How Domestic Violence Varies by Ethnicity

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In This Article

Not surprisingly, statistics concerning intimate partner violence vary widely from study to study and even from year to year. After all, interpersonal violence is not a topic that either victims or perpetrators are eager to reveal or talk about.

Plus, the subject of abuse can be both difficult and embarrassing for them to discuss outside of the household. Therefore, most researchers speculate that intimate partner violence is probably vastly under-reported, especially among certain ethnic groups in the United States, since it's more likely to be kept secret.

Overview

Even with low reporting, though, the number of women of color who are impacted by domestic violence is shockingly high. In fact, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately four out of 10 non-Hispanic Black women, American Indian, or Alaskan Native women, and one in two multi-racial non-Hispanic women have been a victim of physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by a partner in their lifetime.

This rate is 30 to 50% higher than what is experienced by White non-Hispanic, Hispanic, and Asian women.

Likewise, 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. These numbers are significantly higher than the rate of violence that heterosexual women experience, which is 35%. Meanwhile, women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most likely to experience domestic violence, followed by teens between the ages of 11 and 17.

This age pattern was also observed among Black women. In fact, they were more than three times likely to experience domestic violence under the age of 30 than Black women under the age of 40. Additionally, the same study noted that Black women who live in impoverished areas have a three-fold chance of experiencing domestic violence as those who live in other areas.

Understanding Domestic Violence

Regardless of race and ethnicity, domestic violence occurs when there is an imbalance of power in the relationship—when one partner uses physical violence as well as tactics like emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and financial abuse to maintain control. And abuse is never justified, regardless of the person's race or culture.

It's also important to remember that the person being victimized did not cause the abuse. Abuse is always a choice made by the abuser. The reasons behind the choice to abuse another person are often complicated. Some people abuse others due to jealousy, low self-esteem, or poor impulse control.

Other people have a personality disorder or a mental health issue that causes them to be violent and controlling. And still others use abusive and controlling tactics because they witnessed these types of behaviors growing up.

Consequently, the higher rates of domestic violence among ethnic minorities cannot be explained by a single motivating factor.

But, there are some life events and activities that seem to increase the risk factor for violent behaviors. These risk factors include experiences with discrimination, economic insecurity, and pregnancy.

Additionally, cohabitation may increase the likelihood that a woman will be victimized by her partner. In fact, one study found that Black women who were living with their partner were six times more likely to experience severe domestic violence when compared to their dating and married counterparts.

The researchers also noted that Black women experienced more severe forms of domestic violence once they were separated or divorced. What's more, severely battered Black women were more likely to have lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Violence Among Non-White Groups

Although completely accurate numbers are probably not available, researchers generally agree that among ethnic minority groups in the United States, Blacks are the most likely to experience domestic violence—either male-to-female or female-to-male—followed by Hispanics and then Whites. Meanwhile, Asians are the least likely to experience intimate partner violence.

What's more, the Women of Color Network reports that economic insecurity, combined with isolation, racism, and discrimination, shape how women of color experience and respond to domestic violence. For instance, non-White women are often more afraid of what will happen if they report abuse than they are of the violence they are enduring.

Consequently, these challenges make it extremely difficult for them to get the help they need, which may partially explain some of the under-reporting.

Likewise, there are some unique challenges facing women of color when it comes to reporting domestic violence that White women don't always struggle with. Here are some of the reasons why women of color may not seek help when victimized by an intimate partner:

  • Have cultural or religious views that keep them in the relationship
  • Possess strong ties and loyalty to their race, culture, and family
  • Distrust law enforcement, the justice system, and social services
  • Want service providers who look like them, can speak their language, and share their experiences, yet there are very few available
  • Experience racism and classism that keeps them from speaking out
  • Receive pressure from their communities to keep family matters private
  • Worry about their legal status or being deported if they seek help

Challenges for Black Women

Despite the fact that Black women experience domestic violence at exceedingly high rates, they also are disproportionately more likely to be criminalized by the system when seeking help. Not only must they deal with racism and stereotypes when contacting police, but they also are routinely arrested when trying to defend themselves against an abusive partner.

Black women are more likely to die at the hands of an abuser.

In fact, according to the Violence Policy Center, Black women are disproportionately impacted by lethal domestic violence. For instance, in 2018, Black women were murdered by men at nearly three times the rate as White women. That represents a rate of 2.85 per 100,000 compared to 1.03 per 100,000.

Arrests and Convictions

The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports on intimate partner violence cases in which someone is arrested and convicted. Their report expresses the number of victims per 1,000 people.

In 1994, the bureau reported that 15.6 Whites, 20.3 Blacks and 18.8 Hispanics per 1,000 people were victims of domestic violence. But by the year 2010, those numbers had fallen to 6.2 Whites, 7.8 blacks, and 4.1 Hispanics.

There was an overall decline of 64% of intimate partner violence victimizations per 1,000 from 1994 to 2010. Again, the BJS figures reflect only cases in which someone has been arrested and convicted.

Less Violence or Fewer Reports?

When many jurisdictions began passing laws that required police to take one of the parties to jail any time they received a domestic violence call, the number of calls for help declined. There is also evidence that some Hispanic victims do not call the police for help because they are told by their abusers that they will be deported if they call. Both these situations could skew the statistics for domestic violence among ethnic groups.

A Word From Verywell

Domestic violence is a significant public health issue that causes a number of negative consequences, including everything from broken bones and post traumatic stress disorder to mental health issues and even death. What's more, as many as 42.4 million women in the United States experience domestic violence by a partner at some point in their lifetime. And, ethnic minority women are being disproportionately victimized.

For this reason, it's important that prevention, treatment, and intervention efforts be tailored for the special needs and circumstances of women of color. For instance, programs should empower women of color to seek help by providing services and advocates not only in their native language, but also with an understanding of their race and their culture.

Likewise, these programs need to address unique issues like historical racism, immigration concerns, socioeconomic issues, language barriers, and an overall fear of the legal system. When these hurdles are addressed and adequate services are provided, the number of women of color suffering from abuse may decrease.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey: 2010-2012 state report.

  2. Lacey KK, West CM, Matusko N, Jackson JS. Prevalence and factors associated with severe physical intimate partner violence among U.S. Black women: A comparison of African American and Caribbean BlacksViolence Against Women. 2016;22(6):651-670. doi:10.1177/1077801215610014

  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol-related intimate partner violence among White, Black, and Hispanic couples in the United States.

  4. Women of Color Network. Domestic violence in communities of color.

  5. Violence Policy Center. When men murder women: An analysis of 2018 homicide data. September 2020.

  6. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Intimate partner violence, 1993-2010. Updated September 29, 2015.

  7. Stockman JK, Hayashi H, Campbell JC. Intimate partner violence and its health impact on ethnic minority womenJ Womens Health (Larchmt). 2015;24(1):62-79. doi:10.1089/jwh.2014.4879

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