The Intersectionality of Race and Sexual Violence for African American College Women

Dec 06th, 2017

By Brittany Lewis, MCASA Program Intern

According to the National Center for Education Statistics,[1] African American women make up the largest educated groups in the United States. Knowing that one in five college students are likely to be a victim of sexual assault indicates that a large number of African American students may be sexually assaulted on campus. However, sexual assault among college students is severely underreported. In 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics[2] reported that for every one rape reported by an African American woman, fifteen go unreported. These statistics illustrate the need to examine what barriers African American women face when it comes to reporting their assaults.

Low reporting rates for African American women are not limited to predominantly white institutions. A 2010 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice[3] surveyed over 4,000 students and discovered two main reasons students at Historical Black College and University (HBCU’s) do not report their sexual assaults: 1) students do not think the police will believe them, and 2) fearing they will get the other student in trouble.

Understanding the intersection of race and sexual violence is a key aspect of dismantling barriers to reporting. Chardonnay Madkins, project manager for End Rape on Campus in Chicago, is a sexual assault survivor who reported two incidents of sexual violence during college. She found that race played a large role in the way her investigation proceeded. In an article for the Los Angeles Times[4] Madkins says that because her perpetrator was another African American student, she felt pressure to drop the accusations not only from the administration, but from fellow African American students as well. She was made to feel that if she reported her rape, she would jeopardize the educational opportunity of the African American, male student. This type of pressure from administration and peers can be a large deterrent for African American students in reporting sexual violence.

African American college students may also face the stigma of not being believed by fellow students. A recent study[5] indicates that Caucasian undergraduate women are more likely to assist a woman named “Laura” over a woman named “LaToya” after reading a scenario where the individual is intoxicated and lured into a private bedroom. This discrimination could stem from a noxious stereotype depicting African American women as “jezebels.” African American female slaves were often raped as a means of perpetuating Black oppression. This horrifying practice created a false perception of African American women as hypersexual and seeking to be sexually dominated. To counter this myth, bystander intervention training should incorporate discussions of race-related barriers to allow individuals a chance to examine their own prejudices.

The term intersectionality was first coined by advocate and legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw. In her 1989 essay,[6] Crenshaw, inspired by Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman”[7] speech, stressed the importance of viewing multiple forms of discrimination as a single entity and not separate parts. Only this way can individuals develop the empathy needed to understand how multiple forms of oppression impact African American women. Colleges must be cognizant of the effects that the intersectionality of racial and sexual violence have on African American college students if they want their programming services to be impactful.

For more statistics on African American women and sexual assault or to request a training visit our website at www.mcasa.org.


[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Status and Trends in the Education     of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72

[2] Bureau of Justice. (2016). Campus Climate Survey Validation Study Final Technical Report. Retrieved from

https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ccsvsftr.pdf

[3] Krebs, C. P., Barrick, K., Lindquist, C. H., Crosby, C. M., Boyd, C., & Bogan, Y. (2011). The sexual assault of undergraduate women at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(18), 3640-3666. doi:10.1177/0886260511403759

[4] Rosenblatt, L. (2017, August 28). Why it's harder for African American women to report campus sexual assaults, even at mostly black schools. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-black-women-sexual-assault-20170828-story.html

[5] Katz, J., Merrilees, C., LaRose, J., & Edgington, C. (2017). White Female Bystanders’ Responses to a Black Woman at Risk for Sexual Assault: Associations with Attitudes About Sexism and Racial Injustice. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 1-16. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0361684316689367

[6] Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. Retrieved from  http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf

[7] Truth, S. (1851). Ain’t I a woman? Retrieved from http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/E151FA9D-6017-4556- 981F-CD076D731A72/0/SecondaryTextGuideAnswerKeyAintWoman.pdf

Related Articles