Importing Domestic Violence: The Hispanic Connection

There is nothing new about physical
abuse, or threats of it, in a sexual relationship.

conflict-resolution techniques
can wind up trumping
even the most fevered declarations of love.

(Nor is the commission of abusive
acts unique to men. Respected researchers such as

Donald Dutton

Richard Felson

Richard Gelles

Suzanne Steinmetz

Murray Straus
shown that women commit
unprovoked acts of violence against their male partners

at least as often as vice versa.)

But the incidence of violence
doesn`t just vary by personal situation. It also varies
by culture. And the politically incorrect truth is that

Hispanic cultures
have a high propensity of

criminal violence
for verbal facility as a way of
settling disputes.



Lawrence Harrison

“There is

no word for `compromise` in Spanish
, nor is there a
Spanish word that captures the full meaning of the
English word `dissent.`”
This is both a cause and
effect of attitudes acquired early in life.

A few years ago,
Claiborne Inc
. commissioned
Teenage Research
to conduct a

national survey of American youths
on their
attitudes toward abuse in dating relationships.
 The results,

in April 2006 before a Capitol Hill
audience that included Senators Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.,
and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, revealed a disturbing
discrepancy: Fully 13 percent of Hispanic middle- and
high-school students viewed abuse as acceptable—well
above the overall figure of 4 percent.

The key to combating abuse is
education, according to Liz Claiborne`s then-CEO Paul R.
Charron. He called for more widespread adoption of
Love Is Not
, a model curriculum that the company developed
in 1991 and now distributes to middle- and high-school
students at over 350 schools across the U.S.

Needless to say, the fact that for
several decades immigration policy has been
inadvertently importing such attitudes was off the

On one level, one can`t begrudge
the importance of teaching young people about the signs

controlling and possibly lethal
behavior in
opposite-sex relationships. Too few people prior to
adulthood (if even by then) have acquired the ability to
recognize and avoid abuse.

But abuse is learned behavior. And
learning doesn`t take place in a vacuum. In much of

Hispanic culture,

—not just self-defense—by males is

and thus
It`s a worldview passed on from one generation to the

And it crosses borders, too. Put
simply, we are not
all equally at risk.

This is of more than passing
significance given that the era of mandatory anti-abuse
education has arrived.

Rhode Island
this fall became the second state to
put into effect a new program. Fittingly, the catalyst
was the murder of a white woman at the hands of a
Hispanic male.

Lindsay Ann Burke
was an attractive woman in her
early 20s from North Kingstown, R.I.
She`d fallen hard for Gerardo Martinez after meeting him
at a wedding. He seemed ideal—at first. Slowly, he began

limiting her contact with others,
growing intensely
suspicious of her motives. He incessantly called her at
night, kept her from her family, and, on occasion,
physically assaulted her. After two years of this, she
moved in with her brother to get away from him. Her
parents were especially relieved.

One day in September 2005,
Lindsay`s mother, concerned when her daughter didn`t
answer the phone, called police. The cops visited the Martinez residence,
believing Lindsay could be there in hopes of giving the
relationship one last chance.

She was there, all right—dead in a
bathtub, her throat slashed.

was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder and sentenced
to life in prison without parole

Rhode Island

legislature, prodded by State Attorney General Patrick
Lynch and Lindsay`s parents, Chris and Ann Burke—herself
a health instructor—responded
by passing the

“Lindsay Ann Burke Act”.

The law requires that all public schools incorporate the
topic of dating violence into health curricula for
students in the seventh through 12th grades.

This idea is set to take root
elsewhere. The

National Association of Attorneys General

unanimously adopted a resolution this past June in
support of such education.
`s top prosecutor, Jon
Bruning, has

announced his intention
to push for legislation
modeled after the Rhode Island law. Liz Claiborne Inc. and
magazine are jointly promoting it.

The first state to adopt such a
program was Texas in 2007. Again,
it`s not hard to find Hispanic reasons. Let`s hope
students there won`t grow up to be like Antonio Perez or
Marcus Abrego.

Mr. Perez, a
San Antonio
resident, on February 11, 2007

fatally shot his wife, Teena, in the chest
, and then
killed himself with a bullet to his head.

A week later, Mr. Abrego, also of San Antonio, upset with something or other,
dragged his girlfriend, Dolores Bibiano, up a flight of
beat her, broke her spinal column, and left her for dead

behind a wooden fence at the couple`s apartment.
Paralyzed from the waist down, she has a slim prospect
of recovery. The pair had three children, all of whom
witnessed the attack. Abrego currently is awaiting trial
at an unspecified date.

Yes, we all know that such
incidents can occur even in the
“best” of
homes. Yes, we all know immigration from Hispanic or
other countries is not the only source of domestic abuse
in the

But it`s time to raise—forcefully
and frankly– the strong possibility that certain ethnic
groups have more trouble than others in adapting to our
behavioral code. Empirical research beyond the horror
anecdotes makes a case that, on average,

Hispanics as a whole
are less capable than
non-Hispanic whites in handling disagreements within a
sexual relationship.

these studies say about blacks is a subject for a
separate article).

