by Edwin Quinabo
Sadness, secrecy, and shame – this is how Conchita (anonymity requested), Kalihi, described her abusive relationship with her ex-husband that went from verbal and emotional humiliation then escalated to being punched, having her hair yanked, going to the hospital after a beating, and once threatened to be pushed out of a moving car.
Conchita told the Filipino Chronicle, “I am a domestic abuse survivor and want to help others by telling my story. It’s very hard to get out of an abusive situation because once you’re in love and want to keep a family intact, and you don’t have financial independence, you feel trapped and stay put. This is what happened to me. It’s sad because I tried to be optimistic hoping that my abuser would change. I did everything I could to make our marriage work, but the situation didn’t’ improve. In fact, it only worsened in the eight years we were together.” Chit said they even tried separating for one year. But when they got back together, the same problems resurfaced.
Conchita, a Filipina, is among many in the Filipino community who’ve experienced domestic abuse or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Asian and Pacific Islander communities experience domestic violence at much higher rates than the general population.
Filipinos Overrepresented in Domestic Abuse in Hawaii
Filipinos and part-Filipinos, who represent approximately 25% of Hawaii’s population, constitute 30% of reported victims of domestic abuse in the state, an overrepresentation as domestic violence victims in Hawaii, according to the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC).
The number of victims could be even higher because Filipinos tend not to report domestic abuse, said Cristina Arias with the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC).
Thirteen percent of the general adult population in Hawaii report experiencing IPV or domestic abuse at some point in their lives with estimates higher in females (15.8%) than males (10.2%). Those who are White, Native Hawaiian, and Other in the general adult population were more likely to report experiencing IPV than those who identify as Japanese, Filipino, or Chinese, experts say.
Filipinos have highest fatalities in domestic violence
Filipino women are also more likely to be fatal victims of domestic abuse compared to Native Hawaiian and Japanese women relative to proportions in the population, according to the DVAC.
Hawaii State Department of Health’s Office of Health Status Monitoring 2000-2009 data shows Filipinos with the highest fatalities in domestic violence at 24.2%. The majority of perpetrators were Filipino (22%), followed by Europeans/Whites, other ethnic groups, those with multiple ethnicities (17% each) and Japanese (16%).
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, reports of domestic violence spiked and continued into 2021. Experts say while the State recovers from the economic effects of the pandemic, the number of reported domestic violence cases in Hawaii is expected to continue growing.
Formal Task Force to End the Invisibility and Abuse of Filipino Women
In 2022 in response to this growing public health concern, the Hawaii State Legislature’s Filipino Caucus – Sens San Buenaventura, Dela Cruz, Fevella, Gabbard, Keith-Agaran, Kim, Misalucha, Rhoads, Rivere, Wakai – introduced SCR 133 that would create a Formal Task Force to End the Invisibility and Abuse of Filipino Women. It urges the State Commission on the Status of Women to work with the DVAC, Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii to develop and implement an outreach program aimed at informing domestic violence victims of available resources for assistance. The program is meant to develop Filipino-specific outreach to end domestic violence. SCR 133 passed both the House and Senate and was adopted on May 5, 2022.
Amy Agbayani, co-chair of the Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights testified in support of SCR 133. “Immigrant women often feel trapped in abusive relationships because of immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and lack of financial resources. Abusers often use their partners’ immigration status as a tool of control. In such situations, it is common for a batterer to exert control over his partner’s immigration status to force her to remain in the relationship. Additionally, many immigrant victims may believe that the protections of the U.S. legal system do not apply to them and that domestic violence services are not available to them,” she said in her testimony.
Agbayani emphasized the importance of multilanguage information on getting help to be made available to victims and the need to restore state-wide training for community health care providers, community-based organizations, state and local government workers.
Filipino society often tolerates moments of violence
Khara Jabola-Carolus, Executive Director, the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women, cited results from Hawaii Domestic Violence Fatality Review 2000-2009 in her testimony supporting SCR 133. “It is possible that tolerance for domestic violence is influenced by socio-cultural factors and length of immigration and acculturation. Personalism, smooth interpersonal relationships, and hierarchical structures are safety lids for the Philippine society.
“Filipinos are both friendly and tolerant, but the society also tolerates moments of violence. To run amok is an understandable behavior if an individual has been wronged or provoked sufficiently. Crimes of passion abound, and revenge is, in Philippine terms, often an acceptable explanation of criminal behavior. Temporary, explosive anger at a personal affront is a way Filipinos expresses existential rage.”
