I would like to have a dialogue about about a topic that affects us all-domestic violence. The challenge today I ask for us to examine the intersections of race, culture and trauma. I can think of issues surrounding domestic violence in communities of colour that map very clearly onto this theme. I hope, then to provide valuable information on the detrimental effects of domestic violence using lens of race and culture. I will try to show domestic violence is a very sensitive matter to encourage us as a community to become aware and make changes to decrease the cultural issues that hinder treatment.
I have decided to focus my discussion on women, men and myself because I have noticed a considerable increase in the number of domestic related issues among my clients. Today, I am defining domestic violence as verbal, physical, emotional or economic abuse that causes social isolation. The perpetrator threatens, intimidates, causes fear, injury and demeans the victim.
Though we can be grateful for the steps former President Clinton made to combat this issue, current research shows an epidemic in our midst. According to researcher, Linda S. Greenfield, RN, PhD. Consultant for the Future, FL. has observed that every 9 seconds 1 in 3 women is a victim of Domestic Violence. In her findings, some 4.4 million women are battered yearly with a staggering 2000-4000 of these resulting in death.
CNN report each minute 24 people are victims of domestic violence, and each year 12 million women and men are victims of domestic violence. It is difficult to absorb the weight of these statistics. Also, people hear “domestic violence” and get really afraid. Within community of colour, people often question whether the problem of domestic violence actually exists, making it very tricky for us to identify the signs – or for a victim of abuse to come forward.
On October 3, 2011 after my presentation in this setting on domestic violence I suddenly felt alone and saddened as everyone was leaving, I realized I was talking about me. I was a liar and fraud to myself, to my clients, and to you. I wept when I returned to my hotel.
I would like to provide examples that connect to the cultural constraints in relation to domestic violence reporting. I was not the traditional victim. My mother told me at an early age not to wear my problems on my shoulders but to always dress and look pretty. I grew up, became a professional woman, and attained advanced degrees, basically, presenting well that no one would believe I was a victim of domestic violence.
If I may, I would like to offer an example from my own life. I can remember my Cuban/Jamaican business woman grandmother and her many female friends that visited her restaurant. I used to enjoy listening to the women speak about their lives, and gossip about each other. The topic of domestic violence often played a part in their banter. For example, I remember a conversation that “Granny” as we called her was having about two friends that were severely beaten by their partners. The response from another woman was: “Many and Jane (not their real names) don’t always listen to their husbands, and do what they are told so they will always be whipped.” The women’s behaviour collectively was matter of fact, nonchalant, that it is acceptable to be beaten when the man is disrespected. One woman said some women deserve to be beaten. This really had an impact on me as a young girl. I did not tell my parents what I heard.
May 1968 I was first punched in the face and my left thigh. He begged me not to tell my parents, and promised he would never hit me again. I did not tell my parents. The abuse got worst in our marriage. I had become totally dependent on him. I had to give him my paychecks. He cursed me, “You don’t have, you never will have. You are dependent, and will always be dependent. You are nothing, and will never be anything.” “You are so f…ing dumb, all you have is a pretty face.” I felt trapped to leave, an abusive, controlling and humiliating marriage, and worried I had no money. December 9, 2009 my girlfriend gave me the keys to her Villa. December 14 2008 was my only chance of leaving, because that day he worked a distance from home, and would be in meeting. A dear friend sent a trailer truck to move me. I asked the driver what I should take. “He replied take everything. What you don’t need throw it by the wayside.” I told him I did not want anything, just take everything from my mother’s room. We left. At the villa, I slept on the floor by mother’s bedside. It was frightening but peaceful.
Domestic Violence is not cultural, only happening to some people. Domestic Violence stems from patriarchal supremacy wrapped in traditional customs practiced for centuries until they are accepted as normal – just like my grandmother’s friends and me who were listening for generations. They learned from their mothers, sisters, brothers and husbands, as I did.
As professional, we need to be schooled in multicultural counseling to learn about the diverse cultural differences in all of us to affect a change in the therapeutic assessment of the abused victim.
It is also documented that victims may remain in their situations because of our legal systems incapability to provide safety to the victim. I think that women, me included, and men also stay because of the cultural and societal implications of leaving a relationship. The victim tends to be financially dependent and has no resources; however, as I have illustrated, in my work as a professional counselor and life coach, I have seen successful women and men in the throes of abusive relationships. Seven out of ten of my clients have told me they have experienced some form of domestic violence. One thing that is consistent despite the particular woman or man’s circumstance is isolation – the abuse and fear of the perpetrator isolates the victim from family and friends. We are often blamed for all the problems in the relationship. We in turn blame ourselves for everything that is happening to us.
The effects of abuse of abuse stretch to even more innocent bystanders with devastating consequences. Children who watch their mother and father being beaten are helpless and afraid. Children see and learn these behaviours as they grow up, boys to identify with the aggressor and become violent aggressors themselves, and girls tend to marry alcoholic spouses that beat them and vice versa. It is devastating to think that 3.3 million children witness family violence, and a child is murdered every three hours. I mention this because, generally speaking abuse is not localized. If there is physical abuse in the home against one family member, other family members often are being physically abused.
With this in mind, it is no wonder that only 31% of American women report being physically and sexually abused by their partners. Also, 1-7 men is abused by the women in their lives. Domestic Violence in women, is the same Domestic Violence men experience. No one should be hit. Men that are victims of domestic violence, I encourage you to seek help.
There is an incredible stigma around Domestic Violence – to give it a name is shameful. In addition,sexism and patriarchal beliefs among women and men affect our ability to help each other. In our society a woman or man must feel lucky to have a man or woman in her/his life and not complain. For the abused person, specifically, her/his life is intertwined with the abuser and the abuse that she/he does not see alternatives. It may take years to actually visualize and absorb the information that is available to her/him to make the decision to leave for a safe haven. In communities of colour, the problem tends to be more acute because leaving can be difficult and sometimes impossible because of societal constraints which impede her/his ability to escape.
Societal and cultural pressure can cause a woman or man to remain in a dangerous relationship. Sometimes a woman or man will confide in friends, family members, religious not to leave the violent situation. They urge he/him to give the relationship a chance. Yet, hoping the abuser may change her/his behaviour without counseling for her/him staying for the sake of the children may result in death.
Domestic Violence is the most lonely, dark and excruciating. Family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances be supportive and encourage our voice to eliminate this awful cancer. As scholars, practitioners and community members, we can begin to tease out the complex in a domestic violence victim’s life. I believe this is true, especially in our capacity to change long held assumptions and beliefs.