White Women Less Likely to Help Sexual Assault Victim If She’s Black

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You’re at a house party off-campus—perhaps you’re coming out of the bathroom after finally breaking the seal or you’re walking out of the kitchen, drink in hand—and you notice a black woman who looks much more wasted than you do, being led into a bedroom by a relatively sober guy. Being the good feminist you are, you register that the situation looks suspect. What do you do?

According to a new study, white women aren’t likely to intervene and help. The study, published in The Psychology Of Women Quarterly, posed a similar scenario to 160 white female undergraduates. The students were randomly assigned whether the intoxicated woman in the story had a “distinctively black name”—LaToya—or an ambiguous name—Laura, as a control.

When asked to report on their intent to intervene and how they viewed the situation and the potential victim, the white undergrads said they would be less likely to help when they perceived the woman who was at risk of being sexually assaulted was black, because they felt “less personal responsibility.” Secondarily, they also “perceived that [the black victim] experienced more pleasure in the pre-assault situation” at a slightly higher rate than the control group. (The control group given the scenario with the non-racialized name uniformly perceived the victim to be white.)

“We found that although white students correctly perceived that black women were at risk in a pre-assault situation, they tended not to feel as personally involved in the situation,” the researchers at SUNY Geneseo, Jennifer Katz and Christine Merrilees, said in an interview with PsyPost.

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