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Elephant in the therapy room : counselling experiences of ethnic immigrant women survivors of family violence in Aotearoa, New Zealand Shila A. Nair

By: Nair, Shila.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: 2017Description: electronic document (107 pages) ; PDF file.Other title: Narratives of Asian, African and Middle Eastern immigrant (ethnic) women survivors of domestic violence from collectivist backgrounds living in Aotearoa, New Zealand: A qualitative study giving voice to their lived experiences in therapy. Research portfolio submitted towards completion of a Master’s Degree in Counselling, University of Auckland.Subject(s): AFRICAN PEOPLES | ASIAN PEOPLES | COUNSELLING | CULTURAL ISSUES | DOMESTIC VIOLENCE | FAMILY VIOLENCE | INTERVENTION | MIDDLE EASTERN PEOPLES | MIGRANTS | VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE | NEW ZEALANDOnline resources: Click here to access online Summary: Asian, African and Middle Eastern communities are by and large collectivist in nature (Chang & O’Hara, 2013; Orozco, Lee, Blando & Shooshani, 2014). For most women from such communities, leaving abusive marital relationships can be extremely daunting as they become mindful of cultural obligations and compulsions that accompany collectivist traditions that continue to enforce the sanctity of the institution of marriage over individual safety. One obligation in such cultures is to maintain family and social honour which could irrevocably be ruined if a wife were to leave her husband. My own experience as well as that of other survivors I have counselled in my practice have taught me that the transition from being victim to survivor can be often traumatic, as women begin their journey of freeing themselves from gender-biased patriarchal values and culturally sanctioned oppression. The socially-imposed onus on women to preserve their marriages irrespective of abuse, makes them prioritise their spousal relationship over individual wellbeing. For immigrant women living outside their country of origin and displaced from birth families, the intra-community isolation they would face within their country of residence, exacerbated by social ostracisation, can become huge deterrents to them escaping violent relationships. For women with children, this prospect is even more challenging. Childress (2013) finds that their family of origin would not let the women separate from their husbands and would ask their daughters to cope with their husbands for the sake of the children. In the context of women who are sponsored into Aotearoa, New Zealand for the purpose of marriage, fleeing an abusive relationship is even harder to contemplate as their husbands would withdraw sponsorship and they would be threatened with deportation. For women in such a situation, seeking external agency intervention outside of the family is an act of desperation, and if they were to access counselling, families and communities would be inclined to regard such a course of action as a reflection of the victim being mentally unstable, thereby soliciting social stigmatisation. Ciftci, Jones and Corrigan (2013) offer examples of such possibilities in their research on mental health stigma in the Muslim communities suggesting that Muslim women may avoid sharing personal distress and seeking help from counsellors due to fear of negative consequences, socially. For the purpose of this research I have studied immigrant women survivors of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origins who have been in heterosexual marital relationships and living in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The government initiative `Family Violence: It’s not OK’ claims on its website that 1 in 3 women in New Zealand experience physical and or sexual violence from their partner during their lifetime and 76% of recorded assaults against females are committed by an offender that is identified as `family’. The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse website states that there were 118,910 family violence investigations in 2016 with 89% of the respondents named in Protection Orders, being male. From my professional experience of being a community development practitioner and Counsellor, I believe that the ratio of such male respondents would be far greater within ethnic immigrant communities. However, due to an absence of specific ethnicity breakdown (other than European, Maori, Pacific, Asian and Other) in the New Zealand police statistical data, I am unable to fully validate this assumption for ethnic communities in New Zealand. My work with Shakti - a culturally-specialist ethnic community organisation supporting survivors of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origins in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Australia - has also provided me with a deeper insight into the complex ethno socio-cultural dynamics within such communities. One such peculiarity is that of female in-laws randomly becoming coabettors to the violence perpetrated by males in the family. Practice-based evidence informs me that such abuse perpetrated by female on female has close linkages to the maintenance of deeply entrenched patriarchal family values and culturally sanctioned oppressive practices perpetuated within collectivist cultures, such as dowry abuse, forced marriage, underage marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and so-called honour-based violence. I hope that through this research I may be able to throw more light on these dynamics and their co-relation to female in-laws as abusers. My interactions with the counselling community in Aotearoa, New Zealand have revealed that a significant majority of non-ethnic counsellors may not be fully cognisant of such culturally sanctioned oppressive norms and socially-sanctioned forms of violence as well as the human rights violations that occur within collectivist ethnic immigrant communities living in New Zealand and several other parts of the western world. This lack of awareness and understanding could result in loss of recognition of critical issues that emerge in collectivist settings and which could be highly significant within the therapy context when counselling women victims from such communities. The limitations in such critical knowledge on the part of the counsellor and other allied factors may take the form of the proverbial elephant in the room, and problems arising out of such issues could well be left unexplored. From my own experiences of studying counselling in New Zealand, tertiary educational institutions, by and large, appear to focus on imparting knowledge built around western individual-centric frameworks/models using a predominantly mono-cultural (white) lens. McCarthy (2005) who explored various models, modern and post-modern, as being practiced worldwide, believes that “the references to the counseling system and process overall as they relate solely to collectivism are scarce” (p114). It is within these contexts that I have conducted this research beginning with a Literature Review, in an attempt to discover the counselling experiences of ethnic immigrant women who have accessed counselling in Aotearoa, New Zealand and or in any other western country. I then interviewed women survivors and examined the efficacy of counselling, through their voices. I am optimistic that this study will be able to contribute to a meaningful dialogue if not posit the need for an appropriate therapy framework for counselling immigrant women survivors from collectivist backgrounds living in western countries. Potentially, this work could progress towards benefiting all immigrant people of colour from collectivist backgrounds, besides counsellors / therapists and others involved in the field of emotional and physical wellness. (Author's abstract). Record #6192
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Asian, African and Middle Eastern communities are by and large collectivist in nature (Chang & O’Hara, 2013; Orozco, Lee, Blando & Shooshani, 2014). For most women from such communities, leaving abusive marital relationships can be extremely daunting as they become mindful of cultural obligations and compulsions that accompany collectivist traditions that continue to enforce the sanctity of the institution of marriage over individual safety. One obligation in such cultures is to maintain family and social honour which could irrevocably be ruined if a wife were to leave her husband.

