Module 9: Enhancing Cultural Responsiveness

Module Purpose

The purpose of this module is to:

  • Better understand culture.
  • Recognize one’s own culture and its impact on serving families.
  • Reflect on cultural humility as we work with families.
  • Understand the impact of culture on families experiencing abuse.

Lived Experience: Aimee Choi


Read Aimee's Story

I am 34 years old. I have two children, Anna who is six, and Nelson, who is three. I have been married for 9 years. I work as a human resource specialist for a software company. My husband and I both come from big families, and our families also live near us. We are all very close. Or at least we try to be.

I am ashamed to say this out loud. No one knows this, not even my family…they would never accept this….but I had no choice, I left my husband four months ago. He did not know we were leaving but I couldn’t stay. All of the shaming, yelling, and hitting had gotten out of control. It was okay when it was just me but when he raised a fist at our daughter I knew I had to do something. I knew he wouldn’t stop. He never would have let me leave. I waited until he went to work, and I took the few things I could gather and left. My attorney was able to get the court to slow down and order supervised visitation until we go back to court. My attorney says it won’t last forever. I don’t have any proof of what he’s done to me. I’ve told no one….I am scared…what will he do next?


Exploring Culture

Recognizing culture and the influence it has in a family’s experiences is essential. Culture is the a complex system of ways we as a group of people who share experiences give meaning to our lives. It includes our worldview, behavior patterns, art, beliefs, language, institutions, and other products of human work and thought. Its many aspects are dynamic and diverse. We may often bring assumptions and misperceptions about culture into our work. 

Culture is often contradictory, potentially carrying values that can be both oppressive and nurturing. Culture develops and continues to evolve in relation to changing social and political contexts, based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexuality, gender, religion, age, class, disability status, immigration status, education, geography, special interests, and time (1). 

Why is understanding culture important?

Here are several examples of how culture can impact our work with families experiencing domestic violence:

  • Culture can shape a person’s beliefs of the violence.
  • Culture may inform our response and interventions.
  • Culture may impact accessibility and present barriers to service.
  • Culture can influence how children are perceived in the family.

The first step to valuing diversity and culture is valuing and understanding our own culture. It doesn't matter our role in supporting families, dedicating time to exploring and understanding our own culture, as well as our beliefs and values, is essential to safely and effectively responding to intimate partner violence.


  1. Saduskly, j. (2010) Safe Passage: Supervised Safe Exchange for Battered Women and Their Children 

Lived Experience: Young Choi 


Read Young's Story

My name is Young. I have a son and a daughter. I am a successful biotech scientist. I have provided a very comfortable life for my wife and children. My wife did not have to return to work but she chose to do this when my son entered preschool. She wasn’t a very good housekeeper anyway so I guess it was better that we hired someone to clean.

My wife can be very selfish; she decided a few months ago that she wanted to live on her own and have her own apartment. She will realize soon enough that she can’t make it on her own and come back to our home. In addition to all of this mess, my wife created a big story. She is a very believable liar. My attorney suggested that we should not fight it yet and let the truth come out about what a good father and husband I am.


Relational Presence

Relational presence is being attentive to how we are engaging with other people. It is the process of interacting in a way that opens possibilities with those with whom we work. It helps us shift from an "expert" position to being present and open with each other. It is remaining responsive to the moment, recognizing we can not know what will contribute to change. It avoids assuming universality and believing that something that makes sense in one context would be the same in another.

The first step to strengthen our relational presence is to practice deep listening 

  • Relational listening invites clear intent to discover something new about another person

  • Relational listening is about listening together to deepen both understanding and relationship

  • Relational listening allows new shared meanings to emerge

  • When we listen deeply, we are changed by each other. In deep listening we are both the changer and the changed

  • New insights and understandings grow from deep listening

Click here to download a handout provides further ideas on how to strengthen relational presence.


  1. Sheila McNamee, Radical Presence;  Transformative Dialogue: Coordinating Conflicting Moralities (2008). Click here to download Transformative Dialogue

  2. Samuel Mahaffy, Relational Listening -


Lived Experience: Peggy Carlson

Read Peggy's Story


After the last time Bruce hurt me, I finally went to get help. I thought I could “handle” it. I am embarrassed that after the last time, I turned to alcohol to numb the pain. I thought I could control it.

I realized that I have been using alcohol as an excuse for the violence. I always let Bruce off the hook and believed that when he stopped drinking that the violence would finally stop, but it hasn’t.

I have to be strong with my decision to quit drinking and go to whatever lengths I need to survive, for myself and for my kids. I joined a women’s support group where I can tell me story and people understand what I am going through. They really listen to me. My advocate and my group help me to think about our safety and my sobriety. I am gaining more confidence in myself.


Relational Cultural Practice

When we connect through growth-fostering relationships, we develop relational competence. In relationships where there tends to be a power imbalance (such as professional and client) it is important to pay attention to how we are relating and how power plays a role in our communications and explore imbalances in power and privilege. 

