Are racial prejudices preventing victims of sexual abuse obtaining justice?

Rebecca Epstein makes the case in a 2017 study, concluding that black girls who are victims of sexual assault are less likely to be believed due to their race. This is particularly relevant with regards to recent headlines concerning allegations over Robert Kelly (AKA R.Kelly) abusing several women including his wife. She claims that the abuse lasted the entire duration of their marriage and that one attack in the back of a Hummer has now even left her with PTSD.

A six-part documentary recently aired in the US, sharing the stories of the women who claim to have been abused by R.Kelly. This has sparked a campaign with the aim of seeking justice for the women, under the hashtag “mute kelly”. Supporters of this, include the singers Ne-Yo and John Legend. Ne-Yo mentioned in an interview that having an “eight-year-old daughter hit closer to home”. He also referenced the video footage which allegedly found R.Kelly to have partaken in child pornography with a fourteen-year-old girl, committing acts of abuse such as urinating on the child. R. Kelly was acquitted of those counts however, scepticism still exists surrounding the issue. This is primarily
because his acquittal was largely due to the failure to account for the age of the child.

black girls were viewed as being more knowledgeable about sex than their white peers.

Ne-Yo stated “we got proof, he’s been doing it for years”. Despite this support, many of the women have faced an inordinate amount of scepticism and opposition from a combination of the media and fans of R.Kelly. This raises an important question. Why? Does it have anything to do with race?

Epstein believes there is a connection; she states that “Black girls face unique forms of bias that need to be addressed and that requires different consideration than the racism faced by boys”. She emphasizes that “Hyper-sexualization is the epitome of that difference”. In a survey of 325 adults, researchers asked respondents in a nine-item questionnaire about their
perceptions of girls in various age ranges. They asked “How much do Black (or white) females seem older than their age? How much do Black (or white) girls deserve to be comforted? Researchers started seeing discrepancies between how correspondents answered talking about white girls versus black girls for children as young as age 5. Across age ranges, black girls were viewed as
being more knowledgeable about sex than their white peers. Epstein infers that “Adults are less likely to believe” that black girls need “nurturing and support”.

Researchers started seeing discrepancies between how correspondents answered talking about white girls versus black girls

This failure to recognize the innocence of black women is additionally contributing to a sexual abuse prison pipeline. Take the example of Cyntoia Brown, a juvenile woman of color was sex-trafficked when she was sixteen years old. She shot her abuser stating that she felt “scared for her life”. She
was charged and prosecuted with murder and armed robbery. The abuse she faced as a minor appeared to offer her limited sympathy. She has spent her entire adult life in prison. Epstein’s report mentions that black girls accused of crimes find less leniency in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors used their discretion to dismiss three of every ten cases involving black girls but
seven of every ten cases involving white girls. She re-iterates that “we suspect that when a judge ooks at a girl in front of them and is seeing in their mind’s eye a mature person who knew what they were doing, they will be less likely to extend them the hand of leniency”.

failure to recognize the innocence of black women

Alexandria Morgan of Her Healing, a psychotherapy practice that specializes in trauma-informed yoga, said that even the language used when talking about victims and accusers reveal an underlying biased against the victim. She noted this while watching the R Kelly documentary as other ways we use language to disempower victims.

underlying biased against the victim

“One thing that stood out to me a lot was how the African American community responded to Kelly when the sex tape came out with the 14-year-old girl. He was charged with child pornography but not child sex abuse. It was like that wasn’t even important” Morgan said.

Morgan also mentioned that black women requesting her services were not doing so because they had experienced abuse even if
they had, but rather to cope with anxiety or depression. This calls into question the intrinsic flaws of the justice system not only regarding race, but women of race.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, use the helplines below:

Police: 999 (Emergency), 101 (non-emergency number)

Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999 (Freephone helpline)

Victim Support: 0808 168 9111

RASAC (Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre): rasasc.org.uk

Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support: survivorsuk.org

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