By Chelsea Hood, Underserved Populations Policy Advocate & Training Assistant
Despite the considerable rate of sexual assault among African American women and the consequential negative mental health effects, African American women are less likely to disclose experiences of sexual assault and receive less support when they do disclose (Tillman et al., 2010). When it comes to disclosure, it is crucial to fully comprehend the communal influence that negatively impact Black women who are survivors of sexual misconduct. According to the Time’s Up Foundation (2020), for every Black woman who reports rape, at least 15 do not report. It is common for Black women to be told that they should maintain the desire to shield Black men from dominant societies, like the criminal justice system. In terms of protecting Black males who have perpetrated sexual violence towards Black women, there are cultural considerations that can be a major detriment regarding the healing process of the victims.
Although sexual violence cuts across all different races and cultural backgrounds, there are additional barriers that exist for underrepresented groups, including African American women, who experience sexual assault. An additional barrier that heavily impacts help seeking behaviors for sexual assault is racial loyalty. Racial loyalty is an African American woman’s decision “to withstand abuse and make a conscious self-sacrifice for what she perceives as the greater good of the community but to her own physical, psychological, and spiritual detriment” (Bent-Goodley, 2001, p. 323). Societal expectations within the Black community have caused Black women to feel that they should constantly put other people’s needs before their own and to have the perception that racism will always be a more serious matter than sexism. This internal barrier undermines the woman’s right to be able to receive assistance and have the ability to utilize legal services based on the distrust between African American males and law enforcement. Being acutely aware of police brutality and other forms of injustice, the woman forgoes her needs for fear of the criminal justice system (Bent-Goodley, 2004). Because of this dynamic, it is imperative to be knowledgeable and aware of culturally informed interventions and advocacy efforts.
Elected Baltimore City Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby observed that “there has been an increase in prosecutions, tougher penalties, and the expansion of using mandatory minimum sentences” (Mosby, 2019, p.1). It is important to recognize that not all survivors feel empowered by this and African American sexual assault survivors may seek other forms of justice. Civil laws are available and can provide other forms of relief in addition to or instead of criminal sanctions. It is critical that we provide survivors with support and resources needed to access these remedies. MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute is available to provide survivors information about all legal options- civil and criminal.
Many survivors seek civil protection orders as part of developing safety, but there are other options in the civil justice system. These range from financial remedies, such as tort claims, to employment law options, to family law cases. A summary of different legal options can also be found in the brochure, Identifying Legal Issues for Victims of Sexual Assault: A Checklist for Survivors. Most importantly, it is essential for Black women survivors to have safe spaces so that disclosure can increase. In order to see progression regarding disclosure, it is best to collaborate appropriately with informal supportive systems. Agencies should set funding policies for both cultural competence training and community outreach (Tillman, 2010). We should continue to provide sexual assault education within agencies and communities and continue to have diversity trainings for vulnerable populations. MCASA can help to improve the importance of being proactive in order to help African American sexual assault survivors every step of the way.
Bent-Goodley, T.B. (2001). Eradicating domestic violence in the African American community: A literature review and action agenda. Trauma,Violence and Abuse: A Review Journal, 2, 316-330.
Bent-Goodley, T.B. (2004). Perceptions of Domestic Violence: A Dialogue with African American Women. Health and Social Work, 29(4), 307-316.
King, D. (2020, May 20). Black Survivors and Sexual Trauma. Time’s Up. Retrieved from https://timesupfoundation.org/black-survivors-and-sexual-trauma/
Nasserghodsi, S. (2020, May 7). Comparing Protective and Peace Orders. The People’s Law Library of Maryland. Retrieved from https://www.peoples-law.org/comparing-protective-and-peace-orders
Tillman, S., Bryant-Davis, T., Smith, K., & Marks, A. (2010). Shattering Silence: Exploring Barriers to Disclosure for African American Sexual Assault Survivors. Trauma, Violence & Abuse,11(2), 59-70. doi:10.2307/26638071