Seeking support as someone who has been impacted by sexual violence is always a difficult thing to do. For women of color, experiences with racism and discrimination often make it even more challenging to seek support and find people you trust. Statistics indicate that women of color are at an increased risk for sexual violence, as we understand that systems of discrimination often result in violence. Some examples of how women of color are impacted:
- Native American women are the victims of rape and sexual assault at a rate that is 3.5 times higher than that of any other race in the United States. Furthermore, Native American and Alaska Native women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence committed by a stranger or acquaintance rather than a family member or intimate partner. Approximately 70% of these perpetrators are non-Native.
- For every African-American woman who reports her rape, at least 15 African-American women do not report theirs.
- According to a compilation of studies, between 21-55% of Asian women report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
- Married Latinas are less likely than other women to immediately define their experiences of forced sex as rape and terminate their relationships; some view sex as a marital obligation.
Given these startling statistics, the Rape Recovery Center is now offering a weekly support group specifically for women of color who are survivors of sexual violence. This group is open to anyone over the age of 14 who self-identifies as a woman of color and has personally experienced sexual violence, or is navigating the impact of sexual violence against someone close to them. The group is led by Rape Recovery Center therapist Martha Mendes. We interviewed Martha to find out more about the group. Check out the interview below!
Why did the Rape Recovery Center decide to launch the WOC support group?
The RRC was approached by a community member who requested to have a group support specifically for Women of Color who are survivors of sexual violence. The RRC team thought that offering a support group specifically for Women of Color was a great idea, and would offer more support to this population.
What is the structure of this group? What can people expect when they attend?
This is a support group, therefore, the facilitator hopes that participants have a space where they can share some of their re-traumatizing experiences, know that they are not alone in this oppressive environment, feel the support and genuine empathy from the other participants who may be experiencing a similar situation, and learn healthy coping skills from one another. In this group we do not process any trauma, hence we do not share details about the sexual assault/s and/or the experience of the primary survivor's assault (for secondary survivors).
What are some of the unique dynamics that WOC survivors experience?
Sexual violence is a powerful weapon of oppression, and racism is too! Unfortunately, we live in a society that is still oppressive towards people of color. Primary and secondary survivors who are people of color, not only have to navigate a society that invalidates survivors of sexual violence, but they also have to continue to navigate a society that perpetuates oppression and marginalization against them due to their skin color, ethnicity, and/or place of origin (just to name a few).
Racism is strongly institutionalized and it is still very much present in our criminal justice system and most systems. Therefore, it is even harder for survivors of sexual violence who are people of color to be seen, validated, and even feel safe and protected. Perverse distrust in the criminal justice system and our society in general is something very real for most survivors of sexual violence who are people of color. In addition, many social service agencies that aim to support and help members of the community also perpetuate oppression towards people of color. Consequently, many survivors do not reach out to social service agencies for help and support. Talking about sexual violence and oppression towards people of color is very complex and the many intersections of our identity makes this even more complex. What I just briefly explained is only the tip of the "iceberg" when we talk about the unique dynamics that WOC survivors experience.
Additionally, for many women of color there is a very strong connection/identification with their families, culture, and racial or ethnic groups. Consequently, it may be extremely hard for them to report any sexual violence when the perpetrator was/is a family member, family friend, acquaintance, or a member of their community/ethnic group. Cultural ideas and cultural gender roles may also make it harder for them to share, report, and even understand that what they are experiencing is sexual violence. This is why in this WOC support group, we talk about our many identities and their intersections, our cultural ideas, cultural gender roles, and try to understand these complexities through a Feminist Multi-Cultural perspective.
Why is this group important to you as the facilitator?
As an immigrant and woman of color, I feel very strongly about dedicating extra time and effort to making connections and building bridges with marginalized and oppressed populations in general. There is a tremendous need for support and healing, and also there is the barrier of distrust and fear - I understand and I have felt it too. I wish the RRC could count on endless funding to be able to reach out to all marginalized and oppressed populations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I want to feel hopeful and empowered and I want others to feel the same. Since the opportunity of opening a support group for women of color presented itself, I took it without hesitation. I believe that it is better to start somewhere than not starting at all! I hope that with time, we are able to reach out to other oppressed populations, and open more specific services for them too.
What else do you want people to know about this group?
In this group we do not pretend that we have experienced exactly what you are going through - everyone has different life experiences. Nevertheless, we can find commonalities and support each other with kindness, love, patience, and empathy. I also hope that we can learn from each other through valuing and respecting each's others intersectionalities of identities and uniqueness.
Who is invited to attend this group?
This group is open to all primary and secondary survivors of sexual violence who self-identify as women and are people of color.
If this group sounds like it would be a good fit for you, we hope you will join us! To get started, call the Rape Recovery Center at 801-467-7282 and let us know you are interested in joining. Interested, but nervous about attending? Hear more from Martha below.
- United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Crime Victimization Surveys)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Department of Justice
- Department of Health and Human Service
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center