African-Americans
and Sexual Abuse

African-Americans have a history of victimization and sexual abuse dating back to their initial arrival in this country as slaves: 

  • Black men were forced to have sex with random black women to reproduce like animals. This was done to produce more slaves to work the plantation. Slave masters did not care if these women were their mothers, daughters or sisters. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for the slave master to father his slave daughter’s children.1
  • It was common for black men to form relationships with women from other plantations so that they did not have to witness their women being raped by the slave master. 1
  • To survive, our ancestors learned to act complacent and submissive, to put on a mask to navigate through life. To talk about sexual attacks could result in lashings, sale or even death. So not talking showed a bravado that was passed down from generation to generation. Today this is called splitting or disassociation.2
  • Black women’s genitals were groped at the slave auctions. This was form of public molestation.1
  • Also, it is traditional in African culture to put the survival of the tribe in front of the needs of the individual. While this has been a successful survival technique for many black populations in general, it can be devastating for an individual who has been sexually abused and needs to take care of his/her needs above that of the larger group.2

Verbal & Non-verbal Cultural Messages that Foster Abuse in the Black Community:

(The following information is from “No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse,” Robin D. Stone)

  • Children are expendable. Their needs come last. They are told,“This is grown folks business.” “Children should be seen and not heard.”
  • There’s no time or place for problems. If children aren’t the priority, they quickly learn, neither are their worries and fears. Many black families get caught up in the daily grind of working to keep a roof over their families head and food on the table. So much so, that it’s easy to become disconnected from expressing problems or feelings. Whether implied or verbalized, the parent conveys that “I have so much going on myself that I just can’t handle any more problems.”
  • Ain’t nobody’s business! For years, other people controlled and pried in our lives: Slave masters, welfare workers, social workers, prosecutors, judges, police, parole officers, doctors and employers. Experience has taught blacks not to trust the police or the courts to deliver justice. Thus, we avoid them at all cost.
  • Let’s not talk about sex. Some survivors are told that they were being prepared for relationships with men. Some think: “my mom didn’t talk about it so neither do we.”
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell. Our home is off-limits. With social service agencies prying into our homes, police, etc., many of us consider our homes off-limits. What goes on in the home, stays in the home. Challenging a parent’s authority over their children.
  • Our bodies our not our own. “Go ahead & give your uncle Junebug a kiss,” is an example of the expectations placed on a child. The child is expected not to go against the parent’s authority or risk getting a beating for “disrespecting” an adult he/she may not be comfortable with. Child gets the message that an adult’s needs are more important than a child’s needs.
  • Blacks are more likely to house extended family in the home, like cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., thus, in some cases, exposing the child to a potential predator.
  • African-Americans are afraid of airing what is considered by some as “dirty laundry” in public. This makes it easier to blame the victim or not believe the victim at all, in an attempt to protect the reputation of the race or suspected perpetrator. (examples: Mike Tyson and Clarence Thomas cases).
  • Some believe that black males cannot be sexually abused or that women cannot be perpetrators, thus making it hard for black males to come forward about being sexually abused. Some black male victims of sexual abuse are afraid of being called gay if they reveal they were sexually abused by a man.

Most recent statistics:

  • Perpetrators can be men, women or children.
  • Sexual abuse is actually reported more in low income areas where a high number of blacks live.2 This is because low income areas tend to be more in contact (for a variety of reasons) with public agencies like the U.S. Department of Welfare and the Department of Health  and Human Services, etc, where they are more closely observed.2
  • Those who tend to report abuse are teachers and doctors because they are more likely to expect abuse in lower income families.2
  • Most African-Americans report abuse by their uncles as opposed to their fathers.2
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report they were sexually abused as children.2 Of that statistic, 3.3 million African-American women have been sexually abused and 1.9 million African-American men have been sexually abused.2
  • Family members and acquaintances account for 93% of predators.2
  • 66% of pregnant teens report a history of abuse.2
  • 66% of all prostitutes were abused as children by a father or father figure.2
  • Incestuous abuse of blacks was more than three times more likely to be “very severe” (involving oral, anal or vaginal intercourse) compared with that of Whites…and involve force or physical violence and verbal threats.2
  • Men who have been abused are more commonly seen in the criminal justice system than in clinical mental health settings.3
  • Some men even feel societal pressure to be proud of early sexual activity (no matter how unwanted it may have been at the time).3

General Statistics:

  • Children who disclose the abuse soon after its occurrence may be less traumatized than those children who live with the secret for years.3
  • Children and adults who were sexually abused as children have indicated that family support, extra-familial support, high self-esteem, and spirituality were helpful in their recovery from the abuse.3
  • Victims also report that attending workshops and conferences on child sexual abuse, reading about child sexual abuse, and undergoing psychotherapy have helped them feel better and return to a more normal life.3
  • In 2005, 83,810 cases of sexual abuse were reported.4

    Sources:

 

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