Survivors impacted by intimate partner violence deserve police accountability

Partner-violence survivors need police accountability so their calls for help can be heard and responded to safely, especially for people of color.
(Pexels/Rosemary Ketchum)

In Minneapolis, the world viewed yet another painful display of militant white male privilege, this time resulting in the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black citizen, by a police officer with a disturbing record of misconduct.

As a domestic violence counselor, I was struck not only by the vicious act of police brutality — one brazenly committed in broad daylight — but also reminded how male privilege and racism are very much at the root of so much intimate partner violence in America today. As someone who works the crisis hotline regularly, I bear witness to it all of the time.

For example, according to an influential five-year University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health study, African Americans are the most likely group to experience domestic violence. Of 1,025 couples — including 406 white, 232 black and 387 Hispanics — the study found that black and Hispanic couples are two to three times more likely to report male-to-female and female-to-male intimate partner violence than white couples. The study showed that white couples reported rates of male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence at eight and 10 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, black couples reported rates of 20 percent and 22 percent, respectively; and Hispanic couples reported rates of 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Yet many survivors of color are reluctant to report domestic violence out of fear that they will not be understood or helped, making these statistics unreliable if not misleading. Stereotypes, implicit bias and even overt racism amplify the complexities minority women (and men and transgender persons) encounter when trying to seek services from the police or other helping agencies.

Almost every day I hear stories from survivors of color who do not trust the police and are hesitant to call for help even when their life is in immediate danger. I hear how the police will show up and ask a few questions and then leave without doing anything to assist. I hear how the police will not show up at all, depending on the reputation of the neighborhood or the history they have with a particular individual. I hear how victims will be arrested because the police are unable to identify the primary aggressor or do not have time to conduct a proper investigation. I also hear gut-wrenching stories from survivors who felt that calling for help would make them feel embarrassed, judged, or somehow inadequate as if they were responsible for what happened. We call this victim-blaming and it is pervasive. 

Of course, not all police officers behave in such a manner. I have family members who serve professionally in the ranks and I have personally worked alongside officers who are genuine public servants. Some are even strong advocates. But the problem is real and must be addressed through several preventive measures including implicit bias training, cultural competency education, trauma-informed care training, police accountability boards, best practice hiring, quality leadership development, engaged citizenship, as well as funding and supporting domestic violence advocacy groups.

In general, our entire society must have a thoughtful and honest conversation about the ways power is attained and shared in our home spaces, workspaces and communal spaces. So much of the problems related to racism, police brutality and domestic violence are centered in the way individuals perceive their lack of power or, conversely, their entitlement to abuse power at others’ expense. As lofty and abstract as it may sound to some, what is required is a paradigm shift in the culture that examines and reforms the nature of power distribution itself. Until that happens we will continue to experience not only acts of grotesque police brutality, but extreme rates of intimate partner violence as well.

We must not allow Mr. Floyd’s murder to be in vain. We must use this tragedy to fight harder for social justice. Not just for those experiencing racial profiling and excessive force at the hands of law enforcement, but for survivors of intimate partner violence as well. 

This story was produced by Campaign Nonviolence

Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.