What I Found When I Looked Beyond the Statistics on Sexual Assault
Sexual assault on college campuses has been a hot topic in the media lately. From Vice President Joe Biden’s advocacy for the It’s On Us campaign to compelling documentaries such as The Hunting Ground and It Happened Here to Lady Gaga’s powerful performance at the Oscars, it’s clear that a national conversation around sexual assault has taken center stage. Although campus sexual assault is a year-round issue, April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which gave us time to reflect on the seriousness of the issue. While it’s important to understand the broad effects rape and sexual assault have on victims and survivors, it’s also vital to expand the conversation and talk about how marginalized communities are affected.
At Towson University in Maryland, I have developed programming on rape and sexual assault with campus student leaders. We know that 1 in 5 college women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are students. As a woman of color who is passionate about women’s issues, I wanted to develop a program that highlights how this issue affects communities that are often overlooked.
My program initiated conversations about rape and sexual assault, specifically in the black and LGBT communities. I conducted targeted outreach to students in these communities and invited them to participate in my program. I helped empower student leaders to facilitate and shape the conversation to make their voices heard. Here’s what I learned.
Lingering trauma disproportionality affects marginalized communities.
The rates of sexual violence are usually worse for communities of color. Research shows that 19 percent of white women have been raped in their lifetime, compared with 15 percent of Hispanic women, 22 percent of black women, 27 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women, and 34 percent of women who identify as multiracial. High rates of assault also exist in the LGBT community. These statistical differences are important because negative side effects of rape and sexual assault like frustration, depression, anger, and post-traumatic stress disorder disproportionately affect communities of color.
Within these communities, nuances exist.
Most victims know their attackers. The tight bonds formed within communities of color, due to institutionalized racism, often become an extra barrier that discourages survivors from reporting assaults. For every black woman who reports her rape, at least 15 black women do not report theirs. Part of the hesitation may stem from fear of retaliation from their partners or gender bias and misconduct on the part of law enforcement.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is an important time to take action and stand with victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault. In my work at Towson and as an intern at AAUW, I am mindful of how these experiences differ for individuals with intersecting identities. Whichever method you choose to take action against sexual assault, make sure that it’s diverse and inclusive of all marginalized communities.
This post was written by AAUW Campus Leadership Programs Intern Aji Bakare.
Use these resources to raise awareness about campus sexual assault so that everyone can help make campuses safe for all students.
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