Conversations about interpersonal violence and sexual health often center the experiences of white women. Timike Jones and the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) are trying to change that.
Jones, a primary prevention program specialist at ICADV, said addressing systemic barriers in areas such as health care and employment can drastically reduce incidents of domestic and sexual violence.
Last year, the organization surveyed Black women and girls about their concerns regarding their health and access to services. Over 220 women around the state participated in the survey, which found the main concerns among the group were structural racism, implicit biases and stereotypes about Black women, mental health issues and the mass incarceration of Black men.
“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] says what surrounds us shapes us,” Jones said. “When we address the structural concerns, issues and needs of humanity, people are less likely to engage in behaviors that are negative.”
By creating a society in which people’s needs are met, Jones said violence will decrease in turn.
In January, over 80 people who previously participated in ICADV’s survey participated in focus groups to find solutions for the concerns they shared.
ICADV also partnered with LifeSmart Youth for “Black Girls Matter” listening sessions to hear from young women ages 12 to 24 about their experiences with health access and healthy relationships.
Tammie Carter, CEO of LifeSmart Youth, said listening to younger girls and working with them to solve some of the problems they face can prevent interpersonal violence and medical issues later in life.
“It makes such a huge difference when you reach girls at a young age,” Carter said.
“Some of the feedback we’ve received has said our programs have helped young women make better decisions, and one indicator that it’s working is that the teen pregnancy rate in Indiana is dropping.”
Carter said her biggest takeaway from the January listening session was Black women and girls are largely ignored by medical professionals and made to feel they can handle pain better than white women. Carter said this dismissal makes Black women less likely to seek care for mental health concerns and interpersonal violence.
In a follow-up survey after the session, less than 50% of the group said they would feel comfortable seeking help for mental health issues, while over 70% of the respondents reported feelings of depression, anxiety, or the loss of a loved one within the past year.
The next step is working with health care providers, medical schools and community centers to combat the stereotypes and stigmas Black women face.
Likewise, in the coming months, Jones and ICADV will work to find solutions for the issues raised by focus groups. Both Jones and Carter are hopeful this will make a difference in Indiana.
“I do think the timing right now is far better than it’s ever been, and more people are willing to listen and be more accepting that these issues are a reality and it’s not just someone complaining,” Carter said. “But solutions will have to be collaborative. The next step will be assembling a collective group of people who can affect change.”
For Jones, the goal isn’t just to end domestic or interpersonal violence, it’s to create a world without violence. Focusing on peace in every facet of life, Jones said, will work toward preventing harm to Black women across the board.
“There’s always a co-occurrence of violence,” Jones said. “Where there’s domestic violence, there’s gun violence and child abuse. When you want to address one form of violence, you have to look at the issue holistically.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.