One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime; this statistic heightens if you are a woman of color or college student. Sexual assault also comes as an occupational hazard if you are a member of the armed forces. Being a woman of color myself as well as a college student and veteran the deviance sexual offending hits particularly close to home. Sexual assault comes in various forms but the definition itself includes a wide range of victimizations involving attacks in which unwanted sexual contact occurs between the victim and the offender. The FBI broadly defines sex offences as acts against “chastity, decency, morals, and the like” Victimization may include sodomy, sexual assault with an object, fondling, molestation and indecent liberties, and incest.
With all of this information sometimes it’s hard to decipher the connection between race and sexual assault. But there is obviously a connection, why do communities of color more particularly black communities have higher rates of sexual assault? In this paper I want to discuss the correlation between race and the rate of sexual assault, more particularly African American women and sexual assault. Thirty percent of African American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime at least once. Discussing sexual assault in African American homes is typically very taboo and it often times goes swept under the rug. Why does this happen and what is the true connection between to the two? Could it possibly be rooted in colonization and systemic oppression? I believe that this trend truly does go back that far and it has affected how we view one another as well as the hyper sexualization of black bodies. Sexual assault is most definitely a problem in all communities but it affects our community in a different very significant way. Due to this unwritten code of silence statistically black women report sexual assault at significantly lower rates than white women. The highest rates of rape and sexual assault are reported by Black women (1.9 per 1000).
Beginning with the enslavement of Africans, black women were stripped of their bodily autonomy. Rape was a common part of plantation life, so much so that it significantly affects how we are viewed today as well as the stereotypes in place about black people. Black women and men alike are stereotyped as sex crazed and promiscuous. Black women were routinely raped by slave masters because they were “innately promiscuous” and they were considered property. Because they were considered property, legally they were not protected by the law. Not only were women raped but they were later victims of retaliation from disgruntled wives. Beginning a long line victim blaming teaching future daughters that sexual assault is part of life; if you try to do anything about it you will be further punished.
Even after the end of slavery sexual assault was used as a means of intimidations by white supremacist. This often went unreported because black women felt as though no one would believe them or nothing would be done about it because the judicial system was made up of white men. Black women faced public assault and threats of rape by the white community and private assaults within our own communities. Black women also faced abuse within our community as well but neglected to report it in an effort to preserve black families. Black women are a marginalized group within an already marginalized disenfranchised group; they face abuse based on gender and race. The term for this is misogynoir, Misogynoir is misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. It was coined by queer Black feminist Moya Bailey, who created the term to address misogyny directed toward black women in American visual and popular culture. Although this is a relatively new term it still fits this particular moment in history appropriately.
Black feminist writers in the 1970’s and 1980 have uncovered rape, molestation, and pedophilia in the black community. Both authors Alice Walker (The Color Purple) and Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye) wrote novels showcasing this sinister side of the black community. Both novels were criticized harshly for presenting black men in a negative light, which leads to another unhealthy trend in the black community “keeping our business in the house”. The black community is adamant about policing each other up harshly and keeping our business, our business. This is why we neglect to seek help when it’s necessary, even in instances of sexual assault. Many black men had issues with the central character Celie in “The Color Purple” who was raped repeatedly by her step father; they believed the author was essentially airing the dirty laundry of the community.
Sexual Assault within our community even made its way to the forefront of pop culture when starts like Oprah and Tisha Campbell came forward about their own assaults. Even singer Aaliyah was part of an obviously inappropriate relationship with singer R.Kelly who was later exposed in a sex tape having relations with a minor. Later several other young ladies came forward with similar stories, yet the black community had trouble condemning him and instead condemned the young ladies instead. Even most recently several came forward with rape allegations against Bill Cosby, the black community gathered behind him in droves. Before the release of Nate Parkers “Birth of a Nation” a college rape allegation came out in a failed effort for his public relations team to get ahead of it. Again the black community was sure to support him.
