Permission Requested: Geneva Brown, Ain't I a Victim? The Intersectionality of Race, Class, and Gender in Domestic Violence and the Courtroom, 19 Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender 147 (Fall 2012)(219 Footnotes)
African American women who seek protection from law enforcement and the courts encounter a legal system that has fixed notions of African Americans as more susceptible and amenable to violence. Race and gender stereotyping affect how successfully African American women can avail themselves of the full panoply of services and protections offered to victims of intimate-partner violence. If African American women engage in self-defense in battering relationships, they are viewed as culpable for the abuse at the hands of their intimate partners. If African American women seek the protection of law enforcement, the encounters with police officers can be caustic. If African American women seek orders of protection, the narrative must contain the battered woman paradigm, which does not reflect their experiences. The legal system disregards African American women as victims of intimate-partner violence. Class, intermingled with race and gender, exacerbates these negative consequences.
Kimberle Crenshaw identified the unique, and often ignored, political and social assumptions to which African American women are subjected because they are neither white women nor African American men. White feminist legal theory assumes that women are white and uses African American women only as a source for anecdotal information. Crenshaw uses “intersectionality” to specify the subject positions inhabited by African American women. Crenshaw explicates that, at the nexus of race and gender,
[t]he experiences Black women face are not subsumed within the traditional boundaries of race or gender discrimination as these boundaries are currently understood, and that the intersection of racism and sexism factors into Black women's lives in ways that cannot be captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of those experiences separately.
Poor African American women do not, in general, benefit from legal intervention in seeking protection from intimate-partner violence. Violent partners are removed from the home, but law enforcement interactions with the African American community can lead to violence and or incarceration. African American women who are victims of intimate-partner violence are stigmatized by community members for bringing their partners into the criminal justice system. The same stigma can attach to African American women who seek orders of protection. Orders of protection remove the abuser from the home and give the victims a perceived zone of safety in their everyday lives. However, the cessation of violence comes at a high economic price. Courts wonder why abused women stay in violent relationships because they fail to understand that economic abuse is a component of intimate-partner violence. Race and poverty compound the complexities of intimate-partner violence.
This Article reviews the treatment of one client of the Domestic Violence (DV) Clinic that I direct who sought an order of protection. The family court treated my client with disdain, and it took several hearings before the court would fully enforce an order of protection. The court expressed doubt as to her legitimate fear and abuse, and treated her more harshly than other women I have represented. My client was a poor, African American woman, and the court did not let her forget her status. She would ask me, “What does it take to get justice?”I did not have an answer then, but this Article is the response.
This Article will explain why my client, as a poor, African American woman, could not receive access to justice by petitioning the court for safety. The intersectionality of race, class, and gender at times dictates outcomes and can have lethal consequences for a vulnerable population. In Part I, I explain the impact of poverty and victimization on courts that purport to be fair and impartial. In Part II, I review the hearing that denied my client the safety she sought through an order of protection. Part III reviews the effects of race and inequality in the lives of African American women. In Part IV, I present race, class, and gender as extralegal factors that affect access to justice. Finally, in Part V, I analyze cases such as Castle Rock that illustrate a negative due process paradigm, resulting in restricted remedies for poor women who seek protection.