This blog post was inspired by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2023: Prevention Demands Equity.
Sexual and domestic violence are pervasive and devastating issues that affect individuals from all walks of life, across the gender spectrum and different social, economic, and racial backgrounds. Sexual violence refers to any unwanted, non-consenual sexual act or behavior, including rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment (including online).
Domestic violence, on the other hand, is a pattern of abusive behaviors used by one partner in an intimate relationship to gain and maintain power and control over the other. These issues are closely linked and can commonly reinforce each other, and their impacts are far-reaching, affecting survivors, their families, and their communities.
Sexual violence is often used to control survivors in abusive relationships. In the United States, an estimated 58% of women reported having experienced sexual violence by a current or former husband, cohabitating partner, or date, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survery (2016/2017). Despite the widespread nature of these issues, individuals from communities of color and other marginalized groups often face increased rates of violence and experience unique barriers when seeking support and services.
Not One Size Fits All
Why are women of color more likely to have experienced domestic violence and relationship abuse? Different socioeconomic factors contribute significantly to this. The unemployment rates of Black and Latina women are significantly higher than that of white women, which relates directly to the legacies of the enslavement and exploitation of folks of color in the United States.
As one example of many, after the Civil War, former slaves were often forced into contracts with their former slave masters to work the land as they did before emancipation. Those contracts provided no guarantee of shelter or health provisions and therefore, provided no access to economic opportunities or the ability to build wealth, healthcare, education, and a sense of safety from governmental systems. This lack of access increases the prevalence of risk factors for domestic violence and sexual violence.
Accessing preventive and supportive resources historically provided by most domestic violence organizations can be challenging for people at the intersection of different marginalized identities. Many survivors of color face significant barriers when seeking help, such as a lack of service providers who share their lived experiences and/or are culturally competent, or the complex legal immigration status of either the survivor or the perpetrator in the United States.
For example, many immigrant and/or undocumented survivors married to undocumented workers suffer in silence because they fear that the security of their family would be threatened if they sought help—whether that be through the risk of deportation, the threat of violence against family members in other countries, or the potential for loss of child custody. If service providers are unaware of the reliefs that the Department of Justice can provide specifically to immigrant survivors, there is a risk of creating more harm for those seeking support.
Centering the Experience of Marginalized Survivors
Approaching domestic violence response and prevention without an intersectional, human-based lens does not offer survivors of color and other marginalized survivors an equitable and realistic chance at safety and healing. When services offered are not accessible or inclusive, organizations with anti-violence missions run the risk of continuing to perpetuate abusive and oppressive ideals that lead to violence in the first place.
By taking an intersectional approach, service providers can better meet the needs of individual survivors and increase their resources for recovery. For example, Safe Passage provides advocacy and support for immigrant survivors, helping them to navigate through both safety planning, immigration processes, and long-term healing. Having dedicated Latinx and Immigration Counselor/Advocates allows us to reach out to and support individuals who share similar life experiences.
The trauma of sexual and domestic violence can have long-lasting effects on a person's mental and physical health, relationships, and overall quality of life. It is crucial to address not only these effects but also the underlying causes to work towards creating safe and supportive environments for all survivors. By raising awareness, engaging our community to undo stigma, providing culturally competent services, and advocating for systemic change, we can increase our reach to support survivors from all backgrounds in their healing journeys.
If you are or know someone who is looking for support around relationship abuse, please call our helpline (M-F, 9am-5pm) at (413) 586-5066, toll-free at (888) 345-5282, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.