Fact: Most domestic violence incidents are never reported.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as such we must highlight the importance of leaving an abusive relationship and the issues African Americans face when making the decision to leave their abuser. For African Americans, it is especially difficult to walk away and/or report an abusive relationship. In An Analysis of Racism and Resources for African-American Female Victims of Domestic Violence in Wisconsin, a report by Lisa M. Martinson, African-American women hesitate to report abuse by African-American men because of the “readiness of the outside society to label or blame these acts of violence as racially predictable.” Not only must African-American women be concerned about the public as a whole, but also the effects of reporting abuse within her race community.
The following ten steps are meant to guide those leaving abusive relationships. This list is meant to offer an immediate avenue out of an abusive relationship without disregarding the policies needed to protect victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is our responsibility, as a society we must take ownership of situations where we see another person being victimized and speak out against violence. In the meantime, here are some steps you can take if you are in an abusive relationship:
- Call the police. The first thing you need when being abused is safety. Often in the African American community we hesitate to call the police during physical altercations. This is due to the lack of trust we’ve developed over the years due to police brutality. However, during a physical altercation the safest thing to do is to dial 9-1-1. This ensures that your safety is the priority and there is evidence of the altercation.
- Take pictures. Keep a record of what your abuser did and when the abuse took place. This will help you advocate for yourself and your children if you are going through a custody battle or are called to testify in court.
- Have a plan. Know where you are going when you leave your abuser. Find a shelter or safe house in your area that your abuser doesn’t know about. This may require changing your phone number, finding a new job or moving to a different city. Among African American women killed by their partner, almost half were killed while in the process of leaving the relationship, highlighting the need to take extra precautions at that time.
- Seek counseling. Unfortunately, many in the African American community think that by seeking counseling people will think you’re “crazy”. However, when dealing with depression, anxiety, or other signs and symptoms of mental illness it is best to seek the help of a professional. According to the African Americans’ Perceptions of Psychotherapy and Psychotherapists report, most African Americans understand the importance of therapy. Whether you’re dealing with an abusive relationship or are having problems, counseling will help you deal with these concerns.
- Reach out to family and friends. In abusive relationships victims often feel isolated, and their abuser may have forced them to end ties with loved ones. Reaching out to family and friends may be the only way out. According to the Intimate Partner Violence in the African American Community report, by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, battered black women who reported that they could rely on others for emotional and practical support were less likely to be re-abused, showed less psychological distress, and were less likely to attempt suicide.
- Find a support group if you can. Want to know how others did it? A support group is the best way to connect with people who have gone through or are going through what you’re experiencing. By connecting with a support group, you will realize that you’re not alone and that many have thrived after leaving an abusive relationship.
- Rediscover yourself. Don’t let an abusive relationship define who you are. Do some of the things you enjoyed doing before you met your abuser. Try new things. Find an outlet that will help you grow as an individual.
- Know what “No” means. Know what you want in a relationship. What can you compromise with? What is a deal breaker? Remember those things when addressing your abuser. Know that it’s okay to say “No”, and don’t feel bad about it.
- Never blame yourself. A failed relationship is always better than an abusive one. Often victims of domestic violence think they can change to stop the abuse. By staying in the relationship they are actually putting themselves and their kids in danger. In over 20% of the child fatalities that occurred in 2012, the child was exposed to domestic violence in the home. Also, many batterers were victims of abuse as children or came from families in which spousal abuse was prevalent.
- Follow-up on court cases. You are your strongest advocate. Following up with court cases shows that you are unwilling to let your abuser walk away from abusing you. While it can be an emotional journey, it may help you get the support you need.