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Gender Identity

Sexual Violence in the APIA Community

May 17, 2018

The most prevalent stereotype of about a victim is a white woman, but we know that sexual violence affects everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and race. The #MeToo movement has proven exactly that.   

This month is Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month. Asian Pacific Islander (API) is a broad term that includes Asia, the Pacific Islands, Micronesia, and Polynesia, encompassing over 70 different countries, 100 different languages, and a multitude of different cultures, traditions, and histories. 

As someone who is lucky enough to work at a company like Catharsis Productions that fights against rape culture every day and as someone who is proud to be Asian American, I want to take this month as an opportunity to talk about how sexual violence affects my own community. 

According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, 23% of Asian and Pacific Islander women experienced some form of contact sexual violence, 10% experienced completed or attempted rape, and 21% had non-contact unwanted sexual experiences during their lifetime. Of Asian and Pacific Islander men, 9% experienced some form of contact sexual violence, and 9% had non-contact unwanted sexual experiences during their lifetime.   

While, yes, 0% of the experience of sexual violence would be ideal, these statistics are actually quite low, compared to 40.1% of Native Americans and 59.5% multiracial women experiencing some form of contact sexual violence. 

When API individuals are constantly stereotyped and/or objectified, why is that? Is it possible that the odds be in favor of API Americans? Is sexual violence really not prevalent among this particular community?  

Well, I believe it’s more likely that these lower numbers indicate sexual violence is severely underreported amongst Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.  

According to the National Institute of Justice, Asian women are among the least likely to report incidences of sexual and physical assault not only to authorities but also to their own family and friends. Even more research from the University of California-Berkeley reported that API women not only reported higher sexual assault prevalence during college than other ethnic groups, but they were also less likely to disclose the assault. 

As for men, combined with the fact that men are even less likely to report their sexual assault due to perpetuated gender stereotypes and misconceptions, API men have likely faced more sexual assault than we think. 

So why do APIs not report their sexual assault? Aside from the general reasons an individual may choose not to report, such as fear of retaliation, believe that the authorities could not help, or fear of humiliation, but it could even be due to cultural specific values. 

Firstly, API communities are often more collectivist, rather than individualist, placing more importance on a group rather than the individual. Individuals who don’t report their assault may be trying to minimize conflict as much as possible so as to not disrupt the harmony of their group of family and friends. API individuals minimizing or internalizing the event may contribute further, especially in instances of partner violence. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence 2010 Report, 19.6% of Asian Pacific Islanders experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. South Asian women may not report because they believe it was their fault for putting themselves in a situation that indicated that they wanted sex. 

Fulfilling the model minority may also impact an individual’s decision to report their sexual assault. With expectations to be smart, hard-working, and obedient, an individual may feel pressured to keep up the good image and reputation, and in order to do that, chose not to report their sexual assault. 

It’s important to note that these are only general trends among the API community and that every culture has its own values. This is only the beginning of a much larger, more intersectional conversation that #MeToo must be. 

It’s true that sexual assault affects everyone—but we can all play a role in the way that we think about sexual violence to help create an environment support where all survivors, especially those in the API community, feel safe enough to talk about and report their sexual assaults. 

If you or someone you know in the API community has been affected by sexual assault, there are resources specifically designed for the API community.


●     Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence     

●     Asian Law Caucus    

●     Center for the Pacific Asian Family

●     A Comprehensive Directory of Domestic & Gender Violence Programs Servicing Asians & Pacific Islanders

Maddie Ronquillo

Maddie is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago with degrees in Psychology and Advertising/Public Relations. She works as the marketing assistant for the Catharsis Productions Marketing Department.