Domestic Violence and Black History Month
Updated: Mar 10
Feb. 10, 2021
By Corinne Sigmund, Life Together Fellow
February is Black History Month. Here at Safe Havens, we’re celebrating Black History Month by honoring the contributions Black people have made to history, as well as thinking and talking about how we can all engage in anti-racism. This week, we are taking a closer look at the intersection of race, gender, and domestic violence.
Why is it important to talk about Black women and domestic violence? Black women experience domestic violence at higher rates than women in general. More than 40% of Black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, compared to 31.5% of all women, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s Status of Black Women in the United States. Black women are also 2.5 times more likely to be murdered by men than white women. According to these statistics, domestic violence disproportionately affects Black women.
But why do these disparities exist? Structural inequality presents barriers to Black women in seeking domestic violence services. Poverty and discrimination increase the likelihood of domestic violence, but Black women typically have lower access to services for multiple reasons. First, services are often inaccessible. Transportation issues and/or fear of entering a perceived hostile environment can prevent Black women from getting the services they need. Additionally, discrimination in the legal system prevents Black women from seeking help. Because of hostile over-policing of Black neighborhoods and murders of Black people by police, Black women may not want to “betray” perpetrators to the legal system. They also might fear discrimination in the legal system against both themselves and their perpetrators. Finally, stereotypes about Black women might prevent them from seeking services. The stereotype of the “strong Black woman” who can’t show pain, or the “angry Black woman” who is demonized for standing up for herself, may prevent Black women from reaching out, and may create biases against Black clients in service providers.
Additionally, Black women experience domestic violence differently than white women do because Black women live at the intersection of racism and sexism. This phenomenon is often called misogynoir. For example, Black girls are sexualized and seen as more grown up than white girls of the same age, which contributes to sexual violence based on both gender and race. Black women also face over-sexualization, a stereotype that goes back to European enslavement of Africans, and that was used to justify rape of slaves. The double oppression of racism and sexism increases the burden of domestic violence on Black women.
In order to reduce this burden, we must address deeply rooted racism and sexism in our society. By reading anti-racist and anti-misogynist books, and participating in anti-racist and anti-misogynist conversations, protests, and legislation, we can create a society where Black women feel safer to reach out for help when they need it. We are compelled to continue this critically important work by a deep conviction that no one deserves to be abused, and by the understanding that Black women deserve to have their racial and gender identities respected and honored.
Bent-Goodley, T. B. (2004). Perceptions of domestic violence: a dialogue with African American women. Health and Social Work, 29, 307-316.
Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse links faith communities with domestic violence education through national and local work.