Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in which a person uses coercion, deception, harassment, humiliation, manipulation, and/or force to establish or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Domestic violence crosses ethnic, racial, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religious, and socioeconomic lines. The majority of victims of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships are women. In fact, one out of every three adult women experiences at least one physical assault by an intimate partner during adulthood.
The statistics reveal that domestic violence is one of the most important public health issues in our country. The Surgeon General reports that domestic violence causes more injury to adult women than cancers, heart attacks, or strokes. FBI statistics point out that a woman is battered every 15-18 seconds in the United States. More than three million children witness domestic violence, and more than four million women are battered to death by their husbands or boyfriends each year. Approximately one third of female murder victims in the United States are killed by their husband or boyfriend.
African-American women experience domestic violence 35 percent more often than white women and 22 percent more often than women of other races. Still more sobering, African-American women are more likely to be shot by an intimate partner than women of other races. This violent epidemic must be addressed if we are to protect and preserve the black community and more specifically, the black family. Factors such as unemployment and underemployment, poor schools, inadequate vocational skills and training, sub-standard housing, the influence and use of drugs, and the density of liquor stores in the inner city, contribute to the problem of domestic violence. All of these ingredients may contribute to a negative dynamic that often leads to domestic violence. Still worse, many black women maintain the cultural “code of silence,” failing to report the abuse, separate from the abuser, or seek help. This silence can have devastating consequences not only for the victim, but for children who witness violence and perpetuate the cycle into their own adulthood, further weakening our communities.
Recent negative publicity surrounding the video of former NFL player, Ray Rice, knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator has caused the issue to take center stage, particularly in social media circles. However, despite the disparate opinions on whether the NFL decision was too harsh; whether Rice should have been prosecuted; or even caustic commentary on whether “she deserved it” or “why she stayed,” the controversy has sparked something much more important. The National Domestic Violence Hotline saw an 84 percent increase in phone calls in the two days following the video leak. There were hundreds of calls from women who saw themselves in that elevator. The good news, therefore is that the video of the Ray Rice incident is sparking a national conversation about domestic violence and encouraging more women to reach out for help. As a community, African Americans must encourage a healthy dialog about this critical issue. We must communicate clearly that domestic violence is a threat to our survival as a people. We cannot afford to be silent. African-American lives, families and communities depend on it.
Roslyn Clark Artis, JD, EdD. President – Florida Memorial University, 15800 N.W. 42nd Avenue, Miami Gardens, Florida 33054-6199.Phone: (305) 626-3604, Fax: (305) 626-3769; Email: Roslyn.Artis@fmuniv.edu