COMMUNITY VOICES | Domestic violence against Hmong women: The silent truth


Did you know, as a Hmong woman, you are considered your husband’s property? You were bought and paid for during the marriage ceremony and now he has the right to do whatever he wants to you; just like a piece of jewelry, an old shirt or a dog. There isn’t even a word for marriage in Hmong…the way you say marriage in Hmong is literally “buying your wife.” Yes, this is a very different perception of marriage but this view is how many Hmong elders, clan leaders and Hmong people, both men and women, still consider marriage today. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why domestic violence against Hmong women is so prevalent and causes so much harm within the Hmong community whether we want to believe it or not.

Note: There is a Hmong Domestic Violence Helpline 1-877-740-4292. It is free, confidential, secure and anonymous. It is staffed 24 hours a day with bilingual staff.

Here’s the typical Hmong definition and beliefs about domestic abuse:

  • There must be visible proof such as a big bruise, torn flesh or blood, in other words, significant damage done to the body. The thought of irreparable harm or death seem really far away from what we believe domestic violence is until it’s too late and a life is taken.

  • The husband must kick his wife or use an object to beat her. Therefore, slaps and punches are assumed to be acceptable forms of punishment and embarrassment?

  • The wife deserved it. She was obviously doing something wrong and the non-existent abuser was only doing his job.

  • Domestic abuse should be kept hush hush. The repercussions of what might happen if the police get involved are so much more horrible than domestic violence itself. Take for example, the abuser could go to jail, you know!

  • Jealousy and controlling ways = he cares about you! However, the way a husband shows love is a one-way street because the woman can’t be jealous or controlling. If she exhibits these characteristics or any other negative ones, then she’s just a bad wife and deserves whatever she gets.

  • Emotional and verbal abuse are not considered domestic violence. It’s amazing how some people still truly believe this to be the case today!

As a Hmong woman living in the United States in 2013, I don’t even know where to start on how we, as a community, can move beyond this out-of-date mentality. The conversations and banter I have among my girlfriends are exhausting as we laugh and cry at the plight of being a Hmong woman and daughter-in-law (this is another whole story in itself). Working on an issue that is so embedded within our history and culture means trying to find the root of this problem will be a long and tedious one. There will be arguments, discussions and disagreements along the way but as long as this collaboration ends up providing a more positive environment supporting domestic abuse victims (and when I say victims, I also mean the children who were helpless and lived through it), all the hard work we have endured will have been worthwhile.

The late General Vang Pao, the foremost leader of the Hmong people, once said that the domestic violence problem is because the Hmong wives are ignoring the Hmong Clan System and crossing over to the American law. The message received is all of the domestic violence blame is put on the woman’s shoulder meanwhile the man must have been justified in his actions. When a domestic violence situation arises; whispered rumors, gossip and innuendos always speak of her alleged affairs, her breaking up the family, her selfish and lazy ways, etc. There’s never any talk of his philandering ways (because it’s culturally accepted to be alright, it’s not even considered cheating, it’s just how men have fun); his volatile temper and punching fists (boys will be boys); or the patriarchal culture that will have his back and support his every move even if he is wrong (i.e. Hmong Clan System).

The Hmong Clan System, who are supposed to act as mediators between the couple, are composed of mostly if not all male members, usually older and set in their traditional ways. The usual response to a domestic violence dispute is: “Go back to your husband. Your place is with him. We’ll talk to him and tell him not to do it anymore.” There might be a question or two thrown in on what she did to deserve it. End of story. It’s like putting a band-aid on a broken bone and saying that will take care of everything.

My thoughts as an inside observer are: How do you think the story of every Hmong woman who is a victim of domestic abuse is going to end? Why do you think Hmong women are seeking American law instead of using traditional methods of coping. As a Hmong woman who wants to help join the fight, where do I even begin (besides trying to raise my son to think differently)? How do I start to break the cycle? What impact, if any, will my efforts help towards putting a stop to this dilemma?

Sometimes, when I’m reading the newspaper about yet another fatal Hmong domestic dispute, I wonder how many more unnecessary deaths have to happen before a change takes place where Hmong men and women both stand up to fight for this cause together. It’s not a man-woman issue, it’s a community issue that can only be challenged and fixed by the collaboration of the whole Hmong community.

