Excerpted From: Kiana Gilcrist, A Call for Change: Doing More to Protect Black and Brown Victims of Domestic Violence, 26 Richmond Public Interest Law Review 159 (April 26, 2023) (130 Footnotes) (Full Document)


KianaGilcristAlthough not exclusively perpetrated against women, domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women. On average, more than ten million people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Of those ten million people, Black and Brown females experience domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females. In an effort to address the plaguing issue of domestic violence, the legal system is often the default option. However, the legal system overshadows other potentially more effective strategies for addressing domestic violence. On a systemic level, the focus for the past thirty years has been on developing the legal response to domestic violence, resulting in the diversion of money, attention, and energy from other initiatives. However, a number of other promising avenues bypass the legal system and focus on prevention, rather than reaction to violence that has already occurred.

Many of the available solutions for domestic violence victims are aimed at the needs of white women and are inextricably tied to law enforcement. However, real support for Black and Brown women would include alternative support opportunities for those who fear involving law enforcement, which would erase the barriers that make it hard for Black and Brown women to access support services. It would also involve specific training for those who interact with victims of domestic violence so that they are able to provide adequate, culturally appropriate assistance. Many battered women's advocates stress that domestic violence occurs among all races, ethnicities, religions, and classes; however, the experience is often profoundly different for women of color, battered immigrant women, and poor women--as is the impact of using the legal system to address the violence against them.

To successfully meet the needs of Black and Brown women in these communities, funding for culturally specific programs needs to come from organizations that are divested from law enforcement. This is especially true in communities where there is a strong disinterest in seeking the assistance of law enforcement because of reasonable fears and concerns due to a long history of racially disparate treatment by law enforcement. When designating response programs and policies, domestic violence programs must also factor in the complex life experiences that Black and Brown victims face.

The first section of this article will discuss the unique barriers that Black and Brown women experience as it relates to domestic violence. The second section will examine historical approaches to domestic violence, which have tended towards over-reliance on law enforcement. The third section will explore how the domestic violence movement has begun to address the complex history that Black and Brown communities have with law enforcement, and the correspondingly limited success of these efforts. The article will conclude with a discussion of a potential solution: funding should be allocated directly to individual organizations, divested from law enforcement, to provide culturally appropriate services to Black and Brown victims of domestic violence.

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Domestic violence adversely affects people of color and makes it hard for them to seek help, due in part to a system that is perpetuated by racism and continuously ignores the needs of Black and Brown women. Black people have a horrific past with law enforcement, and many victims will not seek out their help because of this history. There are many funding avenues in place now, but they are inadequate to address Black and Brown women's needs. ARPA, which was enacted in 2021, begins to address these needs by prioritizing culturally specific organizations. However, if the funding continues to be funneled through the DCJS, a law enforcement agency, then culturally specific organizations will not be as effective as they could be. Organizations such as DVRP, Caminar Latino, and the Empowered Survivor have already shown that having safe spaces for marginalized community members serves to be beneficial, and including organizations specifically for Black and Brown women will continue to bridge the gap to achieving accessible services for survivors of domestic violence.

Kiana Gilcrist is a third-year law student at the University of Richmond School of Law.