While October is set aside to give much-needed attention to Breast Cancer Awareness, the month has also been designated to bring awareness to another epidemic that damages and destroys families and communities—domestic violence.

Domestic violence (DV) affects millions, both women and men, of every race, religion, culture and status. It’s not just punches and black eyes. DV is a pattern of many behaviors directed at achieving and maintaining power and control over an intimate partner, such as physical violence, emotional abuse, isolation of the victim, economic abuse, intimidation, coercion, and threats. 

Domestic violence occurs among all race/ethnicities and socio-economic classes; but for women of color, high rates of poverty, poor education, limited job resources, language barriers, and fear of deportation increase their difficulty finding help and support services. Although there are unique circumstances within the context of a particular community of color, common factors and considerations exist which may account for under-reporting of DV by women of color and a failure to seek appropriate help services. 

Some commonalities among women of color are: 

• A strong personal identification based on familial structure/ hierarchy, patriarchal elements, and cultural identity (e.g., role as wife, mother, and homemaker) 

• Religious beliefs that reinforce the woman’s victimization and legitimizes the abuser’s behavior 

• Fear of isolation and alienation 

• A strong loyalty to both immediate and extended family, as well as loyalty to race and culture (the “yoke of silence”)

• Guarded trust and reluctance to discuss “private matters” 

• Fear of rejection from family, friends, congregation, and community 

• Individual needs often defer to family unity and strength 

• Distrust of law enforcement (fear of subjecting themselves and loved ones to a criminal and civil justice system they see as sexist, and/or racially and culturally biased) 

• Skepticism and distrust that shelter and intervention services are not culturally or linguistically competent

• For immigrant and undocumented women, in particular, a fear or threat of deportation or separation from children

There are also specific issues and distinguishing dynamics that African-American women face. 

An estimated 29.1 percent of African-American women are victimized by intimate partner violence in their lifetime (rape, physical assault or stalking).  African American females experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white females, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. However, they are less likely than white women to use social services, battered women’s programs, or go to the hospital because of domestic violence. And according to the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), African-American women experience higher rates of intimate partner homicide when compared to their White counterparts. 

As a result of historical and present-day racism, African American women may be less likely to report her abuser or seek help because of discrimination, African American men’s vulnerability to police brutality, and negative stereotyping. Non-arrests of suspected abusers of African American women and a fear that police will exercise an abuse of power have contributed to African American women’s reluctance to involve law enforcement. 

Stereotypes amplify the complexities African American women encounter when trying to seek help services. Myths that African American women are “domineering figures that require control” or that African American women are “exceptionally strong under stress and are resilient” increase their vulnerability and discourage some from speaking out about abuse. Culturally and historically, African American women have been looked to as the protectors of their family and community.

It is important to understand the unfair stereotypes and destructive misrepresentations of Black women that perpetuate crimes against women of color so that our families and communities can BREAK THE CYCLE.

If you need assistance or know someone who needs help, contact the New Orleans Family Justice Center’s 24-hour Crisis Hotline at 504-866-9554 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Also visit the Women of Color Network, Inc., (WOCN, Inc.), at wocninc.org. WOCN is a national grassroots initiative dedicated to building the capacity of women of color advocates responding to violence of all kinds against women of color, can be reached by email at wocn@wocninc.org or at 844-962-6462.

No one should be subjected to the fear, shame, and humiliation that an abusive relationship produces. This National Domestic Violence Awareness Month let us take the time to educate ourselves about how to support friends or family members who are fighting to free themselves from abuse and unite to give a voice to those who suffer in silence. 

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