Times have changed…I say let our Hmong community keep the good and leave the not-so-good in the past where it belongs. It’s about time the Hmong community puts an end to domestic violence against our mothers, sisters and daughters now, not thirty years from now.

***Note: There is a Hmong Domestic Violence Helpline 1-877-740-4292. It is free, confidential, secure and anonymous. It is staffed 24 hours a day with bilingual staff.

9 thoughts on “COMMUNITY VOICES | Domestic violence against Hmong women: The silent truth

  1. The comment the author wrote in this article indeed disgraces the Hmong community. I am an officer of the law and deal with all kinds of domestic violence involving with all races including domestic violence in the Hmong community. Domestic violence can happen to any person, regardless of race or gender, across America. By saying that, “Did you know, as a Hmong woman, you are considered your husband’s property? You were bought and paid for during the marriage ceremony and now he has the right to do whatever he wants to you; just like a piece of jewelry, an old shirt or a dog.” A Hmong woman is a human being, not a property or a piece of jewelry. This author here does not know what she was talking about. She might have a bad experience but it does not represent the Hmong community. We need to judge case by case, not by race.

    • I don’t believe the author wrote this article from a biased or more female view. You, not as a man of law but as a man in the Hmong community should know more of the patriarchal upbringing that has been taught to our Hmong boys and men. I agree that domestic violence can happen to any race, but the author focused her view directly to the Hmong community. It is not about speaking because of a bad experience, it’s about standing up to what needs to be change. Most abusers view their women as a piece of property, mind you that abuse doesn’t need a race to be idenfied, but I believe she’s referring that since a lot of men in our Hmong community find that it’s not a crime to abuse their wife, that’s how they view their wife. She’s correct that the term marriage in Hmong is literally buying a wife. It’s because of one’s different mind set and views differ that causes miscommunication in the Hmong community. When one suggests for a change, our culture does not analyze the details to why this change needs to happen so we can grow as a community, but instead it’s people like you who has to shut down one’s opinion of a situation. You have to consider why she addressed an issue like this because you should know more when you claim that you are called to situations like this all the time.

  2. Violence against women is reprehensible and has no place in any civilized society. If this is how Hmong men treat women all I can say to the women is you have other options here. Interracial marriage is not illegal and while domestic abuse happens in all cultures to one degree or another, it is widely condemned and punished in American culture. Maybe Hmong women should simply seek out partners other then Hmong men.

    • Maybe you shouldn’t be a bigot to generalize an entire community. Generalizing Hmong men as abusive and Hmong women as the stereotypical Asian girl who needs a white knight to come save her doesn’t make you “civilized” like an abusive man. I’ve been in the Hmong community for a long time now and as an outsider I see a lot of ugliness coming from Hmong women and they are just as bad as the bad Hmong men. I can tell you that there are parts of the culture that are outdated, but the community is gradually stepping away from it because the older generations are dying out.

    • Therez alof of things that another not as hmong seems to see or assume things that its not right or its too harsh as being a hmong woman but everyone has thier beliefs and thier cultural ways. I’m pretty sure that there’s other race with thier cultural beliefs that a lot of people are not happy or proud of but its what makes us who we are and for someone to go against hmong cultural beliefs just cause its different from the American laws that’s not rite. We as hmong people are proud of what we are and what we stand for and for someone to say that our beliefs aren’t right is making a real big statement against our culture of beliefs that has been passed down for centuries of generations and kept us who we are until now just because it goes against the American laws. So which one is better than the orher? American law where it tends to contradict itself or our hmong cultural beliefs

  3. the comments you said on the hmong cultures are not true. hmong don’t buy their wife, its a tradition that the husband is responsible to paid for the weding . after the weding take place both husband n wife have to love each other til death do apart. n both parents have the right to monitor their son n daughter new life, n if conflict happen. both parent will try to help yo resolve the issue. if said that hmong buy their wife n used whstever the man want than i don’t thin realy understand the hmong culture clearly.

