Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health concern that affects an alarmingly high percentage of women. IPV is a serious national problem associated with numerous deleterious consequences for families and society at large. There is a growing body of literature on diverse women’s experiences, unfortunately, to date, conceptualizations of IPV and interventions for IPV are predominately grounded in the experience and worldview of Caucasian women. This has resulted in the neglect of ethnic minority women, whose cultural context has largely been ignored.
The National Family Violence Survey conducted in 1975, is one of the first representative studies reporting on the prevalence and incidence of IPV in the United States. They found that African American men evidenced a higher rate of severe IPV perpetration than Caucasian men. When they looked at income, African American husbands were less likely to have perpetrated IPV than Caucasian husbands in all income groups except for those in the $6000-$11,999 income brackets. Approximately 40% of African American men that were in this were the second-lowest income grouping. The authors conclude that overrepresentation of African Americans with respect to a key social class indicator (income) complicates generalization of racial differences in the perpetration of IPV.
African American women were 1.23 times more likely to undergo minor IPV and 2.36 times more likely to endure severe IPV than were Caucasian women. Differences in prevalence rates were not significant after controlling income level, African American women in the lowest income bracket still evidence slightly elevated levels of male-perpetrated IPV victimization than did Caucasian women. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) is a population based study that assessed incidence of sexual assault, IPV, and stalking victimization. The NVAWS found comparable rates of sexual assault, IPV, and stalking victimization among African American women American men and women report higher rates of IPV victimization and perpetration than Caucasian women and men. In addition, African American women are more likely to experience severe IPV victimization than their Caucasian counterparts. However, when income is controlled for, differences by race in rates IPV are diminished or eliminated, suggesting that income may be a stronger predictor of IPV than ethnicity. For example, Caucasian women make up 11% of the persons living in persistent poverty in this country, African American women comprise 25% of the persons living in the same condition.
African Americans are socialized in a different manner than Caucasians, such that there is not as large a difference in gender role socialization within African American families as in Caucasian families. A lack of access to educational, economic, and political resources among African American men is one facto that contributes to more egalitarian familial roles. Other researchers have said they are socialized in a similar way, in that they are taught to believe that men are superior to women. They endorse traditional notions of gender roles. African American men confronted by racism and classism may endorse hyper masculinity, which is the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality.
Macro structural factors that can contribute to IPV in African American men are living in areas of extreme poverty, relative to members of other ethnic groups. Societal stressors such as institutional racism and discrimination often block access to a variety of educational and occupational opportunities. Inaccessibility of these resources creates frustration. A common result of this frustration is anger toward society and oneself. Low self esteem has also been identified as a risk factor for IPV. Racisms causes self dislike which can lead to internalized racism which is racist attitudes towards people of their own ethnic group, including themselves. Possible internalized oppression is not manifesting itself in direct self-harming behaviors but in the harming of others, namely African American women.
Several stereotypes regarding African Americans that are prominent in mainstream American culture may serve to contribute to violence against African American women. American mainstream culture holds that being perceived as feminine and frail is necessary in order for women to remain safe and respectable. African American women are stereotyped in the media as not feminine enough. This stereotype limits the empathy and concern of society and may contribute to the lack of advocacy for African American victims of IPV. The “Black superwoman” stereotype is dangerous because it internalizes the ideas by African American women. Women who stick to this stereotype may be reluctant to share details of their situations with others such as therapists and people in their support networks. The idea that you can handle everything and anything on your own can be very harmful. They often hesitate to seek assistance and deny the abuse and its impact on them.
African American women who are victims of IPV don’t turn to shelter in the same rates as Caucasians because of a lack of resources. There is limited access to a variety of key resources, including but not limited to transportation, employment opportunities, affordable medical care, social and mental health services, homeless and domestic violence shelters, police protection, and legal services. A lack of resources promotes Black women’s dependence on their abuser resulting in an increased risk of IPV for prolonged periods of time. African American victims of IPV lacking financial resources find themselves trapped in situations with a likelihood of revictimization without access to the institutional and personal resources to which they would have access elsewhere.
PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and suicidality may be universal responses to IPV victimization. African American survivors of IPV, similar to survivors of other cultural backgrounds, utilize a number of coping strategies in an attempt to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. Women who reported greater general coping, more efficacious behavioral strategies in response to IPV, more effective use of resources, greater social supper and less substance abuse were less likely to attempt suicide compared with those who did not exhibit these behaviors.
The majority of intervention programs for IPV perpetrators ignores cultural differences and treat all clients with the same standardized group treatment approach. There is an absence of programs that are culturally tailored to service minority clients. African American men have been reported to be less likely to participate in these programs and more likely to prematurely terminate their participation.