Understanding multiple levels of oppression, the history, and the contributions of women in the African American community can help advocates and programs consider more culturally relevant services and intersectional approaches.
From the earliest days of America to today, African American women have been at the forefront of movements against sexual violence and rape.
Long before Rosa Parks became the patron saint of the Bus Boycott, she was an anti-rape activist and investigator. The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott was in many ways was the last act in a decades-long struggle to protect Black women from sexualized violence and rape since they also were sites of sexual and racial violence for Black women, who made up the majority of the riders. Buses became the target of Black activists’ protests because they were the most visible vehicle of the system that abused African Americans daily. Organized, led and sustained by these very women, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was rooted in black women’s demands for bodily integrity.1
From Recy Taylor to Anita Hill — and now Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement — Black women have been leading the anti-sexual violence movement by speaking out and standing up.
Barriers to help seeking
Sexism and racism are both tools of oppression, and the intersection of these realities make Women of Color particularly susceptible to sexual violence as well as contribute to increased barriers to a variety of services.
Similar to other Communities of Color, African American women are less likely to seek out help from law officials and law enforcement. Black women are not defined merely by their gender. As such, issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, unfair drug policies, and the over-policing of minority neighborhoods affect them in similar ways as they affect Black men.2 Law enforcement and legal recourse are not often seen as viable options, as these systems continue to oppress and discriminate against their communities.
Traumatic experiences shared by communities can result in cumulative emotional and psychological wounds that are carried across generations. This concept is called historical trauma. As a result, many people in these same communities experience higher rates of mental and physical illness, substance abuse, and erosion in families and community structures.3 The persistent cycle of trauma destroys family and communities and threatens the vibrancy of entire cultures. Historical trauma is not just about what happened in the past. It's about what's still happening.
Culturally Specific Sexual Assault Technical Assistance Providers
- Black Women's Blueprint
- The National Organization of Sisters Of Color Ending Sexual Assault
- National Black Women's Justice Institute
- McGuire, D. L. (2011). At the dark end of the street: Black women, rape and resistance - a new history of the civil rights movement from Rosa Parks to the rise of black power. New York: Vintage Books.
- Black Women and Sexual Violence. Retrieved from https://now.org/resource/learn-more-black-women-and-sexual-violence/
- Types of Trauma and Violence. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence/types