Considering The Needs of All Survivors

February 22, 2024

The sexual abuse of children transgresses the boundaries of race, culture, socio-economic status, and gender.  While we understand that childhood sexual abuse occurs in all communities, it is important to recognize that the effects of this pervasive trauma are significantly influenced by, among other factors, race, and ethnicity.

In honor of Black History month, it is important and necessary to address the impact of childhood sexual abuse to African American survivors and to consider the implications for providing healing.  While I do not claim to understand the lived experience of what it means to be an African American individual in our culture, I do understand that the very real inequities and disparities that exist in our culture add to the fundamentally complex process of acknowledging and healing from sexual abuse in childhood.

According to Darkness to Light, a national child sexual abuse prevention organization, race and ethnicity are important factors in identified sexual abuse. African American children have almost twice the risk of sexual abuse as white children have. While this is due to a variety of factors, two of the most impactful factors, low socioeconomic status and living in a single-parent household, are overrepresented in Black communities. Not only do these two factors often create hardship and instability for children, but they also increase a child’s vulnerability to sexual abuse.

We understand that the crime of sexual abuse is more likely to be disclosed years after the abuse, if at all. This is of particular impact to African American victims who face unique obstacles to reporting at all. The history of racist and sexist victimization continues to have a lasting effect on African American culture causing victims to have an inherent fear of law enforcement and fearing that they will not be believed or in some way blamed for the abuse. Certainly, this is a barrier to reporting abuse.

If Black victims of sexual abuse or assault do report or reach out for help, they often face a lack of cultural competency on the part of law enforcement or medical staff. In a state of vulnerability and distress, Black survivors hesitate to report the abuse for fear of additional distress in navigating a system that may not welcome or understand their needs.

This dilemma extends to asking and receiving help from the mental health community. Despite the sincere intentions of many counselors, the lack of cultural understanding of the psychological and emotional impact of sexual abuse to African American survivors creates barriers to effective treatment.  According to Rebekah Montgomery, a licensed therapist in Detroit, MI, who specializes in treating Black male survivors, sexual assault and any form of sexual abuse are rarely discussed in the Black community.  Furthermore, hiding or suppressing emotions has been a survival strategy for African Americans, especially boys and men.  Emotional vulnerability, often seen as necessary to effective therapy, must be addressed with specific cultural sensitivity to bring healing to Black survivors.

There is much more to consider in this very important conversation, and I am the first to acknowledge that we have a long way to go in acknowledging the cultural needs of all survivors. As we focus on the ways that sexual abuse in childhood specifically impacts the Black community, it is my hope that this discussion opens a new willingness to become more aware, more educated, and ultimately more caring for the needs of Black survivors.

Janice Palm LMHC, Executive Director



The Pain We Carry: Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color, Natalie Y. Gutierrez

No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse, Robin Stone

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir, Cupcake Brown

Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rapes Stories of Rape, Charlotte Pierce-Baker

Raped Black Male: A Memoir, Kenneth Rogers Jr

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