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Weekend Rally In South LA Held To Raise Awareness of Domestic Violence in BIPOC Communities

An attendant of the rally holds a sign that reads "Brown and Black Girls Unite! Be The Change." (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-779-7233.

By Katie Licari

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Since the coronavirus pandemic became widespread, there has been a nationwide spike in domestic violence. In addition to an increase in the number of reported cases in domestic violence, there has been an increase in first time domestic violence reports and there is an escalation of domestic violence causing more severe injuries. The National Domestic Violence Hotline recorded a 9% increase in calls for help from March 16, two days before stay-at-home orders went into effectin California and nearly every other state and Washington, D.C. followed suit in the coming weeks, to May 16.

About 40 people gathered in Leimert Park Saturday afternoon as part of a community rally to increase awareness around domestic violence and the impact sexual violence has on BIPOC communities in South LA. #Standing4BlackGirls, which coordinated the event, is a local partnership of Black gender justice organizations, including the Women's Leadership Project, California Black Women's Health Project and The Positive Results Center. The event comes during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which has been recognized every October since the 1980s.

An rally attendant holds a sign that reads, "Brown & Black Girls Unite! Be The Change." (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Historically, the BIPOC community has been disproportionately impacted by domestic violence. Particularly, Black women are most likely to be killed as a result of domestic/intimate partner violence. "There is a basic need for accessible resources," said Sikivu Hutchinson, who leads the Women's Leadership Project. "I think the way [domestic violence] issues are being addressed is still very piecemeal, and a microcosm of that particular dynamic is the fact that you have [Black] girls who are crying out for therapy and crying out for resources."

(Left to right) Chayenne Joseph, Kandee Lewis, Ashantee Polk, Sikivu Hutchinson, Brianna Parnell and Eclasia Wesley hold signs in Leimert Park Saturday at the #Standing4BlackGirls rally. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The Women's Leadership Project is a Black feminist mentoring, civic engagement and personal empowerment program made for South L.A.'s school-age girls (a companion program, Young Male Scholars, is for the boys). Over the summer, two students in the program, Kim Ortiz and Mariah Perkins, conducted a study about the impact of sexual violence in their high school community. Forty-six percent of survey respondents said they had been sexuallly abused or assaulted, and 70% said they hadn't received any services to deal with the trauma.

"When I first saw the survey responses, I was kind of shocked because I didn't realize how many people have had situations where they don't talk to anyone about.I didn't know that could happen in my community," said Ortiz. "I feel like I want to make a change in my community because I'm surrounded by these people. I want to help them in any way I can."

Brianna Parnell, an alumna of the Women's Leadership Project and current student at Sacramento State, said, "I'm a Black girl. A lot of times we have to fight our own battles, and we have to be our own nurses. So, it's like, we come out here, and we have the support of other Black girls."

Brianna Parnell speaks on why it's so important to stand with Black girls at Saturday's event. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The #Standing4BlackGirls coalition advocates for more resources for BIPOC sexual abuse and assualt survivors, including trauma-informed mental health care where practitioners are trained to understand how racism and sexism compound the trauma of abuse. The group also advocates for prevention education to teach young people about sexual harassment and sexual violence.

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Hutchinson says that she understands personally the dire need for increased resources and services. Herself a survivor, Hutchinson recalls what it was like when she was a child being abused. "There were no outlets, there were no advocates, there was no language. There was no #MeToo movement that validated my experience," she said. "The same kind of victim-blaming and victim-shaming and erasure that Black girls are experiencing now was tenfold then, because these systems were not in place to recognize and humanize Black girl survivors."

While all groups and gender identities are impacted by domestic violence, there are specific historical and systemic nuances in how sexual violence is experienced in the Black community.

"There is a big regime of silence that is imposed upon Black girls and women when it comes to these experiences. You are not supposed to rebuke in any way, shape, or form Black patriarchy," said Hutchinson.

"We are seeing the victims who were brutalized by R. Kelly being victim-blamed and shamed in our community as somehow trying to undermine a good Black man, and that rhetoric has been used to demonize Black women and girls," Hutchinson continued. This has not been dealt with in a lot of our discourse about Black community self-determination. We want to put that [discussion] on the table."

(Left to right) Rashi Rich, Kim Barnes and Quincy Reese from Neighborhood Organics came out to show support by bringing snacks and drinks for attendees. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Quincy Reese and a few of his co-workers who came out on Saturday said they wanted to show solidarity to the cause. They brought juices and snacks for attendees from the smoothie and juice bar, Neighborhood Organics, they work at together.

Reese said the things like rape and sexual abuse often happen without being talked about. "We want to let the women know that we got their backs at all times," Reese said. "We just want to do our part to let them know...we're with them in the fight."

According to Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, who was originally slated to attend and speak at Saturday's event, the role of policing and the criminal justice system within the BIPOC community is another factor for many survivors when seeking help to stop domestic violence.

"We are given bail at higher rates, we are on probation for longer terms. [Blacks are] 8% of the population [in Los Angeles County], and we are three-quarters of the population that's incarcerated," said Kamlager. "The reality is that survivors in many communities do not see law enforcement as a viable option for themselves and their families."

Kamlager, who represents several majority-Black Los Angeles communities including Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights (in addition to Mid City, Windsor Hills, all of Culver City, and parts of West L.A.) introduced the Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems (CRISES) Act before the state legislature in February. Known as AB 2054, the CRISES Act funds alternatives to policing in emergency situations like public and mental health crisis, individuals experiencing homelessness and intimate partner violence. It was designed to provide options for communities where trust in law enforcement is low.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Newsom earlier this month. If it had passed, it would have provided three years of grant funding, about $16 million, to community-based resources, including those for domestic violence.

"Many of these organizations are already doing the work," said Kamlager. "They just don't have the funding that they need to scale, [and] the CRISES Act would have afforded that level of scalability." Although it didn't pass this legislative cycle, she plans to reintroduce the CRISES Act next year.

Chava Sanchez contributed to this story from the event.

CORRECTION: This story initially listed Peace Over Violence as a Black gender justice organization; it is actually a community partner of the #Standing4BlackGirls coalition We regret the error.