Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cultural "Sensitivity"

It goes without saying that for all races and cultures to co-exist in America, there will need to be a high level of cross-cultural acceptance. On the other hand, some Hmong men may be stretching things just a little bit.

From today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) -- A 22-year-old Hmong man who impregnated his 16 year-old wife when she was 15 will avoid jail by speaking to other Hmong about the importance of adhering to U.S. law.

"This resolution not only allows Lee to avoid a serious felony conviction and registration as a sex offender, it also provides education to traditional members of the Hmong community that while they have every right to celebrate their traditions and customs, they must do so in compliance with the law," he said.
The article also points out that they were not married when she was impregnated. So as long as you're from the right ethnic group, feel free to scope for dates at Chuck E. Cheese. But this paragraph killed me:
It's common for Hmong girls in Laos to marry and have children at age 15 or 16. But the Lees, who were both born in the United States, said their decision to have a child had nothing to do with their Hmong heritage.
So they admit it had nothing to do with being Hmong? So what did it have to do with? Lee's desire to throw it in a 15 year old? And for this he gets a slap on the wrist? He was better off with the Hmong cultural excuse.

Clearly, not all Hmong residents adhere to some of their traditions that conflict with Wisconsin law. However, there are also some who don't - which is why the state needs to fund programs like the Refugee Family Strengthening Project, a state program that primarily teaches Hmong men that beating their wives is illegal.

In 2004, Jim Doyle described the need for the program in a Department of Workforce Development press release, saying there was a need to "address family violence arising from cultural adjustment issues faced by refugee families as they assimilate into new communities within Wisconsin."

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau described the need for the program thusly:

Domestic abuse service providers believe domestic abuse is more prevalent among immigrant women than among U.S. citizens. Research has found that victims of domestic violence from certain communities, including non-English speaking communities, face greater barriers in accessing protections from abuse. Some of these barriers are lack of information about U.S. laws, lack of economic resources, language barriers, lack of culturally relevant services, and the socio-cultural impact on women from traditional cultures who decide to leave a marriage.
In the 2005-07 budget (p. 116, item 13), Doyle proposed $1.12 million in general purpose revenue for the Refugee Family Strengthening program. Legislative Republicans, not wanting to touch the issue with a 20 foot pole, approved the funding with a modest suggestion that the Governor should find the funding from a different source in the future.

Obviously, domestic abuse is a matter to be taken seriously. And the state does - in 2004-05, Wisconsin spent over $8 million in state and federal dollars on domestic abuse services, battered women shelters, and the like. Is it really necessary to spend extra money to teach people what the law is?

The Jason Lee case described above is a perfect example. Lee was born in America, impregnated a 15 year old, and didn't even claim that it was a "cultural" act. Yet he gets lenience anyway - the court actually applied a defense to Lee that he didn't even claim.

With Hmong men who abuse their wives, they likely make a claim that their behavior is "cultural." So instead of treating their behavior with the seriousness it demands, we excuse their behavior and spend a million dollars in scarce general purpose tax revenue to teach them what the law is. Sounds pretty "sensitive," unless you're a woman victimized by one of these "cultural" attacks.