“You Do Not Think of Me as a Human Being”: Race and Gender Inequities Intersect to Discourage Police Reporting of Violence against Women

  • Michele R. DeckerEmail author
  • Charvonne N. Holliday
  • Zaynab Hameeduddin
  • Roma Shah
  • Janice Miller
  • Joyce Dantzler
  • Leigh Goodmark


Intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual violence (SV) are drivers of women’s morbidity and mortality in urban environments yet remain among the most underreported crimes in the USA. We conducted 26 in-depth interviews with women who experienced past-year IPV or SV, to explore structural and community influences on police contact in Baltimore, MD. Results indicate that gender-based and race-based inequities intersected at the structural and community levels to discourage women from police contact following IPV/SV. Structural influences on police reporting included police discriminatory police misconduct, perceived lack of concern for citizens, power disparities, fear of harm from police, and IPV/SV-related minimization and victim-blaming. Community social norms of police avoidance discouraged police contact, enforced by stringent sanctions. The intersectional lens contextualizes a unique paradox for Black women: the fear of unjust harm to their partners through an overzealous and racially motivated police response and the simultaneous sense of futility in a justice system that may not sufficiently prioritize IPV/SV. This study draws attention to structural race and gender inequities in the urban public safety environment that shape IPV/SV outcomes. Race-based inequity undermines women’s safety and access to justice and pits women’s safety against community priorities of averting police contact and disproportionate incarceration. A social determinants framework is valuable for understanding access to justice for IPV/SV. Enhancing access to justice for IPV/SV requires overcoming deeply entrenched racial discrimination in the justice sector, and historical minimization of violence against women.


Intimate partner violence Sexual violence Police Disparities 



This study was supported by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, which is funded by a grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies (Spark Award, Decker), with additional support from the Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (T76MC00003), and National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (1L60MD012089-01, Holliday; 5U54MD000214-17). We wish to thank our participants for trusting us with their experiences, and we thank our reviewers for exceptionally thoughtful input.

Authors’ Contributions

MRD and CNH designed the study and wrote the first draft; RS and ZH contributed to writing. ZH, RS, CNH led data collection and analysis with oversight from MRD.

JM, JD, and LG provided contextual oversight, ongoing interpretation of results, and substantive revisions to the article.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michele R. Decker
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Charvonne N. Holliday
    • 1
  • Zaynab Hameeduddin
    • 1
  • Roma Shah
    • 1
    • 3
  • Janice Miller
    • 4
  • Joyce Dantzler
    • 5
  • Leigh Goodmark
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Population, Family & Reproductive HealthJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Center for Public Health & Human RightsJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.University of Maryland School of Social WorkBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.House of Ruth MarylandBaltimoreUSA
  5. 5.Center for Injury and Sexual Assault PreventionMaryland Department of HealthBaltimoreUSA
  6. 6.University of Maryland Carey School of LawBaltimoreUSA

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