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Culture and Domestic Violence : Transforming Knowledge Development


Tricia B. Bent-Goodley J Interpers Violence 2005 20: 195 DOI: 10.1177/0886260504269050 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/20/2/195

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JOURNAL OF/ INTERPERSON 10.1177/0886260504269050 Bent-Goodley CULTURE AND AL DOMESTIC VIOLENCEVIOLENCE / February 2005

Culture and Domestic Violence


Transforming Knowledge Development
Howard University School of Social Work
Cultural competence continues to receive limited attention in domestic violence service provision from research to the evaluation of programs. Yet with changing demographics reflecting larger numbers of people of color and increasing needs for more effective responses, it is critical that we change the way we think about domestic violence. Using a feminist framework, this article examines how knowledge has been developed in domestic violence and its consequence related to service provision and perceptions. The article ends with recommendations as to how to better include culturally competent responses in domestic violence. Keywords: domestic violence; cultural competence; African Americans

TRICIA B. BENT-GOODLEY

After 5 years of physical, emotional, and economic abuse, Dawn decided to leave her abusive partner. She called a shelter and was told that there was one more space and that she should come immediately. During her interview, she began to feel uncomfortable. Dawn finally asked if there was a problem. The worker explained that there was only a short number of beds and that this final bed needed to go to someone that was in real danger and Dawn did not look upset or in distress. Dawn, an African American woman, said she did not know how to look upset but that indeed the situation was desperate. Ultimately, Dawn did not get the protection she sought and returned to her batterer. More than 20 years ago, the public domestic violence movement served as the impetus for widespread growth and change to counter violence against women. This movement has yielded undeniably invaluable accomplishments and insights, resulting in a better understanding of the complexity of domestic violence. Through these efforts, studies have been conducted to better understand the prevalence, theoretical and conceptual frameworks, promising interventions, and methodological challenges and shortcomings of research in domestic violence (Barnes, 1999; Chornesky, 2000; Lockhart,
Authors Note: I would like to thank Elizabeth Circo for her feedback on this manuscript.
JOURNAL OF INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE, Vol. 20 No. 2, February 2005 195-203 DOI: 10.1177/0886260504269050 2005 Sage Publications

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1985; Renzetti, Edleson, & Bergen, 2001; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Challenges with evaluating the impact of domestic violence interventions and batterers intervention programs have also surfaced as knowledge has developed in these crucial areas (Abel, 2000; Corcoran, 2000; Gondolf & Williams, 2001). The need for coordinated community responses has also been discussed (Murphy, Musser, & Maton, 1998; Williams, 1999), particularly as crosscutting issues between domestic violence and areas such as child welfare (Graham-Bermann & Edleson, 2001; Schechter & Edleson, 1999), substance abuse (Hampton, Senatore, & Gullotta, 1998), and HIV (Wyatt, Axelrod, Chin, Carmona, & Loeb, 2000) have been explored. The value of this knowledge can only serve to better position those struggling to understand domestic violence. Among these critical advances has been a dialogue regarding the differential impact of domestic violence within groups of color. Still, cultural competence in domestic violence continues to experience resistance from service providers and researchers (Richie, 1996; West, 1999). Twenty years ago, inquiry of domestic violence and culture were not acknowledged as being worthy of scholarly investigation (Hampton, 2004). Consequently, providers and researchers promoted more culturally neutral service delivery as opposed to culturally competent service delivery. However, growing scholarship has acknowledged the significant role of race, culture, and ethnicity in assessing and intervening when domestic violence occurs (Bent-Goodley, 2001; Hampton & Yung, 1996; Richie, 1996). First, an understanding of the historical context, including enslavement and colonization, is critical to being able to assist survivors and perpetrators (Almeida & DolanDelvecchio, 1999; Bent-Goodley, 2001; Carrillo & Gouband-Reyna, 1998; Dennis, Key, Kirk, & Smith, 1995; Franklin, 2000; Gondolf & Williams, 2001; McEachern, Van Winkle, & Steiner, 1998). Second, methods of intervening among people of color require a cultural foundation to be successful (Bent-Goodley, 2004; Campbell & Campbell, 1996; Gondolf & Williams, 2001; Hampton, Carrillo, & Kim, 1998; Hampton & Yung, 1996; Sorenson, 1996). Third, people of color face stereotypes that have been found to result in discriminatory treatment and denial of services (West, 1999; Williams & Becker, 1994). This article focuses on (a) challenging how we think about domestic violence, from a cultural standpoint and (b) and recommendations as to what is needed to move us forward in this area.

