Violence against African Americans: Barriers to Care and Culturally Competent Solutions

African American Women and Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious social problem in the United States particularly for African American women (Sualp, Forgetta, Anderson, Revell, & Godbee, 2020). According to data from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 43.7% of African American women report experiencing rape, physical violence, or stalking compared to 34.6% of White women and 34.4% of Hispanic women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). Also, compared to White and other minority groups, re-victimization rates of sexual violence are disproportionately higher among Black women (Sualp et al., 2020).

Conversely, researchers found that resources to support IPV survivors and their families are underutilized by African American women which affect their experience of abuse, interactions with service providers, and health outcomes (Stewart, 2021). With the growing rates of physical, sexual, and psychological intimate partner abuse among African American women and concerns about the lack of culturally relevant services that impact the health and safety of African American women, there is a need to develop more evidence-based and culturally relevant interventions for at-risk groups of African American women survivors of IPV.

Cultural Influences: Barriers to Care

While IPV negatively impacts the lives of African American women survivors, there are notable barriers that may prevent survivors from receiving services that may mitigate adverse consequences and promote healing (Sualp et al., 2020). Women of color experience several stereotypes and labels that discourage them from receiving assistance to deal with IPV. African American women are often stereotyped as being strong or big enough to respond to violence. This stereotype has led to African American women being denied shelter services (Gillum, 2021). Other factors that hinder help-seeking and disclosure behavior of African American women survivors include trust and confidentiality issues, preferring familial over formal support, and a lack of knowledge about rape crisis centers and their services (Sualp et al., 2020). Other areas include difficulties with describing their experience and the tendency to self-blame that stems from Black culture (Sigurvinsdottir, Ullman, & Canetto, 2020; Sualp et al., 2020).

Furthermore, African American women have greater dual arrests when IPV is involved as compared to all other groups of women. They are also more likely to be prosecuted as a result of IPV. This type of discriminatory treatment leads to African American women being unwilling to reach out to the criminal justice system, despite the need for assistance. This disparate treatment leads to a suspicion that the system is “out to get them” as opposed to being interested in helping them (Alang, McAlpine, McCreedy, & Hardeman, 2017; Jee-Lyn García, & Sharif, 2015). Moreover, researchers found that pervasive racism and limited knowledge about different cultures often results in service providers being predisposed to biases and prejudice that affects assessment, treatment, and therapeutic engagement with ethnic minorities in the helping services (Hall et al., 2015; Tillman, Bryant-Davis, Smith, & Marks, 2010). These examples of discriminatory treatment are critical to help-seeking behaviors. These issues occur within a context of disproportionate numbers of people of color in the criminal justice system. This context exacerbates the perception that these systems are less interested in helping people of color and poor women (Hall et al., 2015; Sualp et al., 2020).

Culturally Appropriate Interventions

In light of the fact that the current approaches and services for IPV victims are underutilized by African Americans as well as they encounter multiple barriers to disclosure and help-seeking, thus a more culturally appropriate approach needs to be implemented to better serve African American women (Stewart, 2021; Sualp et al., 2020). It is recommended that service providers (i.e., mental health professionals, rape crisis counselors, and health providers) spearhead community outreach efforts to provide education about the definitions, dynamics, prevalence, and effects of IPV as well as the treatment and judicial options available to survivors (Gillum, 2021; Sualp et al., 2020). Additionally, community engagement efforts should address culture-specific barriers to disclosure that often silence African American IPV survivors. More specifically, the community should be informed that the perpetrator has betrayed community safety and trust, not the survivor (Sualp et al., 2020; Tillman, 2010). Empowering the community to be a source of strength, as opposed to a barrier in the IPV survivors’ recovery process should be a primary goal of outreaching to the African American community (Nicolaidis et al., 2013; Sualp et al., 2020).

Outreach in the African American community can be actualized in multiple forms by the various service systems that provide services to IPV survivors. Specifically, police officers can engage in community policing, interaction, and support of community members in bringing problems to their awareness, for example, identification of perpetrators of IPV (Niolon et al., 2017; Shorey, Tirone, & Stuart, 2014). Legal advocates can collaborate with existing agencies in the community and develop legal aid clinics in which African Americans can seek legal advice and counsel in a culturally responsive setting (Brossoie, & Roberto, 2015; Shorey et al., 2014). Medical staff personnel, including Sexual Assault Response Teams, can increase their diversity in staffing and cultural competence training with the purpose of being more culturally sensitive to ethnic minorities in general and African American IPV survivors in particular (Hall et al., 2015). Given the multiple barriers to disclosure and help seeking, it is important that health and mental health agencies use routing screening for sexual assault. By asking African American women direct behaviorally specific questions, clinicians can create a safe opportunity for disclosure (Frazier, & Yount, 2017; Tillman, 2010). Finally, social service systems can spearhead public health education and prevention efforts in the communities aimed to specifically combat IPV (Estefan et al., 2019).

