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How a Survivor’s Race and Economic Circumstances Can Impact their Access to Services

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Written by: Lisalyn R. Jacobs, Interim Legal & Policy Director, Center for Survivor Agency and Justice

Fact: Women of color experience higher rates of domestic violence and sexual assault (DV/SA) than their white counterparts. Fact: People of color live in poverty at a rate disproportionate to whites (27% vs. 10%). Fact: Poverty has compounding and reciprocal effects on violence. Fact: Access to economic resources is critical to the long-term safety of DV/SA survivors. Taken together, these facts lead organizations like ours that are committed to ending violence against women to ask the following questions: What are the concrete economic structural barriers facing survivors of color? And, what types of strategies can we as advocates employ to remove these barriers to the creation of economic opportunities necessary for survivors to achieve economic security and physical safety?

The Center for Survivor Agency and Justice (CSAJ) is a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of intimate partner violence. We develop and promote advocacy approaches that remove systemic barriers, enhance organizational responses, and improve professional practices to meet the self-defined needs of domestic and sexual violence survivors.

Building on our success with individual economic advocacy (for example, advocating for a client who is dealing with credit abuse or their partner controlling his/her access to resources), our more recent work has focused on helping organizations and communities serve their clients in more responsive and client-centered ways.  (For more here, see our training archives as well as a Report on Innovative Pilot Sites.) This includes working with communities to ensure that their advocacy and services are culturally informed and responsive.  However, experience showed us that very few organizations were working consistently on their client’s economic challenges, and if they were, they often did not do so in ways that recognized how the combination of poverty and race caused unique systemic challenges for their clients.

Survivors of color face greater challenges in achieving economic stability, because the communities in which they live are more often places with high levels of poverty, have fewer or no job opportunities, lack transportation and present other barriers to economic and material resources.  For instance, the following statistics likely come as no surprise, but the ways they interact and uniquely affect Latin@ survivors are less often dealt with in mainstream interventions and policies:

  • 1 in 3 Latina survivors report language access barriers coupled with poor police response as a primary barrier to accessing services (National Latin@ Network & National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2013);
  • organizationally, while nearly all court interpreters assist in protection order/criminal justice and civil justice hearings (80% and 74%, respectively), only 35% have received training on domestic violence (Sakhi, 2009);
  • on a systems level, anti-immigrant policies doubly victimize survivors – fear of deportation and partnerships between law enforcement and immigration authorities restrict immigrant survivors from seeking safety and abusive partners exploit these barriers to safety (Sreeharsha, 2010).

Given the unique link between economic security, safety, and race, CSAJ proposed a project to bring together both advocates working at the intersection of race and domestic sexual violence, including Casa de Esperanza, the Asian Pacific Institute for Gender-Based Violence, Women of Color Network, the Southwest Center for Law & Policy, as well as lawyers and practitioners working on racial equity issues, including the Kirwan Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the Race Equity Project of CA, and Camille Holmes, a Race Equity Strategist. We hoped that adding the racial equity approach –used by our partner organization, the Kirwan Institute – would permit us to try out some of their strategies, including engaging communities and organizations in creating specific plans that are informed by mapping available community resources, learning and listening with advocates and community members about the link between economic hardship and racial/social inequality (and the innovative strategies to address this link), and developing legal and policy approaches designed to root out systemic barriers and increase economic opportunities.

The Legal Impact for Racial and Economic Equity of Survivors Project (REEP), will carry out its goals through the following activities:

  • Impact Sites: selecting and working with two Impact Sites where the REEP partners (who hold expertise in domestic and sexual violence and racial equity) will work with organizations to provide support and assist them and their communities in identifying systemic barriers they would like to address and developing a plan for doing so;
  • National Impact Agenda: drawing upon the expertise of survivors, advocates,  lawyers and communities working on domestic/sexual violence through a racial or culturally specific lens to create a policy agenda that addresses the economic barriers facing survivors of color;
  • Race Equity Webinar Series: sharing the work and learning of the project through a series of webinars,
  • Legal Impact Resource Library: sharing existing and developing new resources that showcase strategies and support advocacy that addresses economic inequalities facing survivors of color, and
  • Survivor Story Corp: an online bank that documents survivor narratives to drive training, program development, and systems change work targeting systemic inequality.

Look for upcoming activities to engage in this work with us and our REEP partners. And let us know how you’re already working to address economic and racial inequality facing survivors in your communities – and how you might  help advance or amplify this work.

  • View and listen to our January 25 webinar: Racial & Economic Equity for Survivors
  • Participate in an Impact Assessment: Look here in February!
  • Review consumer and economic legal advocacy trainings and resources
  • Contact Us for technical assistance or to share what you’re doing
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