“I Did Not Call the Police, I called my Sister!” Black Women and Intimate Partner Violence

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Anjerrika Bean, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Ralph Gomes Social Justice Just Future Initiative

Howard University

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a pervasive social problem that compromises the personal health and safety of millions of women each year. IVP is domestic violence by a current or former spouse or partner in an intimate relationship. One in four women has experienced IPV at some time during their life (CDC, 2021). IPV includes physical, verbal, emotional, economic, and sexual abuse, disproportionately affecting communities of color and other marginalized groups. Compared to a Black male, a Black female is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger. Where the relationship could be determined, 90 percent of Black females killed by males in single victim/single offender incidents knew their killers (464 out of 516). Nine times as many Black females were murdered by a male they knew (464 victims) than were killed by male strangers (52 victims) in single victim/single offender incidents in 2019. Evidence also suggests that most abused women are not passive victims in these crimes.

 Excluded from equal access compared to their white counterparts and long-standing mistrust of the judicial system due to systemic racism and discrimination, Black people have historically turned to community resources such as churches for guidance and support to address social problems. Existing research suggests that Black women affiliated with religious institutions tend to report IPV to the institution of the Black church and informal networks, such as other women in the church, instead of law enforcement (Bean, 2019). 

According to Dr. Bean (2019) in the study, Intimate Partner Violence and the Black Faith-Based Community:(An exploratory study of the role and function of the Black Church in addressing IPV) found Black women who are actively maintaining sisters’ circles are typically first responders when Black women need support when traumatic situations arise (Bean, 2020). This work reveals how tough love, candid conversations, and the sacred responsibility of sisterhood have aided Black female survivors. Toni Morrison stated, “a sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves-a special kind of double”. The sister sees her sister, feels her, and will protect her.

A participant in the study (Bean, 2019) named Tasha states, “I didn’t call the police!” I didn’t want him to get in trouble; I knew he already had a felony on his record. My friend called them for me.” Tasha turned to a friend, a mature Christian woman, whom she felt would know how to handle the situation. This friend eventually called the police on Tasha’s behalf.  

Similar to Tasha, another participant, Keisha, acknowledges the cultural pressures to conform to a code of silence. She states, “It’s a cultural thing in the Black community that we don’t report abuse, even when my first response should be to call the police. I grew up hearing ‘He didn’t mean to do it.’ You know, ‘Don’t call the cops on him.’ So, the Black man is not really held accountable. So then, what do you run to for your answer? The church. Because you think, Oh, they will help methey will talk to him.” Keisha was fourteen when she first started dating her husband. She experienced earlier incidents of violence in her teenage years. Keisha blames her Christian mother-in-law for not advising her to leave her abusive boyfriend, who later became her husband. It took her husband breaking her ankle and his Aunt’s words that the abuse was not okay before Keisha sought help and medical treatment for an injury. 

The study established that Black women serve as first responders, advocates, and protectors for other Black women. Therefore, those who make up informal sisters’ circles must be formally trained to appropriately handle situations such as IPV. One woman’s college church group often invited her to outings and called it a “girls’ night out,” time well spent, which enabled her to get out from under her perpetrator’s control. She credits their actions as the vehicle by which she gained the strength to leave her abuser. Another survivor states that her friends formed a sisters’ circle and intervened via the art of conversation, “They just kept talking to me. I left him after two years, and “my girls” and I still hang out and talk [today].” 

As a Black woman who is both a survivor of sexual assault and a member of the Black Church, I am keenly aware of the essential and active role a sisterhood circle plays in fostering resiliency and forging a pathway to freedom for the abused and preyed upon. When I look into the eyes of other Black women and say, “Hey sister,” I know those words carry a weight that only Black women share with each other and understand. She is my advocate and my protector. She is my witness. And we, “Sisters,” will continue to do the work for each other. 

References

Bean, A. R. (2019). Black women and intimate partner violence: An exploratory study of the role of the black church in addressing intimate partner violence (IPV). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ Howard University; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. Retrieved from http://proxyhu.wrlc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/black-women-intimate-partner-violence-exploratory/docview/2508525573/se-2

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, July). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) |violence prevention|injury Center|CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/datasources/nisvs/index.html 

When men murder women. Violence Policy Center. (2022, September 20). Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://vpc.org/when-men-murder-women-black-females/