For Many Black Survivors, Reporting Raises Complicated Issues

According to Department of Justice statistics, Black girls and women 12 years and older experienced higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian, and Latina girls and women from 2005-2010.1

Not only do members of the Black community experience higher rates of sexual violence, but they often feel they have few options for seeking justice and help due to a number of widespread institutional and historical factors. For more on how these factors have affected Black survivors—in their own words—see RAINN's video.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Black women in the U.S. also experience higher rates of intimate partner violence and gender barriers in access to health care compared to white women.

For many survivors, feeling that they won’t be believed is a major barrier to reporting sexual violence. Fear of police also sometimes comes into play. According to a 2017 study, Black women are at highest risk of any group for experiencing sexual violence perpetrated by police officers. In addition, negative personal, family, and community experiences with law enforcement may cause Black survivors to feel that reporting sexual violence to the police is not an option for them. Other reasons that some Black survivors cite for choosing not to report include: fear of physical violence against them and their family; worries about being unjustly accused of being the perpetrator of a crime; and feelings that, even if a report is made, they still may not get justice.

When survivors in the Black community do reach out for help, they are sometimes met with a lack of culturally competent resources. “There were no culturally competent resources that I was aware of,” said Lauren, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member, “which contributed to my decision to not report or disclose my sexual assault for several years.”

“It didn’t feel like a welcoming or safe environment to disclose,” said Tasha, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “I didn’t know if there were even resources available.”

Some survivors face even more hurdles. “I think it’s first of all important to acknowledge my own privilege––because even though I am Afro-Puerto Rican, my skin tone is actually much lighter than many in the Black community,” said Eileen, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “Still, growing up as a woman of color and coming out as queer, I had to learn to have tough skin. If I let every racist or bigoted comment get to me, it would just be too exhausting.”

Black men also face particular stigmas and stereotypes that make them fear they won’t be believed and make it harder to access support and resources after experiencing sexual violence.

“Showing emotion about being abused? It's not well-accepted,” said Brian, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “As a Black man, you've been broken down so much that you have to put on a face of being strong. We have a lot of pain that is unattended to."

For survivors in the Black community who are nervous about reporting but want to explore their options and talk through what the process might look like, it can be helpful to connect with a local sexual assault service provider. When formal means of support do not seem like an option, friends, family, and community can play an even more important role in a survivor’s healing.

“You should tell somebody. It doesn’t matter who; go to a friend, mom, dad,” said Kassie, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “If you can’t report it to the police, tell someone you trust.”

It’s not always easy to talk about sexual violence, but there are ways family and friends can support loved ones without being an expert.

“How do you support a survivor? You show empathy and compassion,” said Gail, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “Even if you can’t identify with what happened to them, just imagine you can and be there with them as they tell their story.” (Find more tips in RAINN’s Toolkit for Friends and Family.)

“Black survivors––you have the right to speak your truth, own your story, and seek support for your trauma,” said Fila, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “No matter what the circumstances may have been. No one has the right to violate you in any way. You deserve full access to healing.”

June 19 marks Juneteenth, which commemorates the date when, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, word of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Texas.

“We are many, and so, to my Black brothers and sisters, this means you are not alone in this process of healing,” said Aisha, a survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member. “We love you, we are here for you, and your voice matters––so speak loud and proud so this no longer happens to another Black sister or brother. So this no longer happens to our next generation!”

“If I could say one thing to other Black survivors right now, it would be,’ You matter and there is help,’” said Sonya, survivor and RAINN Speakers Bureau member.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org. It’s free, confidential, and 24/7. Additional resources from national and local organizations that offer services specific to the Black community, such as Ujima, are also available online. For words of support and healing from survivors in the Black community, watch RAINN’s video.

 


1. U.S. DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010,” 2013.

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