Mention domestic violence or intimate partner violence, and one often imagines the victim as a middle class American-born white woman in her 30s, a housewife who is controlled by her husband but out of options due to being financially reliant upon him to care for her and their children.
No matter how heroic or tragic the outcome, the faces of IPV have been similar. From Nicole Brown Simpson to Francine Hughes, the game-changing, policy-influencing cases have historically involved a single demographic – white American women.
Though they winced at the scenes depicting violence in “What’s Love Got To With It,” viewers still convinced themselves that this story was not tragic because of how Tina Turner turned out, how strong she was to survive and thrive after such turmoil. But Tina Turner suffered a trauma.
Just last year, she told Vanity Fair that she still has nightmares about the abuse she suffered, more than 40 years after escaping her abusive relationship. Though the film received critical acclaim, unlike “The Burning Bed,” no policies were adopted due to the awareness it raised. As famous as Tina Turner’s story was and is, she is still not the face we imagine when considering victims of IPV.
Data suggests that the mental health consequences related to being involved in a violent relationship are numerous and long-lasting. Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and chronic interpersonal problems are not uncommon among those who have been abused in an intimate relationship.
To add insult to injury, the shame and invisibility experienced by many victims of IPV presents yet another mental health challenge. Those that don’t immediately come to mind as a prototype victim may feel as though their lives and experiences are unimportant, and that there are no resources available to address their particular needs. During October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is important to focus on the mental health effects of those most vulnerable to IPV and their after-effects.
Though we all can name Black women who have suffered at the hands of an intimate partner, (Essence Magazine even published a list of Black celebrities impacted by IPV), there persists the misconception that Black women experience IPV less frequently, and when they do, the deleterious effects are moderated by Black women simply being “strong.”
That is dangerously false. Dangerously, because family members, friends and police officers tend to take the abuse of Black women less seriously, though it is a leading cause of death for Black women. Dangerously, because Black communities too often adopt a mind-your-business, no-snitching response to IPV, though Black women are more than twice as likely to be murdered by male partners than White women. Dangerously, because prevention and intervention strategies fail to account for the unique challenges of Black woman IPV victims, though a significant amount of Black women’s suicidality is related to IPV.
Physical and verbal violence, emotional manipulation, financial abuse, and the impact of interlocking systems of compounded oppression make for a particular kind of violence that takes place in Black women’s relationships that goes virtually ignored. The forgotten Black women, even within the Black woman community, have it even worse. Transgender Black women, Black women sex workers, and Black women immigrants face an even higher risk of IPV and higher death rates.
Not considered in dismissive suggestions to “just call the police,” are the inherent psychological and social challenges involved in a person filing a domestic abuse charge against someone of the same gender, someone a victim fears may suffer lethal consequences once the police are involved, or by someone who fears her children being removed by child services. The lack of support and resources can lead to learned helplessness for Black women: a failure to attempt to help one’s situation due to the belief that it cannot improve.
Promoting education and screening programs, raising awareness, and engaging efforts to decrease family poverty to prevent and treat IPV, is certainly a start. But Black women have additional barriers to support when coping with IPV. We must demand culturally relevant services in the most vulnerable communities. We must abandon the idea that “it’s not our business” when we see IPV in our arenas. We must reduce the urge to judge or criticize Black women victims, beholding them to the “strong Black woman” narrative. We must acknowledge that intimate partner violence happens to Black women in order to facilitate healing.
If you are experiencing domestic violence or know someone that is experiencing domestic violence, contact the domestic violence hotline to get help. Call 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.