This research paper provides an overview of underserved populations. It will begin by explaining the dynamics of power and control in domestic violence and how it ties into common barriers that both underserved victims and victims in general face. However, the effects of the use of power and control intensify the suffering for underserved minority victims because of their special circumstances or negative perceptions held against them. The end result barriers may include little awareness about domestic violence, minimizing and stereotyping the violence and the victims, economic hardships, hesitancy to report, and victim services issues. This research paper will discuss the primary types of minority groups beyond the typical categories of race and ethnicity and will include issues concerning domestic violence of people with disabilities, military personnel and their families, and people in rural areas. It is very important to note that both males and females can be victims of domestic violence. However, due to the common understanding that the majority of victims are females, this research paper references women as victims. It is not its intention to negate the male population as victims.
Definitions of Special/Minority Populations
There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a minority group in America. For example, in the field of sociology, a minority group is a subgroup that is outnumbered by persons who do not belong to the same group. The term minority has also been used in a new way, referring to groups that are perceived to be worthy of preferential treatment. Some people claim that both minority and majority groups tend to be composed of individuals of the same racial or ethnic identity who are living under a particular government. However, the definition of minority victims of domestic violence goes beyond typical race- or ethnicity-based classifications and includes those groups that face problems and barriers in receiving services as a result of their culture, specific needs, and differences. The different types of minority groups besides those of race and ethnicity include, but are not limited to, different age groups, such as the elderly population; people with disabilities; military personnel and their families; and people in rural areas.
Dynamics of Power and Control
The dynamics of domestic violence involve a process that prevents the victim from leaving the relationship. For instance, repetitive physical assaults and/or constant verbal assaults, such as humiliating or blaming the victim, reduce her feelings of self-worth that could otherwise encourage her to leave. The ‘‘power and control wheel’’ developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project lists categories of physical, sexual, and emotional violence that can trap victims in their abusive relationships. These are common techniques used by the abuser to perpetrate the victim’s inability to leave the relationship due to fear, anxiety, and forced dependency. As a result, many victims believe that they have no choice but to stay. In addition to the dynamics of power and control, other compounded issues are usually faced by members of minority populations as barriers to leaving when they are abused.
Awareness. Many women, for various reasons, do not understand that what is happening to them constitutes domestic violence. The primary reason is that women have accepted the violence as a normal part of their relationships. In addition, depending on their culture, men and women alike may possess the idea that women are men’s property and believe that it is the male’s right to do with the female as he wishes; this can lead to committing acts of domestic violence under the guise of discipline. Values regarding family unity, group orientation, and gender roles in which females are strictly limited to domestic chores and reproductive expectations are a few examples of beliefs commonly shared among various groups. Many victims believe that they have done something to deserve the violent treatment. Those beliefs could prevent victims and witnesses from disclosing the violence or intervening in some other way. New immigrants with limited knowledge of U.S. laws and systems especially tend to have little idea about domestic violence as criminal acts. In short, it is possible that both the abuser and the victim believe that the violence should be tolerated. Women are granted little or no power by social, cultural, and religious norms which socialize them to accept the power imbalance between males and females. Regardless of their cultural origins, the different belief systems of minority groups, in contrast to the laws and customs of the United States, pose difficulties for minority victims of abuse. Moreover, such differences also pose difficulties for law enforcement and other professionals who wish to support full recovery of these victims.
Isolation. Victims could be suffering from emotional and/or physical isolation. Oftentimes women in domestic violence situations are physically isolated in their homes. This is a form of emotional isolation also, due to the victim’s lack of contact with family and friends. Additionally, not being allowed to see another person without the abuser’s permission is a common characteristic of domestic violence. For example, living in an isolated area, with the nearest neighbors miles away, limits the ability to ask for help in a timely manner. Rural areas tend to have little public transportation services. Therefore, a simple act by the abuser such as disconnecting the phone line greatly limits opportunities for the victim to ask for help. In addition, there are several different types of isolation an individual can suffer, such as not being able to drive, not being allowed to learn a language spoken in the community, not being able to obtain an education, and having no financial control.
Economic Barriers. Economic hardship is one of the devastating preconditions and/or direct results of domestic violence. A victim may have little or no income to support herself (and her children) in the first place. In such cases, victims suffer from poverty, lack of resources, and a sense of immobility. Moreover, an abuser can prevent his victim from working, by either harassing her on the job, forcing her to take time off due to injuries, or not allowing her to obtain a job at all. Regardless of previous financial stability, many abusers seek total financial control. This compounds the financial problems of victims who live in economically challenged rural areas that suffer from high poverty rates and have limited resources. The direct result is the victim’s inability to support herself when she leaves the relationship. In fact, many victims choose not to leave because they cannot face the difficulty of regaining financial control. Other challenges related to economic issues can be any combination of the following: maintaining a current job while healing; being able to afford the costs of medical and mental health care, legal fees, relocation, and transportation; and finding and paying for child care. Most victims are forced to consider these multiple financial issues when thinking about leaving their abusers. Combined with other problems such as isolation, economic hardships truly discourage victims from standing up against their violent relationships.
