Researchers have shown that loneliness and isolation, especially as a result of cultural change, is a risk factor for DV. This is largely because familial and cultural support systems that are available to an individual in the home country are often lost in the transition. In this article, Abraham explores isolation, which she defines as the “individual’s perception and reality of being emotionally and socially alone, economically confined, and culturally disconnected” (p. 222), as a form of DV in the SA community.
Abraham found that this kind of abuse is hidden behind an “invisible wall of isolation” because of a number of reasons – due to the power tactics used by the abusers, geographic immobility, cultural and linguistic constraints, financial dependency, and lack of social networks. There are also societal factors such as the racial and ethnic divisions of US culture that isolate abused women, and immigration policies that handicap immigrant women.
To understand the experience of isolation, Abraham interviewed 25 women who had experienced DV. All the women were first-generation immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and most had come to the US after marriage. They ranged in age from their 20s to 50s, and represented all major SA religions. She found that isolation can happen at three levels: in the relationship with the husband, in relationships with others (friends, relatives, coworkers), and in terms of participation in and access to larger social structures (such as organizations and institutions).
Isolation by spouse: Abraham finds that the delay in newlyweds joining each other inhibits bonding or communication between the spouses. In many cases, the first real contact is after the wife has already left behind her support systems in her home country. But at this point, she finds herself emotionally, financially, and socially dependent on a man she has just met, making it easy for the husband to take advantage of the situation.
This form of isolation is often the hardest to take because the husband is believed to be the one person the wife can interact with and depend on in the new country. Spousal isolation can begin very soon after marriage – for instance, men may not take the necessary efforts to get their wives to join them in the US, leaving the women unsure about their husband’s intentions, or they may not help them feel comfortable in or get adjusted to the new way of life, leaving the women hesitant to venture out of the house. Husbands may not allow their wives to leave the apartment or give her any money. They may monitor her daily activities, threaten to shame her, constantly find fault with her, or use her lack of familiarity with the culture to further isolate her (for example, “you don’t know this neighborhood”). As a result, the wife becomes increasingly dependent on her husband for money, outings, etc., and therefore more vulnerable to abuse.
[It must be noted that many of the interviewed women, including those who worked, specifically identified financial isolation (not giving her money, excluding her from investments and accounts, not letting her know how much he makes) as the most immobilizing kind of spousal isolation.]
Next week, we shall discuss the two other kinds of social isolation that victims of DV experience.
[For more information, see: Abraham, M. (2000). Isolation as a Form of Marital Violence: The South Asian Immigrant Experience. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 9(3), 221-236.]