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Solutions Are Hard To Come By For Domestic Violence Victims

Fellowship Story Showcase

Solutions Are Hard To Come By For Domestic Violence Victims

Picture of Debra Varnado

This story was produced as a project for the 2019 California Fellowship, a program of USC Annenberg's Center for Health Journalism.

Other stories in this series include:

Most domestic violence incidents still unreported, report says

Economic Hardship May Be Factor In Domestic Violence Cases

Solutions Are Hard To Come By For Domestic Violence Victims
Wave Newspapers
Friday, November 8, 2019

Third in a three-part series

LOS ANGELES — Years after the National Black Women’s Health Project identified domestic violence as “the number one public health issue for women of African ancestry,” African-American women continue to be abused at disproportionately higher rates than other women and to be killed more often by a current or former spouse or lover.

The National Association of Black Social Workers Steering Committee said, “The collective survival of the race is threatened by domestic violence. Consequently, it is not a private issue but a public issue that must be addressed.”

Low income and poverty contribute to the disparities. A sizable percentage of black women in the county have household incomes under the federal poverty level. 

They are more likely to have lower incomes than white women and a significant number are homeless and/or former foster youth. A disproportionate number are incarcerated, some of whom are victims of sexual or domestic violence.

USC graduate Esche L. Jackson, 25, talked about “how exposure to violence as a youngster impacted her throughout childhood and young adulthood.” A Los Angeles resident, Jackson was a foster youth before she was incarcerated. At one point she was on trial for murder, protecting her boyfriend because he had provided her with housing.

Rep. Karen Bass convened a panel on which Jackson said: “I think I was traumatized when the trauma began in the household. A lot of … issues I was experiencing translated into my academics and then my behavior was worse.  I was in the street-life, gang-affiliated and just leading a life of destruction.” 

Is enough being done to address the longstanding crisis of domestic violence toward black women — and the factors that contribute to it?  

County Domestic Violence Council Executive Director Eve Sheedy said, “The bottom line is services are insufficient to meet the needs of survivors and their families.”

A case in point is the city of Los Angeles’ domestic abuse response team program. The 2017 program evaluation found “…low levels of utilization by survivors, and more importantly, survivors are underserved.”

Some intervention agencies say the program is underfunded and recommendations are not being implemented.

Two voter-approved propositions in the last three years do promise help for abused, poverty-stricken/low-income, and homeless black women. Los Angeles City Measure HHH will provide supportive housing for the homeless and affordable housing for low-income residents. The county’s Proposition H offersassistance with homeless services and homelessness prevention.

City audits of Measure HHH bond funds, however, criticized the pace and the unit cost of developing those units.  The city does not expect to produce the promised number of units. As of late August, no housing has been opened since the measure passed, the L.A. Times said.

The Times also reported that city audits of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority found the authority missed goals for placing homeless individuals in permanent housing and shelters and referring them for treatment. County auditors earlier had faulted the agency’s fiscal management of Proposition H sales tax funds.

Jenesse Center Education Director Angela Parker says, “Many Jenesse clients need vocational education, therapy, legal assistance, jobs … so that they can get on their feet and be self-sufficient. Many shelters do not have the capacity or the will to do that.

“And interventions need to be culturally sensitive,” Parker said. “There’s talk about why it is so hard to house black women, why some shelters don’t do well with them because they have so many needs. If the shelters understand and recognize that, what are they doing as an organization to make sure black women get all these other needs met? It takes resources … to do it. They’re not able to offer the comprehensive holistic services that Jenesse offers.” 

Parker referenced remarks by a program advocate who has worked with intervention programs. 

“The advocate said, ‘It is the treatment of these needs as a burden rather than an outgrowth of hundreds of years of abuse, neglect and poverty that unfairly color the way African-American women receive services.’”

Efforts to assist domestic violence victims have shown some improvements. Mayor Eric Garcetti expanded the team program in 2016 to all 21 LAPD divisions to provide residents more equitable intimate partner violence services, but LAPD’s implementation of the program failed to meet the target. The city’s efforts also include opening a new restraining order clinic and an additional Family Justice Center.

County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored the motion establishing the County Office of Violence Prevention. Its Trauma Prevention Initiative is up and running in several violence-troubled communities.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, but the Violence Against Women’s Act has not been reauthorized.

Sheedy said, “The bill reflects the federal government’s support and acknowledgement of intimate partner violence issues and not just against women but also interpersonal violence against men and LGBTQ people. It impacts immigration. Some funding comes through the federal government for service providers and for law enforcement efforts on tribal lands.”   

About 25% of black children in California live in poverty. Assemblywoman Autumn Burke’s AB 1520 — ‘Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act’ — targets reductions in poverty and indirectly child abuse. Physical or psychological abuse is consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

AB 1520 commits the California Legislature to a goal of reducing child poverty by 50% over the next 20 years. Legislators statewide can propose poverty-reduction measures for their districts. The state budget reflects AB 1520 task force poverty-reduction recommendations.

The 2017 evaluation of L.A.’s domestic abuse response team program suggested economic improvements and job opportunities would reduce domestic violence. The L.A. County Economic Development Corporation said the economy in the county and city of L.A is expected to add more than a quarter-million jobs between 2016 and 2021.

Will black men and women be hired for any of those jobs? Increased employment and at the right wage level allow escape from poverty and access to living in lower-poverty neighborhoods. The $15 per hour minimum wage rates applicable to certain employers in L.A. and in county unincorporated areas should help when they are in full effect.

The county Development Corporation said black labor force participation rates were the “lowest of any ethnic group in the county in 2015 and … has been historically lower than that of the total population.”

Economist Valerie Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C., said, “Black men’s June 2019 unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since the early 1970s. However, the lower unemployment rate was accompanied by a decrease in the black labor force participation rate. That means the decline isn’t due to black men finding jobs, but rather a function of them leaving the labor force.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects black men’s labor participation rate will continue to decline. Many factors can affect the rate, including illness, disability, discrimination, retirement, mass incarceration and being in college. 

Wilson said, “We want to have a robust labor force for the economy but also for the well-being of individuals, families and communities.

“In light of the bureau’s projection, and if there are clear causes for the decline, then policies will be needed to counteract it. We should address the causes, so black men and families can make a living.”  

Domestic Abuse Center Executive Director Gail Pincus suggests reforming child protective services and family law court systems.

“Child protective services is very powerful — everyone is afraid of them. Their decisions very often forget about the safety of the victims. And the judges want to do their own training. They shouldn’t be making [so] many mistakes. Intervention practices should be trauma informed as a first step.” 

Rainbow Services Executive Director Elizabeth Eastlund says domestic violence is still seen as a woman’s issue.  The Jenesse Center’s Parker says, “Men need to get involved, they are abused, too. It’s a community issue.”

Project: Peacemakers executive director Bernita Walker said, “It takes a village to address domestic violence. … This ‘horrific intergenerational institution’ [children witnessing domestic violence and going on to be victims or perpetrators] … produces havoc, entrenched trauma and not just on the victim. Everyone in the family suffers. Gangs directly contribute to and are a by-product of domestic violence.”

Debra Varnado’s reporting on Domestic Violence was undertaken as a USC Center for Health Journalism 2019 California Fellow.

[This article was originally published by Wave Newspapers.]