By Shilesha Bamberg, Acting Chief of Staff and Nadine Neufville, Deputy Director
“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde
The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is proud to honor Black History Month with our grantees and the Department of Justice. In a proclamation honoring National Black History Month, President Biden stated, “During Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of Black Americans whose power to lead, to overcome, and to expand the meaning and practice of American democracy has helped our Nation become a more fair and just society.” Standing for almost 30 years, OVW awarded more than $9.5 billion in grants and cooperative agreements to communities across the country. This Black History Month, we recognize the work of our grantees as well as OVW leaders who continue to uplift the voices of Black survivors and lead innovative programs and initiatives to respond to and prevent gender-based violence.
OVW’s mission is to reduce gender-based violence and strengthen services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This work would not be possible without our dedicated, passionate staff who come to this work with lived experience and years of expertise serving survivors. Staff who understand that victimization doesn’t happen in a vacuum; rather it reverberates throughout our communities and families. And the fact that Black survivors must navigate the dual nature of racism and sexism is a call to action – a call for liberation and self-sustaining communities.
To fulfill our mission, we must fulfill our promise to all survivors. For too long, Black survivors faced systemic challenges to access justice and the full spectrum of healing services in their communities. Racism and sexism increase the risk of sexual violence for Black women. Studies show that Black women experience domestic and sexual violence at higher rates than white women and are less likely to report and seek services. LGBTQ Black survivors are disproportionally impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
This is unacceptable. Black survivors and their families are grappling with the generational impact of mass incarceration, which splits families apart, placing economic tension on families and all too often landing survivors with criminal records. These issues only make it harder for survivors to access safe housing, gainful employment, and support for their families.
Despite these challenges, Black survivors, advocates, and activists provide community-based resources that respond to the unique needs in their communities – whether it’s transporting a survivor to the hospital, caring for a survivor’s child, or escorting a survivor to court. We listen to survivors about what they need. Communities know what they need. Survivors know what they need.
That is why OVW remains committed to funding community-based, culturally specific services – we know how important it is to help these organizations access the resources available to meet these critical needs. And we are relentless in our commitment to address survivors’ unmet needs, regardless of neighborhood or involvement with the justice system.
We know survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault from culturally specific communities frequently confront unique challenges, such as linguistic and cultural barriers, when seeking assistance. That is why supporting organizations that are by and for the community is a top priority for OVW. In addition to operationalizing this work by including advancing racial equity as a key purpose area in all grant solicitations, we also administer the Culturally Specific Services Program, which supports culturally specific, community-based organizations in addressing the critical needs of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in a manner that affirms the survivor’s culture; and, the Sexual Assault Services Culturally Specific Program, which creates, maintains, and expands sustainable sexual assault services provided by culturally specific organizations, which are uniquely situated to respond to the needs of sexual assault victims from minority communities.
We are grateful to the many grantees of our Culturally Specific grant programs and the work they are doing every day to help survivors. They include:
- Ujima Inc. The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community: This national organization serves as a culturally specific services issue resource center to provide support to and be a voice for the Black community in response to domestic, sexual, and community violence.
- National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA): This advocacy organization of Women of Color is dedicated to working with communities to create a just society in which all Women of Color can live healthy lives free of violence.
- In Our Own Voices: This organization provides culturally specific services to Black/African American LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, providing counseling sessions, community listening sessions, advocacy related to medical, legal, and emergency housing needs, and assisting with job training and identifying educational opportunities.
- Sasha Center: This non-profit organization serves the Black community by educating the public, raising awareness, and providing support to self-identified survivors of sexual assault. Sasha Center shared with OVW that “in order to improve services to the African American community we need to address secret keeping, ‘no snitching’ codes, and the implementation of a community response team when Black women survivors decide to disclose at family functions. Also, within this society we need to address anti-Blackness, systemic racism, and white supremacy culture within mainstream organizations that we partner with. Additionally, we need to start addressing the issues stemming from male survivors and their lack of support and resources.”
- Our House, Inc: This organization maintains sexual assault services in the Mississippi Delta, supporting Black survivors of sexual assault and their extended families by providing trauma-informed services culturally designed to assist with their immediate healing.
- Our Sisters’ House: The organization provides safe, supportive, culturally specific advocacy to Black women and leverages partnerships and community support to educate, promote awareness, and have real conversations about domestic violence and teen dating violence.
Although we have come far in our work, it is not without the hard work and sacrifice of Black leaders in our office. We want to share a personal reflection on Black History Month by Nadine Neufville, who has fearlessly led the growth and national impact of OVW:
I was one of OVW’s first employees and currently serve as the Deputy Director for Grant Development & Management. I have vivid memories of a time when OVW had four programs and about 19 staff. We now have more than 19 programs, several special initiatives, and are steadily growing. VAWA 2022, just as other reauthorizations have done, added new programs to address emerging issues in the field, such as restorative practices and online abuse. In my role, I oversee all grant operations across the office, which means I have the privilege of reading every program plan, solicitation, and award recommendation memo. If you had told me in 1996 that we would one day have programs solely to support culturally specific services, I might have doubted your optimism – but we do. All our programs are overseen by a diverse group of dedicated employees, including a considerable number of Black women and men.
That said, it is still not uncommon for me to walk into a meeting outside our office and find myself the only person of Color, the only Black person, or the only woman. In such spaces, I have witnessed my colleagues strive to ensure that the voices of survivors – all survivors are heard. Although OVW’s work is not the “front line” of the work to end violence against women, at times it is emotionally exhausting and frustrating, but still our team perseveres.
This is my life’s work, and I’ve seen the field change over the years. Our grounding philosophy, however, remains the same – survivors must be at the center of our work. Stepping back to remember to bring survivors into the space is crucial. For Black survivors, this is especially important as Black women experience sexual and domestic violence at higher rates and are less likely to access healing services in their communities. It is imperative that I/we bring into the room the voices of those who would not otherwise be represented. It does not always feel comfortable or safe, and sometimes it’s a struggle; but as a colleague recently said – we still struggle. We continue the struggle because we believe in justice, and because…. “If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice.” – bell hooks
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. OVW does not provide services to the general public. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, there are many services available to help. love is respect offers 24/7 information, support, and advocacy to young people between the ages of 13 and 26 who have questions or concerns about their romantic relationships. It can be reached at 1-866-331-9474, by texting ‘LOVEIS’ to 22522, or by visiting loveisrespect.org. Other helpful resources include the National Domestic Violence Hotline thehotline.org, the StrongHearts Native Helpline – strongheartshelpline.org, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline – www.rainn.org. On OVW’s Local Resources page, you can find your state’s domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, which can direct you to local resources and services, as well as opportunities to get involved.