When there is disconnection, people may feel a denial of their perspective and in response they may begin to keep their experiences to themselves. This can result in diminished sense of vitality, empowerment, worth, and desire for connection. Disconnection also occurs at the sociocultural level when we categorize, stereotype, and stratify people. When we impose our own cultural world views without seeking to understand another’s perspective, we may be acting from racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. 

By understanding another person’s culture, we create connection and growth-fostering relationships. These relationships are created through mutual empathy (the ability to understand another’s thoughts/feelings) and mutual empowerment (ability to take action).

Five positive things of growth-fostering relationships are (1):

  1. Increased vitality
  2. Empowerment: Increased ability to take action
  3. Develop a clearer picture of one’s self, the other, and the relationship
  4. Strengthened sense of worth


  1. Jordan, J.V., & Hartling, L.M. (2002). New Developments in Relational-Cultural Theory. In M. Ballou & L.S. Brown (Eds.), Rethinking Mental Health and Disorders: Feminist Perspectives (pp. 48-70). New York: Guilford Publications.


Cultural Humility

The approach of cultural humility encourages us to identify and acknowledge our biases (1). Cultural humility calls for self-reflection, curiosity, and creating opportunities for people to be heard (2): 

  • An ongoing process and commitment to self-reflection and a self-critique at the individual and institutional level.
  • Desire and curiosity to explore one’s own culture, assumptions, similarities, and differences with individuals and families with whom we work.
  • Obligation to set our power and authority aside to create authentic opportunities for individuals and families to be valued and heard.


  1. Levi, Amy. “The Ethics of Nursing Student International Clinical Experiences” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing. Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 94-99 (2009). Accessed 10/22/12. 
  2. Browning, David. “Visiting a Foreign Land: Cultivating Cultural Humility in Pediatric Palliative Care. Accessed 3/25/12.,0,2913672.story 

Lived Experience: Latanya Johnson

Read Latanya's Story


My name is LaTanya. I work as a high school science teacher and have two teenage children. Kimmy who is 15 and Mike who is 16. I’m honestly still in shock that my life has come to this. Clinton and I met in college and I thought he was the perfect guy, and would be the perfect husband. I mean, sure, he was controlling sometimes – I think he would get jealous of my girlfriends and not want me to go out with them – but I just thought that was because he was crazy about me. And he was, for years.

We had the kids, bought a house, have good jobs. We were living the American dream for 11 years. Then one night Clinton hit me, 4 years ago -out of the blue. Of course he felt terrible, and we went to counseling, and I thought it was all over. But he kept getting angrier and angrier. You’ve got to understand – I have a life with this man – we’ve built a home, supported each other through our careers, and been in love. Most of the time we’re the happiest couple on earth. But when this other Clinton comes home, we are on pins and needles, he is just horrible. No one in our church or family knows about this other part of our life. They all think we are the ideal couple.

This last time I swear he was really going to do something really bad to me, and of course, that was it. Even the kids agree – Kimmy especially. She doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore. None of us knows who he is anymore. I think Mike is still hoping his dad will make it right, but even Mike doesn’t want to see me hurt anymore.


Cultural Responsiveness in Intimate Partner Violence Services

Approaches to providing culturally responsive advocacy and support to families begin by avoiding assumptions and being curious about others. A culturally responsive approach is one that:

  • Acknowledges that people’s values that support or resist intimate partner violence may also be part of a larger culture’s values and accepted practices.
  • Understands that culture is dynamic and that individuals have their own unique experience and understanding of the role of culture in their lives.
  • Recognizes that our own culture and social standing shapes how we see and understand others..
  • Understands that it is not about being an expert in a specific culture, rather it is being open and responsive to the unique role culture plays for individuals and families as defined by each individual and family.
  • Pays attention to the role of power and privilege in each interaction with individuals and families.

Critical Thinking

This section is intended to allow us to integrate the training content into the lived experiences of families. Each of these critical thinking questions addresses one or more of the people in the Carlson, Choi, or Johnson families, and examines an aspect of their lives.

Take time to think about each of these questions, and think about responses from multiple points of view. It may be helpful to go back and review sections of the curriculum, re-read the experiences of each family member, and engage in dialogue with community partners and co-workers.

  • Identify 3–5 ways culture shapes your work with families experiencing abuse.

  • Describe your culture. How does it shape your work with people experiencing abuse? People abusing? Children exposed to family violence?

  • Think of a time when you and someone (a friend, colleague, service provider) saw things two very different ways. From your perspective, how did your culture shape your understanding?

  • Write down 3–5 things related to your own culture. Explore how aspects of your culture can be used as a resource to support survivors. How could aspects of your culture be used to engage people abusing? Children and youth?

  • What assumptions could be made about Aimee and Young? How might those assumptions create barriers to safety and responsibility?

  • How could you incorporate the approach of cultural humility into your work with families experiencing abuse?