Forty-five years since the first U.S. domestic violence shelter was opened, 25 years since the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in the U.S., and 13 years since Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement, gender-based violence remains a sadly and stubbornly common occurrence in our society. Compared to women of other races, African American women experience a disproportionate rate of gender-based violence. According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 43.7% of non-Hispanic Black women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. The disproportionality of their experience is reflected in study after study: A study of confirmed sex trafficking survivors in the U.S. found that 40% were African American, while the percentage of African-Americans in the U.S. population is approximately 12.7%. From 2005-2010, data shows that African American girls and women 12 years old and older experienced higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian, and Latina girls and women. Of particular concern is the finding that Black women are two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than are white women.
African American survivors of gender-based violence disproportionately experience other negative outcomes, including: being more likely to be criminalized for defending themselves against violence, being less likely to call the police for help partly due to fear of police brutality against their abuser, being less likely to reach out to supportive services due to a lack of culturally-appropriate services or due to previous experiences of discrimination by service providers, and being at a higher risk of removal of their children by the state.
For girls of color, an additional horrifying outcome of experiencing sexual abuse is entering the sexual abuse to prison pipeline. As described by “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story”, “…in a perverse twist of justice, many girls who experience sexual abuse are routed into the juvenile justice system because of their victimization. Indeed, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system. A particularly glaring example is when girls who are victims of sex trafficking are arrested on prostitution charges — punished as perpetrators rather than served and supported as victims and survivors. Once inside, girls encounter a system that is often ill-equipped to identify and treat the violence and trauma that lie at the root of victimized girls’ arrests. More harmful still is the significant risk that the punitive environment will re-trigger girls’ trauma and even subject them to new incidents of sexual victimization, which can exponentially compound the profound harms inflicted by the original abuse.”
There is good news, however, and that is that gender-based violence is preventable, and everyone has a role to play in its prevention. We know that engaging men and boys to end gender-based violence is an essential part of the work. Some people still think that ending domestic violence, sexual violence, and commercial sexual exploitation is a “women’s issue” and interpret that to mean men and boys don’t need to care about it or get involved in ending it. We need every voice speaking out against gender-based violence. Most men do not abuse their partners and do not sexually assault others, but many men are uncomfortable speaking out against the harmful attitudes and beliefs that underlie abusive behavior.
For African American men and boys, speaking out against gender-based violence may be more difficult than for men and boys of other races. This is because they have experienced violence when interacting with the same systems that African American gender-based violence survivors (overwhelmingly women and gender non-conforming people) do. The organization Men Stopping Violence offers all-African-American classes for men interested in ending gender-based violence, with a focus on the intersectionality of racism and sexism in the lives of African Americans.
This is also what stops and silences many African American women from seeking help when they are being abused by their partners or when they have been sexually assaulted. They are trapped between potentially exposing another African American person to the discrimination in the criminal justice system or suffering in silence. It is a terrible choice that no one should have to make. Without African American men joining in the discussion around how to keep African American women and girls safe, a huge opportunity for change and transformation is lost.
The City of Seattle is responding to gender-based violence by investing over $8 million annually in local programs and services, including: advocacy, shelter and housing, therapeutic services, legal assistance, batterer intervention, outreach, prevention and systems improvement. In the Human Services Department’s 2018 Request For Proposal for Gender-Based Violence Survivor Services, one of the focus populations identified was Black/African Americans, given the high disparities in the investment area. In addition, when Mayor Jenny Durkan announced an additional $100,000 in funding for prevention of gender-based violence on July 9, 2019, the funding was allocated for programs focusing on marginalized populations most impacted by gender-based violence, including the African American community. By investing in a wide array of services that represent and serve traditionally under-funded communities, we know that we will be able to empower more survivors to lead the way for change and, ultimately, to end gender-based violence.
We are excited to co-sponsor an event on September 4, 2019 featuring two incredible experts: Bettie Williams-Watson and Dr. Oliver Williams. They will offer their combined 60+ years of experience and expertise on engaging African American men and boys in ending gender-based violence at the event, co-sponsored by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Seattle University School of Law. Ms. Williams-Watson and Dr. Williams will speak to the importance of addressing racism, healing trauma that men and boys have themselves experienced, and bringing communities together protect African American women and girls. There are pathways to safety, justice, reconciliation and healing, and the speakers will discuss these issues and help attendees to build upon the expertise that already exists in the community to engage African American men and boys in ending gender-based violence.
This event is open to anyone interested in learning more about gender-based violence in the African American community. Click here to register on Eventbrite for FREE tickets. Refreshments will be served.