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Addressing Cultural Differences is Key to Supporting Victims of Gender-based Violence

Two of OVW’s grant programs focus on culturally specific services for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

By funding organizations that affirm the victims’ culture, we help effectively address barriers such as language, communication differences and other issues that impact trust.

Addressing culture is essential, explains one of the leaders in this area – Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, a professor at Howard University who has spent decades as a social worker specializing in gender-based violence.

In the latest episode of our podcast, Patchwork, she shares her perspective about the challenges we all face to see others clearly based on our own upbringing and experiences.

“I had always heard that domestic violence doesn't happen in the black community,” she says. “I had always learned black women were really strong and that we would never allow somebody to become abusive towards us. And I was woefully wrong.”

As Tricia points out, we can’t adequately address the violence if we are not addressing the context of specific communities and the barriers that may exist in a culture.

“Being able to understand the context of people's lived experiences helps us provide support to them that honor who they are,” she says. She encourages those who seek to serve victims to show interest, show up, and be present. “As you do that and you do your homework, people allow you in so you can see more of who they are and better help them.”

As we work together to end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, we must focus on building trust.

As Tricia notes, when helping hands are offered from systems that have caused harm, many victims are hesitant to accept assistance that is available.

“Some of the institutions we work for have hurt people,” she says. “I know that you don't trust the law enforcement community in your local area or I know you don't trust the providers in your local area or I know you don't trust the medical system in your local area. However, we may need them to be able to provide support to this person. So it's helping them navigate the systems to get the help while acknowledging the trust and the mistrust that might still exist.”

Overcoming those barriers can be lifesaving when it comes to getting a victim out of danger. Some cultures view the same thing from dramatically different perspectives.

One example is firearms.

The presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation dramatically increases the risk of homicide, but different cultures view the presence of a gun differently.

Having a firearm in Harlem, where Tricia was raised, is seen differently than possessing a gun in rural Alabama. Understanding the context is key to communicating the risk associated with intimate partner violence.

While much attention has been focused in recent years on ensuring that our services are trauma informed, Tricia points out that understanding cultural differences is equally vital.

“If you're not addressing cultural context, you're not being trauma informed,” she says. “If you don't know anything about the community you're serving other than who comes into your agency, that's not being trauma informed.”

I hope you enjoy our conversation with Tricia and if you enjoy it please share it with others who might benefit.

Updated May 21, 2021