A black couple fighting
A black couple fighting. © Jason Stitt - Fotolia.com

As a journalist, I’m supposed to report from a neutral perspective: giving just the facts and painting as non-biased a picture as possible. As a survivor of domestic violence and a domestic violence awareness activist it is difficult to stay neutral on an issue that is definitely not racially or gender neutral.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that women are five to eight times more likely than men to be the victim of domestic violence. Indeed, during a four year period between 1998 and 2002, research shows that 73 percent of family violence victims were female; 84 percent of victims of spousal abuse were female; and 86 percent of intimate partner violence were women.

Women are much more likely to be murdered by a current or former partner as well — as was Kasandra Perkins, who was killed by her boyfriend NFL player Jovan Belcher before he fatally shot himself.

Annually, over 300,000 pregnant women in this country are battered by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is more common among pregnant women than preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, however pregnant women are not routinely screened for signs of abuse. Homicide is a leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant and postpartum women in the United States, accounting for 31 percent of maternal injury deaths — and being black is actually listed as a risk factor for such violence. (On a related note, the United States comes in last place when it comes to maternal mortality. That’s right. A woman is more likely to die in America while pregnant than in 45 other industrialized nations.)

Black women in general suffer from disproportionate rates of domestic violence and associated health-related issues such as substance abuse and HIV infection. While one in four white women will become victims of this social plague, for black women that rate is one in three. Aside from the emotional and physical costs to the individual, domestic violence takes a toll on our economy as well.  The cost of intimate partner violence is in excess of $5.8 billion each year; $4.1 billion of this cost is for direct medical and mental health services required by victims.

Recently, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released findings that state domestic violence isn’t as prevalent as it was in prior years. Yet, Dr. Oliver J. Williams, professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work and co-director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community, stated his doubts.

The death of Kasandra Perkins makes the issue of intimate partner violence seem more pressing than ever.

“There are people I’ve spoken to who are great researchers on the topic and they’ve said they don’t trust the findings from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which says that DV rates are declining,” Williams told theGrio. “What’s interesting is that although some literature is suggesting that the rates of violence among African-Americans are going down, we know our rates are still high. When you look at high-risk groups of poor, uneducated, unemployed people living in high-stress, low-income communities, such as the ones many African-Americans live in, we know that our rates haven’t improved.  One of the things that needs to be looked at is how we’re analyzing data on populations that are overly represented.”

Although black women suffer from disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence and intimate partner homicide, they’re also more likely to report victimization to the police. Of course, reporting a crime doesn’t mean that it will be taken seriously.  Victims are often re-victimized by a system that all too often fails to hold abusers responsible for the criminal behavior, as well as by a society that is prone towards victim-blaming or doubting claims of abuse.

Our ability as a community to recognize domestic violence and become dedicated to stopping it must increase if tragedies such as the one that took the life of Kasandra Perkins are to be prevented. We have to look at the men, women, and children in our immediate environment, because these stark statistics reflect the lives of real human beings we interact with every day.

Jillian Simmons (who also goes by “JJ”) is a successful radio personality for Houston’s largest hip-hop radio station. She’s also the survivor of two abusive relationships.  Her first experience with dating violence was at the hands of her first boyfriend when she was 17 years old.

“He was my first sexual partner, but when I didn’t want to have sex with him he would hit me.”  The first time it happened was at his home. She left immediately – after giving in to his sexual demands. When she got home, she received a call from her boyfriend’s mother.

At the time JJ thought his mother called because she was concerned for her well-being; however, years later she realized that his mother was probably protecting her son, “just to make sure that I didn’t tell my parents or the police about what he did,” the radio host believes.