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Women & Girls of Color: Stepping into the Spotlight

May 11, 2016

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) recently joined crucial conversations about how women and girls of color in the United States are disproportionately impacted by institutional racism. Two events were held on Thursday, April 29 to address the extent of these issues and how to empower women and girls of color.

The Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls launched their symposium, “Barriers and Pathways to Success for Black Women and Girls,” at the Library of Congress, while the YWCA held their “Stand against Racism: National Day of Action Policy Briefing,” also in Washington, DC. These spaces addressed intersectionality within the world of institutional racism and the impact that it has on the lives of young girls of color.

The YWCA speakers addressed the education system, sexual abuse and trauma, access to effective health services, and the distinct experiences lived by girls of color. Intersectionality, a term coined by panelist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, addresses ways that power structures affect and interact with the lives of individuals who experience multiple -isms—particularly in the lives of women of color, who experience both racism and sexism.

  • One in ten children will experience at least five or more incidents of violence in a given year, and those who do are more likely to have lower grade point averages, more negative remarks on their records, and more reported absences from school. Trauma makes it difficult to concentrate and repeated stress can have permanent negative impacts on a child’s brain chemistry. [1]
  • Black girls in schools receive detention, suspension, and expulsion at a higher rate than any other race or ethnicity. [2]
  • A recent ACLU report analyzed the $20 million dollar Washington DC initiative which directs attention and resources to disadvantaged students but points to the exclusion of girls of color from these programs. [3]
  • Girls of color are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, and once in the system are disproportionately confined in residential facilities. [4]
  • Thirty-one percent of girls within the juvenile justice system self-identified as having been sexually abused prior to their entry. In fact, sexual abuse is the strongest indicator of whether or not a girl will re-enter the system later in life. [5]

Our schools, health care systems, and the juvenile justice system are all contributing to a cycle of institutionalized racism and sexism that must end.

For survivors of domestic violence, these statistics are particularly devastating. Trauma caused by domestic violence in the home during childhood increases the likelihood that a young woman of color is disproportionately disciplined in school, enters the juvenile justice system, and is negatively impacted by the institutions she encounters. [6]

At the national, state, and local levels, we must embrace sustainable changes that make equality the norm rather than a catchphrase or unattainable dream. Panelists recommended frank discussion within communities about the issues facing women and girls of color, embracing mentorship, and focusing on community building. Trauma identification and intervention using trauma-informed services for children should include working with parents and schools. Panelists also recommended addressing the presence of police in schools and taking a deeper look into policies that disproportionately affect children and teens of color. Finally, a thorough evaluation of juvenile justice policies that re-traumatize girls of color is also needed.

April 28 through May 1, Black Women’s Blueprint held the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of which NNEDV was a proud supporter and sponsor. [7] This commission was the first in the nation to focus on rape and sexual assault against Black women in the United States.

These three events sparked much-needed discussion around including the voices of girls and women of color in spaces where they are typically forced out, building up the voices and leaders of the future, and providing safe spaces that foster healing and change and where the voices of women and girls of color have power. NNEDV will continue to ally with these organizations until violence against women and girls is eradicated from all communities and from all homes.

[1] https://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Policy/Documents/Safe-Healthy-and-Ready-to-Learn_Full-Report.pdf

[2] http://ocrdata.ed.gov/StateNationalEstimations/Estimations_2011_12

[3] https://www.aclu.org/report/leaving-girls-behind

[4] http://www.nationalcrittenton.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gender_Injustice_Report.pdf

[5] http://rights4girls.org/wp-content/uploads/r4g/2015/02/2015_COP_sexual-abuse_layout_web-1.pdf

[6] NCDSV, Early Childhood, Domestic Violence, and Poverty: Helping Young Children and Their Families, http://www.ncdsv.org/images/UI-SSW_EarlyChildhoodDVandPoverty_1-2004.pdf

[7] http://www.blackwomensblueprint.org/tribunal.html