What is abuse / domestic violence?

After 4 years of performing (music, theater) in various productions for the cause of Chaya, a Seattle-based community organization working with South Asian women and their families to provide culture-specific assistance in cases of domestic violence, I attended their annual fundraiser this May. I was further moved and inspired to join their large (100+) local volunteer force, who may assist in direct services / advocacy, community engagement or fundraising. The volunteer training, offered twice a year, was this weekend, split over Saturday and Sunday. There were roughly 30 attendees (including 4 men, 1 African-American woman, 1 South-east Asian woman, 1 Caucasian woman).

The principal (and most moving) segment of the workshop / training, was titled DV-101. There are many assumptions and much social taboo that accompany the tag “domestic violence,” creating a pervasive denial and therefore, insidious perpetration. As a society and especially in South Asian culture, we like to pretend this doesn’t happen in our families, especially if we are otherwise privileged (education, socio-economic status etc). The statistics say that 1 in 3 women have been exposed to abuse at some point in their lives! (And of course men are abused by their female partners too, as are men and women in same-sex couples.) And domestic violence happens in every culture and every segment of society.

The preventative stance of Chaya and many other organizations world-wide is to use community outreach and education, to encourage empowerment. The working theory is that when communities become senstitive, engaged and responsible, then this social ill can be managed, if not prevented. So, I share with you, a community of caring mothers (and fathers and non-parents…) some of the key concepts I learned and/or clarified.
Abuse / Domestic Violence
(a) a pattern of exploitation
(b) a pattern of power and control established and maintained (by an adult in the context of family/relationship) through a variety of tactics (which may or may not include physical violence**)
** a significant note: it was clarified that physical violence by itself is NOT abuse. eg. a fight between two guys or women or any two people that turns physical is not abuse, it’s an instance of violence.
Abuse or DV is characterized by three main attributes:
– it is a consistent pattern
– it involves control and imbalance of power
– it uses distinct/habitual tactics

The person who is creating / initiating the pattern of power and control

The person who is being subjected to (surviving) the pattern of power and control
Tactics that may be involved

– isolation (e.g. criticizing all the persons friends and/or other family members to create a sense of power/belonging only with the abuser…)
– threats, intimidation, coercion (e.g. “this will happen to you if you don’t…”, threatening suicide…)
– using feelings and emotions (e.g. guilt, shame, fear, anger, “love”…)
– using money and resources (e.g. controlling the purse strings, “I am the one who makes the money,” “be thankful I feed you!” “I’ll have you deported”…)
– using children, other family members and/or pets (i.e. referencing other family members the survivor cares about to perpetuate the control, e.g. “you need to do this for the children’s sake” …)
– verbal attacks (name-calling, demeaning, insulting…)
– sexual violence (rape, physical harm during sex, deprivation …)
– physical violence (throwing or breaking objects, pushing, pulling hair, slapping, hitting, beating…including when subjected to the abuser’s own person)
– many others are possible, and sometimes are used together

Several cities in the U.S. have organizations like Chaya, and many of them partner with each other. And of course so does India, the U.K., and most other countries where South Asian populations have emigrated. So, if a loved one is ever showing signs of emotional or physical distress that is pattern-oriented, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Ask gentle questions, let them know you’re there for them, and point them to trained help through these organizations.

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Khushi

    Thank you for posting this. I think it offers new perspective to understanding it, as the many of the perceptions themselves are highly driven by TV and movies.

  2. indrani

    Thanks for sharing a very new perspective of abuse.

  3. Pry

    Thank you for the inforamtion…

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