Any time a black man is accused of sexual assault the black community deems this an effort to bring a successful black man down, or calls it a distraction. Rape is never a distraction; anywhere between six to eight percent of rape allegations are false. This is an extremely minute number when you consider very few women even come forward to report a rape, even fewer do so within the black community making this number even smaller. For every black woman that comes forward to report sexual assault at least fifteen don’t report it. False accusations are so far and few between that it should never be a question of whether or not a woman is being truthful or not. Accusation of a false report should never be an option especially within our community, especially when thirty percent of black women are sexually assaulted. It’s hard for society to view black women as victims because they hypersexualize our bodies from a young age and use “the fast girl” rhetoric against us in an effort to justify why you deserve whatever happens to you. From the beginning of time black women were forced to be strong therefore being viewed as tough and harsh, meaning black women could never truly be victims of sexual assault.
I understand that “sexual assault” within a community covers a very broad category of offenses. In my research I stumbled across rape, molestation, and pedophilia very often. Rape is defined as the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly against her will. An example of this would be Celie’s experiences in the color purple although both of these other categories apply to her experience as well. Molestation is defined as to touch someone in a sexual or improper way. Pedophilia is defined as intense and recurrent sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving some form of sexual activity with a prebuscent child. Child molestation and sexual abuse may include, but are not limited to, the definition of pedophilia.
Rape and sexual assault victimization is concentrated among the young. The highest rates are among persons between ages 16 and 24, followed by 12 to 15 years old. After the age 25, rape and sexual assault rates drop sharply. The American Medical Association recommends that the definition of the sexual abuse of children includes “exploitation of a child for gratification or profit of an adult”. Pedophilia, child molestation and child sexual abuse may take a variety of forms, ranging from exhibition, fondling, sexual intercourse, or use of a child in pornographic material. Offenders are typically defined by their ability to manipulate, persuade, and utilize friendship to sexually assault children. Offenders typically groom their victims rather than using force (children and parents alike). Grooming refers to attempts to manipulate or coerce someone into performing sexual acts for a proposed reward. Offenders typically try to gain the trust of both parents and child to get what they want. Victims oftentimes know their assailant, in turn by grooming parents and guardians this gives them the advantage of being alone with the victim. Sexual offenders and their victims are likely to have had prior relationship, either as family members or acquaintances. The sexual victimizations of children and adolescents are rarely carried out by strangers. Overall, 95% of sexual assaults of persons 17 years of age or younger are committed by either a family member (35%) or an acquaintance (60%). As children age, those who sexually assault them are less likely to be family members and more likely to be acquaintances. As children age, those who sexually assault them are less likely to be family members and more likely to be acquaintances. Younger children are most likely to be sexually assaulted in a residence, whereas older children are more likely to be victimized outside a home. Almost 9 out of 10 victims under the age of 6 and 3 of 4 of victims between 6 and 11 are sexually assaulted within the residence. Half of the sexual assaults of victims between 15 and 17 years old occur in places other than a residence.
The correlation between sexual assault and black communities has strong historical ties. Predominantly the hyper sexualization of black bodies beginning with slavery and colonization, in addition to deeply engrained loss of bodily autonomy. 400 years ago we lost the rights to our own bodies and were brainwashed into believing that our peers are extremely sexual and promiscuous beings by nature. This alone opens the door to a dangerous rhetoric of victim blaming which removes the personalization of victims and justifies the assault that they have endured. From a young age black girls and their bodies are demonized and they are called “fast”, if and when they suffer at the hands of abuse many men and women will justify their assault. This is primarily due to years of brainwashing as well as an effort for black women to preserve black families and keep outsiders out of their business by reporting the assault. Because as stated above, oftentimes (a majority of the time) the offender is someone we know. Therefore by reporting the assault they would be breaking up the archetype of “the black family’. In an effort to protect black men or protect an image, we as a community have failed at protecting our children primarily. Correcting this toxic cycle takes generations worth of healing, and exposing the abuse right now. We have to stop letting our male counter parts silence us when we discuss our experiences, and stop passing on this “keeping our business at home” rhetoric.
Works Cited Page
- African-American Community. (n.d.). Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.wcsap.org/african-american-community
- Humphrey, J. A., & Schmalleger, F. (2012). Deviant behavior. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
- (2014, September 08). Sexual Abuse And The Code Of Silence In The Black Community. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2014-09-sexual-abuse-code-silence-black-community/
- Sexual Violence in the Lives of African American Women: Risk, Response, and Resilience. (n.d.). Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://vawnet.org/material/sexual-violence-lives-african-american-women-risk-response-and-resilience