Unique Issues Facing Black Women Dealing With Abuse

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Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

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Black women often feel obligated to put racial issues ahead of sex-based issues. Because of this, they face unique challenges when dealing with issues such as domestic violence.

Even though Black women experience domestic violence at significantly higher rates than White women, they tend to remain silent out of fear of the police force and a sense of duty to their race and culture.

Consequently, their first response is not to report. Instead, they opt to protect the men involved and their community. According to some advocates, Black women feel like they need to be strong. For many Black women, asking for help would be a sign of weakness.

Believing in one's inner strength can be a source of resilience in the face of struggle and hardship, but it can also leave many women feeling like they cannot ask for help when needed.

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.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence—which consists of physical abuse, emotional intimidation, financial abuse, gaslighting, and more—occurs when an intimate partner attempts to exert power and control in the relationship.

While domestic violence occurs in all racial and socioeconomic groups, it can cross gender lines as well, with a small percentage of women who abuse men. But most domestic violence cases involve abusive men who seriously injure their victims.

Statistics on Domestic Violence in the Black Community

For Black women, domestic violence risks are incredibly high. Statistics suggest that more than 40% of Black women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime.

Intimate partner violence is defined as a pattern of physical or sexual assault or threats that occur within a context of coercion and control.

Statistics also indicate that:

  • Black women are three times more likely to be killed by a current or former partner than members of other racial groups.
  • The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey found that 41% of Black women experience physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner compared to 31% of White women, 30% of Hispanic women, and 15% of Asian or Pacific Islander women.
  • The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey also found that 9% of Black women were raped by their intimate partners, and 17% experienced sexual violence.
  • A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black and indigenous women are murdered at a higher rate than any other race. Black women are killed at a rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people, and Indigenous women at a rate of 4.3. Other races are killed at about a rate of one or two per 100,000 people

Despite such statistics, violence against Black women often goes unreported. It is also not uncommon for victims of intimate partner violence to later recant their stories. They also are less likely to visit shelters or receive services. Instead, many Black women suffer in silence. 

Fatalities

Black women don't just experience domestic violence at higher rates; they are also more likely to die due to this abuse. Statistics show that Black women are more likely to die due to intimate partner violence. A report by the Violence Policy Center found that in 2020:

  • 90% of Black women are murdered by men that they know
  • 56% of women murdered by men that they know were killed by their husband, common-law husband, ex-husband, or boyfriend
  • 92% of these murders were not related to another felony, such as rape or robbery
  • Almost two-thirds of these deaths occurred during an argument between the victim and their killer
  • 67% of victims were killed by a gun; 62% of these deaths involved a handgun

The report found that Black women were murdered three times more frequently than White women.

Why Black Women Remain Silent

The reasons why women don't report abuse is varied, but several factors may contribute to why Black women stay silent about the abuse they experience.

Past Injustices

According to the Women's Community, Inc., Black women are often reluctant to call the police because of past injustices they have witnessed or experienced. This keeps them from pressing charges against their abusers.

Black women might be concerned with being labeled a "snitch" in their communities and worried that their community will face even more racist discrimination if they report the abuse. As a result, they remain silent. 

Distrust of Law Enforcement

Many advocates for the Black community maintain that because of their contentious history with law enforcement, many Black women are reluctant to call the police even when they should. Unfortunately, many Black women do not believe the police are there to protect them.

Meanwhile, others worry about the consequences their partners might suffer at the hands of the police. To them, it is just too big of a risk to take.

Black women do not want their families broken apart. Instead, they want their partners to change and to be healed. They do not want them in prison.

Fear of Judgement

There are other reasons that Black women do not call the police. For instance, they are afraid of being judged by their community. They also do not want to look like a traitor to their race.

Black Americans are more likely to turn to their churches for guidance, relying on religious guidance and faith-based practices when working through relationship issues.

