Within the Hmong communities, domestic violence is especially widespread and is considered to be a private matter between husband and wife. Although the women of many Hmong families are the breadwinners and are earning an income through selling of handicrafts to tourists or working as guides, the women are still granted a lower social position than men. At ETHOS we often hear stories about domestic violence and in some cases, we are directly involved in supporting victims of domestic violence. One of the cases we have recently dealt with is So’s situation.
So grew up with a father addicted to opium, and a mother who suffered greatly from his addiction and violent behaviour. So’s father would often hit the mother while So and her two other sisters were in the same room. In the aftermath of one of the father’s violent attacks, it became too much for the mother and she decided to escape in order to save her life. She left behind the three girls with Phil and Hoa and sold herself to human traffickers who found her a husband in China.
After the mother was gone, So made some terrible decisions for herself. One of them was to get a job in Sapa town. Here, she got in contact with a couple of men who tricked her and sold her to traffickers in China. After months in China, So fled and returned to Vietnam. However, soon after she came back, she met an older Hmong man, fell in love and is now living in an abusive relationship, very similar to the one of her mother. Although we have offered consistent support and opportunities for So to break with her past, the cycle of abuse has seemed almost impossible for her to escape.
Research has shown that children that grow up in secure and safe environments have an easy time forming positive relationships with people and have a stronger sense of self-worth. Contrasting, children that grow up in an environment with violence will often be drawn towards similar unsafe environments and seek violent partners. In So’s situation, having grown up in a violent environment has had the negative consequence that So is unable to create and maintain healthy relationships. So has been drawn towards the only lifestyle she knows, a lifestyle marked by instability.
At ETHOS we are currently trying to set up programmes to address the problem of domestic violence, to prevent situations, such as So’s. We are networking with a team of experts from around the world and are in direct consultation with our guide leadership team. However, we have through bitter experience learned how difficult it is to break with the cycle of abuse. Due to the normalization of violence as part of the Hmong families, children often grow up copying the behaviour of their parents. Thus, the boys grow up to become perpetrators and the girls victims and the cycle continues all over again.
At ETHOS we believe that prevention is always better than trying to solve the problems once the damage has been done. If you have any ideas as to how we could address the issue of domestic violence, empower women to stand up for their rights and work with men to change their violent behaviour, we would love to hear from you.