From the Executive Director’s Desk: Building a Broader Understanding of Domestic Violence

Two women sitting on a couch. One is comforting the other.

Hello readers – today marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For many, the term “domestic violence” likely brings to mind a very specific image: a husband physically abusing his wife. It’s understandable to have this particular narrative in mind when one thinks about domestic violence, but in fact, domestic violence is often sexual and can occur between individuals of many backgrounds who have many different types of relationships.  

After graduating from Florida State University’s law school, I came to understand domestic violence in a new way. As an anti-sexual violence advocate, I began my career providing legal advice and representation to survivors. I knew that survivors often experience sexual violence from people they know, but I hadn’t expected how many clients would share stories with me about sexual violence that had taken place in their own homes or with intimate partners.

This experience helped me to understand that domestic and sexual violence are not separate issues, but deeply related ones. Over time, I’ve learned still more that has helped to broaden my understanding of domestic violence. Here’s some information that might interest you as well:

• Domestic violence is generally understood to happen between people who share the same home. A term that encompasses a fuller picture is “intimate partner violence,” which includes physical and sexual violence between any individuals in a close relationship, even if they don’t live together. This could be a high school couple who live with their parents in separate homes, divorced or separated spouses who no longer cohabitate, and many other types of relationships.

• Domestic violence does not just occur in heterosexual couples. LGBT individuals also experience physical and sexual violence at the hands of their partner. According to a report from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law, most studies find that LGBT people experience intimate partner violence at a rate equal to or higher than people overall.

• Domestic and intimate partner violence disproportionately impacts Black women. According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than 40% of Black women experience physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetimes, compared with roughly 30% of all women.

• One common form of domestic violence – marital rape, which is when a spouse sexually assaults a partner – wasn’t illegal in all fifty states until 1993. A deeply entrenched expectation that husbands had a right to their wives’ bodies was the main force that kept marital rape legal for so long. The legacy of this belief can continue to make it challenging for women who survive sexual violence in their marriages or relationships to report abuse and to be believed when they do so. 

Taken together, this information complicates existing ideas about domestic violence and how it can impact different communities. This month, RALIANCE’s blogs will invite you to expand your understanding of domestic and intimate partner violence, particularly when that violence is sexual. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can learn together about this important issue.

RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.

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