Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Last week I was speaking with a young Black girl who had just turned 13 and was arrested for hitting her mother. This young girl was very, very angry. You could see it in her body language, in her terse answers to my questions, the scowl on her face and her overall negative attitude.

I asked her why she was so angry. She responded, “I don’t know”.  She seemed angry at the world. She had been suspended twice from school for fighting, but this was the first time she had ever been arrested. I was afraid it wouldn’t be the last if she didn’t learn how to address her anger.

I continued with my assessment and when I got to the questions about sexual abuse, she told me impassively that she had been raped at the age of seven by her mother’s then boyfriend.

Bingo. I knew that at least in part, her anger was tied to that traumatic experience. She went on to tell me that the boyfriend was now in prison and that she felt like she was left unprotected by her absent biological father and her neglectful mother.

I was shocked and angered when she told me that after the rape, she only received two weeks of counseling. Two weeks of counseling does nothing for almost any issue, let alone something as tragic as childhood sexual abuse.

I am almost positive that she was offered more than two weeks of counseling, or at the least referred for more counseling and her mother didn’t follow through. I can’t be certain, but from my experience it’s often the parents who just want to “move passed” the situation and downplay it’s potential affects on their child.

I asked this young girl if she thought the sexual abuse she experienced affected her in any way. She replied, “no”. Of course at 13 she is too young to understand the subconscious affects of sexual abuse. She’s too young to understand that all that anger she has inside of her that is already disrupting her life can most likely be attributed to her past.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to deal with a host of mental health problems including anger issues, depression, eating disorders, guilt, shame, anxiety, relationship problems, dissociation patterns, repression and self-blame.

This young girl is just one of the 61% of Black girls who have experienced sexual abuse  at the hands of men they know and should be able to trust according to a study done by Black Woman’s Blue Print .

Robin Stone, author of No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse (2004) says that one out of four Black girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18.

Most of the sexual abuse comes from within the family and friends circle. Many go unreported. For every every Black woman who reports a rape, at least 15 do not according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009).

22-29% of child sexual abuse victims are boys, many who often don’t report it due to fear, shame and confusion. Untreated, these boys often go on to have a plethora of behavior problems, many of which lead to future problems in school, run-ins with the law and relationship problems.

There are many, many reasons sexual abuse in families happen in secrecy including families wanting to keep it a secret (out of shame. to protect the victim and/or perpetrator) and sadly because of the historical stereotypes of Black women being seductive or sexually aggressive, even at young ages. It makes it hard for society to see them as innocent victims in many cases.

Talking to professional Black women I know personally, I was shocked to find out that many of them had experienced childhood sexual abuse at the hands of uncles, older cousins or other males they knew. Most did not tell anyone as a child.

This trend to not talk about childhood sexual abuse period has to change, especially in the Black community where it appears that our collectivist culture, fear of stereotypes and history itself, makes us reluctant to discuss and address sexual abuse with the intensity that it deserves.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to childhood sexual abuse, especially in the Black community. If you want to know more you can start by reading an older post I wrote about childhood sexual abuse and if you’re interested in learning more about sexual abuse in the Black community I wholeheartedly recommend Robin Stones book, No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse.

Families need to talk about and not be afraid to address childhood sexual abuse. As Corey Booker said on a totally different subject, but it rings true here as well, “Your silence and amnesia is complicity.” .

 

 

10 Black Psychologists Who Greatly Impacted The Field: Francis Cecil Sumner

downloadFrancis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954) is better known for being the first African American to ever earn a Ph. D in psychology. What is not so widely known is that he was also the first African American to have earned a doctorate from any American University.

Francis Cecil Sumner was a pioneer for future Black psychologists. He started the psychology program at Howard University and went on to teach other prominent future Black psychologists such as Kenneth Clark. He was also a pivotal leader in education reform and completed vast amounts of research that counteracted racism and bias in psychological studies of African Americans.

Unfortunately, Francis Cecil Sumner died before seeing the end of segregation, something he fought hard for.

Like many Black psychologists, Francis Cecil also did a lot of research in the areas of discrimination and social injustice, but I believe his greatest contribution to the field was becoming the first African American psychologist and paving the way for myself and those before and after me.