  • In 2005, the University of South Carolina`s College of Nursing
    released the results
    of a survey of more than
    300 Hispanic women across
    South Carolina
    . Fully 70
    percent of the respondents had experienced domestic
    abuse during the previous year.

About three-fourths of these women
did not report incidents, citing at least one of the
following reasons: embarrassment; lack of

fluency in English
; fear of losing children; fear of
losing income; and

fear of deportation.

About that last one—in about a
third of all cases, women believed that talking to
police and/or health care providers would result in
their removal from the

Tena Hunt, one of the study`s
principal investigators, admitted that around 95 percent
of the women surveyed were
“undocumented” (PC-speak
for illegal). Yet that finding didn`t seem to
trouble her nearly as much as the supposed inadequacy of

social services
targeted to their needs.

“They don`t want
, she remarked.
“They want to
learn English. They want transportation and legal help”
Another researcher, Irma Santana, former director of South Carolina`s Hispanic Outreach,
“Women are not being educated…Health providers should be
educating the Hispanic community that domestic violence
is not permissible. It`s a crime here”
. [South
Carolina study: domestic violence prevalent among
, May 5, 2005]

Apparently, neither Ms. Hunt nor
Ms. Santana can bring themselves to understand that 95
percent of these women had also

committed a crime

simply by being in
the U.S.

But that`s no surprise. Social
services agencies and research groups are fairly stuffed
with mass-immigration boosters who operate on the
assumption that

has a duty to address pathologies among immigrants
already here, regardless of legal status or even ability
to assimilate. Immigration, by implication, is a right. 

National Latino
Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence
better known as
, is the lead organization in this area.
Here, too, one finds the paradox: oppose the pathology,
but not the people who inflict it.

At an
April 26, 2005
luncheon at
`s Tavern on the Green,
various speakers spoke of the need for Hispanic men to
take a stand for healthy family environments. The
ramped-up multimedia campaign,

in its own words
Latino values of community, family, passion, and
, and
“shows why
domestic violence DOESN`T fit in Latino communities”

But if Latinos are supposedly so
steeped in warm communal values, why do they so often
behave in diametrically opposite ways? Alianza doesn`t
seem interested in addressing this contradiction.

What Alianza
does seem
interested in is expanding Latino-oriented social
service delivery in this country.

October 1, 2008
, to kick off Domestic
Violence Month, the group called for additional funds
for women`s shelters. It

“Several factors, including discrimination and lack of
bilingual/bicultural staff, have led to an
underutilization of shelters and other domestic violence
services by Latinas/os affected by domestic violence”

This appeal, steeped in the
clinical language of gender-neutral egalitarianism,
implies that the main roadblock to reform is American
policy—not Hispanic folkways. If only we Americans can
be made to understand these folkways, goes the argument,
the assimilation process would go much more smoothly.

A niche industry thus has arisen to
connect Anglo and Hispanic cultures. Hispanic Research
Inc., an East Brunswick,
N.J.-based marketing firm, for example, offers these
pearls of wisdom on its website (

  • "Hispanics tend
    to be conservative/traditional in their cultural
    lifestyle. The men`s “machismo
    clearly separates the Latino male from his Anglo
    counterparts. The female also plays a very different
    role from that of the Anglo female. These traits are
    especially evident in new immigrants."

  • "Most Hispanics
    exhibit a similar

    longing and nostalgia
    for their country of origin. "

But why don`t Hispanic immigrants,
at least those possessed of a machismo sensibility,
express their longing by, well, returning home?

Even more to the point,
why did they come
here in the first place?

Apparently, these are not polite
questions to ask at the dinner table—at least not to
company founder Ricardo Lopez.

Immigration enthusiasts argue that,
rather than close the gates to newcomers, we should
invest more in education and other areas to promote
assimilation and hence discourage domestic abuse among
immigrants already here.

Yet, even without the likes of
MALDEF and the National Council of La Raza promoting
their noxious brew of ethnic triumphalism and
separatism, these types of preventative measures work
more easily in theory than in practice.

Susan Mattson and Ester Rodriguez
of Arizona State University`s

of Nursing
for example, have concluded from their research on
Hispanic immigrants that it is precisely in situations
where one partner assimilates and the other doesn`t that
the capacity for violence is greatest. The male in
particular becomes prone to violence if his partner
becomes aware of her legal rights and sheds the
born-to-suffer fatalism of the old culture.[Intimate
Partner Violence in the Latino Community and Its Effect
on Children,

Joanne Klevens of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention admits:
“Role strain,
especially as a result of immigration and acculturation,
might be unique to Latinos, and its importance, and the
importance of male dominance among Latinas experiencing
[intimate partner violence], deserve more research”.[An
Overview of Intimate Partner Violence Among Latinos

Let`s put this less
euphemistically: America
is importing domestic abuse

Education and outreach programs
might mitigate some immigrant dysfunctional behavior.
But greater
selectivity in whom we admit to this country
accomplish this goal faster and better.

Ingrained patterns of belief and
behavior don`t simply dissipate by crossing someone
else`s border.

Just ask the parents of Lindsay Ann

Carl F. Horowitz (email
) is director of the Organized Labor
Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy
Center in Falls Church, Va. He has a Ph.D. in urban
planning and policy development.