Domestic violence is deadlier for minority women than for white women, and it may be more prevalent in their communities. But African-American women and Latinas are not eager to spread that message.
In a New York City Health Department study, more than half of the 1,156 female homicides from 1990 to 1994 involved black women, and 29 percent were Latinas, compared to 16 percent whites. Not all cases involved domestic disputes, but an intimate partner was identified in most of those where a motive was discerned.
A U.S. Justice Department survey of hospital emergency rooms found that black women were disproportionately represented among women treated for domestic abuse injuries.
But victim advocates worry that minority women are not reaching for the lifelines being extended by a growing support community.
Journalist E. Assata Wright, writing in On the Issues, the Progressive Woman's Quarterly, reports a bunch of reasons why women of color don't call 911 when their mates get nasty.
Police brutality is the dominant issue in minority communities, she says. Violence against women isn't even a close second. Women of color fear that the protection they seek could result in their men being beaten or even killed by cops.
And if the batterer, often the sole source of support for the victim and her children, is charged with a felony, he could spend his life behind bars under the "three-strikes-and-you're-out" mandate.
Minority women face fierce cultural and community pressure to keep the "shame" of abuse to themselves. Ms. Wright notes that minority communities are quicker to "blame the victim" when the victim is a woman.
Minority women are told, even by family members, to keep silent and spare males incarceration.
In an effort to maintain the integrity of their community against white racism, blacks ignore violence against women "unless it can also be placed in a racial context," according to Ms. Wright, who interviewed operators of domestic violence shelters in Harlem.
Sandra Mobley-Terry, executive director of the Erie County Citizens Committee on Rape and Sexual Assault, agrees with the Harlem shelter workers who think the black community is internalizing racism in its treatment of female victims.
"It's an issue of sexuality and family and how the majority community perceives minorities. Whites think minority men are not family-oriented, that they abuse their families by neglect, abandonment or battering," Ms. Mobley-Terry said.
Ms. Mobley-Terry says women are discouraged from bringing any negatives to the attention of the public, and if they do they are accused of shaming the community or reinforcing the stereotypes.
Ms. Mobley-Terry, who will direct a newly created Institute for the Prevention of Sexual Violence Against Women, defends mandatory arrests and the "three-strikes-and-you're-out" legislation.
"We are such a violence-tolerant society, you can't bandage or fix it. You have to use something to halt it," she says.
Funded by grants from the Violence Against Women Act, Harlem's African-American Task Force on Violence Against Women will look for alternatives to the emphases on law enforcement and prosecution. Erie County's institute will try to make existing programs more sensitive to minorities as well as more effective in general.
The Erie County Citizens Committee on Rape and Sexual Assault will use a two-year, $100,000 grant to coordinate the domestic violence responses of 27 agencies in the county, including social services, law enforcement, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations, in the institute. It will serve as a model for programs in the seven other counties in Western New York.
With offices in Preventionfocus, a partner in the grant, the institute will use the resources, facilities and personnel of member organizations.
"We want to broaden the perspective and coordinate the efforts of the programs already in place and create new ones that reach out to high schools, college students, immigrant women and minority communities," said Ms. Mobley-Terry.
The institute, she said, can provide training on a larger and more economical scale than currently available. It will deal with all forms of violence against women, even sexual harassment, she said.