Barriers to Reporting. Reporting is a difficult step for many victims. A victim’s interpretation of the first response from law enforcement also discourages future reporting. If the response is negative toward the victim or supportive of the abuser, the victim may believe that the police cannot or will not help them.
Fear of being accused of lying or other illegal behavior could also cause victims to avoid contact with law enforcement. In the United States, many people are undocumented residents—as such, fear of police is an enormous factor for not reporting domestic violence. Illicit drug use by victims also may prevent reporting. Cultural dynamics may prevent a victim from leaving her abuser or even seeking help. For instance, victims who seek help from relatives or friends may be told to accept the abuse for family honor and reputation, or that violence is what she deserves. Certain cultures rely on elders to make decisions for their families. Such decisions made by others may not ease the victim’s suffering or lead her to seek outside help because they may be based on strong family values or a lack of awareness about domestic violence in the culture.
Domestic violence committed by military personnel requires special attention for its setting. The military has its own criminal justice system, including law enforcement, corrections, and legal system. A unique aspect of the military culture is that it is an extremely closed system very similar to that of civilian law enforcement, though perhaps even more private and/or secretive. Generally domestic violence cases are investigated by the immediate commanding officer, who uses his own discretion as to the severity of the violence. Similarly, domestic violence by law enforcement creates unique issues for victims to face. Those issues include, but are not limited to, the abuser’s access to personal information that can lead him to the whereabouts of the victim when she leaves and the abuser’s access to weapons. When a victim decides to report her abuse at the hands of a partner in the military or law enforcement, it is possible that the case will be handled by someone who knows her abuser as a coworker and who might handle the report unofficially. This can lead to no record of the abuse by an officer, making it harder to build a complete history of violence, which is necessary to obtain a criminal protection order.
Reporting and disclosing the violence is usually the first step to recovering from the abuse. Therefore, barriers to reporting are considered serious problems which need to be solved, so that more victims feel comfortable asking for help and services when they are ready to take the initial step of recovery.
Lack of Services
Not every community offers services to domestic violence victims. Those that do may lack in service areas, such as multilingual staff, sufficient shelter capacity, twenty-four-hour hotlines, the ability to provide referrals to other local resources and service providers, transportation to the service location, and services for the disabled. A lack of knowledge of diversity, specific cultures, and religions on the part of service providers can have a direct impact on a victim seeking help. For instance, due to cultural or religious differences, a victim can feel isolated in a shelter and feel that being at home with the abuser is less stressful, which may be a compelling reason for her to return to him. In addition, many women who relocate to the United States with their husbands are ill informed about the availability of help from authorities and social services.
The current research indicates that the level of victimization of disabled people is as much as five times higher than that of the general public. Although people with disabilities have the same rights as any other victims, they are the largest group of victims that are neglected by the criminal justice system. This is because they are not afforded the same type of access, legitimacy, or respect as other victims. For example, not all criminal justice agencies have victim rights pamphlets or literature in Braille for blind people.
Minimizing and Stereotypes
Besides racial and ethnic identification, there seems to be unlimited ways to categorize people into small groups by any number of perceived common characteristics. As a consequence people tend to stereotype each other and divide others into groups. One common stereotype about domestic violence victims is that they are racial or ethnic minorities living in low-socioeconomic neighborhoods, whereas domestic violence crosses all economic, ethnic, and racial borders. Another common stereotype of victims is that the violence is their fault. These beliefs lead many people to minimize the severity of victimization. Stereotypes also perpetuate the harmful view that battered women are passive and helpless. Moreover, there are perceptions among law enforcement personnel that domestic violence is of a minor nature and of no concern to law enforcement. Likewise, court systems can also be discriminatory in nature. For example, victims can be highly emotional while going through the court process, which can lead to a negative view of the victim’s credibility. Therefore, it is possible for victims to experience a sense of rejection, either perceived or actual, from the court personnel.
Domestic violence among minority groups is an important issue to be studied in order to understand the commonalities of domestic violence dynamics in general as well as the unique aspects and needs of each group of victims and perpetrators. The federal government, for example, continues to support studies and victim services related to domestic violence through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), enacted in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000. With VAWA 2000, the federal government committed itself to better serving victims of domestic violence, especially those with disabilities, elderly victims, and immigrant victims. Meanwhile, the study of underserved victims continues to evolve and become increasingly important.
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