By Angela Braggs, MS
African American women often live in the dangerous intersection of gender and race. As dual minorities, these women are more likely to live in extreme poverty, in segregated areas and in poor housing. They are frequently exposed to violence in the home and on the street, in addition to experiencing a series of health problems and social stress (Jordan (2002). Domestic violence, is a pattern of coercive behaviors, used to gain or maintain power and control over another person within an intimate, dating or family relationship. These behaviors may include, but are not limited to: physical and sexual abuse, direct or implied threats, emotional and psychological abuse, intimidation, verbal abuse, isolation, stalking, financial control, spiritual abuse, threatened or actual use of weapons, destruction of property and/or harm to the victim’s family, pets or others (Barkely, Brenner (2017).
Facts about Domestic Violence in the African American Community (According to Domestic Violence Action Center website https://www.dvac.org.au)
• In a national survey, 29% of African American women and 12% of African American men reported at least one instance of intimate partner violence.
• African Americans are the victims of 1/3 of the domestic homicides in the United States each year. African Americans have a domestic violence homicide rate four times than that of whites.
• Higher rates of domestic violence in the African American Community are strongly related to higher levels of poverty and economic oppression. When income and neighborhood characteristics are controlled for, racial differences in domestic violence rates are much lower.
• African American victims of domestic violence were more likely to be killed by their partner if there had been incidents in which the partner had used or threatened to use a weapon on her and/or the partner had tried to choke or strangle her.
• Domestic violence often re-occurs. A study of African American victims of domestic violence found that in about half of the cases physical violence did not happen again – however, over 1/3 of women participating in the study reported one or more further incidents of severe domestic violence in the same year and one in six reported at least one less severe act of domestic violence.
Many women fear that escalation of violence and even death may occur if they report it. They fear how they will be portrayed by family, friends and others in the community if they report to the police. Another reality is that women often cannot afford to leave their abusers as they have no other place to live. Sometimes friends and family are hesitant to let those being abused into their homes due to the fear that the abuser will come. It is important to note that there are resources available – some resources are included at the end of this article.
Domestic violence survivors can experience a significant amount of trauma due the acts committed against them. Persons having experienced domestic violence suffer much higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression than those who have never experienced domestic violence. The treatment for trauma can become complex in nature as many survivors have also experienced traumatic events in their childhood. There are various paths to healing from these experiences. One route is psychotherapy or talk therapy which can help individuals learn how to manage feelings and thoughts associated with those experiences. By gaining insight about unhealthy patterns, learning new techniques and tapping into one’s own resilience individuals can minimize the impact of past domestic violence and reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the odds of being involved in future domestic violence.
Providing counseling to those experiencing domestic violence is important. While a counselor cannot make the decision for a client about if/when they should leave, a counselor can provide teaching tools needed to make an informed decision about what they should do for themselves. A counselor can also provide resources and referrals to agencies that specifically address domestic violence. It is important to note that most counselors are mandated reporters who are required to report active domestic violence situations involving children, seniors or vulnerable adults.
Another source of support for those experiencing domestic violence in the African American community is the church. Local churches often provide support for those dealing with personal issues. While some church staff are equipped to help people in domestic violence situations, there are those who lack any formal training in the area of domestic violence and with good intentions might cause more harm in situations. For example, couples counseling (which is commonly recommended for relationship problems) can be dangerous in domestic violence situations as it may enable the abuser to further manipulate and further shame those being abused. There are also no guarantees regarding confidentiality and privacy (Jordan (2012).
Domestic violence can be a very touchy subject to address. Domestic violence can occur in both men and women of any age group and within any culture and ethnicity. Not everyone comes forth about the violence that they are experiencing for various reasons with the most obvious reason being that they fear their abuser. In many cases, those affected by abuse return to their abusive relationships and/or their children start to experience the abuse as well. This highly sensitive and overlooked issue can create a vicious sometimes deadly cycle. There are resources available and people committed to helping individuals leave and heal from those situations.
Angela Braggs holds a MS in Education specializing in counseling.
Milwaukee Health Department Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resources: https://city.milwaukee.gov/health/staysafe/health/directory#.XrGnLBNKgW8
Soujourner Family Peace Center https://familypeacecenter.org/resources/getting-help/
Community Advocates https://communityadvocates.net/what-we-do/milwaukee-womens-center/overview.html
Domestic Shelters https://www.domesticshelters.org/help/wi/milwaukee