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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is abuse or aggression that occurs in current or previous romantic relationships. Intimate partner violence is unique to everyone but can include a multitude of behaviors including stalking, physical, emotional, psychological, verbal, and/or sexual abuse. It is a widespread public health problem. In fact, 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced stalking, sexual violence, physical violence, or psychological violence by an intimate partner at some point during their lifetime. Even more discouraging, perhaps, is that despite tremendous advances in research, prevention, and outreach efforts, less than half of all intimate partner violence victims report their victimization to police or other professional staff. Latinas are even less likely to disclose their experiences, especially to formal community services. Approximately 61% of Anglo Americans reported experiencing intimate partner violence, yet only 36.5% of Latina women reported their experiences. These lower rates in disclosure may be associated with cultural norms that research has yet to thoroughly examine.
Latina women face several unique challenges in dealing with intimate partner violence, machismo and help-seeking behavior. Several social, cultural, and political barriers exist for abused Latina women such as adherence to strict gender roles, an emphasis on family well-being over personal well-being, religious beliefs, and immigration status. Thus, a clear understanding of the factors that influence Latinas to seek help is necessary for the development of intimate personal violence and culturally appropriate interventions and policies.
One of the most common and prominent features of a Latino family is its strong reliance on gender roles. Latinos follow certain scripts that favor males, awards males with more entitlement-based privileges, and suppresses women. Their patriarchal hierarchy is based on “machismo” and “marianismo.” Machismo refers to a set of beliefs and expectations regarding the role of men in society; it is a set of values and attitudes that determine what it is to be a man. Machismo is commonly dived into positive aspects indicating prosocial attitudes that are associated with machismo and negative aspects that hurt the family and society. Positive aspects include concepts of honor, pride, courage, and responsibility. Machismo ideals also imply sexual prowess, heavy alcohol consumption, aggressive behavior, the notion that men are physically and morally superior to women, and that male-female conflicts are resolved through the absolute dominance of males. Machismo’s counterpart, marianismo, is a set of values and expectations concerning female gender roles.
Marianismo emphasizes the role of women as family and home-centered; it encourages passivity, self-sacrifice, chastity, and prescribes respect to patriarchal values Marianismo is rooted in Christian values which define women as spiritual pillars of the family; it is a construction of the expected female gender roles based on the Virgin Mary. Additionally, marianismo places an emphasis on chastity and purity and their responsibility to maintain it, a stark contrast from the sexual prowess machismo suggests. While it must be noted that these scripts are normative representations rather than a classification of actual behavior, the powerful effect of these beliefs and attitudes need to be recognized and understood. This ideology and idolization of men socializes women to put their needs last and to push back their own needs, thoughts, and desires until the men in their life are taken care of. This emphasis on obedience, submission, and deference to others, may limit women’s abilities to identify physical abuse, especially if they blame themselves. Feelings of shame for violating these roles by ‘disrespecting’ one’s husband or going against him may make it difficult for survivors to disclose the acts of violence committed against them. In fact, often times when survivors do come out, the women themselves can come under suspicion and thereby creates conflicts in the family once again shaming the woman for not being a “good” woman. In accordance with marianismo, Latinas avoid conflict as best they can and in staying quiet, they stay a “good” woman. Latinas are indirectly influenced to stay quiet and avoid seeking help. Their fear of judgement and potential ‘betrayal’ to their husbands silences them. In addition to the strong gender ideologies that silence intimate partner violence victims, the role of the family works to silence them as well.
A second pervasive value of the Latino culture is the notion of familismo or familism. It emphasizes family loyalty and solidarity. Although familism may seem to be at odds with machismo and marianismo, both are evident in Latino families. Familism places the needs of the family above the needs of the individual. The combination of gender scripts and familism makes Latinos more susceptible to intimate partner violence since women are expected to fulfill familial obligations under an overarching patriarchal system. Furthermore, the patriarchal authority allows men to have ultimate control of the family. Since Latina women are socialized to believe that the family is of paramount importance and that they are the caretakers of the family system, the family and how it is viewed is put before the woman and her own needs and safety. Many Latina women are taught that males are entitled to dominance and control within the family and that females are to serve as caretakers for others within the family system. Similar ideologies are repeated in religious readings, much of which the Latin community is a part of.
One of the dangers in talking about a problem among a minority group, such as Latinos, is that it can appear to place blame on the culture, its values or its practices, however, the goal is never to attack the culture, but rather shed light on the changes that need to be made regarding Latina survivors of intimate partner violence. While it may seem that the traditional ideas mentioned above are outdated, fairly educated Latina students still note that the role of a Latina woman is to be a good wife, passive to her husband, and deferent to whatever decisions he makes, regardless of whether or not she agrees with his decisions. These values are still alive and well even in our ever-changing society; while the goal of intimate partner research should not be to try and change Latina’s traditional values, it should focus on how it can better assist the victims.
To be able to help, one must first fully grasp the barriers of help-seeking behavior after intimate personal violence. One must examine the number of interrelated factors that affect Latinas—including gender roles, family stressors, religion, and immigration status. Latina victims of intimate partner violence may find themselves torn between their duty to preserve and maintain the family and their obligations to themselves. The more intense this conflict, the more the negative effects of intimate partner violence will have on the survivor. Hence, Latina women have significantly greater difficulties in response to intimate partner violence than non-Latina women. Therefore, there is a need for outreach efforts that specifically target the Latino community. Such efforts should focus on a variety of resources: education for the community about what abuse is and how to recognize it, services that cater exclusively to Latinas with workers who know the traditional Latino ways, public awareness campaigns to draw attention to the very real, and often ignored problem of intimate personal violence, and more research in the field to better meet the needs of Latinas. These programs could help to overcome the shame and stigma of discussing abuse to help normalize conversations. Such efforts may not only help Latina survivors and their supporters but may also have an impact on public health research in this area.
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