Race and Rape: Keeping Racism Out of Your Campaign

The intersections of race and rape are sneaky. Though statistics indicate variation in victim reports based on race, there are few similar statistics on offenders and race. Further, since racism is a social injustice (and therefore fluid, grey, difficult to pinpoint in many instances), the ways in which race and anti-rape work overlap are relevant not only to rape itself but also to organizing tactics.

Since the connections between race and anti-oppressive anti-rape organizing are easier to identify, awareness about these connections is essential for any anti-rape organizer. In this week’s blog I’ve combined some statistics on rape based on race (victim only) with comments on the broader racial stereotyping that plagues reporting and organizing. Keep in mind that even these stereotypes and the damage they inflict on media attention and tactics are difficult to assert, though drawn from a careful analysis of America’s race history and the legacy of racism in anti-rape work.

Why is race relevant to anti-rape organizing?

Race is relevant to anti-rape organizing in two distinct ways. First, any effective organizing must interrogate all types of social injustice—specifically in the case of anti-rape organizing, in which we are seeking to educate all people. Second, though rape affects all people regardless of class, race, sexuality, religion, disability etc, there are notable statistical differences between whites and people of color with regard to victim reporting, police support, media attention, and offender prosecution. This article is divided into two parts, to accommodate each of these ways in which race significantly affects anti-rape work.

Ways that racism can affect organizing, and alienate people of color from a group

Assumptions that rape and sexual assault are unimportant or less important than race to people of color

Domination of discussions and leadership by white members

Materials that exclude people of color (for example, posters or flyers that feature only white people, or rape as it relates only to white people)

Pressuring of people of color to choose between rape and race (or any other) issues; also the pressure for a single person of color to represent the needs, ideas, and circumstances of all people of color

Campaign and media attention that prioritizes rape of white victims over people of color

Intersections of race and sexual assault

The following statistics are pulled from a feminist blog and reflect the state department statistics on rape and race

Lifetime rate of rape /attempted rape for women by race:
* All women: 17.6%
* White women: 17.7%
* Black women: 18.8%
* Asian Pacific Islander women: 6.8%
* American Indian/Alaskan women: 34.1%
* Mixed race women: 24.4%

And more, from the UCSC rape prevention program, on reporting and race:

*Women of all ethnicities are raped: Native American /Alaska Native women are most likely to report a rape and Asian/Pacific Islander women the least likely. (National Institute of Justice 1998)

*80-90% of rapes against women (except for American Indian women) are committed by someone of the same racial background as the victim. (US Dept. of Justice 1994)

*Native American victims of rape reported the offender as either white or black in 90% of reports. (Department of Justice 1997)

Additionally, though difficult to assert via statistics because of the nature of rape (most often, one person’s word against another’s), the following stereotypes affect reporting, accusations, and victimization:

The myth of the sexually aggressive black man (as a rapist of white women) allows for the indictment of black male offenders more so than white; and rape allegations made by white women against black men receive more media attention than those made by white women against white men

The myth of the wild, sexual, lascivious black woman (who ‘deserves’ or elicits rape) prevents many black women from reporting their rapes

The myth of the subservient and pornographic East Asian woman (also, who ‘deserves’, elicits, tolerates rape) prevents many East Asian women from reporting their rapes

Different ethnic/cultural norms for masculinity and femininity can adversely affect victim disclosure as well, preventing men of color from reporting for fear of backlash, and keeping women of color silent for the same reasons

The following are some links that may be helpful in educating any group with regard to race and rape:

http://www.blackcommentator.com/98/98_calderon_rape_racism.html

http://www.uncfsp.org/projects/userfiles/File/DCE-STOP_NOW/Racism_and_Rape.pdf

http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/Pages/victimraceandrape.html

http://www.theroot.com/views/rape-and-race-we-have-talk-about-it

http://lists.econ.utah.edu/pipermail/margins-to-centre/2005-February/000201.html

http://www2.ucsc.edu/rape-prevention/statistics.html

http://www.ccasa.org/documents/Rape_Myths_&_Facts.pdf

http://feministcampus.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-facts.html

Again, the best way to recognize racist reporting and the intersections between race and rape is to engage in critical self-reflection as an organizer and ensure that your tactics are inclusive of all people, regardless of race.

    One thought on “Race and Rape: Keeping Racism Out of Your Campaign

    1. Thanks Jenny. I would also add that the ways in which some communities of color have been devastated by mass arrests and incarceration and/or have had negative experiences with law enforcement also discourage assault reporting.