Domestic Violence Does Not Discriminate

Eleni Vlachos
October 28, 2020

Research and resources for individuals impacted by domestic violence in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Never have we been more focused on our shared humanity than with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experiencing the same virus globally has heightened awareness of our global connectivity.  Though a shared hardship, we have also seen, laid bare, how differently it has impacted many of us. In the US, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted non-White populations with a greater number of cases and hospitalizations among Native/American Indian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black, and Asian populations, with two times the death rate among Black Americans.

There is another way COVID-19 has impacted some individuals differently: Those who experience abuse at home may be more likely to suffer from increased intimate partner violence without having readily available COVID-safe escape options or the ability to reach out for help. Social workers have expressed concern about individuals trapped at home with their abusers, and preliminary data have shown that associated markers of violence -- calls to hotlines, injuries, and femicide -- have  increased.

two people that are sad

Recognizing Domestic Violence

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, impacting all genders, races, sexualities, and cultures. It is also much broader in scope than punches or a black eye, as Break the Cycle shares: 

It’s yelling, humiliation, stalking, manipulation, coercion, threats and isolation. It’s stealing a paycheck, keeping tabs online, non-stop texting, constant use the silent treatment, or calling someone stupid so often they believe it.

Break the Cycle

Domestic violence has no bounds when it comes to sexual orientation, either. Just as with heterosexual couples, same-sex couples can face the same violence from partners. There is nothing pathological, unhealthy, or different with respect to partner violence among same-sex couples. Further complications arise, however, when couples must grapple with additional disparities based on their sexual minority status and race. 

Domestic Violence Amid Complicating Factors

Black men who have sex with male partners and experience intimite partner violence face additional layers of complications based on systemic racism and other societal inequalities and pressures. These include fear of reporting to the police due to issues with which we are all familiar. If law enforcement is engaged, the officer must then be trusted to assess who is the presumed perpetrator and believe the victim in the same-sex partnership. In hetero relationships, this determination is more easily made since the woman is the person being abused in 97% of the cases

a couple (two Black men) standing and hugging

Most salient for Black men who have sex with men is so-called “Gay-related intimate partner violence,” or threatening to “out” one’s partner to the world. Further abuses of power can include threatening to tell others about the partner’s HIV status -- whether they are positive or not-- to exert power. One study conducted here at the Social Intervention Group (SIG) by co-Director Dr. Elwin Wu, Connect ‘N Unite (CNU -- as in, “seeing you” -- we see you and your humanity) also found that the interplay between childhood sexual abuse, substance use and HIV increased the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating violence, just as with hetero relationships. 

Race also plays a significant role for women, as Dr. Louisa Gilbert, co-Director of SIG, says in a recent Courier article:

“Intimate partner violence cuts across every single social demographic, but it’s not evenly spread across,” says Dr. Gilbert in the Courier article. The article continues:

"This is especially true among Black women, whom Gilbert said are rightfully less likely to call the police for help at all, for fear of further harm or even death."

Substance use is another contributing factor to abuse among all couples, same-sex and hetero. 

SIG’s Director Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, who has studied this interplay for the past thirty years, says, 

There is a dire need for funding research around women who use drugs and other marginalized populations.

Dr. El-Bassel

SIG has spent three decades researching this connection, achieving results through projects including WINGS, e-WORTH, and ASPIRE.

In fact, findings around substance use and abuse are not limited to the United States. Dr. El-Bassel and her team, including Dr. Andrea Norcini Pala, Trena I. Mukherjee, Tara McCrimmon, Dr. Gaukhar Mergenova, Assel Terlikbayeva, Sholpan Primbetova, and Dr. Susan S. Witte, recently published a study in JAMA, Association of Violence Against Female Sex Workers Who Use Drugs With Nonfatal Drug Overdose in Kazakhstan

Their research was part of a study called Project NOVA. The study found that intimate partner and non-partner violence, especially severe physical violence, were significantly associated with experiencing non-fatal overdose. This study also found that a history of incarceration was associated with increased risk of overdose in this population.

sholpan and the cover of Forbes Woman

One of the researchers, Sholpan Primbetova, is the Deputy Regional Director of the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, which was co-founded by Drs. El-Bassel and SIG co-Director Louisa Gilbert. Ms Primbetova was recently featured in Forbes Woman Kazakhstan magazine about her work with colleagues including the aforementioned NOVA study.  

As a part of Nova Project, female sex workers learned financial literacy, took professional courses such as seamstress training or hairstyling, and worked with a psychologist. 

I thank NOVA because it has changed my life, and I do not use drugs now.  I live with my both husband and child, and lead a healthy lifestyle.  Thanks to NOVA and vocational courses I’ve learnt to cut hair.

NOVA participant
woman styling hair

The findings from NOVA suggest that harm reduction programs must consider the unique needs of women, including services to address gender-based violence and the needs of women after incarceration, to more effectively engage women in overdose prevention efforts.

The need to provide these accessible resources has been even more critical during the challenge of home confinement that COVID-19 has caused. Domestic violence can impact anyone, and it is important to seek help for yourself or others. 

Our team has compiled a list below. Are there others you would like to recommend? Please contact Eleni Vlachos

Resources For Those Impacted by Domestic Violence 

Additional resources from The New England Journal of Medicine

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