Religious communities can be a source of support. However, these religious beliefs can also keep people trapped in abusive situations if divorce is discouraged and forgiveness is required.

Internalized Stereotypes

Black women may fail to seek help because they believe that asking for assistance may cause them to look weak. Other experts suggest that internalized stereotypes about the appropriate response to violence can also make Black women feel like they have to fight back against an abuser.

Unfortunately, fighting back does not always go over well when Black survivors seek assistance from shelters, the police, and the courts. Despite being victims of violence, fighting back in self-defense can lead to professional and personal consequences for Black women. They are punished for not being "good victims."

Other Factors

Other factors contributing to this silence include fear of isolation and alienation as well as a strong loyalty to both the immediate and extended family. A reluctance to discuss "private matters" coupled with a fear of rejection from family, friends, congregation, and community also contributes to their silence. 

Victims of intimate partner violence may also put their personal needs aside in favor of family unity and strength. Unfortunately, not reporting violence simply allows it to continue unchallenged.

What Needs to Change?

According to the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, women who have practical and emotional support from friends and loved ones have better outcomes. They are less likely to be abused again, experience less distress, and are less likely to attempt suicide.

Assistance From Community and Religious Services

When addressing the unique challenges Black women face when dealing with domestic abuse, most advocates suggest starting with the church. Not only are Black people the highest population of Christians in the United States, but they also are more likely to find comfort and security in the idea that God will take care of them.

Consequently, the Black community needs pastors and other men in their churches to stand up against domestic violence. These need to not only communicate that abuse is an unthinkable act but also be willing to come alongside any woman in their community who is experiencing abuse.

By taking a strong stand against violence, they may reduce the number of women being abused in their communities.

Better Training for Law Enforcement

Another area of improvement includes providing additional training of local police forces. They need to understand all of the unique challenges Black women face when reporting domestic abuse. This empathy and understanding would create a sense of security in reporting abuse.

And, if Black women feel safe reporting domestic abuse and feel like they and their significant others are going to be treated fairly, they will be more likely to contact the police when violence occurs.

Victims of violence need to see that their local police want to help and keep them safe. Until they are convinced of that, it is highly unlikely they will report the abuse they are experiencing.

Increased Access to Shelters and Other Services

How Black women are viewed and treated by domestic violence advocates and shelters is another area that needs to be improved. These social service groups must understand the unique challenges that Black women face, including their fear of being judged harshly by their families and their communities when they report the violence.

Support From Loved Ones

Programs should be implemented to help Black women communicate effectively with their families and communities to preserve these relationships while they fight for their safety. Nothing is more detrimental to a victim's recovery than feeling like they have brought shame to their community. 

Empowering Black survivors of violence to share their stories and their experiences also will go a long way in encouraging other women to come forward as well. The key is to give Black survivors a voice within the domestic violence community so they can reach out to and work with other Black women dealing with the same issues.

Because Black women already understand the unique challenges that Black victims face, they are more equipped to help them get the assistance they need in addressing their situation. They can also dispel any worries or concerns about asking for help.

Domestic Violence Education

Educational programs geared specifically toward Black communities can help dispel some myths and concerns Black victims wrestle with when in an abusive situation. The key is that these programs deal with the very real and specific things that keep Black women from opening up to others about what is going on in their personal lives. 

A Word From Verywell

It is no secret that Black women experience abuse and violence at exceptionally high rates. But the challenges they face in getting the help they need often leave them feeling alone and isolated. By addressing the unique concerns and challenges that Black women must deal with instead of developing a one-size-fits-all mentality, communities will become more effective in addressing domestic violence in the Black community.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community. Facts About Domestic Violence & African American Women. 2015.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. 2014.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence—United States, 2004-2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2017;66(28);741-746.

  7. Violence Policy Center. When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2020 Homicide Data. September 2022.

  8. The Women's Community. Serving diverse communities.

  9. Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community. Fact sheet: Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the African American Community.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.