Domestic Violence in Communities of Color

Farai Chideya talks about domestic violence in communities of color with two experts — Professor Oliver J. Williams, head of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at the University of Minnesota, and Tara Shabazz, director of programs and operations for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

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ED GORDON, host:

I also talked with two experts on domestic violence. Oliver Williams is a professor of social work and heads the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community at the University of Minnesota. And Tara Shabazz is the director of programs and operations for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. Shabazz says we ignore this quiet crisis at our peril.

Ms. TARA SHABAZZ (Director of Programs and Operations, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence): All across the board, African-Americans are definitely at heightened risk for intimate partner violence than any other racial group. And so - and that - and women - African-American women tend to be at more risk, oftentimes because of the marginalization of African-American women in our society.

CHIDEYA: When you say marginalization, are you talking about isolation from larger societal support systems? Tell me, specifically, what you're talking about.

Ms. SHABAZZ: Yeah, marginalized, as far as larger societal support systems, but also within our own movement. And I'm looking at how much and how often do we look at domestic violence in African-American communities, particularly African-American women; and looking at those numbers we definitely see that domestic violence is - intimate partner violence homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women from 15 to 45.

And so being able to really take a look at that in a different perspective is often left out within the domestic violence movement and in the African-American community.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Williams, talk to us about what the interpersonal relationships are with couples that could lead to domestic violence. You've been a counselor for over 20 years, what kind of dynamic between two people would help lead to domestic violence?

Dr. OLIVER J. WILLIAMS (Head of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community at the University of Minnesota): Conflict happens in relationships all the time. There are some people who know how to sort of address conflict and resolve it, and recognize that violence is not the way to be able to solve the problem. But for situations where violence occurs, men who batter typically end up viewing violence as sort of a natural consequence of a conflict.

CHIDEYA: And are we talking about people who generally were raised in homes where they saw this as the way to resolve conflict? Or do some people move from relatively healthy homes and then go on to become batterers?

Dr. WILLIAMS: Both. People will talk about the disproportionality with regard to people who've been exposed to domestic violence, and that if you've been exposed to it there's a greater likelihood that violence can occur. Of course, that does happen. One reality, though, too, is that I've seen people who've been exposed to violence will also go the exact opposite directions.

CHIDEYA: Tara, you just talked about some statistics on how domestic homicide is one of the leading causes of death for African-American women of certain ages, and I think about my own life, where I know someone who's sister was killed by her husband; I know someone who was a high school classmate who was killed by her boyfriend; I had a - someone who was a professional colleague, another reporter, who was killed by her husband. And these incidents add up, but they're never spoken much about. How much are these incidents really tracked? And are the numbers accurate?

Ms. SHABAZZ: Correct. Yeah, I would say that the numbers are not accurate, because a lot - as we know, a lot of cases go unreported. Even when we look at women who are women of color who may be even prostitutes and whether or not they end up dead, whether that was intimate partner violence murder or was it counted as just a regular homicide.

CHIDEYA: And I want to ask you, and also Dr. Williams, about women's role in protecting themselves. We talked to some L.A.P.D. officers recently; went out on a ride-along with them. And they were lamenting the fact that a lot of women who are clearly battered don't want to prosecute their partners.

Ms. SHABAZZ: Well, I think that all women definitely have concerns about moving forward with the criminal justice system. And a lot of it has to do with whether or not they're going to be protected. And looking at this crime - and how long is this person going to be incarcerated for, and what happens - what are some of the unintended consequences that may happen if the woman does move forward with the prosecution?

And that's why we have in place the protections to protect women, so that prosecution can still take place without victims testifying. And I think we need to really look at asking our prosecutors to really look at that, and don't look at it as a way to drop a case because a woman doesn't want to testify.

CHIDEYA: And Dr. Williams, I would ask you about the same question. Are there any specific needs or specific approaches that you might use with African-American women or women of color or women in urban communities that are specific?

Dr. WILLIAMS: I think African-American women find themselves in a double bind. They're concerned about how he may be treated in the system. And sometimes they don't find community support, that if they do call the police on him, family and friends may not be supportive of them in the process. And sometimes it is the fact that he may be the only person that's bringing in the money to support the family.

I think that we depend on the criminal justice system maybe too much. I think we have to figure out - and sometimes it's pitched to people who are low-income and in communities of color that maybe get the most attention, rather than going to middle class and upper-middle class families as much. But still, we have to figure out ways to address the issue before there's a case.

CHIDEYA: What can you say to people who either are struggling to modify their behavior towards another person, or struggling with how they report an issue?

Dr. WILLIAMS: We collaborated with the Family Violence Prevention Fund years ago on a project called the It Is Your Business campaign. And the point of that was to say it is your business to be able to be supportive of different folks. If there's a man that knows another man is being violent, you need to be able to go to him when he's not angry and say I love you like a brother; I care about what you're doing, if you've got to be abusive - and then take him to a place to get help.

For a woman who is a victim of abuse, she doesn't deserve the violence. Sometimes battered women think that they have brought this on themselves, because men who batter continue to try to convince them it's their responsibility. It's not. Men who batter have to recognize that it's not the way that they need to live and that there's a more satisfying way to live your life.

And people refer to Ephesians 5 as justification for manhood...

CHIDEYA: Give us that scripture.

Dr. WILLIAMS: It says that the man is the head of the household and - but what's interesting is that they hadn't read the whole chapter. Because the whole chapter talks more about interdependence and it talks about being able to engage with your partner and to be supportive of one another in different ways.

So we - men use some different justifications and - to mis-define what either leadership means, or what it means to be a man. You know, we have to question those definitions, so we can be loving partners in relationships.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Oliver Williams, Tara Shabazz, thank you very much.

Ms. SHABAZZ: Thank you.

Dr. WILLIAMS: Thanks.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with Oliver Williams, a Professor of Social Work and Head of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community at the University of Minnesota; and Tara Shabazz, she's the Director of Programs and Operations for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

Coming up, Congressman Jefferson is asked to resign from a key Congressional committee. And the American Idol phenomenon. We'll discuss these topics and more on our Roundtable.

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