EDITOR'S NOTE: Elder abuse, a growing but hidden problem for Chinese seniors in the United States., often originates when adult children here reject the tradition of filial piety. This is the second story of a two-part series. Read part I here.
The scourge of family elder abuse affects as many as to 2 million people in the United States, as well as up to 5 million seniors subjected to financial exploitation.
Shame, fear and secrecy surrounding elder abuse have generally made it difficult for experts to obtain exact figures. For Chinese and other Asian American families, the strong influence of traditional culture brings additional challenges to prevention and protection.
“Chinese culture gives higher value to the unity of the family than the individual themselves. It is uncharacteristic for Chinese parents to formally charge their children for abuse,” said Xinqi Dong, a researcher at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, in Chicago.
For this reason, said Dong, “it is more difficult to discover such cases and provide help.” These seniors often remain silent about their plight.
One Silent Victim
One of these silent victims is Jinfu Liu, age 75.
Skinny with receding gray hair, the quiet Liu would just look like an ordinary Asian man, except for the scar on his cheek. The scar makes him extremely embarrassed in front of his elderly friends because it was put there by his son’s fist.
In the past two years, his son has beat Liu five times. “Once he punched me, and I fell on the floor and fainted. When I woke up, it took me a long time to figure out why I way lying on the floor,” said Liu.
Every time he was attacked, Liu told himself he’d call the police next time. But he never did. If the latest attack had not left him with a bleeding cheek, he would not have sought help from Gin Lee, a specialist at the Chinese Americans Restoring Elders (CARE) Project at the Indochina Community Center.
However, when Lee suggested helping Liu apply for a restraining order from the court, the abused senior declined.
“I don’t want leave my son a bad record. It will affect his future,” said Liu. “My son was actually a good boy when he was young. He respected me a lot, and I also secretly favored him over his siblings.”
Lee was not surprised. “Many Asian seniors like to keep silent when they are abused by their children. Even when they have to ask for help, they won’t like the cops or the court to get involved. No matter how they are treated by their children, they always think for the children,” she said.
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