Sexual Assault, Cultural Sensitivity and the Law

Aug 21st, 1970

By Saman Akhtar, Program Manager – Underserved Populations

Sexual Assault is a devastating act that can have a significant impact on a victim/survivor, their family, and loved ones. The violation poses an on-going threat to the health, well-being, healing, and day-to-day survival of the victim/survivor.  However, when communities of color and immigrants are involved, the magnitude and impact of this crime can resonate even deeper. Victims coming from culturally diverse backgrounds are often less likely to report crimes. This can be due to their lack of familiarity with the local legal system or that they are unaware of their rights and protections as victims of crime. Their resident status might also affect whether or not they chose to report a crime, out of fear of being deported after contacting authorities.  Many of these victim/survivors are not familiar with the U or T visas. U Visas are set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity (  T Visas are set aside for individuals who are or have been victims of human trafficking. It protects victims of human trafficking and allows victims to remain in the United States to assist in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking ( When providing services for communities of color or underserved communities, these victim/survivors often feel targeted by the authorities and challenged by the legal systems that are meant to protect them.  These fears are not unfounded.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, African American woman are eight times more likely and Latinas are four times more likely to be imprisoned than Caucasian women. These communities often feel targeted by law enforcement and are therefore discouraged to take any legal recourse that may protect them in cases of sexual assault. In Asian communities, the challenges are somewhat different.  People in these communities traditionally do not disclose any sexual assault out of fear of dishonoring or bringing shame to the family name (  There is also often the belief that family matters should not to be discussed with strangers but rather should remain within the family.  Many victim/survivors from Asian communities will be less likely to discuss allegations or answer any questions that might implicate a family member or member of their community. Communication barriers also present a significant challenge in communities of color when seeking much needed services.  For instance, with the Hispanic population being the fastest growing minority in the country, there is still a lack of culturally sensitive services addressing sexual assault in these communities (  The ability to communicate to clients from many diverse communities and provide services in a victim/survivors native language is critical in the victim services arena.  According to the Office for Victims of Crime, the victim services field must expand its capacity to provide linguistically appropriate and culturally competent services to all victims of crime. Otherwise, these victims will continue to suffer disproportionately from sexual violence and the aftereffects of victimization ( As part of MCASA’s efforts to bridge the service delivery gap in communities of color, MCASA’s Women of Color Network held its annual conference titled “The Silence of Sexual Violence in Communities of Color” on October 17, 2013 at Bowie State University. The conference was attended by close to 140 attorneys, legal advocates, victim advocates, social workers, academics, and other interested members of the community at large. The day consisted of presentations such as: The Neurobiology of Trauma: Practical Advocacy and Counseling Applications, Internalizing Oppression & Silence in Communities of Color, Breaking the Silence: Elevating the Voices of Survivors, and Engaging Youth of Color in the Movement to End Violence Against Women. Through these conversations, service providers gain a more solid understanding of how to serve victim/survivors from communities of color and underserved populations. About 60% of MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute’s cases involve clients of color.  Services are provided by attorneys and advocates who speak English, Spanish, Urdu, Hindi, and French.  Language line ensures services can be provided to survivors speaking other languages.  Congratulations to SALI for 10 years of continuing to address each and every victim/survivor.

Resources   This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Frontline.

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