WALLINGFORD — University of New Haven student Asia Hutchins is spending her summer on research to help agencies in Connecticut provide better support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the Asian community.
As part of a fellowship program, the Wallingford resident is interviewing state agencies to examine ways they can offer better outreach and support for Asian victims.
While sexual assault and domestic violence rates are not higher among Asians, Hutchins said past research indicates Asian victims are less likely to report incidents or seek help.
“I know a lot of people in the Asian community who have been directly or indirectly impacted by either domestic violence or sexual assault, so I thought this was my way to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening,” said Hutchins, who lives with her family in downtown. She said research shows that approximately one in four Asian women have been sexually assaulted or know someone that has been sexually assaulted, which is on par with other ethnic groups.
Hutchins is interviewing agencies about the barriers they believe deter victims from seeking help. Hutchins said she’s found most of the agencies do not see a lot of Asian clients.
Past research has shown that some people raised in eastern cultures are less likely to seek help because victims fear bringing “shame” to their family, said Hutchins.
“If a woman is being abused by her husband, most of the time within the Asian culture, the women will always stay with the family... because by leaving her family she would be cut off from the family,” Hutchins said. “It’s kind of like you owe it to everybody else to just take the abuse in order to just keep your family together and keep your name honorable.”
Underreporting is also caused by a mistrust of American law enforcement, said Hutchins, a first generation American whose parents were born in Laos and Vietnam.
Language barriers are also a deterrent.
“There’s not many people in social services who speak Asian languages, so the ability to communicate is pretty much lost,” Hutchins said.
Once all her interviews are completed, Hutchins hopes to compile and analyze the findings and make recommendations to agencies.
In some cases, Hutchins said, agencies should use different approaches for families from different cultures. Social workers often separate families when responding to a domestic violence case, which might not be the best approach for all ethnic groups.
“In the Asian community, your family is all that you have. So what I’m seeing is that a lot of these agencies aren’t separating (Asian families), they’re working with them together. That seems to be working better for this community,” Hutchins said.
Based on her research, Hutchins also believes Connecticut could use more groups that support Asian victims specifically.
“There’s only one agency in the entire state of Connecticut specifically for Asian survivors and victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. To have just one for this entire population is limiting,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins is completing the study under professors from the university’s psychology department as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.
To qualify, Hutchins had to present her research idea and be selected from a pool of 40 students. The selection process is highly competitive because each student receives a $3,000 stipend, said Karen Grava, university spokeswoman.
At the University of New Haven, Hutchins is also part of a group of students that hold mandatory classes for incoming students to teach them about resources on campus for sexual assault victims. Hutchins, who commutes to college from Wallingford, will graduate in December with degrees in criminal justice and psychology and hopes to work in social services.