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Left out of the equation: domestic violence services not made to serve all women

Experiences with violence across race
Posted at 6:11 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-29 19:39:07-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — This isn't a story that ends with an abuse hotline to call.

Or a concrete solution.

This is a story that ends with people on every side of a situation saying society has failed an entire community.

This is a story that ends with Black and Brown women being left out of the equation and forced into dealing with the consequences.


Jameca Price was a go-getter. Highly-motivated, and a life-long learner, she met her husband at 18-years-old and married young.

Her sisters Janese Gates-McDaniel and Shawntre Brown say they knew from the beginning something was off.

"We knew he was a bit controlling and different from the beginning," said Gates-McDaniel.

"She always had to be in his eyesight like his…view pretty much at all times," added Brown.

Price worked as a real estate agent when she decided to pursue a law degree and move her young family to Atlanta.

Her sisters said they knew something wasn't right, but with their sister out of sight, the details were never entirely clear.

"'I think he'll do something to you,'" said Brown, recalling a conversation with Price. "Like, I really honestly feel deep down inside that he's going to do something to you, that he's going to harm you.' And she would tell me, 'Oh, he might be crazy, but he's not that crazy.'"


Price's estranged husband, Orlando, killed her in November 2016.

At the time of her death, Price and her husband were in the middle of separation proceedings.

She was living a county away with their two daughters and in and out of court.

A court hearing that blocked her trip back home to Buffalo for the Thanksgiving holiday with their children would seal her fate.

"'I have a fear that he can get me here quicker… he'll think twice about trying to come to my family to get me' — those were her words to the court. Those were her last words to the court," remembers Brown.

Police found Price on Thanksgiving day in her estranged husband's home.

"She still had her coat and purse on."

Gates-McDaniels and Brown said they sometimes wonder what more could have been done for their sister.

"I blame the courts. I blame the police. Because they did nothing."

"I think across studies and women I've talked to it's all the same: it's, 'Well, what could we have done to help you out?' 'I have to get to that point by myself. I had to realize it was time to go.'"

Dr. Noelle St. Vil is an assistant professor and researcher of interpersonal violence and Black male-female relationships at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

She has done extensive work to understand the dynamics of Black men and womens' relationships and what leads to conflict in the home.

"You can't just look at "it's a man hitting a woman." You have to look at some of those other factors that come in to play," she said.

Those factors center around stress-inducing factors like unemployment, lack of transportation, and poverty.

"Some women said, 'I had to get to a point where I was independent.' So there you can see if we do services — to help work towards independence, then we'll get out."

Price's sisters say her husband was especially controlling when it came to her finances. Every commission from a sale of a home would go to an account he held.

"I would do what I could for her," said Brown. "I don't want to say to make it easier, but to make it more comfortable for her so she wouldn't have to worry about groceries, she wouldn't have to worry about the light bill, the gas bill, or sending the kids up here for the summer."

Supporting a loved one in this way is one of the only methods St. Vil believes works when it comes to helping a woman get out of a situation where she is being harmed.

"We know on average, it's 6 to 7 times you leave, and come back, leave, and come back. So it's learning how to support until they get to that point…if they get to that point."

But, St. Vil tells 7 Eyewitness News, the problem then becomes when and if a woman of color leaves — she realizes the systems in place aren't suitable for her needs.

The system, as is set up, was never intended to serve victims like Jameca Price.

"If I'm experiencing intimate partner violence and my first option is Family Justice Center or some other domestic violence agency… well one of the first things they're probably going to want to do is connect me to law enforcement," said St. Vil. "So we already know the history between the Black community and law enforcement up until current day…. 'I can't call the police' so that number one thing is mistrust. I'm not using the systems cause I don't trust them."

And research has shown that Black women are not always treated as victims in law enforcement eyes because of their methods to cope with the abuse. Often, that means fighting back.

"Black women are more likely than any other group to fight back, which is part of the reason why a lot of Black women say, 'What do you mean I'm a victim of intimate partner violence? I'm giving it just as good as I get it. There's no victim here, so I don't qualify."

Fighting back puts women in even more danger when seeking "help."

"The minute you're fighting back, you're putting yourself at risk for — now when the police show up on the scene, now [they are] going to have to make a dual arrest," explained St. Vil.

"[Then police say]' Oh, they both have some sort of marks and bruises now I have to take the kids in.' So, Black women who are victims of intimate partner violence are more likely to have their kids taken into the system because of the form of self-defense that's used."

Aside from law enforcement, this resource center's location might be unrealistic for someone who doesn't have a car or doesn't know how to drive.

St. Vil's research shows that methods used to cope sometimes include drug usage, but shelters and other centers have rules against this and may exclude some victims from getting the services they need.

