- Sania Khan’s death was widely discussed on social media and national news media.
- But domestic violence is nothing new for South Asian women. Many rarely mention it.
- Khan’s death spread like wildfire because it was a relative, domestic violence experts told Insider.
News of Sania Khan’s death spread like wildfire in the days after police discovered her lifeless body in her Chicago apartment.
On social media platforms, South Asian women who have never met Khan paid tribute to her — a 29-year-old photographer from Tennessee who was last month was shot by her ex-husband. Pakistani celebrities he spoke. And domestic violence organizations specifically targeting South Asian communities issued statements expressing their regret.
Khan’s story struck a chord with many in the South Asian community because domestic violence can be a daily occurrence, experts say.
For example, in the USA one in four women they will experience gender-based violence. But “for the South Asian diaspora in the United States, the statistics are two out of five women,” said Kavita Mehra, executive director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, a New York-based nonprofit that provides services and resources in affected women. by force.
“So what we know is that our community is seeing higher rates of violence and women in our community are experiencing higher rates of violence than the national average,” Mehra told Insider.
The stigma of domestic violence in South Asian communities
But domestic violence is so stigmatized in the community that South Asian women rarely talk or mention it. Many are not even aware that they may be experiencing it in the first place.
The term “domestic violence” is often difficult to understand for South Asian women in the Boston area, for example, according to Divya Chaturvedi and Renu Tewarie, co-executive directors of Saheli Boston.
“A lot of times we have to ask questions like, ‘Did he slap you? Did it sting you? Did he put his hands around your neck?'” Tewarie told Insider, detailing some of the interactions she and Chaturvedi have with women who call the center. “So they don’t even know what abuse is because it’s so normal to them. ».
It’s even harder to tell when domestic violence occurs in a less tangible form, experts told Insider. Verbal abuse, for example, is still domestic violence, Tewarie and Chaturvedi said, but may not leave visible marks or changes on the body.
But South Asian communities highly value the nuclear family and binary gender roles, they said, so there’s a lot of shame associated with identifying and speaking out about any kind of domestic or intimate relationship violence, experts told Insider.
Sometimes, for example, women call the helpline and tell Tewarie and Chaturvedi about the abuse they face at home. But when Tewarie and Chaturvedi start talking to them about their options and resources, the women reject the suggestions because they worry about being seen as outcasts in their community.
“Shame can serve as a social handcuff from a survivor coming forward because there is such deep shame that is projected onto a survivor, family shame, community shame, and not being able to have a safe space to be can all be shared. their experiences,” Mehra told Insider.
The other social shackle may be duty to family and family matters.
The belief that a woman has a duty to her family “will then force survivors to live in a place of fear and harm and trauma, when those are just social markers that really prevent a survivor from coming forward,” Mehra said.
That’s partly why Khan’s case struck a chord with the South Asian community, women who run domestic violence shelters told Insider.
Khan, a Pakistani American, shared the intimate details of her divorce with Ahmed on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, where she had over 22,000 followers.
“Going through a divorce as a South Asian woman feels like a failure at life sometimes,” she wrote in a video. “The way the community labels you, the lack of emotional support you get and the pressure to stay with someone because of ‘what people will say’ is isolating. It makes it harder for women to leave marriages they shouldn’t have does for starters.”
To her fans, Khan came across as relatable, experts say
She garnered a following through her honest portrayal of her experience as a South Asian woman dealing with divorce and other stigmatized issues.
“People were drawn to her messages because she was so vulnerable and courageous,” Mehra said.
It was also her fame that helped push her message and public image over the top. Speaking to Insider, friends described her as a warm person with an infectiously positive energy. She constantly supported her friends and encouraged them to follow what they wanted. She made people believe in themselves and took steps to make her life as exciting as it could be.
“It’s so relatable in the sense that so many women are dealing with some of these questions or lack of support, or questioning the relationship or not being happy,” Chaturvedi said. “She became the voice for these women in recording her struggles, what she was going through.”
“It’s hard when you see this person with so much potential, right?” Chaturvedi added. “This young woman with so much potential and her level of compassion and what she did, and to have her taken with such senseless violence, leaves a hole in your heart.”
It wasn’t just her fans or friends who were mesmerized by her presence. When she died, media across the country rushed to tell her story.
But according to South Asian women who run domestic violence centers across the country, Khan’s case is not unusual — despite the media attention and backlash.
Domestic violence is rampant among the South Asian community, and Khan happened to stumble into the limelight because of her relative and savvy use of social media. But many women have suffered the same fate without garnering the same media attention or public interest.
In 2020, for example, chef and restaurant owner Garima Kothari was killed by her boyfriend in Jersey City. Her boyfriend had killed himself afterwards. Unlike Khan, however, Kothari did not attract national media attention when she died.
And just days after Khan’s death, it was YouTuber Dana Alotaibi she was killed by her ex-husband on the side of a road in Hawaii. Then her ex-husband, a Marine, tried to kill himself.