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Cultural Differences and Interpersonal Violence
Sex is a powerful force in our lives. In addition to
providing us with pleasure, it allows us to become more intimate
with people we care about. Unfortunately, we can abuse its power
and use it as a tool for expressing anger and domination in
violent ways. This misuse and abuse are evident in all cultures
and socioeconomic classes, although certain myths and stereotypes
falsely argue that poor and working class men, especially African
Americans and Latinos, perpetrate most rapes and incidents of
Culture and class differences do exist, however, in situations
involving sexual violence. A knowledge of these differences
will help all of us work better at ending sexual violence.
Finally, it is a strong belief of Project SURVIVE that
all forms of violence originate from power imbalances and abuses.
As we fight to end sexism, we know we must also struggle against
racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism (against Jews and
Arabs), xenophobia (against immigrants), and other forms of
THERE ARE NO "BAD" CULTURES
Sometimes when we give presentations, a person in the audience
will talk about how battery or rape is a real problem in his
or her culture. We always explain that interpersonal violence
is a problem in all cultures and in every socio-economic class
and that each of us is most familiar with how it expresses itself
in our own culture and class.
AFRICAN AMERICAN AND LATINO MALES ARE NOT MORE VIOLENT THAN
As we stated earlier, the dominant culture perpetuates
a myth that African American men and Latinos are more violent
than Euro-American men. In fact, if we go back in United States
history, we discover the institutionalized raping of black women
by white men during slavery times. Routine sexual abuse was
a documented tool of slavery. After slavery ended, during the
Reconstruction period, white mobs raped black women as part
of their terror tactics. Lynch mobs, angry at the growing prosperity
of some African American males, accused black men of rape in
order to kill them. Early African American anti-rape activists
such as Ida B. Wells fought against rape, which targeted black
women, and against lynching, which targeted black men.
The word "machismo" in Latin cultures refers, in part, to the
ability of a man to stand up for his family. It's a word that
often connotes pride and honor, but it has been sometimes mistakenly
used by the feminist movement to describe male chauvinism and
misogyny. It's unfair to use a Latino expression to describe
a negative phenomenon, i.e., sexism, that exists in all of our
ALTHOUGH SEXUAL VIOLENCE OCCURS IN ALL OF OUR CULTURES,
MEMBERS FROM DIFFERENT CULTURES EXPERIENCE IT DIFFERENTLY
(Remember, however, that no one experience can ever define any
particular culture. It can be misleading to generalize about
cultural differences even though it's important to examine their
role in our lives.)
In communities of color where police brutality has damaged trust,
victims of sexual violence and battery in intimate relationships
are often reluctant to call on police for protection.
The dominant culture has stereotyped African American women
as both "promiscuous" and "strong" and so often does not take
the rape of black women nearly as seriously as it does the rape
of white women.
In general, women of color--women of African, Latin, and Asian
descent and women from indigenous cultures--have been exoticized
and sexually objectified by the dominant culture, so rape victims
from all of these communities receive less sympathy and attention.
The Catholic Church is powerful in many Latino cultures. The
emphasis on virginity before marriage and monogamy within it
may compound the emotional pain a Latina rape victim suffers.
While a supportive extended family can help in the victim's
healing, it may also be a cause of concern if its male members
seek revenge for the "dishonor" done to the family. A Latina
may also fear hurting the family name if she reports marital
In many Asian American communities the topic of sex is not part
of public discussion, which makes it harder for a victim of
sexual violence to come forward. In addition, due to cultural
norms, some Asian American women who are raped experience intense
feelings of shame and guilt.
Like Asian American women, Jewish American women have to work
against the myth that claims "there is no sexual violence or
battery in our community."
Immigrant women worry about their residence status if they make
their abuse public, even though a woman with green card status
from a marriage to a batterer may receive asylum. Women who
are illegal immigrants are understandably even more fearful of coming forward;
however, the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights can
Gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgendered people have to
confront the myth that says "sexual violence and battery do
not occur in same sex relationships." In addition, like people
of color who sometimes experience racism when they contact community
agencies, people of various sexual orientations may experience
heterosexism and homophobia. Transgender victims are also vulnerable
to abuse by community and law enforcement agencies. Finally, GLBT
victims may not want to make their abuse public because, if they do,
they may be forced to "come out".