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‘The lower the income, the higher the prevalence for abuse’: domestic violence linked to poverty

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Black women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than any other demographic. A Bureau of Justice study found 44% of Black women have reported domestic violence compared to 32% of women overall. Black women are also over two times as likely to be murdered by romantic partners than white women.

Despite these disproportionate statistics, Black women are less likely to seek help for domestic violence.

While many factors, such as stigma and the idea of the “strong Black woman,” can keep Black women from getting help, issues such as poverty and financial abuse can also leave women feeling trapped.

While American women overall are more likely to live in poverty than men, Black women are overrepresented in poverty data. The Center for American Progress in 2020 found Black women represent 22.3% of women in poverty, while only making up 12.8% of women overall in the United States.

Julie Henson, vice president of development at Coburn Place, said there’s a direct correlation between income and intimate partner violence.

“Abuse occurs at all income levels but looking at numbers from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the American Psychological Association, it’s very clear that the lower the income, the higher the prevalence for abuse,” Henson said. “Poverty can be a cause of domestic violence, and domestic violence can be a cause for poverty.”

Many women fleeing domestic violence are survivors of financial abuse. This form of violence can include not having access to family finances, not being allowed to work or a partner stealing from their victim. In some cases, Henson said a victim may be forced to put assets, such as a house or utilities, in her name.

This can cause a ripple effect: If a person leaves their abusers, items in her name go into default, likely harming credit scores and making it more difficult to access housing. A report from the National Network to End Domestic Violence found 63% of homeless women in America are survivors of domestic violence.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated financial issues in many American households, leading to an increase in stress, substance abuse, and in turn, domestic violence.

Danyette Smith, director of strategic initiatives at Domestic Violence Network and founder of Silent No More, an organization providing survivors with resources and support, said not having enough money in the home contributes to domestic violence. At Coburn Place, a domestic violence shelter and social services organization, Henson said crisis calls increased dramatically during the height of the pandemic and haven’t let up, despite COVID-19 cases dropping. Henson cites job loss and increased tension in the home as contributing factors.

“I think the circumstances of the pandemic have caused a crisis in housing and finances that have not abated,” Henson said. “The increase we’re seeing, so much of that has to do with people being out of work and that’s causing increased stress in the home environment. People don’t have the normal network of support, and that can increase substance abuse. … All of this can escalate violence.”

Since March 2020, the rate of domestic violence-related homicides has doubled in Indiana.

Smith, a domestic violence survivor, said making sure people are aware of the resources available to them — and making sure programs reaches a diverse audience — will help more people out of dangerous situations.

“Domestic violence has always been pictured as a white woman,” Smith said. “[Black women are] looked at as the aggressors. We’re looked at as the angry Black woman.”

Because of the role poverty often plays in domestic violence, Coburn Place alleviates that burden for the survivors it serves. The shelter places those in need in privately leased apartments without rent or utility fees for up to a year.

“We did not stop housing survivors for a single second during the pandemic,” Henson said. “We have 91 families or individuals in apartments or houses in the community … and we have a hotel program to help survivors who are at a high risk. … We have a wait list now for around 156 households, so the need is huge.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848 or by email at breannac@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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