Secrecy and Silence: Response to Intimate Partner Violence in the Black Community

There are many things that we keep secret or silent about in our families and communities. One of those things is domestic violence or intimate partner violence. When someone you love hurts you, it creates feelings of betrayal and shame. These feelings can create a shield of silence and secrecy for protection. Couple this with the pain of racism and sexism, and it can deepen this response. This can describe the black community’s reaction to domestic violence or intimate partner violence (DV/IPV). This may not be every black person’s response to DV/IPV, but there is pervasive secrecy and silence in the community that interferes with healing.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million American women experience DV/IPV each year. Women make up 85% of the victims of DV/IPV, however espite this, most cases are never reported to the police and most women are victimized by people they love or know. Black women only make up 8% of the population, while they are 29% of all DV/IPV in America. We account for 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV, one of the leading causes of death of black women aged 15-35 years, which makes us three times more likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than women.

Because of cultural secrecy and silence, black women tend to under-report incidents of DV/IPV and sexual violence more than other communities. Some of reasons for this are tied to the experiences that black women have with racism and sexism. Because the black community focuses most of its attention on the impact of racism, issues related to sexism or gender-based violence get put on the “back burner”. Black women and the community, feel the need to protect black men from the social injustices of racism. Also, black women have developed a basic distrust of “the system” to protect them due to their own experiences of racist and sexist acts by society. This puts black women in the position of having to protect ourselves by being “the strong black woman”. Many times this leads black women to resort to violence against black men who have disproportionate rates of DV/IPV victimization.

What is the answer? More supportive and advocacy services in the black community that recognize the intersectionality of gender-based violence (such as DV/IPV and sexual violence), racism, sexism and classism. Changing the survival paradigm in the black community from secrecy and silence to “thriving activism” will result in positive healing that reduces health disparities and increases well-being.

-Dr. Brenda Ingram, Ed.D, LCSW
Director of Clinical Services, Peace Over Violence