The Effects of Sexual Assault on the Identity Development of Black College Women (Report)

Colleges and universities remain settings where women are particularly at risk for experiencing all forms of unwanted sexual activity, namely, sexual assault (Cass, 2007). While there are different types of sexual assault–acquaintance rape, date rape, stranger rape, party rape, and gang rape, most rape occurs with individuals who have had some form of association or contact with the perpetrator prior to the incident of assault (Armstrong, Hamilton, Sweeney, 2006; Morway, 2006). Research indicates that there are factors influencing the risks for sexual assault among college women (Cass). Close quarters in residence halls, as well as the social interaction created from involvement in student organizations, such as Greek life, may further contribute to sexual pressure, which has been referred to as “a common element of college life” (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004, p. 94). Young college-aged women may also find themselves at a greater risk for sexual assault than older or married female college students given the fact the former group is typically single, often new to the university environment and adjusting to college life (Fisher, Daigle, Cullen & Turner, 2003). It is uncertain whether women of color are more or less vulnerable than White women to experiencing sexual assault during their college years (Cass; Fisher et al.; Gross, Winslett, Roberts, & Gohm, 2006). It is clear however, that a void exists in the literature regarding sexual assault incidents suffered by Black women as a specific population (Long, Ullman, Starzynski, Long, & Mason, 2007; West & Rose, 2000). According to a longitudinal study of a mostly White survey sample by Smith, White, and Holland (2003), 88% of women were sexually assaulted at one point from early adolescence through the end of college. Most sexual assault studies focus on White women and most rape incidents are intraracial (George & Martinez, 2002; West & Rose, 2000). Consequently, the effects of sexual assault on the identity development of Black female victims in the general population, as well as those in college, are largely unknown.

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