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CHALLENGING HOW WE THINK ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Even the most well-intentioned practitioners and researchers do not fully comprehend how culture and institutional discrimination affect individuals, families, and communities. Although devised for a feminist critique of higher education, Minnichs (1991) framework of conceptual errors is relevant to understanding how our knowledge of domestic violence continues to reinforce its limitations, missing opportunities for change. The framework of conceptual errors examines how knowledge is constructed (Minnich, 1991, p. 28) with the juxtaposition that unless we change our . . . actions and our institutions, no lasting transformation will be possible (p. 2); that is, as long as we continue to displace the significance of culture there will be no transformation of knowledge and limited changes will occur within service delivery. Minnich (1991) emphasized that to change a situation, one must change how one thinks. By identifying conceptual errors, we are more likely to create change in the knowledge base and, therefore, within institutions. She identified four conceptual errors: faulty generalizations, circular reasoning, mystified concepts, and partial knowledge. This article explores these conceptual errors as they relate to domestic violence. Faulty Generalizations A faulty generalization is generalizing too far from too few without recognizing it (Minnich, 1991, p. 178). Despite the need for more research regarding people of color and domestic violence, cultural nuances of diverse groups is seemingly unrecognized. Domestic violence research has largely focused on White and poor women, despite the fact that domestic violence crosses race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, and sexual orientation. Far too many research endeavors have virtually ignored people of color and/or generalized groups of color without sufficient data or research supporting their claims (Asbury, 1999; Hampton, Carrillo, et al., 1998; Krishnan, Hilbert, VanLeeuwen, & Kolia, 1997). Poor women are most often included in research as compared to middle- and upper-class women, although it is acknowledged that domestic violence crosses class distinctions. Women in heterogeneous relationships are queried more often than those in same-sex relationships. White women, as opposed to Latino, African American, Native American or Asian women, are included more often as study participants, though it is clear that these groups experience domestic

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violence with at least the same frequency as their White counterparts. The outcome of these faulty generalizations is a perception that women of color, middle- and upper-class women, and women in same sex-relationships do not experience domestic violence, despite the substantial evidence to the contrary. Circular Reasoning Circular reasoning is when one start[s] from an assertion and then prove[s] its truth by referring back to it, defining anything that might disprove it as irrelevant (Minnich, 1991, p. 82). This conceptual error creates standards and justifications to reinforce one perspective, resulting in the devaluation of other perspectives. Calls for evidence-based practice and quantitative research designs that allow for generalization are consistently encouraged to further knowledge in this area (Abel, 2000; Corcoran, 2000). When qualitative methods are utilized, the primary limitation is often cited as the methodology. Perhaps there should be some consideration of knowledge development from a different cultural paradigm. Some scholars contend that the participants voice is valid, and when the same voices tell the same stories during a period of time, scholars can certainly say they know something (Fullilove et al., 1993; Hill-Collins, 2000). Designations of so-called relevant research reinforce one notion of knowledge development that can be loaded with judgment. It speaks to a singular view that is narrow and perhaps excludes the ideas of people of color, establishing a power differential in conducting research that serves as the basis for control of resources and determining what manuscripts get published and proposals funded. Mystified Concepts Mystified concepts are the third type of conceptual error. Mystified, because its opacity keeps us from seeing clearly how it reflects and serves powerful systemic interests (Minnich, 1991, p. 96). The result of mystified concepts is the systemic institutionalized manner in which knowledge is promulgated and the manner in which ways of knowing become cyclical. Many women of color do not leave abusive relationships because they do not feel protected by domestic violence, social service, mental health, or criminal justice systems (Bent-Goodley, 2004; Richie, 1996; West, 1999). AfricanAmerican women have experienced stereotyping and discrimination when seeking shelter and mental health services (Loke, 1997; Rivera, 1998; West, 1999). The impact of immigration status can discourage Latino, Asian, African, or Caribbean women from seeking assistance (Kanuha, 1994; Mehrotra,