Implications for Practice, Policy, and Research

There are a number of implications as we consider the next wave of research addressing IPV in African American women and how it intersects with culture. The first step is to accept that culture matters and that when we design programs and interventions to meet the needs of everyone, we do little for anyone (Nicolaidis et al., 2013). Modification of policies may increase the likelihood of disclosure among certain groups of African American IPV survivors. Agencies should set funding policies for both cultural competence training and community outreach.

By providing IPV psychoeducation within the community and increasing the diversity training of agency staff, the likelihood of African American women’s disclosure should increase (Estefan et al., 2019; Gillum, 2021; Sualp et al., 2020). Additionally, hospitals, clinics, and police departments should adopt and enforce policies that promote interdisciplinary collaboration as well as collaboration with community volunteers and advocates (Brossoie, & Roberto, 2015; Niolon et al., 2017; Shorey, Tirone, & Stuart, 2014). By making these issues policy priorities, agencies give tangible efforts toward addressing the barriers facing African American IPV survivors. Future research needs to assess how these interventions potentially help African American IPV survivors who receive services at culturally specific agencies.


Alang, S., McAlpine, D., McCreedy, E., & Hardeman, R. (2017). Police Brutality and Black Health: Setting the Agenda for Public Health Scholars. American journal of public health, 107(5), 662–665.

Brossoie, N., & Roberto, K. A. (2015). Community Professionals’ Response to Intimate Partner Violence Against Rural Older Women. Journal of elder abuse & neglect, 27(4-5), 470–488.

Estefan, L. F., Armstead, T. L., Rivera, M. S., Kearns, M. C., Carter, D., Crowell, J., El-Beshti, R., & Daniels, B. (2019). Enhancing the National Dialogue on the Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence. American journal of community psychology, 63(1-2), 153–167.

Frazier, T., & Yount, K. M. (2017). Intimate partner violence screening and the comparative effects of screening mode on disclosure of sensitive health behaviours and exposures in clinical settings. Public Health, 143, 52–59. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2016.10.021

Gillum, T. L. (2021). African American Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Lived Experience and Future Directions for Research. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 30:6, 731-748. https://doi-org/10.1080/10926771.2019.1607962

Hall, W. J., Chapman, M. V., Lee, K. M., Merino, Y. M., Thomas, T. W., Payne, B. K., Eng, E., Day, S. H., & Coyne-Beasley, T. (2015). Implicit Racial/Ethnic Bias Among Health Care Professionals and Its Influence on Health Care Outcomes: A Systematic Review. American journal of public health, 105(12), e60–e76.

Jee-Lyn García, J., & Sharif, M. Z. (2015). Black Lives Matter: A Commentary on Racism and Public Health. American journal of public health, 105(8), e27–e30.

Nicolaidis, C., Wahab, S., Trimble, J., Mejia, A., Mitchell, S. R., Raymaker, D., Thomas, M. J., Timmons, V., & Waters, A. S. (2013). The Interconnections Project: development and evaluation of a community-based depression program for African American violence survivors. Journal of general internal medicine, 28(4), 530–538.

Niolon, P. H., Kearns, M., Dills, J., Rambo, K., Irving, S., Armstead, T., & Gilbert, L. (2017). Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shorey, R. C., Tirone, V., & Stuart, G. L. (2014). Coordinated Community Response Components for Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: A Review of the Literature. Aggression and violent behavior, 19(4), 363–371.

Sigurvinsdottir, R., Ullman, S. E., & Canetto, S. S. (2020). Self-blame, psychological distress, and suicidality among African American female sexual assault survivors. Traumatology, 26(1), 1–10.

Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010-2012 State Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stewart, M. A. (2021). Black Men’s Intimate Partner Violence Victimization, Help-Seeking, and Barriers to Help-Seeking. Master’s Thesis, 6132.

Sualp, K., Forgetta, S., Anderson, K., Revell, J., & Godbee, B. (2020). “Let’s Not Talk about It:” Multiple Perspectives on Service Barriers and Recommendations for Black Sexual Assault Survivors: A Mixed-Methods Study. Journal of Social Service Research, 47(1):118-130. https://doi-org/10.1080/01488376.2020.1725218 Tillman, S., Bryant-Davis, T., Smith, K., & Marks, A. (2010). Shattering Silence: Exploring Barriers to Disclosure for African American Sexual Assault Survivors. Trauma, Violence, &Abuse, 11(2), 59–70.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *