Domestic abuse has been traditionally thought of as a universal issue focusing on the primacy of gender as a factor and as such effects all women equally and that the experiences of battered women are similar no matter despite differences in race, sexuality and gender identity, culture, class or economic position. However recently this view of domestic violence which ignores other factors and existing social structures has recently been criticised as it has led to minority and oppressed groups being failed by the policies institutions that are meant to help them. By using intersectional analysis to better understand not only how likely different women are to experience domestic violence but also how they are likely to seek help, report it to the police or leave their partner, we could use this information to better adapt our institutions and policies that are there to support and protect victims to the needs of minority groups.
In order to better understand why domestic violence occurs and how best to deal with the problem I will firstly be analysing how sexuality and gender identity, race. culture and socio-economic standing contributes to the likelihood of a women experiencing domestic violence and how they could affect how a victim may act in the situation. I will then explore how this information could be used to better help victims receive support and how more inclusive policies could better solve this issue.
Sexuality and gender idenitity
The focus of domestic based violence as part of gender based violence for women completely obscures the existence of domestic violence within same-sex relationships which can often alienate the victims. According to research by LGBTQ+ charity stonewall 1 in 4 lesbian and bisexual women have been victims of domestic abuse, with two thirds of those saying the perpetrator was a women and only one third of those saying the perpetrator was a man. Sixty-two per cent of those respondents said that they had experienced physical violence as part of this abuse (Stonewall, 2012). One in four women in the general population have experienced domestic abuse (stonewall 2012) and so statistically lesbian and bisexual women are just as likely to be victims of domestic abuse as those in heterosexual relationships. Women who identify as transgender have very different experiences of domestic abuse to cisgender women which should be better researched and taken into account. A study by the Scottish Trans alliance found that 80% of transgender people had experienced ‘emotionally, sexually, or physically abusive behaviour’ in a relationship, with 45% of respondents experiencing physical violence (STA, 2010), suggesting that in fact transgender women have a higher risk of domestic abuse than any other sexuality.
The traditional notion that domestic abuse occurs mainly within heterosexual relationships with the perpetrator being male is simply not the case as shown by these statistics and has led to damaging consequences for LGBTQ+ women who are victims of domestic violence. LGBTQ+ women rarely report the abuse, one study on domestic violence in LGBTQ+ relationships found that 85.71% of the participants surveyed that responded saying that they had experienced domestic abuse never reported it to the police (Gringas, 2018). This is often due to fear they would not be taken seriously by law enforcement as the stereotypical biological difference in power that is seen in heterosexual relationships is not present (brown, 2008). Women may also fear being ‘outed’ if they report domestic abuse while in a same-sex relationship and fear homophobia that may come with that (brown,2008). The threat of being ‘outed’ is also often used as a manipulative tactic by abusers in same-sex relationships in order to control the victim and make them stay in the relationship (Dupont, sokoloff 2005). In countries where same-sex relationships are illegal or frowned upon particularly in the non-western world, the fear of being ‘outed’ would outweigh the fear of the abuse itself due to fear of being a victim to homophobic violence, social alienation or in extreme cases in countries where homosexuality is illegal, such as Saudi Arabia or Somalia, imprisonment or even death. Gay and lesbian women may also be less likely to seek help from charities aimed at helping battered women due their heteronormative focus also more recently many charities such as women’s aid have advocated for greater help and aid to be given to LGBTQ+ women (Women’s aid, 2017). A women’s sexuality and Gender identity therefore can create a very different experience of domestic abuse and so the heteronormative focus of the battered women’s movement fails LGBTQ+ victims who require unique help, support and polices to tackle domestic abuse.
An acknowledgement and understanding of a victim’s culture is extremely important in order to effectively help them. However, we must be careful not to simplify domestic abuse within some communities down to notions of ‘cultural norms’ as this lazy analysis can often villainise different cultures too simplistically (Dupont, sokoloff 2005). This is not to say that cultural explanations have not been used to excuse domestic violence, Gallin argues that cultural evidence is often used by perpetrators to justify domestic violence against women and children undermining progress within the battered women movement in the united states (gallin 1994). In many countries around the world domestic violence is still legal and so women from these communites are much more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than women from countries where it is outlawed. For example, in Egypt nearly half of women surveyed by the ministry of health said they had experienced domestic violence (amnesty, 2015) double the uk estimate of one in four women (stonewall, 2012).
