South Asian Relationships: an Overview of Domestic Abuse



October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the US. According to the US Department of Justice, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.

A study conducted in 2002 found that 40% of South Asian women reported having been physically or sexually assaulted by their male partner.

Daya, a domestic violence organization based in Houston, reports 2 in 5 South Asian women have experienced some kind of partner violence.

With domestic violence and abuse being one of the South Asian community’s most well-kept secrets, it is no wonder that such statistics seem jarring and much higher than we would expect. The first step in stopping domestic violence and abuse is to be aware of and educated about what it is, so that you can identify when it is happening in your life or in the life of a loved one.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, partner violence, or intimate partner violence, is when one person in a relationship tries to dominate, control or exert force over the other partner. No race, ethnicity, gender or age is immune to domestic abuse.

While future MySahana articles will address these in more detail, here is a general description of the 3 types of domestic abuse:

Domestic violence: This is when the control or force used against a partner is physical in nature. This is also called physical abuse. Examples of domestic violence include hitting, punching, kicking, throwing items at or toward the partner, etc. (Read more about physical abuse.)

Emotional abuse: Also known as psychological abuse (and sometimes called verbal abuse), this is when the domination or control is exerted by psychological and emotional manipulation. Abusers will often publicly humiliate their partner, blame their partner for problems in the relationship, or limit access to work, money, telephone or email. (Read more about emotional abuse.)

Sexual abuse: This is any act that forces someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Rape and molestation both fall under this category.

How do I know if I’m in an abusive relationship?

Usually if you ask that question, that most likely means that you are. However, here are some questions that you can ask yourself to better understand your situation. The more questions you answer yes to, the more likely you are in an unhealthy and possibly abusive relationship:

Adapted from

Do you:

  • feel afraid of your partner more often than not?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt, mistreated, or disrespected?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Does your partner:

  • humiliate or yell at you in public or private?
  • criticize you and put you down in public or private?
  • treat you so badly that you are embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for his own abusive behavior? (e.g. If you hadn’t been making so much noise, I wouldn’t have gotten so angry and thrown this vase toward you.)
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • force you to have sex?
  • destroy your belongings?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive that what is reasonable for the situation?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, the computer or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?

What are the symptoms of domestic abuse?

Even without knowing what truly goes on inside someone else’s relationship, there are some strong warning signs that someone is experiencing domestic abuse:

· Depression and low mood

· High anxiety or feeling “jumpy”

· Low self-esteem (even if he/she used to be very confident)

· Sudden change in personality (e.g. used to be outgoing, now seems more withdrawn)

· Frequent injuries (e.g. cuts, bruises, broken bones) that are explained by “accidents”

· Mention of partner’s temper, excessive jealousy or possessiveness

· Frequently checking-in with partner to report what he/she is doing and who he/she is with

· Dresses inappropriately for the weather to hide injuries (e.g. long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors)

· Limited access to money, phone, email or car

· Expressing suicidal thoughts or plans

· High anxiety and/or fear to please partner

· Limited contact with friends, family, coworkers, etc.

· Unexplained absences from work or school

This sounds like someone I know. What should I do?

People experiencing domestic abuse often feel alone in their experience and might even be too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone. In addition, they feel scared, confused and drained most of the time. If you are worried about a loved one being in an abusive relationship, compassion and caring need to be the number one message you send when you talk to them.

Here are some tips on how to approach a loved one:

1. Talk to the person in private and express your concern.

2. Provide concrete examples of what you have seen or witnessed that cause your concern.

3. Do not pressure the person to talk to you or divulge details if they are not ready. Simply reassure them that you are available for support whenever they want.

4. Listen compassionately and provide empathy and validation.

5. Reassure the person that you will not share your conversation with anyone. People who experience abuse are violated and a breach of trust will scare them from reaching out to you at a later date if they need.

6. Do not expect the person to reach out and talk to you. If they are embarrassed or ashamed of their experience, they will want to hide. It is more important for you, as the person who can see the situation more clearly, to reach out and provide support.

7. Support their decision, no matter what it may be. Your role is not to make decisions for them but to be there as a support if they need.

8. Most importantly, never pressure the person to share information or to act in a certain way. They are already receiving significant pressure and are being seriously controlled by their partner. The last thing they need is for a friend or family member to do the same thing.

MySahana has a list of domestic/family abuse services on the resources page to contact if you require support, help or need to speak with someone during or after a crisis. If you need immediate attention, please call 911.


About MySahana

MySahana, meaning my “patience” or “fortitude” in Sanskrit, is a nonprofit
organization dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health issues in
the South Asian community. By providing culturally-sensitive and relevant
information, we hope to correct misinformation, remove stigma and begin a
dialogue about mental health and healthy living.

For more information, please visit mysahana at, follow them on
@MySahana on Twitter and connect with mysahana on facebook:

We would love to hear your response to this article! Please feel free to leave a comment.


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    • Anjum

      sounds great! thanks so much for your readership Sharmill, this issue is so important in the South Asian Community.
      anjum, editor.

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