by Elizabeth Turnbull
Editor’s Note: This article covers the topics of racism and gender-based violence.
On Sunday, Oct. 18, the YWCA of Seattle, King County, and Snohomish began hosting a Week Without Violence to specifically provide resources and raise awareness around the fight to end gender-based violence that Black women and girls face.
While October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in general, the YWCA’s free programming this week specifically focuses on the unique intersection of gender-based violence — which includes domestic violence, trafficking, and sexual assault — and racism.
Cases of domestic violence appear to be on the rise in connection with quarantine lockdowns, but even in normal times, some women have more difficulty accessing resources to escape these situations than others.
Over the years, Doris O’Neal, the local YWCA’s Gender-Based Violence Specialized Services Department director, has heard from survivors who have lived through gender-based violence only to be further harmed by racist structures and societal beliefs.
“This is a week of education to all,” O’Neal said. “A Black woman does not get the same treatment from the minute they dial 911.”
Some Black women that O’Neal referenced have come forward about their trauma only to be disbelieved, while other women have called the police for help only to be arrested themselves or hurt by an officer.
According to a 2010 study, 4 in 10 black women have survived intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, and out of a 2015 survey of close to 800 people who identified as transgender and Black or African American, 53% of respondents said they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, compared to 47% of individuals surveyed overall.
Despite the dangers that Black women face, Black girls — specifically those between the ages of 5 and 14 — are often viewed as being more independent and needing less support and protection than white girls their ages. At the same time, the U.S. law enforcement’s murder and abuse of Black women, along with a corrupt criminal justice system, means that seeking traditional means of support and protection can be dangerous or inneffective.
Focused specifically on raising awareness for and helping Black survivors of gender-based violence, this week’s theme is “Black, Bold & Brave.” Monday and Tuesday involved talks on the YWCA’s resources for African American survivors and the impact and historic traumas of gender-based violence in the Black community.
Wednesday’s event, presented by O’Neal and King County’s Senior Deputy Prosecutor David Martin details the “Survivors FIRST” program, which connects survivors of abuse who have been accused of a domestic violence-related crime to legal services, advocacy, and counseling without criminal charges.
On Thursday, YWCA staff will go over ways to meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, and sexual assault and discuss the need to emphasize specialized services for Black women. Friday will involve a more interactive question-and-answer format where participants can ask questions about how to support survivors.
In general the YWCA provides advocacy for survivors of domestic violence, commercial sexual exploitation, and sexual assault and connects survivors to resources such as housing support, job search support, financial education, and more.
The week’s events will end with “Self-Care Saturday” where participants can follow the YWCA social media page for self-care suggestions.
YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish offers services in South Seattle. You can find more information about the “Week Without Violence: Black, Bold & Brave” here.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.