Why It’s Harder For African American Women To Report Campus Sexual Assaults

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Chardonnay Madkins knows firsthand the pressures African American women can face when reporting campus sexual assaults.

She says she was assaulted in two separate incidents, once at a mostly white college and another time at a historically black college.

In reporting the assaults, Madkins says she endured similar efforts — some subtle and some overt — to persuade her to back down rather than lodge a complaint against a fellow black student.

Now as project manager for the advocacy organization End Rape on Campus, Madkins, 25, is working to bring more attention to the role race can play in the handling of campus sexual assaults, and the distinct difficulties black women can face.

She is also preparing to launch Centering the Margin, a program that will help school officials and students recognize how sexual assaults can affect members of marginalized communities differently.

The Los Angeles Times spoke to Madkins about her work. Her responses to The Times’ questions have been edited for length and clarity.

Do black women have a harder time dealing with and reporting sexual assault than white women?

Yes. Part of that is because [of] where black women are, compared to white women, in terms of being accepted into college and accessing resources and stuff like that.

Another thing is the narrative around sexual violence largely focuses around straight, cisgender [non-transgender], white women. So if you don’t really fall into that category, you don’t really have as much knowledge about sexual violence against your particular community.

Another barrier is that most likely their perpetrators are men of color, specifically black men. Especially on college campuses and historically black colleges and universities, there are subtle pressures from the [black] community.

It tells these black women to remain silent because the education of their perpetrator is essentially more important than their education, and that [they] can’t be another person who sends a black man to jail. [Women are told:] “These are the few black men who were able to make it to college and you trying to report them is going to hinder their success.”

So when you stack all of that on top of the great disconnect between the black community and law enforcement, that’s enough for black survivors to not feel comfortable reporting their sexual assault.

Where does that pressure to stay silent come from?

That comes from not only the overall black community, but also these individual campuses [and students]. … They’ll tell you to not really speak out about it, to keep it a secret. They’ll say: “Well, it doesn’t mean you have to necessarily tell the school or tell the police or do one or the other. Or maybe you’re the one that misinterpreted what happened.”

When it comes to … sexual violence that is perpetuated against them by black men, that’s a very hard case to prove. Other people might not know that [black men] essentially have the help and support of the overall black community because of how black men are placed. They’re the highest part of the social hierarchy within the black community. They already know that everything is going to be twisted and turned into their favor.

How does that make a black woman survivor feel?

I think that makes them feel really isolated.

So black women often receive less support than others?

At least in my experience, being a survivor on campus, I kind of lost all of my community there when I did come forward.

I think that depends on what environment your campus is going through. I know when I was assaulted, these conversations [about sexual assault] were not happening on my campus at all, so I believe that is one of the reasons I didn’t have as much support from — not only the general campus overall — but especially from the black community.

But once I was at the historically black campus, [after the second assault], I still saw that same kind of reaction from all the black women on campus.

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