Domestic Violence in the Hmong Community

A few days ago I started to watch a video response to a Hmong woman being physically abused in public. According to social media news feeds, the woman was violently attacked at a Hmong Year celebration in Laos.

The woman (another Hmong woman) in the response video stated, “Why didn’t she fight back? If your husband is beating you, why didn’t you fight back? Why did you just cower down and let him continue to hit you?”

I didn’t finish watching the video because of my anger to her response. And I realized, she like so many of my fellow Hmong, community members, might not be aware.

Domestic violence doesn’t start as physical violence. It’s a cycle.

Often times, it starts with isolation. Putting the abused person in situations where they’re humiliated in front of friends and family. So their friends and family do not want to come around.

Putting them in situations where they have no one to reach out to for help.

Or shifting blame. The abuser will use tactics such as stating the abused person deserves to be treated such a way.

Examples such as, “You can’t hang out with your friends because you can’t protect yourself.”

Or “I control the money because you can’t be trusted to make wise decisions. If you have access to our bank accounts.”

Setting up the situation as if the abuser is, “protecting,” the abused person, for their own good. Undermining the abused person.

Overtime these stories become the beliefs the abused person has about themselves. Making them feel small. So small that they lack the energy or stamina to seek help or fight back.

Because a relationship with emotional, mental, physical, or sexual abuse is tiring. The abused person’s nervous system is constantly activated. Aware, they’re not safe. But also aware, they’re stuck in the moment. Unable to leave due to lack of social support or financial support.

Because let’s not forget, abuse is a means of control. Such as the abuser who does not allow their partner to work. Or lets them work minimally. Then throws in their partner’s face that they can’t leave. Because if they left, they wouldn’t be able to afford the mortgage payment.

I’m not saying that every spouse that chooses to stay home is being abused. Nor are partners who choose to work part-time are being abused.

The difference is whether the partner is choosing to not work because they desire too. Or if they’re being pushed and prevented not to work because the abuser doesn’t want them too. Because remember abuse is about control. It’s about dominating the other person for whatever reason the abused person sees fit. Even if it’s fear.

So when the abused partner starts being physically attacked. Screamed at. They often cower. They’ve learned over time that standing up for themselves only makes the situation worse.

And the Hmong community, the Hmong culture, is partly to blame for this. Our culture believes that men are to be in control of the wife, the marriage.

A healthy marriage should not be about control.

But making decisions that are beneficial to both parties. With both partners needs and desires in mind. It’s about coming together to work as a team.

Our culture also has a history of telling abused women, they need to stay in their marriage.

Because being married, even if beaten to death, is better than the shame of having a divorced daughter.

Domestic violence is not okay.

Whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, or mental.

The belief that we are to keep it in the family. As a secret is not ok. Because when there’s aspects of abuse going on, there’s a bigger issue at hand. Whether the abuser is suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), has severe traits of a personality disorder, or what not, they need help. Help beyond what our community and family members can provide. Unless we have extensive training in assisting partners who are abusive and controlling. It needs to be addressed with a mental health professional.

And we as a community, a society, and an ethnic group need to do better. We need to strive beyond the belief that men are superior to women. That if a woman is being abused, it’s something that she did.

Because someone’s behavioral response to their emotion is their responsibility. Not their partner’s. Regardless of what made the abuser upset. It’s still their responsibility to control their response. And to not resort to hostile or aggressive tactics to maintain control.

Below is a tool called the Power and Control Wheel.

The Power and Control Wheel was actually created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota (Dvsn & Dvsn, 2022).

It identifies 8 tactics most abusers use to try to control their victims. And is a tool often used to assess whether or not someone is an abusive relationship.


Dvsn, & Dvsn. (2022, December 20). December 2022: The Power and Control Wheel – An Overview of Abuse Tactics – Domestic Violence Services Network, Inc. (DVSN). Domestic Violence Services Network, Inc. (DVSN) – A Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence.,%2C%20and%20%E2%80%9CMale%20Privilege%E2%80%9D.

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