigan, University of Michigan. Doctoral dissertation. 

Kanukollu, S. and R. Mahalingam (2011). The idealized cultural identities model on help-seeking and child sexual abuse:  A conceptual model of contextualizing perceptions and experiences of South Asian Americans. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 20: 218-243.  

Kim, E. and H. Ingrid (2015). Intimate partner violence among Asian Indian women in the United States: Recognition of abuse and help-seeking attitudes. International Journal of Mental Health 44(3): 200-214. 

MacPherson, L. (2015). National Ethnic Population Projections: 2013(base)–2038. Retrieved 02/08/2016, 2016. 

McPhillips, K., et al. (2009). Mainstream Crisis Support Services Responding to Sexual Violence Perpetrated Against Adults: Good Practice Project – Round 1. Report to Ministry of Social Development Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence. Wellington, TOAH-NNEST. 

Rasanathan, K., et al. (2006). A health profile of young Asian New Zealanders who attend secondary school: Findings from Youth2000. Auckland, University of Auckland. 

Rastogi, P., et al. (2014). Understanding clinician perception of common presentations in South Asians seeking mental health treatment and determining barriers and facilitators to treatment. Asian Journal Of Psychiatry 7(1): 15-21. 

Robertson, H. A., et al. (2016). Family violence and child sexual abuse among South Asians in the US. Journal Of Immigrant And Minority Health 18(4): 921-927. 

Sue, S., Nakamura, C. Y., Chung, R. C. Y., & Yee-Bradbury, C.  (1992).  Mental Health Research on Asian Americans.  Journal of Community Psychology, 22, 61-67. 

Takeuchi, D. T., et al. (2007). Immigration-related factors and mental disorders among Asian Americans. American Journal of Public Health 97(1): 84-90. 

Te Pou. (2010). Talking Therapies for Asian People: Best and promising practice guide for mental health and addiction services. Auckland: Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui. 

Violence, A. P. I. I. o. D. (2011). Fact Sheet:  Sexual violence against Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women. Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence. San Francisco. 

violence, O. A. t. e. s. (2014). Sexual violence & women of colour:  A Fact Sheet. O. A. t. e. s. violence. Ohio, Ohio Alliance to end sexual violence. 

Yoshioka, M. R. and Q. Dang (2000). Asian family violence report:  A study of the Cinese, Cambodian, Korean, South Asian and Vietnamese Communities in Massachusetts. I. Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. Boston.

Relevant References - other related research