As you all know, February is Black History Month so the Prevention Education Team at RCASA thought it would be appropriate to talk a little bit about race and sexual violence this week.
A 2003 study by VAdata found that 17% of women served by Virginia Sexual Assault Crisis Centers identified as African American/Black. While 17% may seem like a small number it is important to take into account that for every one Black/African American female who reports sexual assault at least fifteen do not. Study after study finds that women of color are sexually assaulted at a disproportionately high rate and that often they are victimized at a young age. Research also reflects that women of color have an exceptionally low rate of reporting. As advocates for survivors of sexual violence it is important that we understand why there is such a low rate of reporting among women of color and what we can do to be supportive advocates and community resources for these women.
In addition to the fear and shame often felt by survivors of sexual violence, women of color also struggle with social misconceptions about race and their own internalized racism. It is often a fear of being judged or a fear of betraying one’s community that can contribute to an individual’s hesitancy to speak about and report their abuse.
One of the most common cultural misconceptions is that African American/Black women are more sexually promiscuous than members of other racial groups which makes it more likely that they will be victims of sexual violence. Our society has a long history of sexualizing women of color dating back to slavery and these ill informed beliefs unfortunately continue to shape the minds of many within our society. In fact, sexual activity does not have any direct relation to race. Furthermore, an individual’s sexual behavior has nothing to do with whether they will become a victim of sexual violence. Sexual violence is about power and control and it is never the fault of the victim.
It may also be difficult for people of color to seek services because they feel that they are betraying the Black/African American community if they report a perpetrator who is also a person of color. People of color are aware of the false beliefs held about them that portray African American/Black men as predisposed to violence and do not want to reinforce this misconception by coming forward about their abuse. A controversial history between this population and law enforcement can also contribute to a survivor’s hesitancy to report sexual violence for fear that they will not be believed or that they or the perpetrator will be mistreated.
As advocates and members of a support system for all individuals impacted by sexual violence, regardless of race, it is important that we always provide a safe space for survivors. We can do this by providing services that are tailored to the individual needs of each person, rather than generalizing based upon our own pre-conceived ideas about race and gender. It is equally important to outreach to diverse communities and to determine how we can better serve all victims of sexual violence.
Frederik de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president of South Africa once said, peace “does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information. Repression, injustice and exploitation are inimical with peace. Peace is gravely threatened by inter-group fear and envy and by the unleashing of unrealistic expectations. Racial, class and religious intolerance and prejudice are its mortal enemies.” In our roles as advocates we are in a unique position to combat racism and other forms of discrimination and as a prevention educator I believe it is our responsibility to do this through community outreach and education.
The Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault is committed to serving clients of all genders, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. If you are in need of our services or would just like to talk to someone about sexual violence please call our hotline at 540-371-1666.