Contextualizing Domestic Violence

October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as we carry on with holiday preparations, it might be easy to forget that intimate partner violence happens 24/7… every day of the year. It is also important to remember that domestic violence does not affect everyone equally. In addition, a number of groups face different barriers and contextual realities when it comes to accessing services. Here, I would like to (very briefly) discuss three groups that are too often ignored in mainstream conversations about intimate partner violence. My hope is that we begin to think contextually and culturally when we talk about domestic violence and the services we provide to victims and survivors.

Latin@ (Immigrant) Communities

While Latinas, for example, experience domestic violence at similar rates as do non-Latinas, this group faces unique barriers when trying to access services or support. For example, Latinas are only half as likely to report abuse to authorities as survivors from other ethnic and racial groups. We can attribute this to a number of reasons including distrust of authority, police or government. The lack of reporting can also be attributed to language barriers or immigration status. A person may fear deportation for herself, her children or loved family members. In fact, many Latina survivors report that immigration status is often used as a control mechanism by their partners to ensure that they do not leave abusive situations. This well-founded fear can impact a Latina’s decision to report abuse, seek services and leave abusive relationships.

In addition, many Latinas also face economic barriers. As Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, writes, “Many [immigrant] victims are economically dependent on partners with legal work status, remaining in abusive relationships because they cannot be eligible for work on their own.” With language barriers as well as legal and economic concerns, many Latina survivors face little choice but to stay in abusive relationships. When survivors do seek help, mainstream service organizations often fail to provide culturally specific and competent support for Latina survivors. One 2009 study, for example, found that almost one in three shelters did not have any Spanish-speaking staff.

LGBT Communities

One significant misconception I’ve encountered in my work is that LGBT individuals do not experience much intimate partner violence. Why would they? These are couples that have been marginalized and oppressed — why would they oppress each other? At least, that’s the line of thinking that I have heard too many times. Nevertheless, 25 – 33 percent of the LGBT community experiences domestic violence, and this community, too, faces unique contextual factors that impact the way intimate partner violence gets enacted. For example, many LGBT individuals fear having their sexual identities revealed, as outing someone can have serious implications for closeted individuals. As I’ve mentioned in more extensive writing on intimate partner violence in the LGBT community:

Other forms of abuse specific to the LGBT community can include withholding medication from individuals who are transitioning (male to female or vice-versa), gender-specific insults (“you are too butch to be a real woman”), and identity theft (in an arrest, a man uses the ID of a boyfriend who is then left with a criminal record).
The LGBT community also experiences a number of barriers when accessing services. For example, almost half of LGBT survivors have difficulty (or simply cannot) access shelters. A fourth of survivors are mistakenly arrested as aggressors and over 55 percent of LGBT survivors do not receive orders of protection. These barriers make it more difficult for LGBT individuals to seek and find the support they need when considering whether to leave abusive relationships. Imagine the additional repercussions that outing can bring to an LGBT Latin@ who might be undocumented or not speak English. Not only would this individual face marginalization and barriers as a Latin@, but also as an LGBT person.

Read more