Support for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners
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“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
~ Toni Morrison ~


Intersectionality is recognition and inclusivity of the relationships between forms of oppression (and the distinct issues they create) experienced by non-privileged groups. I believe that violence to women is an outgrowth of patriarchy and its inherent sexism. However, it is important for us to recognize that this framework alone does not address the ways in which other forms of oppression besides sexism may impact on other victim/survivor groups. Failure to learn about and acknowledge these oppressions, which carry different - and heavier - burdens than for white, middle-class heterosexual women mean that other oppressed groups may be subsumed by a "one size fits all" view, or forgotten altogether. This is demeaning, disrespectful and dangerous. There is not one heterogeneous survivor group, but many, with different cultural meanings, hardships and needs. This page will discuss - unfortunately all too briefly - the intersection of types of oppression with IPSV, and suggest some resources for learning more. This page is far from comprehensive, and I encourage people ro read further. I also invite readers to suggest ideas and resources - please feel free to contact me.
  • Gender and Sexism: Any society that makes women inferior to men is a breeding-ground for violence to women. With specific regard to IPSV, sexism emerges in the belief that women "owe" their partners sex, and in notions of male entitlement to sex on demand. Rape may also be seen as a justified punishment against a "frigid" partner, or a woman who has presumed the right to leave a relationship - even in the courts. 1
  • Race and Racism: For Australian Indigenous women - who are 45 times more likely than white women to experience domestic violence 2 - violence is often assumed by the general public, including police, to be an inherent part of their culture. It even has a name: "Blackfella's love." This is racism; it is also inaccurate but what it means is that the rape and beating of Indigenous women by their partners is seen as mattering less than if they were white. White men also often subject their Indigenous partners to racist slurs when abusing them. Because of Australia's appalling history of racism and injustice to the First Australians, Aboriginal women may be reluctant to approach the police for help; it can feel like a betrayal of their men, and they have had shocking responses in the vein of "It's just good-for-nothing Blacks getting drunk and fighting." It is worth remembering that many Aboriginal women feel, with good reason, more oppressed by white women than they do Black men.

    African American women are stigmatized by white, racist stereotypes of hypersexuality, meaning that they are seen as more deserving of sexual violence than "pure" white women. This is a pernicious relic of slavery, where Black women were often raped and subjected to acts that white women were seen to find distasteful. It is also a fact that because of racism, police intervention is not necessarily helpful for African American women experiencing domestic violence. Services may be generated by white, middle-class feminists who overlook the experiences of Women of Colour. Black women have been denied access to the resources that many white women have, and experience higher levels of poverty, which denies them choices and options. 3

    Immigrant victims/survivors also experience racism when help-seeking - for example, interventions that are not trained in cultural sensitivity, and workers who may infantilise women who cannot speak English. Such women may also fear speaking out because of illegal immigrant status and partners who threaten to have them deported. For good reason, these women may feel extremely powerless. 4
  • Class and Classism: Classism is a system by which the "haves - i.e. those with college educations and lucrative professions - are valued over the "have nots." There is a strongly-held social view in white Western society that people are poor because they are "lazy" and have not "pulled themselves up." This is evidenced in punitive welfare schemes such as those in the USA, and those taking root in Australia and the UK, which are not designed to facilitate better circumstances for their recipients. Poor women experiencing IPSV may also not have access to proper reproductive or other essential health care. Poverty makes women more vulnerable to IPSV and other forms of abuse.

