Hidden in Plain Sight: Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Black Community
Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Black Community ~ In dealing with trauma in the Black community on a grand scale, I am exposed to a plethora of traumatic experiences that are unique to the black collective. I have spent a substantial amount of time examining the influence that cognitive biases and cognitive distortions have on the social mobility and mental health of African Americans; subsequently leading to in-depth research to identify the role of intergenerational trauma on the development of cognitive biases and cognitive distortions. In the process of my research, one thing that completely frustrates me is the magnitude of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) in the black community and the lack of attention afforded it to it.
According to the most recent statistics, more than 60 percent of African American women report having been victims of CSA, with one in four being sexually assaulted before the age of 18 (Cases in which charges are actually files against the perpetrator). Another component of this opprobrious dynamic is the exorbitant rate of young African American boys who are being victimized through child molestation, incest and rape during their childhood years. Based on extant empirical data, one in every six black males will be molested as a child. What is even more alarming is the fact that the reluctance of males to report sexual abuse suggests that the actual number is significantly higher than what is being reported. In my paper, Molestation, Incest and Rape in African American Families, I examine, not only the frequency of the occurrence of this execrable act in the black community, but the massive impact it has the social mobility, mental health and functionality of the victims.
The Need to Address this Abomination
For any person who is familiar with the numbers, it is impossible to argue against the need to increase attention, and the development of more efficacious treatment modalities. Unfortunately, CSA has been the elephant in the room in the black community for far too long. When it is discussed, it is rarely discussed in the context and environment that will produce results. Rarely is it ever mentioned above a whisper, and only in the darkest and most obscure places. While the pathology, itself, is an issue deserving of much attention, I am more concerned with the silent condonations that facilitates the behavior on a massive level.
When I am asked why we fail to address this issue with an aggressive approach, I respond by relaying the fact that this is rarely reported while it is actively taking place, and the force of ignorance surrounding the matter makes it uncomfortable for those involved to peek behind the curtain of ignorance in order to bear witness to this repulsive cancer which has remained hidden in plain sight. However, while the discussion of CSA in our community is an uncomfortable proposition, it is an imperative one. We must come to an understanding that we cannot afford to continue to send broken children out into a world that is hostile towards them while in a broken state.
Frightening Trends in the Disclosure of Victimization
When attempting to develop a lucid perspicacity as it pertains to the secrecy that results in silent condonation, I have discovered some frightening trends as far as the disclosure of victimization is concerned. One of the most alarming trends that I discovered almost immediately is that a significant majority of black women have been abused as children. Additionally, these women, almost to the number, had not addressed the issue until they reached adulthood. The epiphany associated with the revelation that CSA was so prevalent in the black community led to a passion to dig even deeper. According to statistics by the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they reach their 18th birthday. In order to place these numbers in proper context, you must understand that these numbers only reflect instances in which charges were filed. This does not reflect the majority who endure these atrocities in silence, without an advocate or protector to speak up for them.
According to the Black Women’s Blueprint, 60 percent of black girls will be sexually violated before the age of 18 (Justice, 2014). To exacerbate the negative impact of what these numbers represent, experts suggest that for every woman who reports sexual abuse, there are at least 15 who will not report their experiences to the authorities or treatment professionals (J. Truman, 2010).
A deeper look into this complex enigma reveals that the inability or refusal of adults to properly protect these minor children is only one part of this pestilential dynamic. The victims, themselves, are often silenced by the forces of guilt and self-blame — often resulting in eating disorders, depression, somatic concerns, dissociative patterns, sexual dysfunctionality, repression and the inability to effectively maintain appropriate relationships.
While CSA is not a dynamic that can be classified as an exclusive phenomenon to the black community, we must acknowledge its remarkable prevalence, as well as the fact that we are ill-equipped to emotionally or psychologically support the metastasizing of this malignancy. One area in which there is definitely an issue that is more prevalent in the black community is in the reluctance or unwillingness to discuss or aggressively confront this issue.
One area in which the high rate at which African American children are molested has become somewhat of an enigma is the fact that we possess the characteristic attributes of a collectivist culture, which means that we tend to take on a mindset in which individual interests are sacrificed for the greater good of the collective (D. Power, 2010). The vast majority of African Americans, at least in principle, believe in the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” So, it would seem that this same village would go to great lengths to protect its children, while holding predators responsible for their actions against children. For some reason, there is a lapse or lag between the endorsement of the collective principle of the village raising a child, and the practical application of the village supporting and protecting the child. It is my belief that the interpolation of the traumatic encounters associated with the African American experience, beginning with slavery, has distorted the collective cognitive perception of blacks, resulting in what I call Collective Cognitive-bias Reality Syndrome, a pathological disorder that thwarts effective cognitive responses based on distorted paradigms.
Defining Childhood Sexual Abuse
For the sake of clarity, CSA is defined as any sexual body contact prior to the age of 18, when the age difference between the victim and the perpetrator is greater than five years, or the age difference is less than five years, but the contact was not desired or is the result of coercion (Finkelhor, 1994). Even the formal definition of CSA leaves too much room for victimization, because the desire for contact does not eliminate the trauma of the experience, in fact, it is likely a manifestation of the trauma created by the initial encounter — or the grooming process.
One thing that is certain here; we cannot expect to elevate ourselves as a people as long as our children are being victimized at such as high level. We cannot expect to heal the contention between the Black woman and the Black man, if we cannot rebuild the trust that was destroyed due to the breach of the collective interests of African Americans. We must provide a secure platform and environment where victims can feel safe in reporting their traumatic experiences without fearing retaliation, ostracization, ridicule, victim-blaming and more. We must hold all predators responsible for their crimes against our children. And finally, we must prepare to treat the victims in order to facilitate healing. ~ Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D.