His other contributions include:

  • 1916 As a graduate student at Lincoln University he taught psychology of religion, mysticism, rationalism, experimental psychology, social psychology and intermediate and advanced German.
  • 1920-1921 Took his first teaching position at Wilber force University in Ohio.
  • 1921 (summer) Taught at Southern University in Louisiana.
  • 1921 (fall) Accepted an appointment as instructor of psychology and philosophy in the college department at West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State College).
  • 1928 Resigned from West Virginia after becoming restless and assumed the acting chairmanship of the department of psychology at Howard University where he remained until his death in 1954.
  • 1931 Had the opportunity to attend the First International Congress for Religious Psychology held at the University of Vienna. There he presented a paper entitled, “Mental Hygiene and Religion” and met many leaders among European psychologists of religion.
  • Served as an official abstractor for both the Journal of Social Psychology and the Psychological Bulletin, where he translated more than three thousand articles from German, French, and Spanish.

How The Mental Health System Is Failing Minorities

iStock_000009898060XSmallI’ve wrote a bit about how the mental health system is failing those who need it most and a lot of those people are usually poor and/or minorities.

Working in an inner-city area I’ve always been valued as a licensed mental health counselor able to diagnose and treat a wide array of mental issues and refer clients who needed more attention, testing or medication to people and places able to provide those services.

Sometimes I didn’t quite appreciate or understand the praises I got from other school administrators, faculty even clients and their families. To me I was just doing my job, but to them, at times I was seen as a hero.

It wasn’t until recently that I actually thought about this. Within the past year two crucial agencies pulled out of the school because of lack of funding. These two services provided mental health counseling to the students who needed it three days out of the week while I was there everyday. They were not licensed and generally dealt with less severe, but no less important issues.

Because these two agencies are no longer on campus, this year my case load exploded to way more then I could handle by myself, but I had no choice but to try to handle it the best I could which at times wasn’t always that great. I was overwhelmed, underpaid and under appreciated by the agency I work for, but very much appreciated by the school, students and families I served.

To make things worse, I may not be at the school after the end of this month because funding is being cut from my agency as well.

While to me it is ultra important that these kids and families receive my services, like I wrote in my previous post, it boils down to money over actual quality of care.

It was then that I started realizing that there weren’t many options for those in inner-city communities who need mental health services, largely because poor and minority people with mental illnesses are more neglected and inner-city communities receive less funding which is one reason the two agencies I mentioned above pulled out of the school I work at, they lost some of their funding.

A lot of the funding that comes for mental health servies in inner-city communities is based on grants, and grants come and go very easily, often doing great work in a community for a couple of years and then leaving them without any support.

With that being said, it’s really hard for the kids I work with and their parents to receive quality mental health services in their community.

Many of them end up getting services through the jail or prison or are involved with child protective services which is where many of them end up because they have issues such as uncontrollable behavior that haven’t been addressed, but this creates a host of other problems due to the stigma that comes with it and because it eternalizes a racial stereotype that this is where Black people end up.

However, once these people are no longer incarcerated or receiving services through child protection services, without support, most will regress back to their previous mental states and behaviors. Only about 33% of African Americans suffering from a mental illness are retrieving proper treatment.

Because of this neglect, there isn’t much research on treating minorities with mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and others conditions.

Yes, it is true that for the most part, there is little to no difference in these disorders across races or socio-economic statuses, but there are cultural and social differences that play major roles in properly treating these disorders.

African Americans have been ignored for decades when it comes to mental health. Before the 1960s, it was believed that African Americans could not get bipolar disorder or depression for example. It wasn’t until 2001 when former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, who is African American, released Culture, Race and Ethnicity. A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, which brought the disparities into national light.

Working with minorities from African Americans, Haitians, Latinos and Asians, I know that culture plays a large role in who and how individuals receive mental health services.

Some cultures are very private and trying to get the whole family together for a session can be almost impossible, while others, especially African Americans, seem to be more suspicious of the mental health system in general and are more likely to stop treatment early without any follow up and to not follow through on medication recommendations.

Because of this distrust, many will turn to a friend, then their pastor, and then their general doctor before finally turning to a mental health professional for help with a disorder.

