Shattering the Silence:
The Cultural Context of Trauma
Recovery for People of
African Descent
Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis
Pepperdine University
2012 NAADVAC conference
Moving from the margins to
the center
Acknowledgements
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This literature review was made
possible in part by the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation’s New Connections
Initiative.
Acknowledgements are also given to
Dr. Bryant-Davis’ graduate research
assistants Sheila Shervey, Heewoon
Chung, and Shaquita Tillman.
Intimate Partner Violence
Definition

A pattern of emotional, verbal,
physical/and or sexual abuse of one
intimate partner by another for the
purpose of obtaining and maintaining
power and control. Persons may be
dating, partnered, married, or
previously in an intimate relationship.
Prevalence and
Disproportionality
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Women of African descent living in the
United States are disproportionately
victimized by intimate partners and are
additionally more likely to experience
more severe levels of partner abuse.
This is the case for adult intimate
partners and adolescent dating partners
Culture versus Context
IPV prevalence in contrast
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African Americans are disproportionately represented
among victims of IPV
African American women experience IPV at a rate 35%
higher than that of White women and approximately
2.5 times that of women of other races
Intimate partner violence also takes more violent forms
against African American women than against White
women
Homicide by an intimate partner is the leading cause of
death among African American women ages 15–34
Women who are African American, young, poor, have
children under the age of 12, and who reside in urban
areas are the most frequent victims
Background
West,
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(Kilpatrick et al., 2007; Siegel & Williams, 2003;
Williams, & Siegel, 2000)
Lifetime prevalence of forcible rape in
US is 16.1%
African American women are at equal or
increased risk for sexual assault

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One study found a 50% higher prevalence
rate than the rate for Caucasian and
Hispanic women
30-75% of African American survivors of
child and adolescent sexual abuse
experience revictimization
Effects
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Somatic
Spiritual
Cognitive
Behavioral
Relational
Emotional
Sexual
Physical
Psychosocial Consequences
(Banyard, Williams, & Siegel, 2001; Coker et al., 2000; Wilsnack, Wilsnack,
Kristjanson, Vogeltanz-Holm, & Harris, 2004; Bryant-Davis, 2005)
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Sexual assault increases vulnerability
for a range of mental health conditions
Sexual violations impact
cognitive, affective, and social
domains of functioning
Historically, African Americans
have underutilized mental
health services
Risk Factors for Victims
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Being female
Exposed to IPV as
a child
Education
Income
Community disorder
Expanding Our Vision
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When socioeconomic status is
accounted for, ethnic differences in
prevalence rates are reduced or
eliminated. Income alone is not the
answer however. A study with middle
class Black and White women found
that the Black women had higher rates
of IPV. Less research has looked
specifically at educational attainment.
Research Findings on Risk
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Participants who indicated that they had no income
from earnings for the last year were more likely to
experience verbal abuse.
Participants who indicated they had less education
were more likely to experience forced isolation from
family and friends as well as physical abuse.
Those who live in unsafe neighborhoods were more
vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse.
African American women who were older reported
more verbal abuse
From Fragile Families Data (Princeton University)
Risk factors for perpetrators
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Unemployment or underemployment
Subscribe to strict gender roles
Have not graduated from high school
Substance abuse (especially alcohol)
Grew up in an environment where they
were exposed to partner abuse
Considerations
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Superwoman concept
Refusal to work
Community response to public violations
Minimization of victimization –
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mutual abuse controversy
Cultural Barriers and
Resources - Intersectionality
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Race; Inter-racial couples
Gender
Disability
SES
Migration Status
Religion/Spirituality
Sexual Orientation
Coping Strategies
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Social Support
Religiosity
Substance abuse
Expressive Arts
Avoidance/Busyness
Minimize/Deny
Resilience in the community
(Glass et al.,
2007; Meadows et al., 2005; Yick, 2008; Alim et al., 2008)
Religiosity and
Spirituality
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Sense of connectedness to a
higher being and outward
expression of spiritual beliefs
Survivors of sexual assault
document a variety of benefits
that enhance psychological
functioning
Protective against
psychopathology
Social Support
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Reliance on relationships
with others in the face of
adversity.
Protective against posttraumatic distress and
suicidality
Motivates steps toward
positive transformation
Reflection
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Social support serves a protective role for
trauma survivors for survivors of sexual
assault, IPV, and community violence
Religiosity gives mixed findings due to
some survivor’s use of negative religious
coping and/or greater need for religious
involvement for those who are
experiencing more symptoms
Trauma and Recovery
(Bonanno, 2004;
Bryant-Davis, 2005; Yick, 2008)
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Humans demonstrate the capacity to
thrive in spite of experiencing trauma
Many African American women endorse
use of social support and religiosity to
cope with life stressors
Community Response
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Socio-historical context of
intergenerational trauma
Religious
Hip hop
Community attitudes (Perception of
victims as “weak”)
Therapeutic Interventions
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Safety Planning
Strengths based
Solution focused; Narrative
Cognitive Behavioral
Individual, Family, Group
Faith-based
Feminist Therapy; Expressive Arts
Interventions with children exposed to IPV
Court intervention; restorative justice models
Additional challenges for African
and Caribbean Immigrants
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Lack of social support
Uncertainty about resources
Fear and distrust of government institutions
Language barriers
Multiple traumas
Family and community reliance
Rigid Gender roles and expectations
Victims of Human Trafficking
Community and family normalizing
Prevention
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Interdisciplinary approach
Early intervention: dating violence
Modeling of healthy relationships
Coping strategies to
address life stressors
including societal
traumas
What we still need to know
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Culturally informed modifications of
“evidence-based therapy”
How to address barriers in a society where
“race matters” – social justice informed
advocacy, prevention, and intervention
strategies
Experience of intersectionality – gay and
lesbian African Americans; African Americans
with disabilities; inter-racial couples
Barriers to gaining more
information
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Not a priority due to devalued status
Disregard for qualitative research
Bi-directional distrust between
institutions and community
Lack of funding
Implications
Need for continuing training
for counselors on cultural and
religious sensitivity & strengths
based, multi-cultural feminist orientation
 Therapist should assess for social
support and religiosity
 Interventions should include strategies
for enhancing social support, as well as
adoption of healthy coping strategies
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Selected References
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Violence in the lives of
Black women: Battered, Black and Blue.
Edited by Carolyn West
Thriving in the wake of trauma: A
multicultural guide by Thema BryantDavis
Surviving the Silence: Black women’s
stories of rape by Charlotte Pierce Baker
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Thema Bryant-Davis: Keynote address