Racism and sexual abuse can both be used as forms of power and control. People of colour are particularly vulnerable to all forms of sexual violence because they are already susceptible to the other displays of power and control which are endemic in global society. Of all of the reported incidents of sexual abuse in the UK, statistics show that women from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups are more likely to suffer sexual assaults than white women. Despite making up less than 10% of the population of the UK, more than 20% of sexual assault victims come from BME groups.
Defining sexual assault
The term sexual assault can be used to cover a wide range of offences in the UK. This includes;
- sexual contact with a minor,
- sexual harassment,
- unwanted sexual contact
- and rape.
Rape can be defined as oral, anal or vaginal penetration without consent. Giving or receiving oral sex without consent is also classified as rape. Consent must be given freely. An offence has been committed if an abuser uses coercion, threats, or power to obtain consent. In the United Kingdom, spousal rape is illegal. Consent should never be assumed within a marital relationship.
Within some minority ethnic communities in the UK, there are different ideas about marriage and gender roles. Forced marriages still occur in some sections of society and women who experience rape or sexual assault within these relationships can find it hard to gain the support of their wider community. They are concerned that talking about their abuse may be a betrayal of their family or of their community. Various charities are working within these communities to try to reduce instances of “forced” marriage and to promote an understanding of what constitutes sexual abuse within a relationship.
Institutional and ingrained societal racism in the UK can make it harder for some victims to access the support that they need following a sexual assault. The police, the justice system and the wider community sometimes fail to help minority ethnic people in the same ways that they are able to help white sexual assault victims.
Rape as an Act of Power
Rape is rarely just about the desire for sex. Rapists and those who commit other sexual assaults often do so as a way of exerting power and control over their victims. Sexual abuse can be psychologically damaging and dehumanising for the victim. In some cases, abusers will commit an act of sexual violence against a person of another race as a way to further erode that person’s sense of self and self-esteem.
If you have been a victim of rape or sexual assault
If you have been a victim of rape or sexual assault, you are advised to contact the police to report the incident. If possible, you should visit the police straight away so that they can collect DNA evidence. You can visit the police with a friend or adult who can help to support you with the aftermath of the event. Most police departments in the United Kingdom will introduce you to a specially trained police officer who understands a lot about crimes that involve sexual violence. The officer may ask you some difficult questions, but you should try to answer these questions honestly and openly.
Some people do not want to talk to the police about their experiences. However, there are still plenty of charities and support groups that are available to support people who have experienced sexual violence. The police can refer you to a support group, but it is also possible to self-refer if you want support.
Compensation for rape and sexual assault
If you have been a sexual abuse victim, it may be possible to gain financial compensation for the abuse. This can cover any loss of earnings you have experienced due to the psychological traumas suffered because of the abuse. You should also be able to make a claim for the cost of any counselling or therapy that you have been required to pay for to help you to cope with the aftermath of the abuse.
You may pursue a civil compensation case against someone, even if there has not been a criminal case. It is also possible to sue an organisation if you believe that the organisation failed in their duty of care towards you. Many compensation lawyers are able to offer their services and give advice on how to claim for sexual abuse compensation on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. If you enter into one of these agreements with a lawyer or claims advisor, you will not be responsible for their fees if they do not win your case, however; you may be responsible for other legal costs. You can also make a claim via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).