    While lone fathers are admired for their "bravery", lone mothers everywhere are scorned and branded as "sluts" who expect the state to pay for them and their children. Governments may not put that out in so many words, but it is what underpins the administration of welfare "benefits" that poor families subsist on. These beliefs, combined with ridiculously parsimonious welfare programs, actually serve to trap women and children in relationships of abuse 5. It is also true that domestic violence may be seen as a specifically working-class or "poor" problem, with subsequent blame and discrimination extended to victims.
  • Disability and Ableism: When disabled women experience sexual assault, they experience many of the same reactions as able-bodied survivors. Certain feelings, such as loss of control, guilt, shame and helplessness may be intensified. Society’s myths that disabled women are asexual cause many disabled women who are survivors to not be believed and seen as invisible. A woman with an intellectual disability may be seen as less reliable, and therefore not believable. Disabled women survivors may also be dependent on the abuser for care giving, transportation, help with daily needs or contact with the outside world. Disclosure may be more difficult and less likely due to the limited options faced by a disabled woman. If she leaves the relationship or has the abuser arrested, she may lose her daily care or outside contact. Disabled women often have less access to services at rape crisis centers or battered women’s programs due to the programs’ lack of communication ability,  physical accessibility or other accommodations. If a disabled woman needs shelter, there are very few options for shelter that is physically accessible. Leaving an abusive relationship usually has a negative effect on the survivor’s financial status. This is especially true for disabled women. 6.
  • Age and Ageism: Older women are another group that experiences IPSV. Some of them may have experienced decades of rape and other abuse that is ongoing, some are experiencing IPSV in a new relationship and some may be widowed but still traumatized by memories of abuse they experienced in the past. IPSV may also have commenced belatedly possibly because of cognitive impairments in their partners. Some partners of older women still insist on sexual rights even if she has advanced dementia, which opens up questions around her ability to consent . Ageism - or discrimination against older survivors may come in the form of the assumed asexuality of older women and/or their partners. They are made invisible by this, and may be viewed as not credible because of issues like dementia. Staff in nursing homes may not understand the need to keep older women safe from sexual assault - by their partners or others 7. There is also a tendency to infantilize older women leading to condescending and insulting treatment 8,
  • Homosexuality, homophobia and heterosexism: Gay and Lesbian people experience high levels of domestic violence, including sexual assault, in their relationships. The level of domestic violence in Gay and Lesbian relationships is in fact roughly equal to that found in heterosexual relationships, and the danger of different forms of sexual assault may be even higher. 9. A battered lesbian seeking help may find that a level playing field is assumed - i.e. it's "just two lesbians fighting" rather than one woman being subjected to the dynamics of abusive power and control by her female partner. Gay victims/survivors may frankly receive the message that due to their non heterosexual or "deviant" lifestyle, they "deserve" sexual and other abuse. They may be trapped by threats their partner has made to "out" them to church, work or family. If homophobia/heterosexism was not the entrenched social issue that it is, such a threat would of course be meaningless. Help-seeking remains problematic when the language of law contains heterosexist language 10..
  1. Easteal, P, and McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape, Real Pain: Help for women sexually assaulted by male partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 1996
  2. Creative Spirits, (Undated). Domestic and family violence. [online] Available at: http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/domestic-and-family-violence [Accessed 2 May. 2014].
  3. Brown, G. (2012). Ain't I a Victim? The Intersectionality of Race, Class, and Gender in Domestic Violence. [online] Race, Racism and the Law. Available at: http://racism.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1564:domesticviolence01&catid=72:gender&Itemid=215 [Accessed 2 May. 2014].
  4. Sabri, B., Barcelona De Mendoza, V. and Campbell, J. (2013). Immigrant Women and Intimate Partner Sexual Violence, in L. McOrmond Plummer, P. Easteal and J.Y. Levy-Peck (Eds.), Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Multidisciplinary Guide to Improving Services and Support for Survivors of Rape and Abuse. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, UK
  5. Longstaff, L . (2014, January 28). The benefit cap is supporting state child abuse. The Guardian, Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/28/benefit-cap-state-child-abuse-legal-challenge-500-mothers
  6. Jane Doe Inc., Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Private Nightmares Public Secrets Intimate Partner Sexual Assault Training Module 
  7. Office of Victims of Crime: Assisting Older Survivors of Intimate Partner Sexual Violence http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum/asp/sub.asp?Topic_ID=167
  8. Wilson, K.J., When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse, Hunter House Inc .Publishers, California, 1997
  9. Ristock , J. (2013). Sexual Assault in Same-Sex Intimate Relationships,, in L. McOrmond Plummer, P. Easteal and J.Y. Levy-Peck (Eds.), Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Multidisciplinary Guide to Improving Services and Support for Survivors of Rape and Abuse. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, UK
  10. Ristock , J. (2013). Sexual Assault in Same-Sex Intimate Relationships,, in L. McOrmond Plummer, P. Easteal and J.Y. Levy-Peck (Eds.), Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Multidisciplinary Guide to Improving Services and Support for Survivors of Rape and Abuse. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, U