Mainland studies also show overrepresentation of Filipinos in domestic abuse
The Hawaii Domestic Violence Fatality Review’s finding that socio-cultural factors could have an influence in domestic abuse could explain why studies in select mainland studies also show overrepresentation of Filipinos as victims of domestic abuse.
In a face-to-face interview of 1,577 Asians from Asian organizations and gathering places in Houston, TX, in Texas, researchers found 22% of Filipino respondents (101 male and female) reported at least one form of intimate partner violence based on the 8-item Conflict Tactics Scale, ranging from “thrown objects at the respondent” to “used a knife or gun on the respondent” during the previous year.
That rate was higher than abuse rates among all other Asians – Chinese (10%), Indian (20%), Japanese (10%), Korean (20%), and Vietnamese (22%) respondents.
In a San Francisco Bay Area study on Lifecourse Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) which assessed types of IPV among 87 Filipina victims aged 18-60 who were recruited via various community outreach methods, researchers found:
*95% of Filipina victims reported having experienced physical violence by an intimate partner
*56% of Filipina victims reported having experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner
*68% of Filipina victims reported having experienced stalking by an intimate partner.
*By age 16, 12% of Filipina victims had experienced physical violence, 10% had experienced sexual violence, and 8% had experienced stalking.
In the same study 52% of Filipina abused women had called the police at least once, 25% had used domestic violence shelters at least once, 31% had used non-residential domestic violence programs at least once, 25% has used residential domestic violence programs at least once, 44% had sought legal assistance at least once, and 28% had sought healthcare related to IPV at least once.
*The police have been found to be an important gateway to services. If respondents contacted both a domestic violence program and the police, they were more likely to have contacted the police first. Similarly, if respondents reached out to both the police and legal service programs, a majority of them reached out to the police first.
Conchita’s abusive relationship
Now 52, Conchita is grateful that she escaped from her abuser. She explained how it all started. When she was seven months pregnant with her daughter, her daughter’s father left her. She gave birth and started life as a single mother at 24 years old. She was still young and wanted to have a family, a father to help raise her daughter.
“People would tell me; you can get someone from the Philippines. He will appreciate you for bringing him to the U.S. I was open to the idea. I met my ex-husband Simeon (real name withheld) through his uncle in 1996. Simeon lived in the Philippines, and we became pen pals. My family didn’t approve of this relationship, so I stopped communicating with him.
“In 2005, I reconnected with the family of Simeon who they said was still single. I thought almost 10 years had passed and he’s still single. Maybe it’s my destiny to be with him. My family still didn’t approve of him. There were rumors that Simeon was a gambler and alcoholic. But my uncle in Ilocos, Philippines, knew Simeon’s family there and my uncle said he was a good person. This time, I pursued him, and we fell in love.”
Early red flags
Conchita said when he first arrived, he was good. “But after I married him, I discovered the rumors of him were true – he was an alcoholic and gambler. The verbal abuse started. He would say: ‘You’re wasting my time here’ because I told him that he had to wait to get his working visa. He then found work ‘under the table’ and couldn’t wait.”
When he started to make money, Conchita said he would always refer to the money he made as “his money” and not “our” money. He started to gamble in Kalihi and Waipahu. She said money was always a root cause of their arguments.
To complete the process to become a permanent resident there is a two-year probation period. “I wanted to get a divorce at that time, but my family was concerned about immigration problems. So, I didn’t pursue it. At the time, he would verbally abuse me, but not physically,” Conchita said.
“Now the gambling got worse, and he started to hide money from me. We were living with my parents, but there was an incident when Simeon and my father got into an argument. The police were involved, and we had to move out. That is when physical abuse started, when we were living alone together. That is also when he didn’t want to be bothered about where he would go, how he would spend his money. Besides gambling, he also would send money to the Philippines without talking to me about it. He started to go to the Philippines on vacation by himself without inviting me. I had no say in the matter,” Conchita said.
“When we’d argue he started to throw things at me, anything he could grab near him. His swearing got worse. Sometimes he wouldn’t help me to pay bills and ask me for money. At times, I would tell my friends to loan him money, but I would be the one to pay my friends back. When he saw his friends in public while we were together, he wouldn’t introduce me to them as his wife.”
