Racial Justice and Domestic Violence

A significant history of racism, discrimination and generational trauma has caused domestic violence to disproportionately impact women of color in the United States. Women of color survivors of domestic violence face multiple adversities connected to racism and oppression in their journey to experiencing safe relationships. Racism shows up in overt and covert ways in their attempts to survive domestic violence.

 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females. African American women comprise 8% of the U.S. population but account for 22% of the intimate partner homicide victims and 29% of all female victims of intimate partner homicide. Further, an analysis of U.S. homicide data found that Black females are murdered at more than twice the rate of White females. In that study, 58 percent of Black females who knew their offender were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

Asian American women are the least likely group to report abuse, so estimates of the prevalence of domestic violence among Asian Americans vary widely. Somewhere between 21% and 55% of Asian women report experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during her lifetime. 24% of Asian women report having been stalked. 58% of all homicides of Asian American and Pacific Islander women are related to domestic violence.

About 1 in 3 Latinas (34.4 %) will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Due to barriers like anti-immigrant laws, Latinas are half as likely to report abuse as survivors from other ethnic/racial groups. Latinas also report seeking help from domestic violence shelters less than women from other groups; this is especially true for immigrant Latina survivors. Immigration status is a common and powerful control mechanism partners use to force immigrant women to stay in abusive relationships.

A staggering 48% of Native American or Alaska Native women have reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. National annual incidence rates and lifetime prevalence rates for physical assaults are also higher for American Indian and Alaskan Native women compared to other women. Native American victims of family violence are more likely than victims of all other races to be injured and need hospital care. The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is substantially higher among American Indian and Alaskan Native individuals than persons in the general community.

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“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

-Lilla Watson

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Domestic violence is a complex social issue. Police should not be the first or only call for help that those experiencing domestic violence make, yet, with a dearth of alternatives, it is often the only option. However, we know from listening to the survivors we serve that it often feels unsafe for African American victims, victims of color and immigrant victims to reach out to police for help. Many victims are hesitant to involve the police, given the very real fear of harm to themselves or their loved ones. Survivors want the abuse to end, but they fear fatal consequences for their partners should the police respond disproportionately. This removes a significant avenue for intervention from entire groups of survivors.

As we consider how to make our programs more accessible to survivors of domestic violence, we must talk about why some groups have more access to services and experience better outcomes than others. We know that survivors must overcome a number of challenges when trying to escape abuse, but racism imposes additional burdens on survivors of color, whose survival includes navigating a complex web of oppression.

Racial justice work is an important component of our efforts to prevent intimate partner violence. Domestic violence prevention is about addressing the root causes and changing the social norms that allow and condone violence. By applying a racial justice lens to this work, we acknowledge the role of racism and privilege in perpetuating violence in our culture and commit to working to dismantle these constructs at the individual, community, and societal levels. In the case of the movement to end domestic violence, racial justice refers to the proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce access, safety, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all survivors.