Black women are sending a message to Congress and making sure our voices are heard…
By Lexi White, Senior Policy Manager
During the month of October, we have been talking about domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Earlier this month In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda partnered with several other Reproductive Justice organizations for our 2019 Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence Week of Solidarity Campaign. Our hope is to bring awareness to important intersections between DV and IPV and Reproductive Justice.
Alongside colleagues from the Reproductive Justice movement, I had the opportunity to speak at a briefing on Capitol Hill that was co-sponsored by Congresswomen Ayana Pressley (D-MA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). At the briefing, it was powerful to share a bit about my own experience with intimate partner violence that occurred when I was a college student. Things that stand out from this particular experience apart from the daily realities of cultural and institutional violence that come with being a Black, Queer woman in this country, was the reality that at the time, I didn’t feel safe asking for support. I remember not feeling fully understood or represented by the people I was supposed to talk to in order to access support, and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable talking to police. There were unique nuances of my identity and experience that, together, made it feel particularly difficult to access and navigate systems of support.
While the briefing raised the voices of survivors it also lifted up the important and urgent intersections that address the ways violence uniquely impacts women and people of color, including young people, LGBTQ+ and gender-nonconforming communities. All of these groups are most subjected to violence that occurs at the hands of the state and related health disparities over a lifetime, which could include chronic illnesses, PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance use disorder ,and suicide.
Women of color, girls, and LGBTQ+ people of color experience higher rates of DV and IPV than our counterparts. For our communities, experiences of violence continue to be compounded with unique cultural stereotypes, silence, and stigma that make it more difficult to not only share our stories, but to also access support and recourse. As survivors, we know all too well that experiences of violence are compounded with institutional barriers to overall health and well-being. This includes barriers to comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare, economic security, mental healthcare as well as lack of representation and culturally-competent information, care and support.
Communities that have been most impacted by violence must continue to be heard in our movement work to shift and steer both policy and culture change. We must work together to better equip our young people and communities with the information and resources they need to understand healthy relationships and to recognize harmful signs of power, control, and abuse.
Making sure young people know their Title IX rights and campus resources, for example, is an important start. We must also urge Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which improves the criminal legal system and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault; pass the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which provides young people with the comprehensive sexuality education they need to lead sexually healthy lives, and pass the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services Act, which provides community grants to increase and improve young people’s linkage and access to sexual and reproductive health care services.
These policies are just a start and have to be a parallel focus to our culture change work and our work in the RJ movement to irradiate reproductive coercion and to end targeted restrictions on birth control and abortion, which disproportionately affect those experiencing violence. Public policy needs to include and protect the needs of people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants, and those who are most impacted by health disparities born out of injustice.
At a time when our reproductive and human rights remain under attack on multiple fronts, we must not lose sight of the future we’re striving for, even if it feels far away and hard to imagine, even if it means having difficult conversations. That future is one where we can live, thrive, and form and raise families free from both interpersonal and state-sanctioned violence. This is the future of Reproductive Justice that we are building together.
and follow these hashtags to learn more: #IPVIsAnRJIssue #DVIsAnRJIssue #IPVNotJustACissue #DVNotJustACissue #DVAM2019.
Lexi White is the Senior Policy Manager in the Government Affairs Department at In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. She is a passionate advocate for the full health and well-being of Black Women, Women of Color, and Queer and Trans People of Color. In Our Own Voice is a national/state partnership with eight Black women’s Reproductive Justice organizations. Its goal is to lift up the voices of Black women leaders on national, regional, and state policies that impact the lives of Black women and girls.