Why Black Lives Matter during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

As the clarion call for justice sounds in October reminding us about Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s also remember that Black Lives Matter.

Intimate partner violence impacts more women that you may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 42 million women in the U.S. have been victims of intimate partner violence. Intimate partners injure more women between the ages of 15 and 44 years old than are diagnosed with cancer, hurt in car accidents or by acquaintances.

Simply put? Intimate partner violence is pervasive.

The most devastating outcome is death. One out of every three homicides is a victim of intimate partner violence. What’s more, intimate partner violence cuts a woman’s life expectancy in half. A woman is typically murdered at the age of 40 by her abusive partner who was unable to de-escalate an out-of-control argument.

What have we done about it?

The domestic violence movement was developed to eradicate systematic violence against women. Only, the thrust of this movement focused on the traditional victim: middle class White women, thereby omitting women who are on the margins. The movement coalesced to rally support for women who were systematically oppressed and suffered the ills of patriarchy. The coordinated community response aligned the criminal justice system in an effort to close many of the loopholes that left the mostly male perpetrators without accountability for the brutality that was largely inflicted upon their wives, common-law wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, or intimate acquaintances. Domestic violence courts, along with advocacy and counseling services, were implemented to navigate victims through the prosecutorial maze. Emergency housing and long-term shelters were created to solve issues related to temporary shelter.

Despite the tremendous strides we have made in the 35-year history of Domestic Violence Awareness month, there’s yet more to do.

Let’s remember that Black Lives Matter.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement calls for justice for Black people who have experienced injustices within the criminal justice system, you may ask what the Black Lives Matter movement has to do with Domestic Violence Awareness month.

The answer is everything!

The battered women’s movement led to development of the coordinated community response which includes interventions on all levels of the criminal justice system, namely the police, courts, emergency shelters, community-based agencies that provide counseling services to victims as well as agencies that facilitate batterer intervention programs. Yet, each area of the coordinated community response has omitted the needs of a community that is in dire need of culturally-competent services.

Black Lives Matter because African American women are disproportionately impacted by intimate partner violence and bear the brunt of victimization. According to the Violence Policy Center, African American women are nearly 2.5 times more likely than White women to be murdered by their intimate partner. African American women murdered at the age of 35, which five years younger than the national average. What’s more, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey, the prevalence rate of partner violence among African American women is much higher than the national average.

Black Lives Matter in the criminal justice system.

Beth Richie from the University of Chicago has written prolifically about the extent to which African American women will go to protect their man from police involvement. Highly-publicized abuses of power, unrestrained police misconduct, over criminalization, and more lethal encounters with unarmed African American men have further fragmented already attenuated relations between local police departments and the African American community. These series of abuses have left African American women in bit of a conundrum. They must decide between their own need to engage the police and formally report their abusive partner knowing the potential dangers of this encounter, and their abusive partner’s need for protection from the criminal justice system.

Collaborating with local police departments to implement systems of accountability and transparency are critical to rebuilding relationships that have long been fractured and laced with suspicion.

Black Lives Matter when developing community-based interventions.

One of the reasons that African American women experience higher murder rates is because the interventions omit their nuanced needs. African American women are experience mutually-reinforcing barriers, including racism, sexism and diminished economic resources, that preclude them from safely leaving their abusive partner. They further forgo utilizing community-based interventions because their needs were not fully considered during development.

According to The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Fund poll, African American women represent the most religious segment of our country. Yet, few culturally competent interventions have been developed that incorporate their heavy reliance upon religious resources, and even less incorporate clergy, ministers’ wives and other religious leaders as resources for this community. Some shelters incorporate African American women’s deep spirituality, but this practice is largely unavailable.

Perhaps we look to develop interventions that bridge the sacred with the secular in ways that make African American women’s needs central to their service delivery.

Let’s not allow another Domestic Violence Awareness Month to end without really acknowledging that Black Lives Matter and implementing interventions that reflect this stance.


For more on this topic, check out my recent TEDx Talk that examines African American women IPV victims’ experiences with service providers.

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