Put the Focus on Victims
Understand Victims . Help Victims Heal . Consider Culture and Diversity . Resources
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Serving Ethnic and Racial Communities

African-American Victims

African-Americans made up 12.9 percent (36.2 million) of the U.S. population in 2000. Of this number, 1.9 million (or 0.7 percent of the total population) reported African-American in combination with at least one other race.92

The historical and contemporary realities of African-American life in the United States lead to fundamental differences in the nature and quality of resources available to African-American survivors, their willingness to access services, and the treatment they receive when they do seek assistance.93

In fall 2003, the University of Maryland's School of Medicine, Center for School Mental Health Assistance collaborated with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault to examine and better understand the unique experiences of female African-American sexual assault survivors in the state. Until this study, there had been limited research on the sexual victimization of African-Americans specific to post-assault responses. The study found that African-Americans in Maryland94

  • Had difficulty accepting mental health services.
  • Believed that mental health issues were a "way of life."
  • Believed that African-American women can "take care of themselves."
  • Believed that concrete services (e.g., housing, employment) are more of a concern than less concrete services (e.g., counseling).
  • Believed that in challenging situations (e.g., in public housing), survivors may be too busy taking care of basic needs to participate in counseling services.

This section briefly describes ways to improve response systems and lists resources that can help you enhance your response and outreach to African-American victims.

Improving Response Systems

Few organizations or systems of care have evolved to a degree of proficiency in which cultural competency is infused at the levels of policy, administration, practice, and service delivery.95 The following recommendations are designed to help you increase your capacity to develop and implement culturally competent service delivery systems for African-American victims:

  • Become familiar with African-American history to transform services into culturally sensitive polices, practices, and programs.
  • Identify and partner with agencies and community organizations that specifically reach out to African-Americans.
  • Determine the victims' support systems (based on history of discrimination and oppression, victims may be uncomfortable speaking with representatives of systems that are not of their racial background).96
  • Enhance access to services through transportation and financial assistance.
  • Enhance relevant educational programs on safety issues and acquaintance and statutory rape.
  • Enhance public awareness resources with specific emphasis on dismantling the stigma of mental health/counseling services.
  • Increase resources for alternative methods of healing (e.g., art, drama, meditation).
  • Educate the community about how they can help when victims disclose assaults and where family, friends, faith communities, and colleagues can refer victims for services.97


INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
Advances a movement to end violence against women of color and their communities through direct action, critical dialogue, and grassroots organizing.

Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community
Focuses on the unique circumstances of African-Americans as they face issues related to domestic violence—including intimate partner violence, elder maltreatment, and community violence.

National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault
Ensures that systems-wide policies and social change initiatives related to sexual assault are informed by input and direction from women of color.

NO! The Rape Documentary
Reviews sexual violence and healing in African-American communities. This film explores how the collective silence about sexual assaults adversely affects African-Americans and encourages dialogue to bring about healing and reconciliation between all men and women.

Sexual Violence in the Lives of African American Women—Risk, Response, and Resilience
Provides a historical and sociocultural overview of African-American women’s sexual victimization; describes the characteristics of rape survivors and incidents; identifies risk factors; reviews the research on the mental and physical health consequences associated with sexual violence; suggests culturally sensitive responses for service providers; and highlights the resilience of African-American victim-survivors of sexual assault.