Because of all these issues, I see why my role within the school I work with is seen as so important. I am able to bond with the students and give them and their families services that they may not otherwise receive.

On top of that, I think I am helping to remove some of the stigma associated with getting help for a mental health problem.

Many of my minority clients, when I first meet with them automatically tell me that they are not going to take any medication or go to the mental hospital, as if that’s all those who work in the mental health field do, medicate people or hospitalize them.

Through getting to know me, they realize that I just want to help them get through whatever is bothering them and I have no plot to medicate them or put them in a mental hospital unless it is absolutely necessary.

One of the students told me last week when I told her I wasn’t sure if I would be back next school year that, “If you are not here, there will be more kids going crazy, more people fighting and using drugs”. That thought saddened me. I even thought about volunteering some of my time to the students if at all possible.

I am not a hero, I am really just doing my job and doing what I feel called to do, but I see that without my services being conveniently offered on campus where students and their families can easily access them, there isn’t much else around. Unlike in more oppulent areas, there aren’t any private facilities with modern technology. There’s nothing.

So yes, the mental health system is failing most people who truly need it, especially minorities and poor people who are largely ignored and underserved including teenagers just trying to survive in a violent, crime ridden neighborhood at an inner-city school that serves as their haven away from their broken homes and communities.

Childhood Abuse Linked To Asthma And Obesity In African American Women

Screenshot_2013-03-22-01-52-10-1According to research done at the University School of Medicine and Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center, Black women who have been physically and/or sexually abused during childhood and adolescence are more likely to become obese in adulthood as well as are more likely to later go on to develop asthma.

The study appeared in the journal Pediatrics and was based on a longitudinal Black Women’s Health Study which followed a large number of African American women since 1995.

What the study suggests is what many of us already know and that is that experiences during childhood may have long-term affects on our emotional and physical health.

“Abuse during childhood may adversely shape health behaviors and coping strategies, which could lead to greater weight gain in later life,”  says Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, who is the lead investigator in the study as well as a pediatric primary care physician at Boston Medical Center.

She goes on to say that metabolic and hormonal disruptions can result from abuse and that childhood abuse could cause other health problems like asthma. “Ultimately, greater understanding of pathways between early life abuse and adult weight status may inform obesity prevention and treatment approaches.” Boynton-Jarrett continued.

The same study found that physical and/or sexual abuse could more than double the chances of African American women developing asthma later in life. According to the study, African American women who suffered abuse in childhood had an increase of about 20 percent of developing asthma.

What’s also interesting is that the link between physical abuse and asthma seems to be stronger than the link between sexual abuse and asthma.

According to Patricia Coogan, the lead author in the study stated,  “The results suggests that chronic stress contributed to asthma onset , even years later.”
I had a professor in graduate school who always said, “Whatever you don’t deal with mentally, you will deal with physically” and this seems to be a prime example.

Stress in childhood experienced from abuse causes physiological consequences. Imagine the amount of stress one experiences living in an abusive situation. That type of stress can have an impact on the body, especially the immune and respiratory system and development.

There are unfortunately high incidents of childhood abuse as well as an increase in the prevalence of asthma with an increase from 7.3 to 8.2 percent, or approximately from 20.3 million to 25.6 million people from 2001 to 2009. The populations that saw the greatest increase in asthma were children from low-income families and African-American children.

I find this study to be very interesting because as a counselor, before I ever read this study, I recognized a link between obesity and sexual abuse in African American teenage girls.

I noticed that a large portion of the obese African American teenage girls I worked with, reported being sexually abused in childhood and early adolescence. I found this to be astounding and the more obese African American teens I worked with, the more it continued to be true.

It got to a point where I could look at an obese African American teen, the way they carry themselves and predict with about a ninety percent  certainty that they had been sexually abused before they ever felt comfortable enough to divulge that information.

I started thinking that maybe obesity and overeating became a unconscious defense  mechanism they used to become less attractive to not only the person who had sexually abused them, but possibly potential abusers in the future. And of course, overeating in itself could have been a coping mechanism used to help self-sooth themselves from the pain of sexual abuse.