Even walking through these service centers' front door is enough of a turn-off for some women, she said.

"I walk through the door, and who's working? Majority of the time: white women. People who don't look like me, people who may not understand the context and may just look like, oh, she's in for another typical 'intimate partner violence.' Well, no, there's nothing typical about it when it's intersected with so many other issues. And if you don't understand the context of all the other things I'm coming with, there's no way you can serve African American women. It's just not going to happen."


Mary Murphy, the executive director of Erie County's Family Justice Centers, tells 7 Eyewitness News the FJC is well aware of the barriers to entry for non-white women seeking help.

It's why her organization has been working with Dr. St. Vil on a needs assessment to identify solutions.

It recently created a partnership with Harvest House Ministries at 175 Jefferson Avenue to co-locate an advocate of color in an area with many Black women who deal with violence co-factors daily.

"There are messages all along the way that these services were never created with me in mind."

When it comes to the legal system — Buffalo family court judge Lenora Foote-Beavers said she sees a case every day in her court. There were 2,400 new filings in 2019 alone.

"With domestic violence, it cuts across the entire demographics of our city. We see everyone from the very wealthy, to people who might be more poverty-stricken, to all types of races and ethnicities," she said. "So, there's no single person who is not susceptible to domestic violence."

But when it comes to how she rules on cases, as Dr. St. Vil mentioned, she isn't looking at it as just one instance of violence or a violent act.

"Yes, we want to make sure that people are appropriately dealt with when they commit a crime, but we also want to make sure people receive the resources and the services they need in order to be better."

Putting a man in jail, especially when that man comes from a community of color, isn't Judge Foote-Beaver's first move.

"We want people to be able to raise their children and be a part of their families. But, at the same time, we have a responsibility to our communities," she said.

This is something that comes up often in the Black community when addressing violence issues in the legal system.

"It's not that we want our significant others arrested. That's not the solution," added St. Vil. "There's a lot of mental health issues that are not dealt with. And if we have to pick one thing, the most important thing, the most important service needed for our communities: mental health is it."

Sometimes, a crime is so heinous that jail time is the only option, said Foote-Beavers.

"If people are committing crimes that there are safety issues for victims, then we have to address that, as well. It's just not necessarily my first approach — to throw someone in jail. I feel that it's important to figure out exactly what might be going on with an individual that's causing the behavior to try to figure out what we can do to stop that."

Judges might order court-appointed mental health services for defendants to address an issue. Carrie Phillips is a defense attorney who represents some of these men and women accused of violence against their families.

"A lot of the clients I see are trauma survivors themselves from childhood, and they have never addressed that issue. So, it takes a lot of time and conversation to get to the root of the problem," she said.

But, not every person is willing to participate in these programs. Especially in the Black and Brown community.

in our community, we're taught, and we're groomed that whatever happens in the house, stays in the house you don't discuss what's going on outside. So you deal with it within the house, and if you don't deal with it in the house, then you deal with it at church," said Shawntre Brown, describing how her sister's husband refused court-ordered treatment.

"He was like, 'No white man is going to tell me what to do.'"

But, for many families, staying together and learning how to do that healthily, is the goal before and after they end up in court.

"A lot of the people who are accused of these crimes are actually very remorseful about them, and they want to work on their relationship," added Phillips. "They love their significant other, they want to learn a different way. They really want to be successful in their relationships growing up they want to get back in their house and take care of their kids again."

Restorative practices work well for Black families, St. Vil said. Espeically when factored in with the criminal justice problems the community faces.

"It's really not going to help our communities and our neighborhoods sending people to jail," said Foote-Beavers. "We want to be able to get people to be productive members of our communities and we also don't want to break up families."


Jameca Price's husband took off after her slaying.

Her sisters say police dragged their feet on executing a proper search, allowing him to catch four flights to a country without extradition.

Police told the family it was an issue of jurisdiction.

He left a note so disturbing, police would only paraphrase it to the family: "for my kid's life…I take your life."

And it's those children who now have a whole new life and reality.

Orlando Price was found dead of an apparent suicide in Vietnam months after he escaped US authorities.

"They didn't get it at that moment. They just knew, "Okay, my mom is dead. Okay, now my father killed my mom. Oh wow. Now my dad killed himself. Really, oh, wow."

"Now it's, "Wait, I don't have any parents."

Violence can touch any woman regardless of race, or socio-economic status, or geographic location. It also impacts each woman differently and each family uniquely.

The outcome of these situations often depends on what reaction is received when a woman is ready to reach out.

"Sometimes we've got to go through the back door to address intimate-partner violence," said St. Vil.
"It's not always the first, most pressing issue."