“Intimate Partner Violence Against African American Women: An examination of the socio-cultural context.”

Week 10 (Oct 26)

Sierra Turnage

“Intimate Partner Violence Against African American Women: An examination of the socio-cultural context.”

The introduction of chapter 5 discusses how the epidemic of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) consisted of 11% family violence between the years of 1998 and 2002, and of that 11% of intimate partner violence, nearly half (49%) is between intimate partners. That translates into about 1.75 million acts of violence per year. The first study used to examine African American women’s experience, among others, of IPV was the National Family Violence Survey (NFVS) in 1975. It looked at how types and levels of both self- and partner-reported IPV differed across races and social classes. They found that African American men incited severe IPV at greater rates than Caucasian men. However, once the researchers controlled for Social Economic Status (SES), this relationship reversed in every income bracket save for the second lowest of $6000-$1199, in which black men comprised 40% of this group. These results suggested that SES has an interesting impact on and does matter when it comes to the propensity of IPV.

While it has been found that overall African American women are 1.23 times more likely to experience minor IPV compared to Caucasian women, these rates leveled out a bit after controlling for income level. Additionally, the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), measured IPV victimization, sexual assault, and psychological aggression victimization. The results of the NVAWS showed these rates for African American and Caucasian women to be similar. Yet, many other studies still find that black women are faced with higher rates of IPV to some significance. Despite these generally higher rates, it appears that income level is a stronger indicator of IPV aside from race. Women with higher SES are less likely to experience IPV across the board. However, it should be taken into consideration that while only 11% of Caucasian women are living in poverty, 25% of African American women are, and thus, explains why there may be higher levels throughout the lifetime. The reading states that men who abuse their partners are not necessarily different from the typical American man but rather men who have been extremely well socialized into their masculine roles and who are overly insecure and sensitive to threats of their masculinity leading to this idea of “hyper-masculinity”. In addition, some researchers say that in comparison to Caucasian men, African American men are socialized into their gender roles in a way that is more egalitarian. The differences are: a lack of access to educational, economic and political resources.

Hyper-masculinity is defined as the desire by men to reach the ultimate level of manhood. Our society views wealth and power as aligning traits of manhood. This often causes men to go to extreme measures and often includes violence when striving to be viewed as masculine. It is noted that in the midst of economic depravity, hyper-masculinity materializes for African American men in the form of roles that promote violence, promiscuity, and illegal employment.

There are several macro-structural factors that can contribute to IPV including the higher number of African Americans living in poverty, urban centers, lack of community unification, and unsafe neighborhoods. When living in poverty there are more stressors that can lead to violence. These factors can weaken the communities from the inside and in turn cause a low morale amongst those who reside in such areas. Additionally, poverty and a lack of educational and occupational resources can lead to unproductive responses to the stresses and trauma which derive from racism. Internalized racism, is a form of self-hatred which stems from distaste and mistrust of one’s own community, and subsequently reflecting on the self as well. Thus, in addition to the harming of oneself, it can exhibit itself as also harming others in the community. The others at the receiving end of this effect are often African American women, in the very families of these men.

The authors look at the impact of images and messages which are transmitted about the African American community on real life assessments of situations of IPV. In mainstream American culture, African American women are commonly represented as non-feminine, independent, and overpowering. Such representations can communicate that black women are overly powerful, as opposed to fragile and feminine like their white counterparts, which can make way for the myth of the black “superwoman.” Such a stereotype can make others and African American women themselves believe them to be lacking in vulnerability, sensitivity, and emotion. Instead, they are viewed in need of control and domestication, and perhaps insusceptible to pain, all which serves as justification for the abuse.

African American women are less likely than white women to turn to shelters either because they are unaware of services available to them or because they perceive the services to be a poor fit. When African American women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do enter shelters, they require significantly longer periods of time to leave shelters than white victims of similar backgrounds. These issues can stem from racial discrimination, lack of empathy from providers, as well as the more taxing accommodations needed for poorer women. This absence of adequate and available services from shelters for black women are in addition to other inaccessibility involving economics, healthcare, and legal services. Without proper social support and resources, African American women have a higher vulnerability to becoming re-victimized. Some responses to IPV include PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality. Regardless of race, the authors found that these were common to the experience. Better predictors of these responses included past histories and poverty. There are many different types and options available, from cognitive-behavioral to art therapies. However, one issue that the authors are consistently concerned about is that of cultural sensitivity. There are programs in place and their effectiveness has been measured, but often not in the context of the different needs of different racial and ethnic categories to which they may not fit.

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