In My African-American Family, Beatings "Out of Love" Were Frequent

There is an episode of Good Times wherein the father, James Evans, spanks a teenager for misbehaving. Afterwards, James's wife Florida says to the young man, "He beats you because he loves you."

When I was a child, the idea of beating someone or hitting them out of love was a concept that weighed heavily in my home. I witnessed my father beat my mother with heartbreaking regularity, and I saw this behavior in other African-American families as well. As a child, I thought that was how families were. When I grew up, I entered into a relationship where I was a victim of intimate partner violence. Fortunately I realized that this was not acceptable and I got out. I feel very lucky.

The intimate partner violence rate against African-American women is fairly comparable to the intimate partner rate of whites. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 43.7 percent of African-American women suffer from Intimate Partner Violence, compared to white women at 34.6 percent. The far greater problem in the African-American community is the intimate partner homicide rate, wherein the intimate partner violence rate for African-American men is four times that of other races, and the rate for African-American women is over three times higher (Surveillance for Homicide Among Intimate Partners --United States, 1981-1998).

When women experience domestic violence, they often feel they have nowhere to turn, and this is likely more true in the African-American communities, where public resources can be limited.

When I was 18, after watching my mother suffer from abuse during my whole childhood, I finally got her to call a local shelter for help. On that night my father was on a rampage and got good hits in on all of us, which included my mother, my two younger brothers, and me. We ran away to a phone booth, and I talked my mother into calling a shelter.

The person at the shelter told her that someone would come to get us. We waited in that cold phone booth in the middle of the night for five hours. My mother called the shelter repeatedly, and the person answering the phone kept promising that someone would show up. The operator said that they had a lot of people to pick up that night, but that eventually someone would come. No one ever showed up, and we ended up going back to my temporarily contrite father.

This is a gap in services. I am sure the shelter we called that night was doing the best it could to help us. Intimate partner violence is a big problem, and there is a lack of resources in the African-American community.

The theme of this post is supposed to be how we can end domestic violence now, but I do not think there is a way to end domestic violence now. I think before we can end domestic violence, we need to develop an atmosphere of trust between those who suffer abuse and those who are working on the front lines of these issues, such as social workers, teachers, and police officers. For instance, if you work for an organization that promises to be there for victims of intimate partner violence, you need to be there.

Police are often first responders to intimate partner violence incidences. I believe they carry the greatest responsibility when it comes to handling intimate partner violence problems. The FBI reports that 70 percent of the time when a first responding officer shows up to a home and conducts a intimate partner violence investigation, prosecutors do not file charges. This is a frightfully high statistic. It means that each year, close to a million victims of domestic violence go unprotected after the police show up.

This is a terrible position to leave a victim of intimate partner violence in. It leaves him or her with the belief that there is nothing the police can do to help them. It leaves the victim afraid to call the police a second time if there is a problem. The police need to act as a better stop gap. We cannot leave those suffering in a place of hopelessness.

A discussion needs to be had in every American community about how the community, police, educators, community service organizations, and social workers can work to end domestic violence in their area. If service organizations are overwhelmed, the community needs to step up and help provide support. We also need to ask why 70 percent of domestic violence cases go un-prosecuted. Close to a million sufferers of abuse should not go unprotected. Nothing else can happen until we figure out a way to end these major gaps in services.

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Author Katerina Canyon is a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

YWCA's Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and in communities across the country to end violence in all of its form, wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence - NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit www.ywca.org/wwv and join the conversation with #endDVnow. Read more great Week Without Violence blogs!