When Black Girls Are Left Sitting on the White House Steps; Sexual Assault, VAWA and Black Girls
Sexual assault and domestic violence are issues faced by girls and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Still, Black girls and women are disproportionately more likely to experience both forms of violence.[i] The Department of Justice estimates that for every Black female who reports sexual assault, there are 15 who do not report. The same study estimates that for every white female who report sexual assault, there are 5 white females who do not report.
Seven years ago, a study by Black Women’s Health Imperative reported that 40% of Black girls were sexually abused or assaulted before the age of 18. A more recent study by Black Women’s Blueprint indicates that those numbers have increased. Approximately 60% of Black girls are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.[ii]
Survivors of sexual assault have an increased risk of depression, substance and alcohol abuse, subsequent incidents of sexual assault, teenage pregnancy, post-traumatic stress disorder and contemplation of suicide.[iii] While crisis intervention after such experiences is crucial, it is all the more imperative to implement sexual assault and domestic violence prevention programs.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allocates federal funds and implements initiatives for sexual assault and domestic violence programs. VAWA provides for community programming including counseling, hotlines and medical and legal advocacy. Despite a White House Council on Girls and Women Report released January of 2014 acknowledging increased risk for girls and women of color (including HIV infection after assault), many sexual assault programs fail to address intersecting forms of sexual violence oppression including race and class for Black girls and women. There is no blanket approach to prevention or crisis intervention and these programs often use just that. As such, girls and women of color often fall through the cracks of sexual assault and domestic violence prevention and crisis intervention because programs often lack the cultural currency, including education and diverse staffing, necessary for outreach and service provision for Black girls and women.
The White House Report details the need to focus on American Indian, Alaskan Native, college students, immigrants, homeless people, inmates, people with disabilities and members of the LBGT community. What the report does not translate is an urgency of programming for Black girls.
If, as the report states, “the Obama Administration also worked with Congress to ensure that VAWA addresses the needs of victims who have historically been overlooked,” it seems Black women fit the criteria for substantive inclusion. The report briefly discusses cultural relevant programming through RPE funding and then goes on to say that grantees of such funding are, working with “coaches, boys, men, and the entertainment industry.” The highlight of culturally relevant programming is for boys and men? Of course programming is needed for boys and men, immigrants and LGBT survivors. Still, has “culturally relevant” come to mean everything except Black? Programs can claim diversity while still not serving a significant, historically overlooked population of Black girls and women.
Without programs specifically designed to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence for Black girls and women, they will remain at an increased risk for both forms of violence and the associated harm in the form of depression, substance and alcohol abuse, suicide contemplation, post-traumatic stress and subsequent assault. All of the aforementioned symptoms of violence impact the personal and professional development of Black girls, their success in the classroom, the boardroom and their communities.
[iii] U.S. Department of Justice. 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2012