The Truth About Black Women and Sexual Assault: Myths & Facts

by Krislyn Domingue

After recent comments made by Lincoln University President Robert Jennings addressing an audience of female students, it’s blatantly clear that there has been some miseducation regarding the very basics of sexual violence. This miseducation is centered in toxic myths that have historically been harmful to and dismissive towards the experiences of Black women. Perhaps, now a few of these widely upheld myths are bouncing around inside the walls of your head? Well, below you will find our compilation of myths and misconceptions debunked with facts that match the reality of sexual assault.

Myth: “When she says no, she really means yes.”

But actually, fact: No means no. It’s really quite disturbing how widely believed I find this myth to be within my surrounding community. This myth, specifically, perpetuates the notion that, as Black women, we are irresponsible with our bodies and in need of an external, authoritative force to come to the rescue. Enter White enslaver with a Black girl fetish. Enter “She doesn’t really know what she wants. You have to show her.” Pause. I actually do know what I want, that not being you. I am responsible enough with my body to make my own, informed decisions regarding my participation in sexual activities, my pleasure, and my consent.

Myth: “Most assaulters are strangers to the victim.”

But actually, fact: the rapist is most often not a masked stranger in a dark alleyway. According to a U.S. Department of Justice special report, someone known to the victim is the perpetrator in approximately two-thirds of rape cases. Non-strangers perpetrate 73% of all sexual assaults; 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance; 34% of sexual violence cases involve an intimate partner; and 6% of perpetrators are a relative. I’ll do the math for you: strangers filter in as perpetrators in only 22% of sexual violence offenses. And on college campuses? 9 in 10 victims of rape and sexual assault know their offender.

What does this mean? When an abused Black woman asserts that her abuser was her college study buddy, the childhood babysitter, her lover, or her uncle, we should handle the matter delicately and seriously, as if a stranger committed the act. Statistics support that the assaulter is most often someone closest to the victim.

Myth: “She provoked it by [insert a weak attempt at justification].”

But actually, fact: her shorts were not too short, and her drunken slurs were not just oh so unbearably seductive. Quite simply, no one asks to be assaulted, and I find that the argument centered on an assaulter being provoked because of the victim’s attire builds on patriarchal rhetoric. This argument rests on the belief that we aspire to the male gaze, that we are here for the pleasure of men. But actually, my affinity for my body and my want to show her off neither begins nor ends with the motive of attracting the male gaze; and it most definitely should not end in an attack on my body.

Granted, we are responsible for our actions. We are responsible for the clothes with which we adorn our body; we are responsible for our intoxication levels; we are responsible and should be held accountable for our day-to-day decisions. However, we are never responsible for decisions that have been made without our consent and forced upon our bodies. We are never responsible for the actions of another individual. Placing the weight of responsibility for an assaulter’s offenses upon the victim is noxious, in every sense of the word, and will never be justifiable.

Myth: “If she didn’t fight back, it wasn’t rape.”

But actually, fact: when an assaulter penetrates – with ANY body part or object – a sex organ of the victim WITHOUT consent, whether she fought back or not, it was rape. Studies have shown that women who fought back were more likely to be seriously injured by their attacker. This threat of heightened physical violence may make it safer, in the moment, for the victim to not fight back. However, the choice to not fight back does not mean the sex is consensual. The responsibility falls on the perpetrator to be sexually literate and fully possess the ability to comprehend that no means no.

Myth: “If she didn’t report it, it’s because she knew she wasn’t really raped.”

But actually, fact: WRONG! The U.S. Department of Justice states that only 35% of rape or sexual assault victimizations are reported to the police. And the most common reason victims do not report the violence committed against them? Fear of reprisal. (Much of the reprisal and backlash that victims do experience rest on the notion that women lie about sexual assault though research shows that only 2-8% of allegations are false.) This surely does not detract from the very wrongness of the crime committed against the victim but rather hints at a societal flaw.

Factoring in the knowledge that perpetrators are most often those closest to us makes things a bit sticky. Society and the Black community, specifically, are simply not here for women pointing the finger at those who, by proximity to the victim, are deemed the most unlikely perpetrators. And let it be a Black man? Out comes the label of race traitor, you’re telling race secrets!

But as Black women are we supposed to value the well being of the race over that of our bodies, our minds and our emotions? We are not to hurt in silence! Forcing Black women into silence about the wrongs committed against our bodies in favor of loyalty to the race is tradition. However, tradition is not synonymous with right.

We, as a community, must work to unnerve the silence surrounding sexual assault in our communities without deeming those women who dare to speak up as race traitors. We must also realize that silence does not equate to an absence of sexual violence. Sexual assault is a real life problem that plagues our communities and our homes. Debunking myths and arming ourselves with factual information is a vital step in our efforts to righting wrongs.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Krislyn Domingue is a sophomore, Sociology & Anthropology and Comparative Women’s Studies double major at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys reading, writing, and sipping Chai Tea. Email:; Twitter: @krislynsd.

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