Sexual Assault & the Unique Challenges Black Women Face

Article written and published by NOW 02/2018

Black Women and Reporting Crimes of Sexual Violence
Sexual violence perpetrated against Black women is often ignored or dismissed due to untrue biases regarding their sexuality. However this myth and other very real issues have influenced the number of Black women who report sexual assault. For every 15 Black women who are raped, only one reports her assault. In recent years, there has been an outcry on many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on the system of silence that has existed around rape for many of their female students.
Similar to other communities of color such as Latinxs and American Indian women, African American women are less likely to seek out help from law officials and law enforcement. The relationship between the African American community and law enforcement is fraught with abuse, mistrust, and neglect. Women of color do not live in a silo solely defined by gender, therefore issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, unfair drug policies, and the over-policing of minority neighborhoods affect them in the same way they affect men of color. Law enforcement and the legal system are not seen as viable avenues of recourse, as these systems continue to oppress and discriminate against people of color. What this creates however, is a severe lack of distrust in the legal system to protect Black women.
When addressing issues of community, Black women are often placed in an unfair position being forced to reinforce notions of solidarity within their own racial group, even when their perpetrators are also men of color. A national study found that ninety-one percent of Black women are sexually assaulted by Black men and seventy-five percent of those attacks are by men they know–family members, friends, trusted advisors, or neighbors. In these instances, Black women are faced with an impossible task, asked to “betray” a member of their own community to report their assault. Although this betrayal is imagined the idea of collective unification and solidarity is one that has been reinforced to Black women for decades.


Invisible Black Women: The Sex Abuse to Prison Pipeline
One of the most prevailing issues with sexual assault in the African American community are 1) the high frequency of sexual assault on young women of color and 2) the absence of adequate resources to deal with the sexual assault of young women of color. In 2012, Rights 4 Girls, a social justice reform organization released a report entitled “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girl’s Story.” Within this report, researchers found an intrinsic link between the incarceration of young women of color and sexual assault. For example, in a study done on the Oregon justice system, seventy-six percent of the young women were survivors of sexual abuse by the age of 13. This same trend held in South Carolina, with over eighty-one percent of girls reporting a history of sexual violence.
Numerous studies have found that there is a lack of resources available for young girls in the juvenile justice system that address the physical and psychological scars of sexual assault. This is further exacerbated when acknowledging the unique cultural nuances of girls of color. What’s more, Rights 4 Girls’ study found that many of the young women who are in juvenile detention facilities are there because of behaviors or actions stemming from the untreated emotional ramifications of their abuse. This means that their prior abuse-related trauma is unaddressed and, worse still, leaves them vulnerable to further abuse.This system is referred to as the Sex Abuse to Prison Pipeline. The Sex Abuse to Prison Pipeline has a disproportionate effect on young girls of color from beginning to end. For example, the Department of Education reports that black girls are
six times as often as white girls. Disciplinary policies are subjectively doled out, with Black and Brown girls receiving harsher punishments for the same crimes. Moreover, counseling services and Title IX coordinators are a rarity in most schools, meaning that girls who are survivors of trauma are pushed out of school without insight into the reasons for their behavior. Victims of sexual abuse are often left with unresolved trauma, leading them to “act out” at school, and this can be disastrous for girls when combined with zero-tolerance policies. Girls may be suspended, expelled, or even arrested at school- all paths to involvement with the justice system.
The fundamental failures of this system for young girls of color has played itself out in the media in recent years. In late 2017, a campaign was established to help 14-year old Bresha Meadows initially charged with aggravated murder, Meadows was sentenced to involuntary manslaughter after she fatally shot her father who had been verbally and physically abusive to Bresha, her siblings, and her mother since her infancy. Bresha had run away from home on multiple occasions, only to be subsequently returned when law enforcement officials told her they could not help unless her mother filed a police report.
The 11 crisis centers that fall under the LaFASA coalition umbrella have qualified individuals who understand the unique challenges that face Black women and other minority women. However, there are a number of other organizations that specifically focus on sexual violence and harassment in the Black community. Many are not well known, but we invite you to expand your education and awareness by reaching out to them.
Black Women’s Blueprint , Rights 4 Girls, Sister Love, YWCA
Women of Color Network, Trans Women of Color Collective

If you’re interested in more in depth understanding of the plight of Black survivors, then there is a recorded webinar, “History Of Slavery’s Impact On Black Survivors.” This webinar was recorded on August 26, 2020 as part of the Summer Webinar Series. Contact Brittany Hunt at brittany@lafasa.org with questions or to view the webinar.

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