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Older African American Women and Barriers to Reporting Domestic Violence to Law Enforcement in the Rural Deep South

NCJ Number
Women & Criminal Justice Volume: 19 Issue: 4 Dated: October-December 2009 Pages: 286-305
Bronwen Lichtenstein; Ida M. Johnson
Date Published
October 2009
20 pages
Based on data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, key informant interviews, and focus groups, this study examined barriers to reporting domestic violence to police among older African-American women in the rural "deep" South.
The study identified three primary barriers that restrained these women from reporting their domestic-violence victimization to police: gender roles, age dependency, and mistrust of law enforcement officers. These women viewed their gender roles as home making and church attendance. Their religious leaders were invariably men who viewed gender roles according to their interpretation of the Bible. Women were to be obedient to men, the church, and family ties. In reporting domestic violence to the police, these women feared being stigmatized by church, family, and the community. The barrier of age dependency refers to these older victims lack of basic tools for living an independent life, which would require housing, personal income, a driver's license, a vehicle, and good health. The third barrier to reporting domestic violence to police was the women's mistrust of the police regarding their competency to address the issue fairly, effectively, and confidentially. Race was not a significant issue, since the law enforcement agencies in the counties studied had mixed racial representation. Of greatest concern was that law enforcement agencies were composed mainly of men, some of whom were friendly with their husbands. In addition to determining incident locations and characteristics from FBI data, fieldwork in four rural counties in a region of Alabama known as the Black Belt involved interviews with key informants from law enforcement, domestic violence shelters and adult protective services, as well as two African-American ministers. Fifteen women between the ages of 50 and 84, the majority of whom had experienced domestic violence as older women, composed a focus group that discussed domestic violence in older age. 1 table and 36 references