Culture can also have a huge impact on how women react to domestic violence. Women from some cultures may be less likely to leave their partner as they value keeping a father figure in the lives of their children and maintaining a family unit over more individualist western focus on the battered women (sharwa, 2001). Huisan suggests that Asian American women may be more likely to stay with the perpetrator due to existing patriarchal structures within communities and an underlying philosophy towards harmony (huisan, 1996), while others suggest that religion can often influence Asian-American women to stay in the relationship due to a belief that suffering will be rewarded in their next life (Almeida and Dolan-Delvecchio (1999). Immigrant women also have a number of unique barriers which may prevent them from seeking help. Both legal and illegal immigrant victims may face language barriers when seeking help and also may be financially reliant on the abuser due to having to take low skilled work with low wages outside their skill of expertise after moving to a new country. Women who have emigrated illegally may fear deportation or even the deportation of the perpetrator (sharwa 2001). These are just a few examples how culture can create unique difficulties in some cases of domestic abuse which are often ignored when domestic abuse is seen as a issue with universal solutions.
Data from the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), revealed that there was little difference in reports of domestic violence between African-American, Latina and white women in the US (Dupont, sokoloff 2005). However, this does not mean that race is unimportant when researching domestic abuse, a black women’s experience of domestic abuse can be very different than the white-washed traditional view of the battered women’s movement. Black victims often receive less sympathetic and fair treatment from police officers due to damaging stereotypes of black women as aggressive which contrast with the equally damaging stereotype of a battered women as weak and helpless (Ammons, 1995). Black women may also be less inclined to phone the police or report the abuse in fear of safety of the abuser due to unjust treatment of black men by police officers particularly in the USA (Dupont, sokoloff 2005). Race can therefore create barriers to victims seeking help and should be considered to better improve the current intuitions and policies in place to tackle domestic violence.
While race has little to do with the likelihood of domestic abuse, Browne and Bassuk identified that one reason why some research may indicate that women of colour are more likely to be poor, this has been used to suggest that socio-economic position rather than race is the reason why black women report slightly higher levels of domestic violence (Browne & Bassuk, 1997). Some research even suggests that once social class, employment statuses and occupation is taken into account there is little statistical difference between women of different races and culture suggesting in fact that socio-economic standing is the main predictor of domestic violence (Dupont, sokoloff 2005). The world health organisation identified both low-levels of education and low-levels of access to paid employment as risk factors for domestic abuse (WHO, 2017). Poverty in particular can put women at risk of domestic abuse with 14% of women in poverty experiencing extreme domestic violence compared to only 6% of those not in poverty (Womens aid).
A women’s socio-economic standing can restrict their choices considerably when they fall victim to domestic abuse. the most reported reason that women stay with the abuser is that they are financially dependent on the abuser, rather than any psychological reason (Dupont, Sokoloff 2005). When surveyed fifty-two per cent of women who still live with their abuser stated their reason for staying as they could not afford too, due to having no money of their own (Women’s aid). Straight white women’s experience of domestic abuse is therefore not monolithic as the victims socio-economic standing greatly limits their response to the violence.
How we should apply this to improve our domestic abuse services
Our current policies and institutions are failing minority and disadvantaged women whose unique experiences and circumstances mean they are failed by the current system which focuses on a whitewashed, heteronormative, westernised view of domestic abuse which assumes that all women have the means to leave their abuser. In order to properly tackle domestic abuse, we must take this intersectional analysis and use it to improve how we help victims of domestic abuse. Dupont and Sokoloff suggest we do this by ‘placing women at the margin at the centre’ (Dupont, Sokoloff 2005). By creating institutions such as charities and helplines that focus on minority groups it ensures that their unique needs are catered for which can better help women stuck in abuse relationships escape. The services we already have must also be adapted to suit each individual situation as intervention in different cases will have different priorities, in situations where women are financially dependent on the abuser, welfare and housing may be priority (Dupoint, sokooff 2005) while protection against homophobia would be more important for LBGTQ+ victims. Services such as shelters must be safe and inclusive for all survivors by for example offering meals suitable for different religions and law enforcement should be properly trained to prevent discrimination. These improvements and more could not be possible without more in-depth intersectional research on domestic abuse which is vital in ordered to move the battered women’s movement forward.