Why Black Women Don’t Report Their Sexual Assaults

March 25, 2015  |  

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I’ve been gravely disappointed during this ongoing Cosby scandal. Partially because the Bill Cosby I’d watched and admired was now marred by this scandal but mostly because of the people in my circles who tried to demonize the women who spoke out against him. After all, I never knew Bill Cosby. I do, however, know the family members, friends, distant associates and others who asked questions like “why are these women just now coming forward?”

Sad.

This type of thought pattern just showed that there is a gross ignorance among people about sexual assault and what happens, emotionally and psychologically, to the women who have endured it.

And while I’ve tried to fight the good fight on my Facebook page and in conversations where it happened to come up, explaining that there is no set way to process trauma; now there is empirical, anecdotal evidence to support what I had been saying all along, especially as it pertains to Black women.

A New York based human right’s organization, called Black Women’s Blueprint, is conducting an ongoing study which found that nearly 60 percent of Black women have been involved in a coercive sexual assault by the time they are 18-years-old.

And in relaying her own story, one of these women explained in an article with Raw Story why it’s so hard for Black women to report their sexual assaults to the authorities.

If we report our assaults to police, we risk being retraumatized not only by the inhumane process of reliving a violent experience through sharing its gory details – but also by the violence of the criminal justice system itself , which treats rape victims like suspects . Worse yet, the police themselves commit assault with impunity ; often, they target black women in particular , knowing our existence at the intersections of racism and misogyny make crimes against us far less likely to be investigated .

To be a “ good rape victim ” is to immediately report your assault to the police (even knowing you will likely never see “justice” ), but to be a good black person is to avoid the police entirely because your life quite literally depends on it . The tightrope walk is impossible.

These words sound alarmingly like the ones Beverly Johnson wrote when she detailed her sexual assault with Cosby. You might recall that she hesitated coming forward because, with all the racial tension in the country these days, she didn’t want to be the Black woman attempting to drag a Black man down.  

She knew before the essay was even published that she would be in for a world of scrutiny and judgement.

And she was right. My heart broke as I watched people, some of them MN readers (women), call Johnson everything but a child of God for daring to step forward with this story.

If Johnson, with her illustrious career and the respect she’s earned in the industry, was torn down in this way, imagine what happens to the “unknown” women who tell their doubting family members and law enforcement officers about their own sexual assaults? The outcome is not likely to provide any closure. In fact, the experience of being doubted, questioned or further victimized might just result in even more trauma.

To paraphrase one of my Facebook and real life friends: ladies and gentlemen, the women in your life, who’ve been quietly living with the secrets and burdens of their own sexual assaults, are watching you and your reaction to this whole Bill Cosby situation, wondering if they should continue to remain silent and whether or not you’ll doubt them too.

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