Ethnicity, Education Linked to Domestic Violence - Part II

Kameri Christy-McMullin is a professor at the University of Arkansas. McMullin's group is behind a new study suggesting that African-American women who are college educated are far more likely to experience domestic abuse than those with a less education.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And we're going to continue our Behind Closed Doors conversation.

We're joined by Dr. Kameri Christy-McMullin. She is a professor at the University of Arkansas, and she led a study that concluded that college-educated black women were far more likely to experience domestic abuse than those without a high school diploma. Dr. Christy-McMullin, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Dr. KAMERI CHRISTY-McMULLIN (Social Work, University of Arkansas): Thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: Just to be clear, you analyzed data from the 1999 National Crime Victimization Survey as a basis for your study, right?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: That's correct.

MARTIN: And those are federal figures?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: That's exact right, yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. And you concluded that black women with a college degree or more were 145 times more likely to experience abuse than women with a high school diploma. That seems like a very shocking difference.

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: Yes, I was quite shocked with that. And I just want to clarify, it's African-American women with a college education or more compared to African-American women with less than a high school.

MARTIN: With less than a high school?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: Right. Those are the two groups that are being compared in that analysis.

MARTIN: And the other reason that this figure stands out - not just because of the multiple, but also because that white women with higher incomes and education were less likely to experience abuse that less educated white women. Isn't that correct?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: That's correct.

MARTIN: So what do you think is going on here?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: Well, I suspect part of what might be going on is that whites in general - and white women - have had more access to some of the more mainstream economic resources than have African-American women. And when as a group, you're denied access to different economic resources such as higher education than in a (unintelligible) there may be some backlash to that. There maybe some concerns and maybe some social isolation that occurs as a result of that.

MARTIN: Well, how would that lead to the abuse that some women are experiencing? How does it that all work?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: One possible explanation is that in abusive situations, oftentimes what's going on is that the male - typically, it's the male that's being abusive. It's about control and domination and power over that person. And so if a woman is trying to do things that are perceived as being able to be autonomous from that person or be able to get away from that person such as getting more education or having a higher paying job and those kinds of things, then the male may be threatened by that and become more aggressive, more violent, more domineering as a way of trying to keep her under his control.

MARTIN: You are able to hear the interview that we had earlier with Zoe Flowers, who herself experienced abuse when she was in college. Now, she had this sort of a theory that perhaps the issue her is that there's under-reporting among women - African-American women with less education, that they're not as willing to comfort or not as likely to call the police. And that perhaps the difference is not as great, but that there's a reporting issue. What - do you think that might be plausible?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: I do. I think that we know - and those of us who have worked in a field know that domestic violence is grossly underreported among many groups. People just don't report it because of the shame or the humiliation or lack of support.

MARTIN: Where there other things that you heard in Zoe's interview that stood out for you?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: I thought it was interesting when she was talking about that she never told anyone, and I've heard that from a lot of women. And her reason was because people kind of came to her as able to solve problems and handle things and that she was maybe, perhaps embarrassed to share the things we're not right and in her life - or in that relationship, anyway. And I wonder if women who have more education, if they don't feel that pressure that they're supposed to have it altogether.

MARTIN: Well, I also thought it was interesting that she didn't want him to lose face in the community.

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: I think...

MARTIN: And I wonder whether that might be distinct for African-American women as opposed to other groups, that they're - sense that they're - they don't want to be perceived as dragging a black man down.

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: I think that's very true for black women, also for Latino women and also with the lesbian and gay communities as well, that different groups who've experienced prejudice and discrimination are reluctant to admit that there's a problem because they've already been stereotyped as being not as good as the dominant culture. And so when you report your partner is being abusive to you and he happens to be an African-American, then it just reinforces that.

MARTIN: I'm still puzzled by why it would be 100 - almost 150 times more likely for a woman with that much more education to be experiencing abuse than a woman with a lot less, even if you account for under-reporting. I mean, because it just strikes me that the more education you have, the more income you have, the more likely it might be that you could away. I think that's the reason a lot of people speculate that people stay in abusive relationships, is because they don't have the resources to leave or that they don't want to deprive children of their father.

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: Well, that's a question that's often asked, and Zoe mentioned two things that were very important. One is that she quoted the statistic that one-third of woman who leave or who try to leave are killed. And that lethality does go up as a woman does try to get away, regardless of your socioeconomic status.

The other is what the police told her. They said there was nothing that they could do. He'll get away with this until he decides not to do it anymore. And she ended up having to leave and change her name, yet she was a bright, articulate, intelligent woman with a college education. So I think it's important when she was talking about the dirty laundry. It's - sometimes it's easier for us to not care as much as we can say, well, it's the poor woman that these things happen to.

MARTIN: Are there some things that you think would stem domestic violence in this country, no matter who it's happening to?

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: Well, I believe that one of the big factors that's related to domestic violence is certainly economic opportunity. So that would be one of my key things to look at, I - policy wise, would be changing laws to make it more accessible for people to have the American dream, which is an education and home ownership.

MARTIN: Dr. Kameri Christy-McMullin is a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Arkansas. She led a study that looked at the issue of domestic violence among groups of women. Dr. Christy-McMullin, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Dr. CHRISTY-McMULLIN: Thank you.

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