African American Women Looking Back: Making Meaning of the Disclosure Process of Incest Survivors over the Life Course
Jewell F. Brazelton, MSW, University of Chicago.
Purpose: Incest has been documented in all segments of society with long-term consequences for the woman's psychological functioning and well being. The rates of incest are similar between African American and white women; however, researchers report that African American women survivors have been noticeably silent about their victimization. The purpose of this study is to explore the meaning African American women attach to their experiences of incest and the many ways in which they have voiced/expressed their truths (their disclosure process) across the life course. This study explored the experiences of incest and the disclosure processes of a cohort of 15 African American women from the Chicago area between the ages of 40-55 through in-depth interviews. Researchers emphasize that “giving voice” to having been abused sexually is shaped by its meaning within a given cultural and familial context; therefore, race, culture and gender are central considerations for this project. The analytical framework builds on pre-existing child sexual abuse and disclosure literature. It is a multi-layered, socio-cultural analytical framework, within a feminist paradigm that provides a method of understanding both universal and cultural incest and disclosure processes at the macro and micro levels. Methods: Case study methodology was selected for this project. The major benefits of using this qualitative method are: 1) being able to study in-depth individual cases in one experiential case and 2) it allows for a historical and problem-centered discussion which is consistent with the unique history of slavery and oppression that African Americans share. It is expected that the significant impact slavery has made in shaping the cultural experiences of this ethnic group will be a key component to how the participants view incest. Samples in a large majority of broader studies of incest and disclosure include women between the ages of 18-35. The population in this study is being targeted to give voice to an ethnic and age group not normally heard in incest empirical literature. This cohort of African American women will also provide a unique cultural perspective: they were raised by the last generation of African Americans directly affected by the vestiges of slavery (segregation); and they were influenced by the national social and political changes of their generation (civil rights movement). This study provides insight on how traditional cultural norms and national social and political changes might have influenced these women's perceptions of the experience of incest and their disclosure processes. Results: 1. Women with strong cultural beliefs were less likely to disclose. 2. Women who felt the act was consensual were less likely to disclose. 3. Women who felt it was their fault were less likely to disclose. Implications for Practice: The results of this study will 1) add to the limited knowledge base regarding the meaning of the “disclosure process” to African American women, 2) increase the understanding of factors influencing the process of disclosing among African American women and 3) provide a foundation for the development of culturally sensitive interventions for African American women, children and families.