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Complex Justice: Recognizing Racism, Sexism, and the Fight for Equality

February 6, 2017

During Black History Month, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) celebrates strong Black leaders, present and past, and acknowledges how much progress we have made to ensure racial justice. However, this month is also a time for us to reflect on how far we still have to go to ensure safety and equality for all.

Black women are twice as likely to be killed by a spouse, and four times more likely to be killed by an abusive partner, but only make up 8 percent of the U.S. population. [1, 2] The reason for this disparity is complex, as many factors contribute to it, including socioeconomic status, relationships with law enforcement, religion, cultural beliefs, and systemic racism. Many women face the loss of economic stability when considering whether to leave an abusive partner. This fear is particularly prevalent for Black women, as barriers for economic opportunity and advancement such as name discrimination, high rates of underemployment, wage and workplace discrimination, and unfair use of background checks have extreme effects on Black communities. [3] Beyond the fact that the most dangerous time for victims is when they attempt to leave an abusive partner, women of color face additional barriers seeking out employment due to entrenched sexism and racism. [4]

Other factors, such as dominant cultural and religious practices or beliefs, contribute to the rates of domestic violence and the underreporting of violence in Black communities. The Christian faith has been a strong component in the American Black community, particularly within the Civil Rights Movement, and Black women typically make up about 70 percent of Black congregations. [5,6] For some women of color, religious beliefs may reinforce victimization or legitimize abusive behavior [6], which can include stigma around divorce and domestic violence, and abusers using religious teachings to excuse abusive behavior or to persuade victims to stay. [7, 8] This creates an additional barrier, as it can make victims feel as though they must choose between their faith and their safety.

Black survivors who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) also experience disproportional harm. Of the 13 reports of LGBTQ domestic violence related homicides in 2015, 54 percent of the victims were Black, four of whom were transgender women. [9]

Another factor that contributes to the underreporting of domestic violence in Black communities is a distrust of law enforcement. Victims often feel if they report abuse to the police they are unlikely to be taken seriously, or risk possibly being charged themselves. Systemic racism contributes to the disparate treatment of Black women and men by law enforcement, creating an additional concern and barrier that communities of color face as they consider reporting violence and abuse. This distrust is intensified for LGBTQ survivors of color (and other survivors with multiple marginalized identities) who are often subject to an increased risk for further victimization by law enforcement. [10]

During Black History Month, NNEDV reaffirms its commitment to center survivors of color and their many experiences. Domestic violence affects us all, and together, we must dismantle the many intersectional systemic oppressions, such as racism and sexism, that continue to present barriers to safety for all survivors. We must continue to share survivors’ stories, and put their needs first. We must recognize the risk many survivors face when calling law enforcement, and provide informed referrals or offer alternative accountability options. We must hold law enforcement accountable to respond to domestic violence in a serious, trauma-informed, and survivor-centered way. Most importantly, we must stand with victims of color and say: We believe you.

[1] BJS Female Victims of Violence:

[2] TIME Magazine: Why Black Women Struggle More With Domestic Violence

[3] NBC News – Against All Odds: Economic Inequities for Black Women Cripple Communities:

[4] The National Domestic Violence Hotline:

[5] Pew Research Center:

[6] Women of Color Network:

[7] PCADV – Faith and Religion:

[8] FaithTrust Institute:

[9] National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs:

[10] National LGBTQ DV Capacity Building Learning Center