Partner Violence, Depression, and Practice Implications with Families of Chinese Descent

Article excerpt

Abstract: Because the Chinese tend to display psychological problems such as depression in somatic This article examines cultural aspects, experiences, and the mental health consequences of partner violence among families of Chinese descent. A total of 262 Chinese men and women participated in a telephone survey about partner violence and psychological well-being, symptoms, two indicators of mental health were employed in the research study. Findings indicated a high level of verbal aggression both perpetrated and sustained by participants. Rates of physical abuse were lower; however, these figures dispel the model minority myth associated with Asian Americans. In addition, findings showed a positive correlation between depression and partner violence. Those who experienced verbal and physical aggression by a spouse/intimate partner in the last 12 months were more likely to experience depression. Those who perpetrated physical aggression were more likely to experience somatic symptoms. Practice and research implications are highlighted.

Key Words: partner violence, marital violence, domestic violence, Chinese families, culture

Domestic violence is a global problem that extends across social, cultural, ethnic, so cioeconomic, and regional boundaries (Fischbach & Herbert, 1997; Asbury, 1993). In the United States, findings from a national survey found that a quarter of the couples surveyed reported at least one incident of physical aggression in their relationship (Straus & Gelles, 1990). Annually, one million women seek medical assistance for injuries resulting from battering (Goodman, Koss, & Russon, 1993). Very little focus, however, has been placed on cultural and ethnic differences. There is a paucity of data on domestic violence among Chinese immigrant or Chinese American families. This is because prevalence studies have not included the Chinese as a separate demographic category in analyses (Lee, 2000).

Preliminary studies, while not derived from epidemiological surveys, dispel the stereotype of the "model minority myth." In a study of university students, for example, 21.4% of the Chinese students surveyed disclosed being a victim of physical violence by a partner since they started dating (Yick & Agbayani-Siewert, 2000). Tang (1994) found a rate of 14% of spousal abuse among the Chinese families residing in Hong Kong. The "model minority myth" also stems from the low utilization rate of domestic violence services among Chinese women, and consequently, it is assumed that this problem does not exist among the Chinese (Lee & Au, 1998). This article examines partner violence among Chinese immigrant and American-born Chinese and depressive and somatic symptoms. Given the tendency among Chinese to somatize psychological symptoms, two indicators of mental health were employed in the study. One is a more traditional measure to assess the affective component of depression, and the second is a more culture-bound indicator to measure somatic dimensions of depression. In addition, social desirability was taken into account due to the fact that partner violence is a highly sensitive matter, and there is a pressure to maintain family secrets (Gelles, 1993).

Specifically, the following research questions facilitated the study: (1) What is the scope of partner abuse (i.e., victimization and perpetration experiences) among individuals of Chinese-descent? (2) After controlling for social desirability, what is the relationship between depression and somatization among individuals of Chinese-descent who have been psychologically and/or physically victimized by a spouse/intimate partner? (3) After controlling for social desirability, what is the relationship between depression and somatization among individuals of Chinese-descent who have perpetrated psychological and/or physical violence against a spouse/intimate partner?

LITERATURE REVIEW

Partner Violence and Cultural Issues

As McGee (1997) notes, all family systems have meta-rules, roles, and cultural values, which can be used to help frame a cultural analysis of partner violence. …