Date of Award

5-18-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Daniel Schubert

Language

English

Abstract

Systemic sexual violence against African American women has had pervasive, continuous effects on their bodies, identities, and notions of sexuality. It remains significant to examine the institutionalized rape of Black female bodies both historically and contemporaneously in order to both underscore their marginalization and position their lived experiences, which have long been overshadowed, at the center of dominant discourse. The sexual assault of Black women by both White and Black men and the implications it brings forth within the Black community continue to reflect the complexities of the intersection of race and gender in an analysis of White supremacy, male dominance, and sexual exploitation. Through qualitative research in the form of in-depth interviews with ten Black/African American women on Dickinson College’s campus, I explore the women’s ideas, concepts, and experiences with sexual misconduct and the intricate ways in which they grapple with the intersectionality of their identities. Findings reveal that while the embodiment of race and gender is not a monolithic experience, it does play a role in the ways in which the women perceive and experience sexual assault. Prevalent themes that arose include the normalization of sexual misconduct within the broader societal context as well as within the Black/African American community, the complex ways in which the race of a perpetrator of sexual assault influences the women’s decision to report, the tendency of the participants to provide a gendered definition of promiscuity that played into self-policing on campus, and the utilization of a scale of severity when identifying different forms of sexual assault. The purpose of my research is to posit Black college-aged women’s voices into the center of discourse about sexual violence as well as to delve deeper into the reasons and explanations behind the underreporting of rape and sexual assault, the assumed culture of silence around sexual violence, and the racial, gender, and sexual politics which influence the phenomenon, especially for Black/African American women.