Abstract: "Let's Not Talk about It:" Service Barriers for Black Sexual Assault Survivors (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

"Let's Not Talk about It:" Service Barriers for Black Sexual Assault Survivors

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Liberty Ballroom O, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kenan Sualp, MSW, Student, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Shayna Forgetta, MSW, Student, University of Central Florida
Kim Anderson, PhD, MSW, Professor of Public Affairs - Social Work Track Coordinator, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL

This exploratory mixed-methods study examined access barriers for Black/African-African (AA) sexual assault (SA) survivors due to underutilization of victim services. Research indicates victim service barriers include providers’ lack of attention to multiple identities of marginalization, lack of provider-client racial match, and survivors’ lack of resources (e.g., transportation). Consequently, victim services are often underutilized by Black/AA SA survivors compared to other racial groups, particularly regarding mental health counseling (Lucea et al., 2013; Weist et al., 2014). Study’s research question: What are the barriers for Black/AA SA survivors in accessing victim services?


A provider survey was developed and piloted with 25 staff at a local urban victim service agency. Victim serving organizations (VO, N =22) across the state-wide SA coalition were surveyed. Additionally, non-victim organizations (NVO, N=26) (e.g., churches, schools, health care, etc.) serving Black/AA clients/individuals in the local urban area were surveyed. Survey data from all providers informed a semi-structured focus group interview (N =8) to gather additional context on barriers and recommendations. The focus group included Black/AA SA survivors, VOs and NVOs.  


VOs and NVOs identified barriers for Black/AA SA survivors in accessing victim services from both the provider and the survivor perspective. Top barriers from the survivor’s perspective: lack of knowing about free services (73% VOs, 69% NVOs), fear of perpetrator retaliation (73% VO’s, 85% NVO’s), and society/community stigma of sexual assault (59% VOs, 69% NVOs). Top barriers from the provider’s perspective: lack of staff knowledge to identify and engage Black/AA survivors (59% VOs, 69% of NVOs), and lack of funding for specialized service to Black/AA population (50% VOs, 58% of NVOs) were commonly identified by both VOs and NVOs. Additionally, VOs identified lack of public awareness (64%), lack of adequate housing (50%), and lack of providers asking about sexual assault (50%). For NVOs, other top barriers included cultural barriers (58%) and lack of collaboration with culturally specific organizations (54%).

Focus group thematic analysis indicated barriers and solutions on the survivor, organizational, and system levels. Survivor level: lack of transportation and financial resources. Recommendations: VOs offering in-home or remote counseling services to better reach underserved communities. Organizational level: lack of provider-survivor racial match and use of the term “Victim” in VOs designation. Recommendations: VOs actively recruiting staff to match racial characteristics of underserved populations, and reframing VOs designations to a strength-based perspective: “Survivor.” System barriers: indifferent lawmakers toward sexual assault-related issues related to Black/AA survivors, particularly regarding perpetrator accountability and retaliation. Recommendations: multi-media (e.g., PSAs, social media) approaches for advocacy and education regarding the wide-range effects of sexual assault experiences on individuals, organizations and communities.


Information from survivors, victim providers and non-victim providers provides an in-depth look at the issue and guides multi-level solutions that go beyond any one perspective. This study’s findings provide researchers, helping professionals, and educators with a conceptual framework to better understand access barriers and solutions for Black/AA sexual assault survivors. Such knowledge may be translated into prevention and intervention efforts to improve services on both micro and macro levels.