Domestic violence is a problem within every socio-economic group. But nowhere is the problem more acute, more lasting, and more devastating than among African American women.
At a time when women seem to have finally come into their own, as shown by recent political dramas including the election of the nation’s first African American President, Barack Obama, there are great numbers of women who find it difficult to take care of themselves because of both economic and emotional distress from years of verbal and physical abuse.
Research substantiates the high percentage of low income women who are victims of intimate partner violence (IVP). In spite of certain preconceived notions about the 16 year old welfare mother who refuses to work and get off the dole, the facts are that welfare doesn’t create violence. In fact it is the violence that forces women to the lowest economic levels along with creating health conditions that may affect them for life.
Poor, battered women, in fact, are at high risk for serious health problems; and these health problems consequently affect their ability to work and care for themselves. Poor health ratings are far greater among African American battered women than for non-Hispanic white women or that of the general female population; post traumatic stress disorder is considerably higher. Researchers hypothesize that African American women’s experience with the overall community, to include early feelings of rejection, form a foundation for more serious emotional problems to occur consequent to intimate partner violence.
In spite of these startling facts few investigations have focused specifically on how violence impacts women of color. It has been found that battered women of African American ancestry have less social support systems because they often don’t have the economic resources or don’t earn as much as their white peers. They are less able to access resources for a variety of reasons including concerns about being stigmatized by the community, the idea that violence in the home is a private matter, or that they feel uncomfortable discussing intimate problems especially with counselors who may be of a different economic or racial group. So they lack the available resources to become independent at the same level as non-Hispanic women.
The fact that African American battered women are particularly vulnerable socially and economically and less able to become employed and independent, means the problems of poverty that include drugs and prostitution fall harder on them. As punitive laws have been enacted with reference to sex-based crimes and drugs, battered women of color end up in prison in greater numbers than the general population of women. In 1997, African American women had an incarceration rate of 200 per 100,000 compared to 25 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic white women. Furthermore many of these women have children who also lack resources of family and friends and themselves may become victims of poverty and violence.
Mandatory sentencing and longer sentences for women of color have been especially devastating. Furthermore relying on police protection is more problematic in the African American community where police apathy and indifference are more prevalent than in the non-Hispanic white community.
For these reasons, and many more, domestic violence programs are critical to solving problems of poverty at every level and must become a part of community attention. Natchitoches is one of the communities that is taking leadership on this issue through D.O.V.E.S., a program for caring for the victims of domestic violence and educating the public about the issues involved.
Issues about domestic violence are complex, and the problems of domestic violence are individual and need to be treated that way, according to Natchitoches D.O.V.E.S. Executive Director Melody Minturn. She stated that “not all battered women have children, and not all children whose mothers are battered get battered, abused, or neglected themselves. The complexities of family violence must be addressed through policies that are target specific to the female population because the majority of partner violence actually pertains to women.”
Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCADV), a statewide network of domestic violence programs, supportive organizations, and individuals sharing the goal of ending domestic violence in Louisiana for 26 years, has gone through some transitions since the recession but remains focused on the budget and the programs about domestic violence. D.O.V.E.S involvement in supporting the community at the grass roots remains a viable entity and continues its work in helping to educate and inform while assisting victims of domestic violence to regain their sense of personal self worth and be able to move forward towards independent, responsible and fulfilling lives.
Whether a woman is white or black, the blows of abuse can be devastating, as the facts demonstrate; and it is programs like D.O.V.E.S with its open arms and open agenda that provide the critical help that these battered women need to survive.
“Intimate Partner Violence, Welfare Receipt, and Health Status of Low-Income African American Women: A Lifecourse Analysis” ,Journal article by Mieko Yoshihama, Amy C. Hammock, Julie Horrocks; American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 37, 2006.
“Partner Violence, Social Support and Distress among Inner-City African American Women”  Journal article by Martie P. Thompson, Nadine J. Kaslow, J. B. Kingree, Akil Rashid, Robin Puett, Diana Jacobs, Alex Matthews; American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 28, 2000.
“Inner Lives: Voices of African American Women in Prison “
Journal article by Michelle S. Jacobs; Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 94, 2004
“When Violence Strikes Home,”Magazine article by Marcia Smith; The Nation, Vol. 264, June 30, 1997.