Our Secret is Not Safe: How stigmas around abuse and guns are harming our community


On February 18, our community experienced a tragedy when a South Asian man shot and killed his wife and then turned the gun on himself. As the investigation continues, we have seen dialogue about whether this constitutes as domestic violence. Indeed, this horrific incident fits the Center for Disease Control’s definition of intimate-partner violence. Additionally, a key conversation is still missing from this incident – how does gun violence impact South Asian-American women? Due to preconceived notions about gun ownership, we often ignore gun violence as an issue that impacts our community. However, 40% of American adults live in a home with a firearm – we are not immune to this public health issue.

Research shows that the presence of a gun increases the risk of homicide for abused women by 500%. Women in the US are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than by any other way, making this the most dangerous country in the ‘developed’ world for gun violence against women. According to a recent CDC report, more than half of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partner.

Guns play a major role in domestic abuse in other ways as well. Across all racial groups, guns are used by abusers to intimidate and control their victims. 4.5 million American women have been threatened with a gun by their intimate partner.

The tragic event this past week should spark a much needed conversation around domestic violence and the role that guns play in violence against South Asian American women. Like domestic violence, gun ownership carries a strong stigma in our culture. Research commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that Asian-Americans were the highest ethnic group to say that owning firearms is viewed as undesirable in the community.

Victims often hide or minimize their actual risk out of fear of judgement from the community.

Concerned friends and family may not fully understand the risks when they suspect abuse in a home. People may feel it is “not their place” to ask about firearms due to the negative societal stigma associated with gun ownership. Worse yet, many may not even think to ask about a gun in the home due to the secrecy around this issue in our community.

We are not exempt from the major public health issues in the US such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and gun violence. Research shows these deaths are predictable and, therefore, they are preventable. By recognizing and breaking these stigmas, we have the chance to keep our community safer.

Madiha Haque and Rachna Khare work for Daya Houston where they serve as Housing Client Advocate and Executive Director, respectively. Daya empowers South Asian survivors of abuse to break the cycle of violence by addressing their mental health, safety, legal, and housing needs with a cultural lens. The writer is Malcolm Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Sciences.

Statement from Daya on Murder-Suicide in Sugar Land

HOUSTON: On February 18, our community experienced a tragic murder-suicide. Initial reports state that a South Asian man shot and killed his wife and then turned the gun on himself. The family’s friends spoke to reporters of the couple’s involvement in the community and said they saw no indications of problems. All expressed their deep love for the family.
Throughout the day, we at Daya spoke with community members who expressed their pain and frustration. We are encouraged to see respectful conversations that speak to the broader problem of domestic violence in our community.

The reality is that the dynamics of South Asian culture keep domestic violence a shameful secret within the family. Non-physical forms of violence such as emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse are minimized or ignored. However, these types of violence have severe traumatic effects not only on the victims but also the children who bear witness. Survivors are often blamed and shamed when they seek help and are pressured to “stay together for the children’s sake.” In many cases, they lose everything when they come forward. The stigma of divorce keeps families unhealthy and unsafe. This social stigma creates the added risk of losing one’s entire support system.

Research shows us that South Asian survivors face challenges in mainstream systems due to language barriers and lack of cultural expertise. Daya’s goal is to ensure that South Asian survivors do not fall through the cracks due to such issues. It pains us to know that Houston has had five murder-suicides just this month.

Domestic violence crosses all nationalities, incomes, education levels, and social standings. The South Asian community is not immune to domestic violence, and continued silence will only perpetuate abuse. In 2018, Daya supported 462 survivors; however, research suggests that 1 in 3 women are impacted.

It is with a heavy heart that we at Daya recommit to our work and we ask that you join us. Believe survivors. Pay heed to their words. They do not deserve abuse and it is not their fault. Hold abusers accountable. Raise the bar for what is acceptable in our community. Prioritize safety and compassion above all else. By breaking the stigma, you create a future where children not only understand what healthy relationships are, they demand them.

To the victims – Your death will not be in vain. We will hold you in our hearts as we continue in our mission to end domestic violence in the South Asian community.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, please reach out through Daya’s confidential helpline at 713-981-7645. Abuse can be physical, but it can also be emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, or verbal. You are not alone, and we are here for you.