In late July 2022, 29-year-old Pakistani-American Sania Khan was found dead in her home after her husband murdered her while they were going through a divorce. Although they were separated and living apart, Raheel, her husband, had come back to “salvage the marriage,” only to end up shooting her. Before her death, Khan had become a public figure for creating TikToks about her experience of getting a divorce as a South Asian woman. Through her channel, Khan talked about how her husband made her feel unsafe and how lonely she had been going through her divorce proceedings. Her family said they would kill themselves if she left her husband and moved back to her hometown (BBC). Khan’s case is unfortunately not unique. There’s an inadequate focus on preventing gender-based violence that is increasingly prevalent among communities of color against women and marginalized genders.
Narika, a domestic violence advocacy group in Fremont, California, reported a three-fold increase in domestic violence calls since the pandemic began (Center for Health Journalism). “There is still systemic oppression, like patriarchy, in South Asian culture that perpetuates gender-based violence. I think South Asian men are afraid of South Asian women’s power—and they benefit from male privilege from the moment of conception to the end of their lives,” Stara Shakti, LMFT, a Los Angeles-based trauma therapist, told The ARD. “From sex-selective abortions (or female feticide) to dowry deaths, it’s pervasive across the whole lifespan (of women’s lives).” Women also increased unpaid care work during the pandemic, making them less financially independent and less likely to leave their abusers.
• Change the language you use around children – change starts early and children learn what they see. Misogynist or transphobic language and cultural abuses often demean women and gender minorities and normalize abuse against them.
• Learn more about intimate partner violence, its signs, and how to intervene. Demand better systems that cater to marginalized communities and join movements that call for policy-level change.
• Support the work being done by Anti-Violence Project by donating or attending events like Upstander Intervention training.
New York City’s Anti-Violence Project, which centers survivors of violence from the queer community, also reported a rise in domestic violence. Deputy Director of Client Services Aditi Bhattacharya told The ARD that preventing gender-based violence gets far more complicated when it comes to LGBTQ+ people, especially gender nonconforming folks. “Transgender and nonconforming folks of color are particularly marginalized when it comes to their life experiences with violence. For a queer survivor of violence, these are folks who may have been x-ed out of families of origin and most if not all spaces of safety and belongingness in their communities of origin. They may not have any families of origin to rely on, and there’s a lot of dread when having to rely on spaces that have been deeply unsafe,” she says.
Victims of violence from marginalized communities are often rightfully skeptical of a legal system that has failed their communities for so long. From police brutality against Black people to the use of sexual violence as a system of oppression and discrimination against marginalized groups, it’s not surprising that marginalized people feel little faith in the so-called justice system. That is also why supportive community systems and bystander intervention can play a huge role in preventing gender-based violence and helping victims. Mentioning the oft-used quote, “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” Shakti talks about how, in South Asian communities, we need to remove this culture of silencing and stigma around issues like mental illness, addictions, and abuse. “Families too are only as sick as their secrets. So much abuse happens behind closed doors,” she says. “We need to normalize talking about these things and seeking help—like going to therapy.”
She also points to resources like Brown Girl Therapy and advocates for educating yourself to be able to spot signs of abuse – which could include but are not limited to excessive cowering in public and someone being quick to put their hands up to protect themselves. As Emily May and Jorge Arteaga lay out in their book “I’ve Got Your Back,” there can be multiple ways to intervene. But intervention can sometimes be more difficult than just getting involved.
“Bystander intervention does not necessarily require bystanders to intervene immediately. For many LGBTQ people who are trans or nonconforming it is not safe for themselves to intervene immediately,” Bhattacharya points out. Still, she adds, there are ways to help.
“Something as simple as saying,” I hear you, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, is there any way I can help you?” can be an intervention. You can also be a good bystander by teaching and communicating that in your community,” she says.
• BIPOC women and gender nonconforming people are far less likely than white women to use human services or report gender-based violence.
• Gender-based violence in South Asian communities is silenced because of cultural pressures which force women to stay trapped in abusive situations.
• Preventing gender-based violence in communities of color requires internal community change as much as outside intervention to break intergenerational patterns of abuse and violence.
If you or anyone you know is affected by intimate partner violence, you can call 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788. You can go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for additional information.