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Struggling Against Stereotype: Domestic Abuse

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Despite commonly held assumptions about “Strong Black Women,” African American women bear the heaviest burden when it comes to sexual and physical abuse. According to a Department of Justice study in 2000, Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white females and approximately 22 times the rate of women of other races.

In “Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partner Abuse,” author Hillary Potter conducted extensive interviews with Black women involved in abusive relationships. Many accepted the stereotype of the strong Black woman, but interpreted it as being strong enough to take the abuse or fight back by taking part in the physical altercation, rather than having the strength to leave the relationship. Potter explains: “The women equated strength with the ability to endure and survive an abusive relationship.”

Some women fail to recognize the early signs of abuse. For instance, a young girl who grows up in an abusive home may develop a distorted view of men or take on the “masculine” or guardian role. An abused woman named Keisha admitted to Potter: “I tried to be the protector of my brothers and my mom. … It’s something I just fell into. … I just tried to be the protector of everything because I thought that was like my job.”·

Keisha’s frustration with her mother’s boyfriend played an instrumental role in her formation of negative beliefs about men.· Consequently, she chose a string of abusive men as partners. Many battered women go to great lengths to escape their relationships only to recreate the same situations with new partners.· Experts explain that these women repeat the same cycle, lover after lover, year after year, in hopes of rectifying their past grievances and somehow changing the outcome.

Hollywood films like “Precious” and “For Colored Girls” often depict abuse victims as impoverished, but this stereotype is incorrect. Prince George’s County, Md., a small county near Washington, D.C., is the wealthiest Black community in the country, but accounts for more than 20 percent of deaths caused by domestic violence in the state. The very “perks” or money a woman luxuriates in may serve as a roadblock in receiving help. Because of pressure to keep up appearances, women are often encouraged by friends and family members to stay with their abusive spouses.

Another one of Potter’s interviewees named Madea said, “When I started trying to complain to people, they thought I was ungrateful. ‘Look what your husband do. You can go on a trip by yourself anytime you want. How can you say he’s mistreating you?’ The hard part, too, once I left, was that I lost all my friends, my many, many friends. … If I try to speak to anybody, they will tell me, ‘Go back home, he treats you good.’”

Abusive relationships never start with abusive behavior. A man will start by using disrespectful language towards other women or trying to isolate his partner from her friends and family. In order to build strong, healthy relationships, Black women need to recognize these early warning signs. Love sometimes leaves emotional scars, but it should never leave physical ones.


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