There is nothing new about physical abuse, or threats of it, in a sexual relationship. Primitive 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 and Murray Straus have 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 substituting criminal violence for verbal facility as a way of settling disputes.
A few years ago, Liz Claiborne Inc. commissioned Teenage Research Unlimited to conduct a national survey of American youths on their attitudes toward abuse in dating relationships. The results, unveiled 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
Abuse, a model curriculum that the company developed
in 1991 and now distributes to middle- and high-school
students at over 350 schools across the
Needless to say, the fact that for several decades immigration policy has been inadvertently importing such attitudes was off the table.
On one level, one can`t begrudge the importance of teaching young people about the signs of 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, intimidation—not just self-defense—by males is considered honorable and thus "normal". It`s a worldview passed on from one generation to the next.
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
One day in September 2005,
Lindsay`s mother, concerned when her daughter didn`t
answer the phone, called police. The cops visited the
She was there, all right—dead in a
bathtub, her throat slashed.
This idea is set to take root
National Association of Attorneys General
unanimously adopted a resolution this past June in
support of such education.
The first state to adopt such a
Mr. Perez, a
A week later, Mr. Abrego, also of
Yes, we all know that such
incidents can occur even in the
homes. Yes, we all know immigration from Hispanic or
other countries is not the only source of domestic abuse
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.
Raul Caetano and Craig Field of the University of Texas`s School of Public Health found that Hispanic (and black) couples exhibited three times the frequency of male-on-female violence and twice the frequency of female-on-male violence than did white couples. [Longitudinal model predicting mutual partner violence among White, Black, and Hispanic couples in the United States general population. Violence and victims 2005;20(5):499-511.]
In a separate study, Dr.
Caetano, John Schafer of the
(What these studies say about blacks is a subject for a separate article).
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
shelters", she remarked.
"They want to
learn English. They want transportation and legal help".
Another researcher, Irma Santana, former director of
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
But that`s no surprise. Social
services agencies and research groups are fairly stuffed
with mass-immigration boosters who operate on the
The National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, better known as "Alianza", is the lead organization in this area. Here, too, one finds the paradox: oppose the pathology, but not the people who inflict it.
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.
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
"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."
exhibit a similar
longing and nostalgia for their country of origin. "
"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
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 IPV [intimate partner violence], deserve more research".[An Overview of Intimate Partner Violence Among Latinos, Klevens VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.2007; 13: 111-122]
Let`s put this less
Education and outreach programs might mitigate some immigrant dysfunctional behavior. But greater selectivity in whom we admit to this country will 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 Burke.
Carl F. Horowitz (email him) 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.