Key Goals

Improve Access to Culturally Relevant Services for Victims from Marginalized Communities

Victims from historically marginalized and underserved communities face additional barriers when trying to access safety, services and justice. Victims from marginalized communities — including people of color, immigrants and refugees, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) victims, people with disabilities and Deaf people — often face racial bias, homophobia and discrimination, which influence help-seeking behaviors. Some victims may be reluctant to approach professional systems which often perpetuate the discrimination they have experienced.

Victims from marginalized communities may experience multiple forms of oppression, making for complex situations that professional systems are not always prepared to address. It is imperative all systems and service providers become more culturally responsive and examine agency policies and practices which may prevent members of underserved populations from accessing services. Helping professionals must set aside their own biases and beliefs in order to see the totality of a survivor’s experience and truly listen to their concerns, beliefs and needs. Only then will our response to survivors truly promote their safety and healing. When resources and services are designed so even the most marginalized victim can access them, services for all victims are improved.


While each community of color brings with it a unique set of cultural considerations, common factors exist among all communities of color which may account for under-reporting of abuse and a reluctance to seek supportive services (Nnawulezi & Sullivan, 2013). Some commonalities include a strong sense of cultural identity which includes loyalty to family and community, along with a reluctance to discuss “private matters.” In some cultures, it is taboo to reveal abuse and “air dirty laundry,” due to a fear of reinforcing negative stereotypes. For example, Black and African American victims may face ridicule for calling the police on their batterer, essentially turning them over to a criminal justice system with a long history of oppression and abuse against their culture (Gill & Lovelace-Davis, 2016).

A distrust or skepticism of law enforcement and mainstream intervention services such as domestic violence shelters due to racial bias, lack of cultural competency, and past negative experiences are barriers for victims of color (Women of Color Network, 2016). A primary allegiance to community and family can also lead victims to fear rejection from those closest to them if they disclose abuse, isolating the victim from friends, family, congregation and community as a whole. Many women of color describe a “double-bind” of being both subjected to sexism as a woman and racism as a minority or immigrant in the United States (Gill & Lovelace-Davis, 2016).


Research shows African American women are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found Black non-Hispanic women and multiracial women were 8 percent and 20 percent, respectively, more likely to have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/ or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, compared to white non-Hispanic women (Smith et al., 2017). Further, an analysis of U.S. homicide data found during 2016, Black females were murdered at more than twice the rate of White females (Violence Policy Center, 2018.)

In that study, 58 percent of Black females who knew their offender were killed by a current or former intimate partner (Violence Policy Center, 2018).

Several factors may account for this disparity. Research shows domestic violence is more prevalent among those living with financial insecurity and, according to national figures, twice as many Black men are unemployed as White men (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). One study found women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year study were almost three times as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence as were women whose partners were in stable jobs (Benson & Fox, 2004). According to a 2017 analysis, 22.5 percent of families living below the poverty line in Georgia are African American (Center for American Progress, 2017). For women of color and their families experiencing higher rates of poverty and lower rates of financial stability, fewer options for safety exist when escaping abuse.

Compounding the lack of resources, the most obvious contributor to the disproportionate impact domestic violence has on Black and African American women is a history of pervasive racism, discrimination and mistreatment and the resulting mistrust of systems (Vann, 2003). Black and African American victims may view traditional domestic violence programs as being part of a system which has historically contributed to their marginalization and oppression (Vann, 2003). Therefore, they may not consider traditional systems as helpful options for addressing abuse.

Despite their skepticism of mainstream systems, Black and African American victims of domestic violence do reach out for help. More than 23,000 African American victims received services from domestic violence agencies in Georgia between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 (Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, personal communication, October 10, 2018). This staggering number accounts for 44 percent of all domestic violence victims served during that year. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of calls received by the National Domestic Violence Hotline during 2017 were from survivors who identified as Black/African American (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2018). In fact, Georgia represents the Hotline’s seventh-highest rate of contact among all 50 states.

To best meet the needs of Black and African American women who are reaching out for services and support, mainstream domestic violence programs must be culturally responsive. Programs must account for the varied values and life experiences Black and African American victims bring with them. Black and African American victims may be experiencing complex and competing life issues including poverty, generational cycles of abuse, mental illness, or criminal justice system involvement. Domestic violence may not be the most pressing issue they are experiencing at any given time (Vann, 2003). Mainstream domestic violence programs must factor in the complex life experiences of Black and African American victims when designing programmatic responses and policies to successfully provide supportive interventions. Culturally responsive domestic violence programs will conduct outreach in ways that reach everyone who can benefit from having access to resources, and finding marginalized populations where they gather. For example, Black and African American survivors often turn to their faith community for support. A key part of addressing the spiritual needs of all survivors is to build community relationships and partnerships which increase the capacity of faith communities to identify and intervene in abusive relationships within the context of faith. Furthermore, domestic violence programs should ensure they are supporting the spiritual needs of survivors, regardless of faith tradition, for victims seeking spiritual encouragement as part of their healing process. In cases reviewed by the Project, 33 percent of African American victims were in contact with the faith community during the five years prior to their death.


