Sexual assault remains silent epidemic

ZACH BURGESS | 3/31/2013, 6:39 p.m.
It is not talked about much within the African American community – the sexual abuse of women.
Lori Robinson Robert Quillard

The Philadelphia Tribune

(NNPA) ‒ It is not talked about much within the African American community – the sexual abuse of women.

A study conducted by Black Women’s Blueprint found that 60 percent of Black girls have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. Furthermore, more than 300 African American women nationwide participated in a similar research project conducted by the Black Women’s Health Imperative seven years ago, where they found that the rate of sexual assault was approximately 40 percent.

The universal nature of this suffering could translate into an amplified threat for Black women and girls to experience depression, PTSD and addiction, common symptoms experienced by many survivors of rape.

“It’s a darkness I would not wish on my worst enemy,” said an African American woman, a rape survivor, who wished not to be identified. “But what are you supposed to do? You tell your mother or an adult and for the most part … people think you are lying and fabricating a story. I’m sorry – love should not be that blind for a man. For me it was my mother’s boyfriend.”

The Department of Justice estimates that for every White woman that reports her rape, at least five White women do not report theirs; and yet, for every African American woman that reports her rape, at least 15 African American women do not report theirs.

There are many reasons why Black women may choose not to report incidences of sexual assault. Survivors of all races often fear that they will not be believed or will be blamed for their attack, but Black women face exceptional challenges.

Historically, law enforcement has been used to control African American communities through brutality and racial profiling. It may be difficult for a Black woman to seek help if she feels it could be at the expense of African American men or her community. The history of racial injustice ‒ particularly the stereotype of the Black male as a sexual predator ‒ and the need to protect her community from further attack might persuade a survivor to remain silent. Moreover, there still is not enough research to fully understand the scope of violence against Black women and the barriers they face in receiving adequate support services.

“No race, ethnic group or economic class is spared from sexual violence or the myths and misinformation that complicate the healing process for survivors. But in addition to our higher victimization rate, African Americans are less likely to get the help we need to heal,” says Lori S. Robinson, author of I Will Survive: The African American Guide to Healing from Sexual Assault and Abuse, to Forbes magazine.

The movement to end sexual violence in the lives of Black women in the U.S. is intimately connected to the Civil Rights Movement. Yet the issue has not been effectively discussed in the Black community.

Robinson points out that in studies of Black women’s sexuality conducted by psychologist Dr. Gail Elizabeth Wyatt, half of the women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse never told anyone and less than 5 percent ever got counseling. “African American women are raped at a higher rate than White women, and are less likely to report it. We have suffered in silence far too long,” she said.