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Race, Class, and Violence Against Women

While violence is often targeted toward us simply because we are women, factors such as race, class, sexual orientation, and age put particular women at greater risk and with less access to resources. Women of color, older women, young women, lesbians, poor and working-class women, and women with disabilities, to name a few, are especially vulnerable to male violence. A married black woman who was fired for refusing to sleep with her supervisor said:

On many occasions Mr. EEE said to me, "For a colored girl, you are intelligent." I told him that if he has to refer to a color or race concerning me, I considered myself "black." He replied, "I don't believe in black or all that stuff. To me you're colored, and that's it." One day he made a comment concerning my, as he called it, "voluptuous" shape. When I asked him politely to discontinue making such comments that include sexual overtures, he replied, "Why not? For a colored, you're very stacked, light-skinned, and pretty."

Too often, services that aim to serve victims of violence are not aware of or do not have sufficient resources to serve the widest range of women. For example, hotlines may be available only in English, police may hold racist attitudes toward women of color, courts may be inaccessible to women who have no telephones or transportation. Often, these institutions reflect society's racism and classism.



Toward an Understanding of Male Violence Against Women

Race, Class, and Violence Against Women

Blaming the Victim

Sexual Harassment

Domestic Violence

Sexual Assault

Incest and Sexual Abuse of Children

The Sex Industry

Defending Ourselves Against Violence

Ending Violence Against Women



The man who raped me was white, and the cops here are all white. I didn't report it. I just told a few people I trusted. It helped, but I still feel scared, knowing he's out there and that nobody would do anything about it.

Most people take acts of violence less seriously if the woman is "poor," old, or institutionalized; or is a prostitute, a lesbian, or a woman with physical or mental disabilities. This is true for all women whose "male protectors" are nonexistent, invisible, or socially less powerful than other men. Older women have less freedom to fight sexual harassment at their jobs or to leave a battering husband, partly because age discrimination means they might not easily find other ways of supporting themselves.

Acts of violence against women are sometimes particularly motivated by racism, homophobia, or religious bias. These hate crimes can include beatings and verbal harassment (using ugly epithets) and vandalism of sacred spaces such as synagogues, churches, or cemeteries. Like other forms of violence against women, hate crimes can also include death threats, sexual assault, and murder. Perpetrators include white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that attack people of color or Jewish people because of their intense hatred for these people. Open lesbians have been raped by men or groups of men angry at their social independence or because lesbians do not want them sexually.8 Victims of hate crimes often experience intense fear and isolation, humiliation, and increased feelings of internalized self-hatred.

I guess the worst part of all this is feeling baffled by hate. Why--is the question that keeps running through my head. What have I done to deserve this?

Many states have specific laws about hate crimes.


Copyright 1984, 1992, 1998 by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. All rights reserved. Published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

To order Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century


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