Fatality reviews of cases involving individuals with limited English proficiency identified community-specific barriers including lack of language access for victims who were seeking civil and criminal remedies. Victims and perpetrators were not always able to access critical information in their native language, such as notices of court dates, court pleadings, or TPO forms. Language interpreters also were not utilized on a consistent basis or, too often, untrained interpreters were utilized by responding systems. In many cases, young children were relied on as interpreters for their parents, a factor which often exposes children to adult trauma and reduces the likelihood the victim will accurately report the abuse they have experienced, hoping to spare their child from often-violent details. In reviewed cases, circumstances in which responders failed to utilize language-access services to conduct thorough assessments and interviews led to incomplete investigations of domestic violence crimes and resulted in a lack of criminal accountability for abusers.

Complicating the language barriers, victims or their support systems are often unaware of culturally relevant supportive interventions. Immigrant victims often feel trapped in abusive relationships because of immigration laws, social isolation, and lack of financial resources, in addition to language issues. Fear of deportation, a lack of information on legal rights, and uncertainty about the U.S. court system act as deterrents for victims calling law enforcement. A 2017 national survey was conducted to shed light on how recent immigration enforcement policies impacted immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; the survey found 78 percent of advocates reported immigrant survivors expressed concerns about contacting police. Further, 43 percent of advocates worked with immigrant survivors who dropped civil or criminal actions because they were fearful of repercussions if they continued with their cases (Tahirih Justice Center and Coalition of National Organizations, 2017).


Camila’s Story

Camila and Alejandro were introduced by a neighbor in their home country of Mexico. They both relocated to the U.S. separately, where they married and started a family. Alejandro was arrested for abusing Camila three times after they moved to the U.S., once even hitting himself to try to convince the police Camila was the abuser. Camila’s grasp of the English language was not strong and interpretation services were lacking. The police typically used a neighbor to speak with her about what had occurred. As the relationship deteriorated, Alejandro began to make threats to end his own life. He repeatedly told Camila he would call immigration and have her deported if she ever left him.

One night at the home, the couple’s daughter, Rose, observed Alejandro and Camila arguing and then saw her father put his hand in her mother’s face. Rose called the police, but Alejandro was gone by the time they arrived. The child was asked to interpret for her mother, perhaps playing a role in Camila’s choice to minimize the incident. She was advised how to obtain a Temporary Protective Order the following week, but never had the chance to file one: Later the same night, Alejandro returned to the home and shot Camila and one of their children before ending his own life. The child survived the incident.

Cultural beliefs and practices of victims and their families create additional barriers not always understood by service providers. Immigrant and refugee victims often live in small, close-knit communities. Relocating can hinder a victim’s ability to find safety within their community or to maintain familial and cultural connections. In some cultures, divorce is not accepted or there are cultural consequences such as alienation from one’s community should the relationship end. Thus, as with Black and African American survivors, domestic violence programs must make additional efforts to provide culturally competent supportive services and outreach. Metro Atlanta is home to several organizations providing services to immigrant and refugee victims. These organizations also offer training to task forces and other stakeholders initiating relevant outreach to multicultural communities. For more information on these organizations, visit:


Another marginalized population which experiences extensive barriers to safety are victims of domestic violence who have disabilities or who are Deaf. Research suggests people with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse. A national survey on abuse of people with disabilities found 70 percent of respondents with disabilities experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner, family member, caregiver, acquaintance or stranger (Baladerian et al., 2013). Of those, roughly 50 percent experienced physical abuse. Similarly, research with Deaf and hard of hearing college students indicated a significant association between being deaf or hard of hearing and physical and psychological abuse at the hands of an intimate partner (Porter & Williams, 2011).

Victims of domestic violence who have disabilities may not only be more vulnerable to abuse, but they also face additional barriers to safety and services. Some barriers are a direct result of the abusive tactics used against them, such as: withholding food, medication or medical care; breaking or hiding communication devices and/or adaptive technology; threatening or injuring a victim’s service animal; giving the victim drugs without their knowledge, forcing drugs or medications, or giving more or less than was prescribed. Any of these may further impede the victim’s ability to access help. If the victim does reach out for assistance after an abusive incident, it is not uncommon for an abuser to claim the victim’s injuries are related to the disability rather than violence. These factors adversely impact the victim’s efforts to evade the abuser’s power and control. Victims may fear their claims of abuse will not be believed, either because the abuser told them so, or because of past negative experiences with helping professionals. Victims who are dependent on their abuser for financial support may also lack the economic resources they believe are needed to achieve safety. In addition to the physical and emotional consequences of the abuse, living with a disability or as a Deaf individual can be isolating. Many survivors’ support networks are small and, therefore, victims are less likely to know about available resources. For people with disabilities, their identities are often closely tied with their connections to others with the same or similar disabilities; leaving their community is not an option, regardless of safety. Further contributing to isolation is a reluctance to speak out against someone else from within the community, even when that person is being abusive.

