UA Little Rock Professor Investigates Domestic Violence Survivorship in Older African American Women

Jacqueline Burse

Dr. Jacqueline Burse, assistant professor of social work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has published an article sharing the experiences of older African American women who have survived domestic violence.

Burse published the article, “Domestic Violence Survivorship Among a Sample of Older African American Women: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis,” in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence with co-authors Dr. Rachel Voth-Schrag, Dr. Noelle Fields, and Dr. Debra Woods, all faculty members in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Research shows that African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate that is 35 percent higher than that of while females and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2001. Even with a significantly higher risk factor, Burse said there is a lack of research concerning older African American women and domestic violence. This can be because domestic violence in older adults can sometimes be misreported as elder abuse or family violence.

“Another reason is that older African American women don’t often share their experiences with domestic violence,” Burse said. “For some reason, they still have that guilt and shame surrounding domestic violence, and they are reluctant to share. They still hold a lot of unprocessed hurt and pain. Therefore, older African American women are not ready to share their story so there’s not a lot of literature out there.”

For the study, Burse interviewed a group of African American women from Texas who were 50 or older and survivors of domestic violence.

“One of the major findings is that older African American women are resilient,” Burse said. “They have a level of faith that surpasses everything. Throughout their 20 plus years of being in a domestic violence relationship, their faith carried them through. Another finding is that their informal and formal support was very instrumental in helping them overcome their abusive relationships.”

The researchers also found several themes that these women witnessed or experienced domestic violence in their childhood, had experienced multiple victimizations through their lives, and had problems navigating the criminal justice system. They weren’t able to get an order of protection, or their abuser would be allowed to stay in the homes even after the police were called. The women also had lack of support from some of their church leaders who were ill advised. For example, they would share the physical and emotional abuse that took place in the home, and it was either discounted or made about something “she” was doing to cause turmoil in the home.

“A lot of the women eventually left these churches, and then they found another church where they were supported,” Burse said. “They received a lack of support from some ministers, deacons, and women leaders in the church who encouraged them to stay in an abusive relationship, which was heartbreaking.”

The researchers also suggested a need to generate culturally sensitive programs and services to address domestic violence in the African American community. Services that include faith-based education, counseling, and prevention programs will enable churches and social workers to address the unique cultural needs of African American women who have endured domestic violence.

“It’s very important for older African American women to have a voice and to share their experiences,” Burse said. “They are quite unique in that they don’t often share their stories and don’t often seek help, services, and support. These women often think domestic violence is their fault due to all the stigma. Faith-based services, telehealth, education, and connecting women to resources are very important ways to help them.”

Burse is continuing her research and is currently conducting a study on women  in Arkansas who have been impacted by intimate partner violence.

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