Racial and Ethnic Groups

Safety and Sobriety Manual
Best Practices in Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

January 2005

Special Populations:  Racial and Ethnic Groups

Multicultural Sensitivity

Culture has been defined as "the shared values, norms, traditions, customs, art, history, folklore, and institutions of a group of people." Culture is developed in relation to the changing social and political contexts. It is based on race, ethnicity, age, class, gender, sexual orientation, geographical location, immigration status, disability status, and within the historical context of oppression. Culture shapes an individual's view of the world, their values, behavior, and way of life. It influences attitudes and affects how an individual responds to domestic violence and substance abuse services.

Culturally competent programs demonstrate sensitivity to and understanding of cultural differences. A culturally competent program:

  • Understands the role of culture in shaping behaviors, values and institutions.
  • Continually trains staff to recognize and confront their own prejudices.
  • Recognizes that culture is a source of power.
  • Recognizes that cultural differences exist and have an impact on service delivery.
  • Recognizes that diversity exists among and within the same racial and ethnic groups.
  • Respects the unique, culturally defined needs of various client populations
  • Understands that people from different racial and ethnic groups and other cultural subgroups are usually best served by persons who are a part of or in tune with their culture.
  • Trains staff to assess and respond to an individual's communication style - for example, their preferred personal space, eye contact, language style, and the degree to which touching is appropriate.
  • Provides written material in the appropriate languages.
  • Develops linkages with support systems representing the client's culture.

General Points to Consider

Here are some general points to consider in providing culturally competent services:

  • Be aware of and respect the diversity among the multiple racial and ethnic groups. For instance, there are more than 60 Asian/Pacific Islander groups, each with their own culture, language and ethnic identity. Latino/as come from more than 20 different countries. The Native American population consists of approximately 450 different groups with varying customs and some 250 languages.
  • Acknowledgment of the cultural and religious beliefs, values and practices can empower and validate the client/survivor/victim.
  • Be sensitive about touching and eye contact. Respect one's space during conversations. Some people consider touching by a counselor to be intrusive, insincere or even threatening.
  • Questions of a personal nature, such as those related to sexual behavior, may be viewed as intrusive, taboo, and/or indicative of stereotypical thinking. Staff should be aware that it may take some time before a person is willing to share personal information.
  • Be sensitive about asking for immigration status, social security number, or identification cards and about taking pictures of immigrant women or men.
  • Use of children as interpreters should be avoided, if at all possible.

Women of Color

When working with women of color, consider these points:

  • Assess the individual's communication style and avoid judging behavioral cues. Some women may avoid maintaining eye contact because it is perceived as challenging. Others may reject deferential behavior and may be perceived as disrespectful or hostile.
  • Some women may be reluctant to report violence because of their community's negative experience with social service agencies, government entities, and the police.
  • Some women may be ostracized from their communities if they report abuse.
  • Recognize the importance of family. Be aware that the concept of family is broader than parents and children, and generally includes blood relatives, relatives by marriage, close family friends, and neighbors. When abuse exists, women may be reluctant to leave because of commitment to the family and fear of isolation.
  • Some immigrant women are vulnerable to domestic violence because of their immigration status and economic dependency. They may also be isolated because of language barriers and may face the added burden of racism.
  • Some immigrant women may not know U.S. laws or may be misinformed by their batterer. The batterer may use the threat of deportation to control the woman. The Violence Against Women Act allows an immigrant woman to petition for legal residence. The provisions of the law are complicated, and professional assistance is recommended. Contact the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence or the Poverty Law Center for assistance.

Men of Color

Facilitators working with men of color need to be sensitive to the following cultural issues. However, do not tolerate these conditions as an excuse for abuse. No culture condones violence.

In groups composed primarily of European Americans, men of color may feel:

  • Isolated - detached from familiar surroundings, culture, institutions and people.
  • Uprooted - lacking familiarity with the system, dealing with hostility and messages of inferiority from the majority culture.
  • Helpless - not functioning fully because of language barriers, lack of support systems, lack of education and skills.
  • Powerless - lacking political and economic power, vulnerable because of immigration status and/or lack of documentation, experiences with racism. Studies have shown that men of color progress faster in treatment groups where they are the majority.

In partner abuse groups it is important to consider:

  • Some men of color may argue that the society which disenfranchises them gives disproportionate power to women over men.
  • The provider should be aware of the distinction between acknowledgment and collusion and take care to avoid the kind of negative bonding which can allow the man to internalize the message that his experiences justify his violence against women.
    • Be aware of and respect the diversity among the multiple racial and ethnic groups.