By Feona Sharhran Huff
I’ve read about domestic violence against women in the newspaper, watched in-depth reports and documentaries on TV, and even know female relatives and close girlfriends who have experienced verbal and physical abuse. However, it wasn’t until my son’s father began threatening to harm me that I began to truly connect with these women and understand their fears and concerns. Rather than be victimized and sit in silence as the threats continued, I decided to fight back by reporting him to my local police precinct and filing for a restraining order (FYI: These actions start a “paper trail”) as well as informing my pastor and seeking legal counsel. And, of course, I am writing this article so that women who are being subjected to domestic violence (or battery) – which additionally, consists of emotional, mental, and sexual abuse as well as threatening, intimidation, humiliation, and stalking by a spouse, boyfriend, or significant other – will fight back, too.
According to the FBI, every day four women die in the United States as a result of domestic violence – that’s 1,400 women a year. The Department of Justice reports that one-third of female homicide victims are murdered by their intimate partners each year. As an African-American woman, what particularly troubles me about domestic violence is that it continues to be a serious issue in the African-American community. And, for many reasons, including not having an open dialogue about domestic violence, the abuse going unreported by the victim as well as people who know what’s going on, a lack of enough support systems and services put in place in our neighborhoods, fear of women losing their children and of their partner going to jail, and the fear of not having a place to live if they leave their abuser.
According to Dr. Oliver Williams, executive director of The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community – a St. Paul, MN-based organization that raises community consciousness on the impact of violence in the African-American community, conducts research, disseminates information, informs public policy, and organized and facilitates conferences and training – educating the African-American community is key to combating a lot of what happens in domestic violence situations. “People have to be informed on what the issues are,” says Dr. Williams. “Women may not identify with what the term ‘battered woman’ means; they may have a different perspective of what it could be. But, by defining the experiences of the ‘battered woman’ in terms of power and control, demeaning behavior, and the possibility of being attacked, Dr. Williams believes these women will be able to better connect with their realities.
He also said the “blame game” must be addressed. “Men who batter often times blame the woman for what occurs and she accepts it,” Dr. Williams points out. “People mistake conflict with justification for the violence done. There is no justification for violence.”
At Voices of Women Organizing Project (VOW), domestic violence survivors are trained so that they can be involved in policy work. “Usually all of these [domestic violence] policies are made without the real input of survivors,” says Susan Lob, executive director of the Manhattan, NY-based organization. “Our members fight to change the system. They get training in strategizing and organizing, they testify at hearings, and meet with high-level city officials.”
Recently, VOW has been campaigning around family court issues. “We see all kinds of biases,” Lob insists. A big bias the organization has observed is the case of parental alienation. In this situation, the court says the mother is alienating the child from seeing the father and when the child says s/he doesn’t want to see his/her father, the court assumes the child is being brainwashed. In the end, the father is awarded visitation with the child. Other concerns include domestic violence victims losing their cases due to abuser working for police system or the father being able to afford a better attorney. “It ends up working against her [the mother],” says Lob. Currently, VOW is surveying battered women about their experiences in family court. “Too many women aren’t seeing their children because of court decisions.”
Another avenue that will be able to greatly impact policy laws, services, and assistance for domestic violence victims in the African-American community and abroad is by Congress reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. This act was originally passed in 1994 in which it poured millions of dollars into creating resources to assist women, children, and families of domestic violence. It was reauthorized in 2000, thereby continuing the work that was initially started and adding services to assist disabled, older, rural, and immigrant women.
“The Act should be renewed and important improvements should be made so that communities and organizations can expand their prevention efforts, ensure the safety of more victims, and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes,” said Diane M. Stuart, the director of the Office on Violence Against Women for the United States Department of Justice, who testified before the committee on the Judiciary United States Senate on July 19th regarding the reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act this year.
With legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 being reauthorized as well as educating the community on the impact of domestic violence on the victims and the African-American community, welcoming and initiating open dialogue, demanding accountability, and providing sufficient services, progress can happen. We must all get involved in this fight in whatever capacity we can. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Be sure to take an interest informing yourself and others about what’s being done to stop domestic violence. If you are a victim, report it and seek help. You can’t live in fear, otherwise it will rule your life and you’ll live in limitation.
If you don’t know where to go for help, turn to the following resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Coalition Against Domestic Violenc