"Traditional Discipline" or Domestic Violence: Participatory Action Research with a Sudanese Refugee Community

By Gustafson, Dianne Travers; Iluebbey, Violet | Journal of Cultural Diversity, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview
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"Traditional Discipline" or Domestic Violence: Participatory Action Research with a Sudanese Refugee Community


Gustafson, Dianne Travers, Iluebbey, Violet, Journal of Cultural Diversity


Abstract: Domestic violence is a public health problem, but little is known about contributors to domestic violence in refugee families. Participatory action research (PAR) was the method used when partnering with a Sudanese refugee community to explore experiences of resettlement, gender and role relationship changes, family conflict, domestic violence ana the U.S. legal system. This iterative research process led to family education about domestic violence, community advocacy by and for refugees, and relationship building with a metropolitan police department. Ethical and cultural challenges encountered in PAR are discussed.

Key Words: Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Refugee, Participatory Action Research

While domestic violence is recognized as a global public health problem, and is the single greatest cause of injury to women in the United States, few studies focus on the contributors to or the extent of domestic violence in immigrant, refugee families (Agosin, 2001; Yoshihama, 2009). Legally defined domestic violence in the U.S. may involve culturally sanctioned behaviors in the countries of refugee origin. However, immigrant refugees living in this country are subject to the United States' federal and state legal sanctions regarding behaviors that are considered "domestic violence," including intimate partner violence (IPV).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) identify intimate partner violence as violence that "occurs between two people in a close relationship" (http: / / www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/ pdf / lPV_factsheet-a.pdf, accessed July 21,2010). Violence is often considered criminal and may include physical assault (such as hitting, pushing, or shoving), sexual abuse, and stalking (Wallace, 2004). The purpose of this study was to address, with members of the Sudanese refugee community, the issue of "traditional discipline" as a form of domestic and intimate partner violence.

The type and extent of family violence experienced by Sudanese living in the United States is not well known (Holtzman, 2008; UNHCR, 2008). Health and social work professionals, church authorities, and the police are aware of domestic violence, particularly targeted at women, within the Sudanese refugee community. Holtzman, writing of Nuer traditional family life, reports that "men ana women are socialized to understand marriage as a context of conflict in which they exercise their differing opinions in a variety of ways, including domestic violence" (p. 91). At home, in Sudan, the husband has a right to nit his wife, but the wife may not hit the husband; in cases of extreme abuse the kinship network, mainly elders, may be accessed for resolving marital conflict (Holtzman). In this participatory action research we collaborated with members of a Sudanese refugee community to address the difference in cultural understandings and the legal constraints regarding interactions between adult, intimate partners. The following vignette introduces the beginning of our collaboration to support community ana family integrity and reduce domestic violence as it is legally defined in the United States.

"No, our women nave no need to see that video " said the leader of the Sudanese refugee community association. V.l., MSW, knew we needed his support oefore watching and talking about 'Sophie's Closet'with members of the Sudanese refugee women's group she had organized. She felt this viaeo about violence within families might open up discussion about stories she heard women tell. The leader's disapproval meant that she would not show the video that week, but V.l. 's resolve to approach this issue sharpened. Later that morning she received a call from M., a member of the refugee women's group.

M. said "the world is turned upside down -1 don't know nothing anymore." The day started in a way M. had never imagined. Her husband, C., was taken by the police early in the morning after their neighbors called in a complaint of suspected domestic violence.

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