TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
BY CYNTHIA CHOCKALINGAM, CIVIL RIGHTS UNIT INTERN AT SAN
The South Asian culture is one that has taught us to be silent in our suffering; it has taught us that there is nothing more important than being selfless. This selflessness leads us to being caught in a culture where gender and sexuality issues go almost completely unaddressed. There’s a taboo in even approaching such issues as they risk the family’s “reputation,” so girls are taught to be selfless in valuing their families over themselves. This taboo results in further suffering to victims and the relationships they have with their families and those around them. In many South Asian communities, victims are silenced and left without help.
Even more so, members of the LGBTQ+ South Asian community face even more sexual attacks, yet they receive even less attention. A study conducted in the New York State region—-led by professors and individuals affiliated with New York University—consisting of 385 18 to 34 year-olds that are South Asian Americans quantified some disparities between these different communities. 24.1% of the surveyed individuals identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the queer community were more likely to be raped multiple times, quantifying that 17.2% of the South Asian American queer community experienced rape multiple times—compared to 9.6% of their heterosexual counterparts. Consequentially, sexual minorities had higher odds of depression.
Nonetheless, I must acknowledge the progress the South Asian American community has made in acknowledging sexual assault within American society. Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in America is a book edited by Shamita Das Dasgupta that examines violence women face in South Asian American communities. Since the 1990s, around 25 South Asian community-based organizations have been established that are rooted in anti-domestic violence work. However, Sagarika Gami at Pomona College counters that these organizations primarily only solve individual problems while sexual violence in the South Asian American community is systemic; therefore, there must be a collective, systemic solution. Shamita Das Dasgupta argues that lots of the stigma surrounding sexual violence in South Asian American communities is heavily tied to the Model Minority Myth; I would agree with this.
The model minority myth is a construct and a set of stereotypes framing Asians, including South Asians, as the “ideal” minority that works hard and does not challenge the status quo. The University of Texas at Austin explains that most Asian-Americans are placed into this category called “model minorities” essentially meaning they are perfect, successful, and what every minority should aim to be. The cultural expectations include being naturally “smart,” wealthy, hard-working, submissive and obedient, uncomplaining, and self-reliant. They live the “American Dream.” Vivian Biwei Huang at UCLA
✎ EditSign explains Asian American students often hide their personal problems and struggles compared to other demographics because they do not want to stray from this “good” stereotype where Asians and Asian-Americans are “perfect.” Ultimately, the myth is destructive for all parties. Many Asians and Asian Americans in the United States uphold these stereotypes and ideals out of safety and self-preservation. South Asians in this community live by keeping our heads down and staying out of the way, and we can survive. Consequently, victims of sexual violence are told to keep quiet to keep from causing disruption. While it is understandable that parents want nothing more than for their children to be able to succeed, the trauma left behind by sexual violence—especially untreated and unacknowledged trauma—prohibits many from growing and reaching their full potential.
The number of victims in our South Asian American community is significant, and they cannot keep being ignored. The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence helps quantify how large this problem is: “Of API women, 23% experienced some form of contact sexual violence, 10% experienced completed or attempted rape, and 21% had non-contact unwanted sexual experiences during their lifetime.” Further, “64% of Indian and Pakistani women had experienced sexual violence by an intimate in a study of 143 domestic violence survivors.” They also quantify, “50% of Indian and Pakistani abused women reported being stalked by an intimate partner.” These actions are surrounded by a culture that gives ground to violence. In fact, the institute states, “79% of South Asians…reported being hit regularly as children.” When violence is treated as normal from a young age, a South Asian woman who faces violence as an adult is less inclined to report it and prevent it from happening again.
Concepts of “honor” and “shame” keep members of the South Asian American community from discussing situations of sexual violence—these patriarchal norms and values are prevalent in South Asian communities around the world. Consequently, as a community, we have overlooked this issue for quite some time. Despite these situations being prevalent for generations, we have been unable to address them due to the stigma surrounding these conversations; we then pay the price. Members of our own community continue to become victims with no light or solution in sight.