  4. If we’re truthful, which Hmong tradition tends to heavily favor the male aspects–whether they be half-truths, jealous suspicions, or self-anger wrongly directed–Hmong men are undoubtedly almost always perperators of domestic abuse.
    It is the truth.
    A man and boy in the hmong community could never hope to understand these realities so long as they do not seek to educate themselves on such realities, especially when benefitting from the effortless efforts of rewarded ignorance.
    If you’re right, you’re right. Wrong? Then you’re right!
    I am a 22 year old male who has seen the realities of this time and time again.
    My mother was raped by her own husband, though a repelled attempt by her children. Police were called. She said nothing.
    My cousin’s father tried to hold down his wife to beat her. He stopped when he realized someone other than his children was party enough to witness this (I, myself).
    These are not accusations which must be proved or disproved. They are neither “disgraceful” in their statement. These are truths masked as inviolable tradition and irrefutable life-culture.
    I can only attest to the translations and remarks made in this article.
    They are not false, not embellished in hate, but they are most definitely accurate.
    How can it not be? One plus two is never going to be nothing. It is not JUST a woman’s wiles come for karmic vengeance, neither is it simply a misunderstanding of womanly sensibilities and spousal committments.
    It is a man’s issue…Hmong man’s issue, and the community that fully assents to repudiating any Hmong woman that cries, “911,” or even cries out in general is a harlot, a vagabond no-good, or something equally as baseless and cruel.
    Do not be so accepting of everything without sieving the contents. One will find suspicions are closer to reality than is comfortable. But that is Domestic Abuse in essence.
    It is the TRUTH. It’s an issue of life-and-death; anyone saying otherwise is proven not a liar, but either uneducated so, or willingly ignorant.

  5. The information in this article are purely comments collected from Hmong women during an altercation or argument with their “bad” partner. This is a form of behavior that exists in perpetrators that like to abuse their victim to show power and control. It’s not about culture or culture practices. Thus, the articles demonstrated that the author doesn’t know anything about Hmong culture. Study shows that during a verbal abuse, the perpetrator will say anything to control their victim.

    I am a first Hmong generation with experiences in both traditional and non-traditional marriages. Throughout my life experiences, I have not seen or heard of a man who bought his wife whether in a traditional or non-tradition wedding like a piece of property or jewelry. The only form of payment is a dowry paid to the parents as a token of respect and gratitude for raising and giving birth to the daughter. This payment is no more than $8000 and 99% of the time are paid by his parents. In return, the newly wed couples receives a monetary gift of $5000 up to $20,000 plus other gifts (clothes, a car, gold necklaces, cooking hardware, etc). The amount money varies depending on the family’s wealth. This practice is similar to other cultures just in a different form. Like the American culture, the man buys his wife an expensive diamond ring (5K-30K) and in most cases, their parent(s) pays for the wedding ceremony (typical American wedding can cost between 10K to 50K). And in most cases, the new wed couples doesn’t receive monetary gift like in Hmong weddings. Therefore, the comment this article is truly a disgrace to the Hmong community.

    On the other hand, I do want to give credit to this author for her courage writing this article. As a Hmong man, I know there are many practices in our culture that we can change and make it better. However, this doesn’t make all Hmong men bad! And for those Hmong women out there who thinks Hmong men are bad and wants to marry an outsider…think twice before doing it. Every culture has bad practices! Every cultures has bad people! Regardless of who you marry. If you end up with a bad person than you will suffer the same consequences regardless you’re a man or woman……..

  6. My opinion about this issue i do very believe from my soul. Well how can we say that we are hmong when we cant even keep our ancestors beliefs as ours now a days. If u guys havent noticed our hmong comunity is developing unhealthy environments for the next generation of hmongs to retake our course and carry on our beliefs. Every race has their own beliefs even if it looks rite or wrong from an outsiders point of view. Those different ways are what makes every race unique in their own ways. If u guys didnt know about how the hmongs lost our country to china than u guys wouldn’t understand why our ancestors kept our females like this. Ive seen it everywjere i go now and mpre and mpre single parents year aftet years. The dad thing about all this is the caring and support for the childrrns. Who are we to say that we can take or make the decission to make our kids go thru a life not knowing how to comprehend normally like our generation did. I believe no matter how bad situations get or what the child has to go thru i believe that it takes the course of teaching our old traditional ways to them. I was born having 2 parents in my life and i did go thru alot of arguments between my parents but it made me realize that in order for me not to argue as much with my partner when im ready but believe it or not even knowing this much my relationship with my partner still isnt the best. I dont understand the concept of not being hmong and keeping their old ways and saying we are hmongs and making our own rules as we go on. Beleive me when i say that we shiuld be who we are and take our traditional ways with us even if it doesnt look rite in others eyes. Cause everyone has a thing or 2 to say or to discriminate anothers races belief.

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