Now Is the Time for Asian American Women Like Me to Break the Taboo on Intimate Partner Violence

Visitors chant with monks from the Dharma Drum Mountain Center outside of the Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park on Jan. 31, 2023, where 11 people were killed by a gunman 10 days prior. (David Crane / MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

I’m an Asian American woman who serves on the city council in Eastvale, Calif. I’ve served as mayor there. I’m also a survivor of intimate partner violence, and it’s time for me to talk about it. Here’s why.

Eastvale is 40 miles inland from Monterey Park, where 11 people died in a recent shooting. While I was celebrating Lunar New Year with my family, others doing the same merely an hour away were terrorized during what should have been a joyous time. As I sat in my living room and learned the terrible news, I immediately thought back to the March 2021 mass shooting in Atlanta, which took the lives of six Asian women. Both events included strong elements of exerting power and control over women and marginalized communities.

It happened at a mostly-Asian dance venue. The assailant’s ex-wife frequented one of the targeted dance halls. She has shared that, “while [he] was never violent to her; he could be quick to anger.” 

The string of violence against the Asian American community and the most recent shooting in Monterey Park have stirred up a lot of trauma for Asian Americans, but they must also resolve us to act with courage. I’m convinced that it is imperative to talk about it now, or we won’t be able to make progress and heal.

I met my perpetrator in 2017. Like me, he’s Asian American. We started seeing each other in 2019. Everything went well. It was a great relationship. We went on trips together and we had friends in common. I like to think that I vetted him. He had a reputation for being a good guy.

I unintentionally got pregnant in the fall, and that’s when things took a turn. I took a pregnancy test at his house. He immediately started pressuring me to get an abortion. I told him I needed some time to think since this was a major life decision. Later I told him I was leaning towards keeping the baby, and I made it very clear that I had no expectations of him. That is when he became abusive with his words. That should have been a red flag. He continued pressuring me to get an abortion. Then he started punching walls. One day while he was punching the wall, he punched me. He did apologize, but in my mind, I drew a line. I didn’t want my kid to grow up in an environment like that. I left. 

He continued abusing me by phone until I was five to six months pregnant. He threatened suicide several times, to show up to my work and do it. That’s when I cut off contact.

I didn’t realize how bad things were at the time. My friends told me I needed to get a restraining order, but I didn’t do it. I’ve worked at a courthouse in college, and I didn’t want to go through all the processes within the system. I also didn’t want it to be on his record. I thought hard about whether to write about this. However, if I could go back and do it again, I would have gotten the restraining order. I was lucky things didn’t get worse. 

There is power in sharing stories like mine to come to terms with our past, and to help other women dealing with situations like this in the present or in the future.

I know there are other women out there who are going through an experience similar to mine. Up to 55 percent of Asian women report experiencing intimate partner violence. In 236 cases involving homicides of AAPI (Asian and Pacific Islander) women, 58 percent with known causes were related to intimate partner violence, with 81 percent of perpetrators being the victim’s current intimate partner, and 10 percent a former intimate partner. There is power in sharing stories like mine to come to terms with our past, and to help other women dealing with situations like this in the present or in the future.

While the number of domestic violence and intimate partner violence cases in the AAPI community is already high, there is more going on that goes unreported. Refugees, such as my mother who escaped a Communist regime during the Vietnam War, understandably mistrust any kind of government. Immigrants like my grandmother might speak only one language, which may not be English. When experiencing trauma, survivors of domestic violence need to be heard and understood, but most domestic violence and mental health resources are in English. We need to break through these barriers to access to ensure everyone has the ability to seek the help they need.

A memorial to victims outside of the Star Dance Studio. (David Crane / MediaNews Group / Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

In addition to access, we need to break the stigma around seeking help for mental health challenges in the AAPI community. We’re often viewed as the “model minority,” but burying our individual and collective trauma is something we don’t talk about. When I was still communicating with my perpetrator, I told him that he needed to go to therapy. With the stigma of unpacking generational trauma in the AAPI community on one hand, and the stigma men sometimes face when trying to seek help with mental health challenges on the other, he refused to seek professional help.

When my perpetrator threatened to come to my work and kill himself, he was sending me a message: I don’t deserve to feel safe.

I have been able to seek help for anxiety and depression since then, and talking about it with a professional has empowered me to move forward. Naming it (and speaking out) is part of the healing for me. In my family, like many other AAPI families, we don’t talk about mental health issues. We talk about getting through the day and putting food on the table. We don’t have the luxury of taking a break or taking care of ourselves. It’s something that we don’t talk about, even though we know we need it. We need to do more intentional outreach in the AAPI community.

I think about what my son might think when he reads a piece like this in 15 years. It is daunting to share a traumatic experience with others. I was in part inspired and empowered by other AAPI women who have courageously shared their stories. As a mom who is raising a toddler boy, it is also crucial for me to model kindness, compassion and equality at home. It’s also important for me to model courage for him, too.

When my perpetrator threatened to come to my work and kill himself, he was sending me a message: I don’t deserve to feel safe. That message is what stuck with me the most, and the thought and the fear associated with it consumed me all the time. I lived in fear of it, but I deserve to feel safe—the women working at a spa in Atlanta deserved to feel safe. The elderly women enjoying a Lunar New Year dance party deserved to feel safe. The women currently dealing with an abusive partner deserve to feel safe. All of us as women and our entire AAPI community deserve to feel safe.

Taking the first step towards our collective and individual healing requires courage in the face of adversity and generational trauma, but we must support each other to voice our stories and make our voices heard to create change. Our lives, our communities and the lives of our future generations depend on it.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or in need of support, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233).

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Jocelyn Yow serves on the city council in Eastvale, California. She is the legislative advocacy director of IGNITE, a national nonpartisan organization devoted to young women’s political empowerment.