Let’s Get to Work: Understanding the Survivor’s Journey Through an Anti-Racism Lens


By Joelle Piercy, LSW, MSS, MLSP
Coordinator of SPEAK Community Outreach and Education

As Safe+Sound Somerset begins the process of purposefully centering anti-racism into our work to empower survivors of domestic abuse, we know that we can’t do this on our own. We know that, as supporters, volunteers, and partners of our organization, you share in our mission of supporting survivors on their paths to safety, hope and healing. We recently released our Anti-Racism Commitment. In this article and future publications, we will discuss how racism impacts survivors of domestic abuse. S+SS will also explore why anti-racism must be at the heart of what we do in order to best advocate for the community members we serve and to end domestic abuse once and for all.

Racial trauma – or the cumulative emotional distress that results from experiencing racial discrimination –interacts with and compounds upon the effects that a person of color might experience from domestic violence. By understanding this interaction, we can create a safer space for survivors of color and remove the obstacles that racial discrimination creates for their recovery.

Racism overlaps with domestic violence at many different levels. The reality is that a survivor’s journey is influenced by their race at every stage. By first identifying how racism impacts our individual clients, we can then define changes that need to be made and the actions necessary to make those changes.

Following are a few examples of how race and domestic violence intersect:

Rates of Domestic Violence

Black and Hispanic individuals experience domestic violence at a higher rate than other races, with Black and Hispanic couples being 2-3 times more likely to report both male-to-female and female-to-male domestic violence than white couples.S+SS works from the view that trauma breeds trauma; these rates are higher because these communities are more likely to be impacted by social issues that place someone at higher risk of domestic violence victimization and/or perpetration. These issues include homelessness, poverty, racial trauma, joblessness, and exposure to community violence.

Our education programs help people understand and recognize the effects of trauma so that our communities can more adequately connect people with appropriate, trauma-responsive services. Through partnerships with other organizations, we work to build trauma-informed communities that address root causes of violence and trauma before they occur.

Safety Planning

With stories of people such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd ever present in the minds of people of color (POC), and Black individuals in particular, many believe that calling the police would put them in greater danger than just dealing with abuse on their own. With 1 in 10 Black men in their 30s in prison on any given day, many domestic violence survivors do no report to the police to avoid contributing to these numbers of mass incarceration. Undocumented immigrants who are POC might also avoid calling the police or accessing any services out of fear of being targeted for deportation.S+SS’s safety planning takes into account that calling 911 is not a viable option for all of our clients.

Through our 24/7 call and text hotline, trained advocates work with survivors to create and/or update personalized safety plans based on what they feel comfortable with at that very moment. Throughout Somerset County, our Domestic Violence Response Team volunteers work with police departments to provide trauma-informed support and information to survivors who do call the police. We also provide training and information for officers who are responding to domestic violence calls.

Leaving 

98% of domestic violence survivors experience some form of financial abuse, and many report lack of finances as one of the top reasons why they are unable to leave an abusive relationship. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black and Hispanic workers earn 28-35% less than the average white worker’s income. Because of racial income inequality, whole communities are also less likely to have the financial or housing resources to support or temporarily shelter survivors. This limits the options that Black and Hispanic survivors have as they plan to leave their abusers. Financial health is a critical part of client’s overall well-being and ability to create a future free from abuse.

Our Financial Empowerment Center equips clients with the knowledge, skills, and tools to re-gain control of their finances based on their individual circumstances and backgrounds. S+SS’s community outreach team provides trainings and builds relationships with other social service organizations to raise awareness about how domestic violence intersects with issues such as income, homelessness, and inequality.

Recovery

Although not usually intentional, implicit bias and racist policies are often built into social service programs meant to support survivors. This makes it both harder for POC to access services, while making the services less effective once they are in the programs. Examples might include placing a domestic violence shelter in predominantly white neighborhood, employing predominantly white staff members, and catering programs to English-speaking, non-immigrant clients. POC also have lower access to equitable health care and mental health care, making it harder to receive treatment for the mental and physical effects of trauma.We work to make all programs as accessible as possible, at no charge and without consideration of immigration or documentation status.

Our counseling and trauma treatment are offered in Spanish and English. We utilize a translation service for our hotline and other programs to help clients who speak other languages. Our safe house and client pantry are stocked with a diverse variety of food items and personal products, and we offer gift cards to empower clients to purchase items best suited for their own individual and family needs. Through discussions at staff meetings, continuing education, and trainings, our staff have committed to ongoing evaluations of our response from an anti-racism lens.

 

Safe+Sound Somerset will continue to work to recognize and address how racism impacts survivors of domestic abuse. If you are interested in making a difference, there are a range of things you can do in your own life to help.

  • Learn more about how anti-racism both helps us be more responsive to survivor’s needs, and also serves as a violence prevention tool. Following are a few resources:
    https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/health/racism/
    https://safehousingpartnerships.org/intersection
  • Follow the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (https://njcedv.org/) to receive action alerts when there are policies or legislation proposals that impact survivors.
  • Contact Safe+Sound Somerset to arrange a customizable and interactive workshop about domestic violence or trauma for your company, place of worship, or community group.
  • Volunteer with S+SS to make an impact on the lives of survivors of domestic violence. Learn more about opportunities and training here. (http://www.safe-sound.org/volunteer/)

If you need help, have questions about domestic abuse, or would like to learn more about our services, reach out to our 24/7 call and text hotline at 866-685-1122. Additional information is also available at safe-sound.org.