Updated September 12, 2022

Race Moderated Negative Social Reactions to Disclosure of Sexual Assault

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Race Moderated Negative Social Reactions to Disclosure of Sexual Assault essay
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This paper will review the differences in sexual assault experiences between black women and white women in America. There are many factors that could influence the aftermath of sexual assault survivors such a culture, religion, socialization, and legal systems. From a clinical lens, looking closer at the disparities between the two races of women could help clinicians understand the intersections of race and gender when dealing with survivors of trauma. This research will underscore the ways in which black women may be treated or seen by others after they experience a sexual assault. The influence of race and religion will be touched upon as well as social stigma and personal beliefs. It will also investigate black women’s use of social service resources and how it compares to their white counterpart after a sexual assault.

The experiences of a person are unique to that individual but as a therapist, it can be advantageous to have knowledge about the ways in which a black female client can be further traumatized by the oppressive society she lives in. It would be a disservice to the client if the therapist was clueless about the systems in place that impact the client in a direct and sometimes unfair manner. Learning this information could benefit both the client and the therapist. Being aware of the intersections between black and white women who have been sexually assaulted can increase the therapist’s competency of racial differences, which could lead to more appropriate and helpful sessions.

Exploring the material about this topic can also help lead future research. By looking at the current state of knowledge and information, it is easier to see what area needs more focus and attention. This paper will breakdown several research articles and also provide a holistic overview of the key themes that arise between them.

Literature Review

Researchers Hakimi, Bryant-Davis, Ullman, & Gobin (2018) looked at the relationship between negative social reactions to sexual assault disclosure and mental health outcomes of black and white female survivors. This study examines the effect of race on the relationship between negative reactions to sexual assault disclosure and the psychological consequences such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and problem drinking in female sexual assault survivors (Hakimi, Bryant-Davis, Ullman, & Gobin, 2018).

“Using hierarchical regression in an ethnically diverse community sample of 622 female adult sexual assault victims, the researchers assessed for sexual assault; negative reactions to sexual assault disclosure; and symptom severity for PTSD, depression, and problem drinking. They found that negative social reactions to sexual assault disclosures were strongly correlated with negative mental health outcomes across race. Race moderated the influence of negative disclosure reactions on psychological symptoms; however, the moderation was not similar across racial groups and psychological outcome measures. Although Black and White survivors evidenced distress through depression, PTSD, and substance use, Black women who received low to moderate negative reactions to their disclosures of assault were more likely to show increases in PTSD and depression whereas high negative reactions to disclosure were related to higher PTSD and depression similarly for both Black and White women. In addition, Black and White women who experienced more negative social reactions had greater substance abuse, with no difference by race. The results provide further support for detrimental effects of negative reactions on Black and White survivors and highlight the importance of educating people in the community about sexual assault and how to respond in more supportive ways”.

The subjects used in this study volunteered their participation and received a $20 voucher for their completed and returned tests. This may have an impact on the data collected because it requires a certain level of functioning to become involved in a research study. Other survivors may not have been able to provide information about their assault because it is too uncomfortable, or they are having a difficult time coping with this attack. The data in this study might change if the subjects did not use a convenience sample. Their results show that the prevalence of PTSD, depression, and alcohol use for black and white survivors highlights the need for suitable and helpful interventions for PTSD- and depression-focused treatment with racially diverse populations. Future research should explore the effect of race in representative subject samples of survivors and apply prospective and longitudinal designs to uncover causality. Also, it is important to account for negative stereotypes of black girls and women in regard to their sexuality. It could be extremely insightful to see if these negative reactions are even more harmful. Studies should look at the survivors’ awareness of these stereotypes and stigmata and determine if they have internalized these messages and if persons in their network (both informal support and helping professionals) have adopted these myths (such as the idea that Black women are promiscuous and therefore unrapeable).

Another study done by Weist, Kinney, Taylor, Pollitt-Hill, Bryant, Anthony, & Wilkerson (2014) looked further into African-American and white women’s experience of sexual assault and their use of services for sexual assault. This article presents the results of a study assessing the needs and experiences of African American and White female survivors of sexual assault in the state of Maryland. The interview data was taken from 213 survivors (133 African Americans and 80 Whites). There were no differences were reported in medical care received. Although, in comparison to their white counterparts, African-American women reported decreased use of sexual assault crisis centers, mental health services, and post assault help-seeking through use of sexual assault hotlines.

It was positive to see that there were no differences with the medical care received between black and white women. Understanding why black women are not using these services as much as white women is a great way to find ways to improve social service support to all races. More research could be done to see why more white women use social support services and what other ways are black women using to cope and recover from their sexual assault. The researchers acknowledged the complexity and density of sexual harassment especially when it is combined with race and gender. They structured the article in a logical fashion and they defined sexual harassment in a comprehensive and holistic way.

Wyatt and Riederle (1994) examined sexual harassment and prior sexual trauma among African-American and white American women. The researchers looked closely at the relationship between sexual harassment in work, educational, and social settings and sexual abuse in childhood and/or adulthood in a public sample of 126 African-American and 122 white American women (ages 18–36 years old).

“The combined impact of sexual victimization on subjects’ sense of general well-being was also examined. Subjects most likely to be sexually harassed in work and social settings were subjects with contact sexual abuse histories, regardless of ethnicity. Although subjects with prior sexual abuse experiences from both ethnic groups most frequently reported a response to sexual harassment at work, they least frequently did so in social settings. A history of childhood sexual abuse was more negatively associated with African-American subject’s well-being than were repeated experiences of sexual violence”.

