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    Where Are The Black Women? Racial Justice and Rape Crisis Centers

    Where Are The Black Women?

    I worked as a Sexual Assault Specialist at a local nonprofit, Action in Community Through Service, right after I medically retired from the U.S. Army. For me, it was a dream job. I got paid to help people recover from sexual assault! I got paid to advocate!However, I started noticing something. There didn’t seem to be many Black women coming in. Why not? What was going on? Where were the Black women?

    The Statistics

    I used to work with the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) and the US Army. From that, I knew women of color were more likely to be sexually assaulted. I checked the statistics…the American Psychological Association reports that “one in five Black women are survivors of rape.” I read further…in a report to the Department of Justice, on rape and use of rape crisis centers in Maryland, authors say that “In terms of the other measures, African American women were significantly less likely to receive services from a sexual assault crisis center, less likely to receive counseling services from sources other than a sexual assault crisis center, and less likely to obtain services from a therapist or counselor.” Was this a systemic problem?

    Cultural Barriers

    I talked to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Assault Action Alliance, VSDAA, to learn more. A VSDAA representative, Kate McCord, offered me this: “Cultural barriers exist – last 15-20 years we’ve [been] talking about and understanding systemic racism and working on trying to build more racial justice around institutions… it’s really a part of providing trauma-informed advocacy.”


    Okay. But, what can advocates do? “I believe that advocates working with survivors are really doing their best,” McCord says, “But for advocates who work with survivors with a color-blind approach, we know that is well-meaning but it is ineffective and can actually be harmful… it requires you to understand each survivor’s specific experience… I would encourage advocates to do their own learning and reading, on how survivors of color get access to health and safety and justice.” 


    I reached out to ACTS. I wanted to schedule an interview; the Director of Sexual Assault Services was unable to due to time constraints (she wasn’t meeting with the CEO until that Friday, and couldn’t ask permission until then). I knew, however, that ACTS had a Spanish-speaking Sexual Assault Specialist, to provide help to Spanish speakers. I checked with other organizations. In a few, they offer anti-racism training.Others publicly recognize the racial disparities in treatment statistics. However, whether this offers change remains to be seen.  

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