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1999; Rap & Silverman, 2002). Native American women are further disenfranchised in that non-Native-American men who abuse them can walk away with little to no consequences due to Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978), which states that tribal courts do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians (Reina, 2000, p. 47). Lack of access to linguistic services has prevented people of color from obtaining needed services, also serving as a deterrent to help seeking (Kanuha, 1994; Krishnan et al., 1997). Geographic accessibility of domestic violence services is limited in communities of color, forcing them to attempt to secure money for transportation and travel to communities that may not welcome them (West, 1998; Williams & Becker, 1994). These inequitable systemic problems are reflections of institutionalized discrimination. Partial Knowledge Partial knowledge occurs when, without analysis, part of information is considered factual, reinforcing the system. This conceptual error can be illustrated when one considers the ways in which domestic violence legislation has been enacted with misunderstanding or limited understanding of the unique circumstances of people of color (Bent-Goodley, 2004). One example of this conceptual error is mandatory arrest policy. When mandatory arrest policy was conceived, there was limited discussion regarding the potential unintended consequence of disproportionately incarcerating more perpetrators and survivors in communities of color than in White communities. Mandatory arrest policy has differentially affected poor people of color, particularly African American communities, versus other communities (Mills, 1998). The reason for this disproportionality has received little attention and even less research. Thus, despite the intent of this legislation, race has been a factor, affecting women intended to be served by the policy.
NEEDED CHANGES FOR THE FUTURE

Despite advances in identifying the significance of culture, people of color continue to be poorly represented in research, less likely to receive much-needed services and more likely to be discriminated against. There are four key areas that require development: (a) better integration of cultural competence in domestic violence service provision, (b) evaluation of culturally competent programs, (c) culture reflected in policy making, and (d) an increased emphasis on people of color in the design, conceptualization, implementation, and evaluation of domestic violence research.

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Better Integration of Cultural Competence We need to understand the nuances of diverse cultures as they relate to domestic violence. Because of the great variation that exists within communities of color, it is imperative that the concept of culture be extended beyond race to include other factors, such as ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and class. From assessment to intervention to evaluation, the unique needs and circumstances of people of color need to be better reflected. As opposed to separating out the needs of people of color, such concerns should be addressed through agency policy, staffing on all levels, and service provision. Evaluation of Culturally Competent Programs We need to evaluate culturally competent programs for best practices. There must be an understanding of key practices or interventions when working with different groups. Developing tools for evaluating culturally competent domestic violence programs would make a significant contribution to conceptualizing best practices. Highlighting contextual factors are also necessary to fully grasp what is needed to serve diverse populations. Cultural Competence as Reflected in Public Policy Programs receiving public funds should be required to demonstrate cultural competence. If a program cannot provide evidence of its programs abilities to engage in cultural competence, then it should not receive public funds. Agencies should be encouraged to develop policies that support cultural competence on the institutional and direct service level. Funding should be targeted toward increasing the number of domestic violence programs within communities of color that provide culturally specific services. The Need for More Research on Cultural Competence in Domestic Violence More research is needed to fully understand the impact of stereotypes and discrimination on help seeking for domestic violence survivors of color. Culturally constructed perceptions of domestic violence also require inquiry and knowledge development. Increasing awareness of the strengths of qualitative research is key to furthering research in this area. Additional research is also needed on how communities and faith-based organizations can respond to domestic violence and develop preventive initiatives on the grassroots level.

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CONCLUSION

More than 20 years of progress has helped identify needed reform in how we think about violence against women. With these changes has also come the need to respond to culture as it relates to domestic violence. To bridge the cultural waters (Hampton, 2004), we must rethink how we develop knowledge in domestic violence; and, in doing so, we can change the institutions required to serve these individuals, families, and communities. Ridding the domestic violence movement of inequity and misunderstanding in this area will be one monumental step toward eradicating domestic violence.
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Tricia B. Bent-Goodley is an associate professor at Howard University School of Social Work. She has published in social policy, domestic violence, criminal justice, child welfare, and African American social welfare history. She is a member of the Council on Social Work Education Commission on the Status and Role of Women, Policy and Research Consultant for the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW), former chair and chief instructor of the NABSW Academy for African-Centered Social Work, past chair of the NABSW National Public Policy Institute, and prior NABSW national student coordinator. She serves on numerous boards and local planning committees in her specialty areas. She is the editor of African American Social Workers and Social Policy and the coeditor, with Dr. King E. Davis, for two books published by Council on Social Work Education titled The Color of Social Policy and Teaching Social Policy in Social Work Education. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, her M.S.W. from the University of Pennsylvania, and her bachelors degree in sociology from Queens College of the City University of New York. Prior to coming to Howard University, she was the director of several family violence prevention programs in Harlem and Jamaica, New York. She is proudest of being a wife and mother of two boys.

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