A day before one of his solo trips to the Philippines, Simeon was asking me for money. I told him I didn’t have any then he started to beat me up for money. We were in the car at the time on the way to buy things for his trip. His friend was in the backseat. He was punching me in my head. He wanted to kick me out of the car in the middle of the road, not even concerned about my safety. I was scared that he was going to push me out of the car while he was driving,” Conchita said.
We arrived at a gas station and while Simeon was pumping gas, I asked his friend, ‘Manong, how can you watch him beat me and not do anything?’ Simeon overheard my question. Then he reached in the car and yanked on my hair, yelling at me to stop.”
When Simeon and his friend got out of the car, I had a chance to call my friend for help. She told me to get out of the car now and that she would pick me up. Already far away from the car, I happened to run into Simeon’s niece while walking. I told her to bring me to Simeon’s family so they could see what he did to me. They were ashamed of his behavior. My friend picked me up there. We went straight to the hospital. There the police and a social worker helped me.” Conchita said.
The police escorted Conchita back home and Simeon was arrested.
Two cases were brought against him. He pleaded guilty at the court and the judge sentenced him to three days in jail (maximum for first-time offense) and ordered him to get help with anger management.
“I filed a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and social workers helped me to initiate a divorce.”
Hawaii State Law on Domestic Abuse
Physical abuse of a family or household member is a misdemeanor. A first offense is punished by a minimum of 48 hours in jail. A defendant who commits a second domestic abuse offense within a year of being convicted for the first offense must serve a minimum of 30 days in jail.
If the offense involves strangulation or impeding the victim’s blood flow, the offense is a Class C felony. Class C felonies may be punished by up to five years in prison.
Violation of a Domestic Abuse Protective Order
A person who intentionally violates a protective order is guilty of a misdemeanor and must participate in a domestic violence intervention program. If the defendant violates the protective order in a violent manner, the defendant must serve a minimum of 48 hours in jail and may be fined up to $500. For a second conviction for violating the same protective order in a violent manner, the defendant must serve a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail and pay up to a $1,000 fine.
Signs of Domestic Violence
Experts say the key to breaking the cycle of domestic abuse is education, to know the warning signs of abuse. The Institute of Human Services (HIS) provided habits to look for:
*Belittling you and your interests
“You can never do anything right!” or “Why do you like ___? That’s dumb.”)
*Blaming you and never apologizing for their bad behavior
“It’s not my fault, you made me…”
*Limiting your time with friends, family, or peers
“You’re not allowed to see/hang out with ____.”
*Controlling your finances, resources, or time
“Give me your credit card. You can’t use it unless you ask me first.”
*Extreme jealousy of your time, friends, or attention
“You laugh a lot with your friends. Why don’t you laugh at my jokes like that?”
*Destroying property or surroundings; harming you or themself
“I’m doing this because I love you.”
*Intimidating you with threats, weapons, destruction, harm to others
“Do [this] now! Or else I will _____!”
*Pressuring to consume alcohol or drugs or conduct sexual acts
“You need to do ____ if you love me.”
Where to get help
If you are a victim of abuse, here are some local and national resources:
State-Wide: Aloha United Way (AUW) Helpline: 2-1-1
– Parents and Children Together (PACT): 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (808) 526-2200
Kauai: YWCA of Kauai
– 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (808) 245-6362
– SA 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (808) 245-2144
Maui & Lanai: Women Helping Women 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (808) 579-9581
Molokai: Molokai Community Service Council 24-Hour Hotline: (808) 567-6888
Hawaii Island: Hale Ohana Shelter: (808) 959-8864
-National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233), 24/7, Languages: English, Spanish and 200+ through interpretation service
-RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network): 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673)
– The Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center provides free legal services to immigrant victims of domestic violence, including undocumented immigrants: (808)536-8826.
Advice from a domestic abuse survivor
Conchita recalls agonizing not only over the abuse, but that she had to keep it a secret until the very end. “I kept everything to myself because you don’t want your family and friends to judge you or for them to worry about you. I also felt shame because my parents didn’t approve of my ex before we got married. But I went on with it, anyway. They were right.”
She said, “I felt alone. I could only talk to God about this problem. I remember one day while praying, I realized my marriage could not work anymore.” Conchita said, her voice cracking as she broke into tears. “This is not good anymore. I said to God. I kept repeating, this is not good anymore.”
Conchita said prayers helped her and could help victims, especially if you are feeling alone and can’t talk to anyone about the situation.
“You must find a way to get out of an abusive relationship before it’s too late. You know the situation and what you need to do,” she said.
by Edwin Quinabo