SCA: Sexual Assault in BAME Communities

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Trigger Warning: Talk of rape and sexual assault, which some readers may find distressing.

There is a racial disparity with regards to how sexual assault is addressed in BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) communities, and the help they receive when compared to individuals of white communities. As such, this disparity has impacted how survivors react after their assaults.

It is important to note, however, that BAME people are not homogenous. They are made up of multiple ethnicities, multiple cultures, sexualities, and disabilities that impact the experiences faced by individuals. Consequently, some survivors may experience forced marriages, domestic and sexual violence, individually or simultaneously. Other forms of abuse range from trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), child sexual exploitation and “honour-based” abuses.

From a young age, many children in BAME households are inadvertently sexualised due to certain cultural or outdated beliefs. These beliefs may be rooted in religion, such as those which teach that women and children remain the properties of their husbands or families. This leads to victims being blamed when predators target and assault them.

For example, from a young age, even before puberty, the way young girls dress is policed. Children are taught not to wear certain items of clothing that may be too tight or revealing when around older (or even young) male members of their families, or in close friend circles. Such restrictions demonstrate an awareness of the issues, but a belief that the predator cannot help themselves or exercise restraint before committing an assault. These practices  appear to suggest that rather than tackling the issue of assault within such communities, it’s better to just teach the child how to protect themselves. By turning a blind eye to such abuse, witnesses often encourage it. Some people would rather blame their child than prevent dangerous people from being around them in order to protect them.

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This form of victim blaming is prevalent in all cultures, and across many assault cases, where courts allow lawyers to question what survivors were wearing when attacked. There is a belief that clothing justifies attacks when time has proven this isn’t the case.

London is the most diverse region in the UK, while Wales is the least diverse, and such disparities in the UK have also proven to affect the types of services offered to survivors. Even so, despite London being the most diverse, it’s still widely considered that it lacks support services for BAME survivors, including in a 2016 report commissioned jointly by NHS England and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). When considering this and the even smaller ethnic minority representation in Wales, it’s clear to see that people are vulnerable throughout the UK. The 2016 report also noted that when survivors did report assaults to the police, they didn’t receive the appropriate support. Experiences with racism, and fear of racism from the police, often deters people from seeking help, and many have had similar experiences with services such as the NHS. Survivors have highlighted the importance of having counsellors of the same ethnicity as them.

It is very rare to hear cases about men being abused – let alone black men. The media is quick to report cases where BAME men have raped, but rarely where they have been survivors. This feeds into the narrative created by pornography that black men are domineering aggressors, who women need to be protected from. This mentality continues to put young men and children at risk.

In contrast, male celebrities who are open about their sexual histories are praised by the media and their fans, while women are demonised. Many men who are accused of assault are often defended because of their gender, in which the ‘boys will be boys’ rhetoric excuses this. Society encourages young men and boys alike to get their sexual experiences early and an entry into manhood, and as such they are exposed earlier to the dangers of sexual assault from older men and women. Often the media will report cases where male children were raped by their female teachers in which, amidst the outrage, groups will emerge that praise the boy affected, happy that an older woman was his first sexual encounter. Such reactions prevent survivors from reporting abuse because they’re led to believe nothing bad has happened, and this can result in a future of mental illnesses and further abuse caused by a lack of support and justice to help them move on.

University/Union Support Available:

If you’ve been a victim of any form of harassment,  SUSU provides a harassment tool to report such incidents. Created by SUSU in conjunction with the Stand Up to Racism society, the online tool enables both students and staff to report harassment they have experienced and enables anonymity, but guarantees confidentiality to all. It is available via susu.org/support/report-harassment.html.

Meanwhile, both the University Enabling Services and the Union Advice Centre offer free help and support for students. Enabling Services are located in Building 37 and contactable via enabling@soton.ac.uk. The Advice Centre is located above Stags, open 9am-5pm on weekdays, and can be contacted via advice@susu.org.

*If you are interested in working with and helping educate the Sexual Consent Awareness (SCA) society to help engage with BAME communities around campus, please contact SCA President, Laura Elizabeth (Barr) on scasouthampton@gmail.com.

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