On February 2, the city of New York released its annual report documenting the number of domestic violence-related homicides in the five boroughs. Its findings: Intimate partner violence disproportionately impacts Black women, who comprised 67 percent of family related homicides from 2012 to 2013.
Commissioner Rosemonde Pierre-Louis chaired the review committee, which seeks to inform city policies based on the study’s findings. Grounded in an intersectional framework, the report states: “Family-related violence has enduring impacts on a community and frequently occurs in a social context characterized by poverty, unemployment, limited educational attainment, and poor health.”
One of the keys to understanding the data behind these homicides is identifying the socioeconomic and demographic factors that are connected to high rates of domestic violence. Thus, instead of creating programs that only address DV, the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence looks at other indicators that are present where rates of DV and IPV are high. “You have to look at domestic violence in order to come up with meaningful solutions to tackle high rates of poverty and income inequality,” Commissioner Pierre-Louis says.
For example, if a mother in an abusive relationship is unable to secure a steady job, it’s difficult for her to become financially stable enough to leave her abuser. Over a ten-year period from 2002 to 2013, the report found that “42 percent of family-related homicides occurred in neighborhoods with very low socioeconomic statistics – high rates of poverty and unemployment, low median household income and low high school.”
Still, the city has seen a decline in domestic violence homicides over that same period, says Pierre-Louis. “I think that reflects the incredible work by the City of New York and the resources that have been committed to address domestic violence, [such as] the establishment of the comprehensive one stop shop style family justice centers,” she says. Not long ago, DV survivors may have had to run around the city to meet with prosecutors, social service professionals and psychiatrists. But the city’s family justice centers house social workers, prosecutors, and, in the case of the Bronx Family Justice Center, an on-site mental health professional. “Our Bronx Family Justice Center is the first in the world to have on site clinical, psychiatric, and psycho-pharmacological treatment for survivors of domestic violence,” says Pierre-Louis.
Despite the presence of such centers, the continued stigma around IPV, the notion that you should “keep it in the family,” deters many from going to the police or other authority figures for help. In addition, the contentious relationship between the NYPD and communities of color, which has been magnified by the case of Eric Garner and the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests, means that fewer people see 911 as a safe option. The case of Marissa Alexander is further proof of the need for an intersectional framework that considers how race and gender impact the way survivors navigate the criminal justice system.
Pierre-Louis emphasized the great importance of the NYPD and their successes in contributing to the 36% decline in family related homicides. “The number that keeps me up at night is: 75 percent. That’s the number of the family-related homicides where there was no contact with the police prior to the homicide. We need to be able to reach people and work closely with the NYPD and their domestic violence police officers that provide immediate help victims,” Pierre-Louis says.
For the OCDV, the key is sustained direct community engagement and early intervention, as well as policy options that attack the issue from all possible angles. “What I think has served as a great complement…is using basic organizing principles…to understand that while the NYPD and the FDNY are there, the clergy are often even closer to the community. The victim may go to their pastor, rabbi or priest to disclose and we want to make sure that they have the tools and resources to help. It’s important to work with people in the community who can be validators [and partners in this work].”
Editor’s note: Zerlina Maxwell was the recipient of an Upstander Award from the City of New York in 2014 for being an outspoken advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
*This article was updated for clarity.