This article made numerous attempts to correlate information and provide strong hypothesis to the link between race, childhood trauma, and harassment. There was not a clear causation but there is data to show that victims of sexual assault and childhood trauma are more likely to experience harassment at work. Their various suggestions could have been explored further as to why black women did not report office sexual harassment as much as their white counterparts.

Shelton and Chavous (1999) chose to explore the disparities between black and white college women’s perceptions of sexual harassment. They looked at how racial factors influence college women’s perceptions of sexual harassment. Specifically, the authors examined whether 46 black and 89 white women (ages 17–34 years old) would perceive unsolicited sexual behavior between a black woman and black man different from such behavior between a black woman and a white man. The data suggest that sexual harassment between Black women and men is belittled compared to sexual behavior between Black women and White men.

This study suggested that women of color may be more at risk for sexual harassment because perpetrators are more likely to prey on a powerless woman than a woman with power. The researchers gave interesting and thought-provoking information about the relationship of race and gender. Shelton and Chavous (1999) stated that, “It is only by recognizing women of color’s experiences of sexual harassment will we be able to disentangle the complexities and consequences of sexual harassment for all women”. The themes of this study were the relationships between race, gender, and perceptions. The findings of this study could help the possible legal ramifications for the perpetrator, victim, and witnesses. They did not dive into the differences of culture and history that could account for the disparities between races and their opinions about sexual harassment. The results focused on sexual harassment as it relates women of color.


“They used a sample of 70 Black females and 75 White females (all subjects were aged 18–25 years). These subjects completed a questionnaire showing the extent of her belief that rape had occurred in 8 hypothesized situations. Then, the participants estimated the likelihood that males from one of 4 reference groups might behave as described in each situation”.

The results of this study are discussed in terms of differences in racial and self-concept enhancement which may influence the opinions of black females and white females toward the different male groups. The groups of men they rated were described as: black, white, black college student, or white college student. It was interesting to see that black and white women rated white males most likely to behave in the hypothetical scenario. This also ties in with the previous articles which addresses the legal impact that these perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes can have on victims of sexual assault.

Kalof & Wade (1995) investigated sexual attitudes and experiences with sexual coercion by exploring the influence of race and gender. Their work explores the influence of gender and race on sexual attitudes and on experiences with sexual victimization. The researchers used data on undergraduate college students.

“The subjects were tested to examine the effects of gender and race on five factor scales linked to “rapesupportive” attitudes and sexual victimization. Analysis of variance showed that the influence of gender on sexual attitudes and experiences is stronger than the influence of race. But there is evidence of an interaction between race and gender on the acceptance of interpersonal violence and the acceptance of rape myths. Whereas women regardless of race are significantly more likely than men to have experienced sexual coercion, they are much less likely than men to hold attitudes supportive of rape, interpersonal violence, sex role stereotyping, and adversarial relationships”.

This study used a feminist approach and tackled themes such as social structure, individual psychology, and sexual behavior. The researchers unpacked the sexual attitudes of black and white college students and also traditional gender roles and norms. They discovered that black women are less traditional than white women. It was also stated that the black men in this study reported being very traditional. This difference in values could create problems among men and women in the black community. It is important to address the small sample size of this study but also take their findings into consideration.

Previous research has shown that attitudes, including sex guilt, may influence the nature and type of sexual practices in which a person engages Wyatt, G. E., & Dunn, K. M. (1991). This study examined the relationship of socioeconomic status (SES), ethnicity, and religiosity to sex guilt and aspects of sexual permissiveness that relate to sexual attitudes. Subjects were random samples of 126 African American women and 122 white American women in Los Angeles County. They were interviewed face-to-face and completed the Mosher Forced Choice Sex Guilt subscale. Results indicated that while the association between church attendance and sex guilt was stronger for white than for black women, no significant differences in sex guilt across attendance levels was found for black women. Overall, contrary to previous reports, black women had higher levels of sex guilt than their white peers. The importance of understanding factors including SES and religiosity as they relate to African American and white American women’s sexual attitudes and behaviors is a major theme of this article. They discuss how many dynamics can add to the sex guilt felt by black and white women.

Date rape: Effects of race of assailant and victim and gender of subjects on perceptions Foley, L. A., Evancic, C., Karnik, K., King, J., & Parks, A. (1995). Examined the effects of race (black or white) and gender of assailant and victim on perceptions of date rape among university students. 43 White and 10 Black women and 15 White and 2 Black men read a scenario describing a date that ended with a forced sexual encounter (FSE) and responded to a series of questions about the interaction. FSE was perceived as less serious when the victim was a Black woman than when the victim was a white woman. Women were more likely than men to define the FSE as a crime, and women were more in favor of prosecuting the perpetrator than were men. Men were less likely than women to agree that the assailant should have stopped when victim in the vignette asked him to.

The research shows that there are many factors that go into the differences of sexual assault experiences between black and white women. The theme that came out in the article was the impact of rape myths. The study stated that black women feel more vulnerable as victims of date rape and also fear that they will not be believed.


There are several ways in which black women and white women differ in the way they receive and perceive sexual assault, harassment, and social services. Understanding these differences can help clinicians recognize where their client is coming from and also provide the appropriate resources and treatment.

Culture, media, and common stereotypes affect the way people see one another and perceive them in the world. According to some of these studies, many black women are less likely to report sexual assault or harassment. They may underreport due to the oppressive legal system, fear of not being believed, or lack of support.

It is helpful to understand ways in which we can improve our social structures so that men are becoming better educated about sexual coercion and women are empowered to speak out against assault. There is not one solution to this problem but moving forward with relevant, valid, and reliable research is a great way to find answers to these challenging questions.

Race Moderated Negative Social Reactions to Disclosure of Sexual Assault essay

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