Centering the Silenced: Examining Post-Sexual Assault Help-Seeking Experiences and the Forensic Medical Response to Black Women



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Sexual assault victimization has been shown to have lasting mental and physical effects. Yet, many victims do not report to police or seek help for these crimes. Existing research has identified various reasons for victims’ not seeking help. Much of this research, however, combines all women’s experiences, which often centers whiteness and leaves Black women at the margins. Few studies have examined Black women’s victimization and help-seeking pathways. Further, much of the existing Black woman centered research uses retrospective interview data to provide valuable insights. This project extends existing bodies of knowledge by centering Black women, situating their experiences within a Black feminist framework, and evaluating their experiences in “real-time.” This study also expands narrative victimology by using victims’ narratives from sexual assault exam reports to evaluate Black women as they seek help to understand their experiences and highlight forensic medical responses. Importantly, this study combines a Black feminist perspective with narrative victimology to propose critical narrative victimology, which extends these works by contextualizing Black women’s victimization narratives and help-seeking experiences. Findings suggest that as Black women seek medical help, they consider culture-specific and real rape factors during the police reporting decision. In addition to forensic medical examinations, forensic nurse examiners identified risks for infection, ineffective coping, and safety among the women. Follow-up responses to Black women from forensic nurses often included providing the women with information and resources and connecting them with advocacy help. This dissertation work also proposes a typology of Black women’s sexual victimization and help-seeking purposes. Key findings, implications, and policy recommendations are discussed.



Black Studies, Victimology