There is also a lack of resources and accommodations for Deaf victims and offenders, and those with disabilities, which often limits their access to service providers and shelters. These issues vary. There may be barriers of physical accessibility to buildings. Information may not be provided in ways those with hearing or sight loss are able to access. In some cases, they may be denied services due to their disability.

When victims with disabilities do reach out, their ability to communicate with helping professionals — such as law enforcement and medical providers — is often limited, as the systems in place to assist them are not prepared to respond in effective and appropriate ways. For example, language and communication barriers are hurdles which leave an enormous gap for Deaf and hard of hearing victims. Having access to certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who can sign, communicate and translate vital information is instrumental to victim safety, but most agencies lack policies and procedures for accessing ASL interpreters or for making other accommodations.

Lack of resources equipped to meet the needs of victims with disabilities leads to re-victimization. In some circumstances where accommodations are lacking, a victim may decide returning to the abusive partner is easier and may or may not reach out for help in the future.


Research suggests that domestic violence happens at the same rate in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) relationships, but within the LGBTQ community, domestic violence is vastly underreported or reported as something other than domestic violence, and often goes unacknowledged (Patton, 2007). There are many societal barriers which prevent LGBTQ survivors from reporting abuse including the fact that in many circumstances, such as with employment, housing and public accommodations, they have fewer civil rights protections than non-LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ victims may live in small, close-knit communities with cultural beliefs which do not acknowledge or recognize domestic violence or support victims when they disclose or seek help. Some LGBTQ individuals may believe domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships is “mutual combat.” Generally, in the LGBTQ community, there is a lack of understanding and awareness about domestic violence, the resources available to help victims of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and the legal assistance available for LGBTQ victims, including TPOs.

Perhaps one of the chief barriers is the rampant anti-LGBTQ bias existing in our culture. Some victims may fear that airing problems among the LGBTQ population will take away from their collective progress toward equality, or even fuel homophobia. Some victims choose not to call law enforcement for help because doing so could force them to reveal their gender identity or sexual orientation. Others may fear what will happen to their abusive partner if they call the police for help and if their partner subsequently ends up in jail.

The societal bias that exists for LGBTQ-related issues shows up in the responses victims receive when they do reach out for help. Often untrained in cultural sensitivity, service providers may not believe domestic violence occurs in LGBTQ relationships or may lack the knowledge of how to assess domestic violence cases involving people of the same gender. For example, a law enforcement officer may mistake two men living together for roommates rather than romantic partners, leading the incident report to be improperly coded or an arrest to be improperly charged. Officers are most often trained on how to conduct primary aggressor assessments from the typical model of a male partner abusing a female partner; lack of expertise in assessing primary aggressor in same-sex couples could cause an officer to lean towards no arrest being made or, perhaps even more harmful, the arrest of the victim. This is not a problem unique to law enforcement; responders from multiple systems often misperceive the circumstances of abuse in LGBTQ relationships as mutual combat devoid of the power and control dynamics they more easily recognize in straight couples.

Many LGBTQ victims also have multiple marginalized identities, such as Black/Latinx/Arab, self-identified feminine, or gender non-conforming. Having multiple marginalized identities may intensify the barriers they face. Although the response to LGBTQ victims of domestic violence is gradually improving, there is still a lack of culturally specific services available to them. Mainstream domestic violence programs are rarely designed to be welcoming and inclusive for all survivors. For example, using language that assumes the gender of the victim or the abuser and failure to use gender-neutral language such as “partner” may shut down a supportive conversation before it begins. In addition to using gender-neutral language, an important part of being culturally responsive to the LGBTQ community is to use examples and pictures in marketing and awareness materials which represent LGBTQ relationships and individuals and to advertise services on LGBTQ-specific platforms such as websites, events and online forums.

Take Action


  • Ensure all responders receive ongoing culturally specific training and information addressing the intersection of domestic violence and marginalized and underserved communities. In addition to training by the organizations providing services to immigrant and refugee victims mentioned earlier, training options exist to address the needs of all types of marginalized communities. For suggested training on supportive interventions involving the LGBTQ community, please visit GeorgiaFatalityReview.com.
  • Build mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships across service providers. Responders advocating for victims of domestic violence from marginalized communities should engage in cross-training and build relationships with one another. Develop partnerships to meet interpretation and translation needs and to evaluate safe communities in which the victim may feel more comfortable.
  • Examine agency policies and practices which may prevent members of underserved populations from accessing your services. Examine your program’s intake forms, questionnaires and outreach materials for accessibility and visibility for different languages, abilities and cultural representations. Ensure Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act is being followed. Develop a language access plan to ensure language services are provided for all Limited English Proficient (LEP) people and develop a plan to better serve victims with disabilities during systems contacts including crisis or 911 calls, initial law enforcement response, follow-up investigations, prosecution- based case preparation and decisions, court proceedings, court and prosecutor-based victim advocacy services, and in written materials such as outreach letters and TPOs. For adequate translation, use “I Speak” booklets to help identify which languages the victim and perpetrator speak, available for download at dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/crcl/crcl-i-speak-booklet.pdf.