Karma CottemIn this post, Public Health Newswire talks to Karma Cottman, executive director of Ujima Inc., about the ways intimate partner violence affects women in the Black community and how public health can provide support.

Q: Tell us about Ujima's work on interpersonal violence.

A: Ujima is the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community. We were founded in 2015 in response to the need for a greater focus on the impact of domestic violence, sexual assault and violence in the Black community. Ujima works with African Americans, Afro Latinx, Afro Caribbean and African immigrants. 

We provide training to domestic violence and other culturally specific organizations, which are created by and for a particular community. Ujima advocates for our population. Currently, our goal is the passage of the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act. 

Q: There are reports that intimate partner violence is on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you seen an increase in requests for your services? 

A: There has been an increase in individuals seeking services. Survivors quarantining with their abusers are experiencing violence at higher rates. (Survivors) are connecting to culturally specific organizations where they already had an established relationship. Our programs saw a spike in call hang-ups, texting and other chat methodologies rather than through the hotlines. 

Q: Can you elaborate on some of the significant risk factors for interpersonal violence?

A: Young people between the ages of 16 to 24 and women are at greater risk of experiencing domestic violence. Black women are two times more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner. Isolation plays a role in experiencing domestic violence during this pandemic.

Q: What are some of strategies being used to address racial disparities in interpersonal violence for Black women?

A: Survivors living in predominantly Black communities face challenges with access to services, compounded during this pandemic for domestic violence survivors. There must be intersectional approaches to meet the needs of survivors. 

For example, culturally specific programs translate materials into French and Amharic to address language barriers. With limited resources, we provide food, transportation, computers, internet and other services as a holistic response to address the social determinants contributing to the observed disparities. 

Q: Through a cultural lens, how can health care providers better serve survivors?

A: Generally, when survivors visit a health care provider, they're often asked direct questions in the presence of their partners: "Are you experiencing domestic violence?" If there is silence or hesitancy around unexplained injury when a partner is present, consider that as an indicator. Providers may ask the following: "Can we see you alone? Can we have a separate conversation without your partner?" Being able to ask the person a question alone facilitates the assessment. 

Survivors also share that they don't have a relationship with their health care provider. Survivors feel like providers check off boxes instead of developing a relationship. With Black women, history reinforces mistrust of the medical community. Building those relational pieces opens an avenue for survivors to disclose safely.

Q: How can the public health and the medical community partner with culturally specific organizations on this issue?

A: One effective solution is to increase funding for culturally specific organizations to enhance health care providers' capacity, which ensures that there is specific training to improve compassionate care through the cultural lens. 

I suggest partnerships with culturally specific organizations around prevention to do outreach in the community, train medical students and come up with other creative solutions. These partnerships allow the community to see us working together to address violence, which engenders trust. 

To learn more about intimate partner violence, racial disparities and COVID-19, tune into APHA’s webinar, “A Tale of Two Pandemics: How COVID-19 & Racism intersect with Interpersonal Violence,” on Thursday, July 23 from 1-2:30 p.m. EDT. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing interpersonal violence, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 1-866-331-9474.