My own experience as well as that of other survivors I have counselled in my practice have taught me that the transition from being victim to survivor can be often traumatic, as women begin their journey of freeing themselves from gender-biased patriarchal values and culturally sanctioned oppression. The socially-imposed onus on women to preserve their marriages irrespective of abuse, makes them prioritise their spousal relationship over individual wellbeing.

For immigrant women living outside their country of origin and displaced from birth families, the intra-community isolation they would face within their country of residence, exacerbated by social ostracisation, can become huge deterrents to them escaping violent relationships. For women with children, this prospect is even more challenging. Childress (2013) finds that their family of origin would not let the women separate from their husbands and would ask their daughters to cope with their husbands for the sake of the children.

In the context of women who are sponsored into Aotearoa, New Zealand for the purpose of marriage, fleeing an abusive relationship is even harder to contemplate as their husbands would withdraw sponsorship and they would be threatened with deportation. For women in such a situation, seeking external agency intervention outside of the family is an act of desperation, and if they were to access counselling, families and communities would be inclined to regard such a course of action as a reflection of the victim being mentally unstable, thereby soliciting social stigmatisation. Ciftci, Jones and Corrigan (2013) offer examples of such possibilities in their research on mental health stigma in the Muslim communities suggesting that Muslim women may avoid sharing personal distress and seeking help from counsellors due to fear of negative consequences, socially.

For the purpose of this research I have studied immigrant women survivors of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origins who have been in heterosexual marital relationships and living in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The government initiative `Family Violence: It’s not OK’ claims on its website that 1 in 3 women in New Zealand experience physical and or sexual violence from their partner during their lifetime and 76% of recorded assaults against females are committed by an offender that is identified as `family’. The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse website states that there were 118,910 family violence investigations in 2016 with 89% of the respondents named in Protection Orders, being male. From my professional experience of being a community development practitioner and Counsellor, I believe that the ratio of such male respondents would be far greater within ethnic immigrant communities. However, due to
an absence of specific ethnicity breakdown (other than European, Maori, Pacific, Asian and Other) in the New Zealand police statistical data, I am unable to fully validate this assumption for ethnic communities in New Zealand.

My work with Shakti - a culturally-specialist ethnic community organisation supporting survivors of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origins in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Australia - has also provided me with a deeper insight into the complex ethno socio-cultural dynamics within such communities. One such peculiarity is that of female in-laws randomly becoming coabettors to the violence perpetrated by males in the family. Practice-based evidence informs me that such abuse perpetrated by female on female has close linkages to the maintenance of deeply entrenched patriarchal family values and culturally sanctioned oppressive practices perpetuated within collectivist cultures, such as dowry abuse, forced marriage, underage marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and so-called honour-based violence. I hope that through this research I may be able to throw more light on these dynamics and their co-relation to female in-laws as abusers.

My interactions with the counselling community in Aotearoa, New Zealand have revealed that a significant majority of non-ethnic counsellors may not be fully cognisant of such culturally sanctioned oppressive norms and socially-sanctioned forms of violence as well as the human rights violations that occur within collectivist ethnic immigrant communities living in New Zealand and several other parts of the western world. This lack of awareness and understanding could result in loss of recognition of critical issues that emerge in collectivist settings and which could be highly significant within the therapy context when counselling women victims from such communities. The limitations in such critical knowledge on the part of the counsellor and other allied factors may take the form of the proverbial elephant in the room, and problems arising out of such issues could well be left unexplored.

From my own experiences of studying counselling in New Zealand, tertiary educational institutions, by and large, appear to focus on imparting knowledge built around western individual-centric frameworks/models using a predominantly mono-cultural (white) lens. McCarthy (2005) who explored various models, modern and post-modern, as being practiced worldwide, believes that “the references to the counseling system and process overall as they relate solely to collectivism are scarce” (p114).

It is within these contexts that I have conducted this research beginning with a Literature Review, in an attempt to discover the counselling experiences of ethnic immigrant women who have accessed counselling in Aotearoa, New Zealand and or in any other western country. I then interviewed women survivors and examined the efficacy of counselling, through their voices.

I am optimistic that this study will be able to contribute to a meaningful dialogue if not posit the need for an appropriate therapy framework for counselling immigrant women survivors from collectivist backgrounds living in western countries. Potentially, this work could progress towards benefiting all immigrant people of colour from collectivist backgrounds, besides counsellors / therapists and others involved in the field of emotional and physical wellness. (Author's abstract). Record #6192