I found it fascinating and yet sad, but this new research appears to back up some of what I had been suspecting although they seem to take it from more of a physiological than psychological approach.

What’s also interesting is that in her book Young, Poor and Pregnant, Judith Musick saw a link between sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy, meaning that some young girls who were being sexually abused, consciously or unconsciously sought out to get pregnant in hopes that their pregnancy and having a baby would make them less appealing to their abuser.

It’s obvious that physical and sexual abuse in childhood can have devastating affects on a child’s mental and emotional health well into adulthood, but new research is pointing to physical and sexual abuse also having long lasting physiological affects, making it that much more important that we not only fight to put a end of child abuse, but that we also provide help to those who have been abused.

Many adults I’ve spoken to who have been abused as children think of themselves as being resilient, and to a certain degree they are, but they don’t see the potential ongoing damage the abuse they experienced ten, twenty, or thirty years ago still has on their lives today. They don’t see that their relationship problems stem from lack of trusting or being able to relate well to men, that their depression comes from years of childhood neglect or that their overeating could be a result of past sexual abuse.

So much so that many of them don’t even initially mention being abused early on, although it is one of the first questions I ask. They go on for session after session, week after week, talking about issues that have roots in their childhood abuse, but they don’t recognize that and it’s only when they bring up the abuse and we address it, that they can truly start to heal.

I Want To Have A Light-Skinned Baby: The Affects Of Colorism On Black Adolescent Females

ts-134028063-african-american-girl-school-istock-14259556-dean-mitchellToday in a small group of teenage girls that consisted of one Asian-Haitian-American female, one Haitian-American female and one African-American female, seemingly out of nowhere, the Haitian-American (a chestnut complected girl) blurted out, “I date White boys because I want to have a light-skinned baby.”

She didn’t say that she wants to marry a loving man and have healthy children, but that she wants to have a light-skinned baby.

Before I could comment, the African-American girl in the group (she’s about copper complected) quickly agreed with her (although her current boyfriend is deep chestnut complected), that she too wanted light-skinned babies.

I then turned to the the Asian-Haitian-American girl and asked her if she too wanted to have light-skinned children. She replied with the sensible answer, that she didn’t care how her kids came out. The other two girls quickly jumped in and said, “That’s because she is already light-skinned.”

I was shocked by their statements. Not because it was the first time I had ever heard Black teens make that comment, but because just on Sunday night I had watched CNN’s Who is Black in America with Soledad O’Brien, which explored colorism and identity in the Black community.

Some of the things that stuck out to me during the show, was how some darker skinned Blacks often did not like their skin tone and wanted lighter skin and how some lighter skinned Blacks didn’t want to identify with being Black at all.

These were more the exception than the rule, but a common enough trend to cause deep contemplating for not only Black people, but other people of color and those who teach, counsel or mentor people of color.

After watching that thought provoking show, I was a bit alarmed to have two of my teenage students basically say, “I don’t like my complexion and don’t want to have kids that look like me.”

I could go into the many different theories behind this sort of thinking, including brainwashing by the media, European standards of beauty and what is called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, but those are all too extensive topics to cover here.

My main concern, is the affects this type of thinking has on these teenage girls self-esteem, self-value and self-worth.getty_rm_photo_of_africanamerican_teen_girl_in_mirror

When Black girls make comments like, “I want to have a light-skinned baby”, they are basically consciously or subconsciously rejecting vital parts of their self and their identity.

What they are saying at the most basic level is, “I don’t like my skin color, it is undesirable. I don’t like my hair, it is ugly. I want to make sure that my child comes out with lighter skin so that they will be prettier and better than I am.”

There is no way that a person with this type of latent thinking, can truly feel good about herself, her family or those that look like her.

This is a form of self-hate that she probably isn’t even aware she is influenced by, yet it shows up daily in her life through automatic thoughts, the way she feels about herself and the way she interacts with her world.

Black males are also affected by this.

Many Black males, especially athletes, entertainers and rappers quickly gravitate to and praise lighter skinned Black women, White women or women of other races. This sends a message to both young Black boys and girls.

To young Black boys it says that you have to have a light-skinned Black, Hispanic, White or other woman on your arm to truly show you are successful or have “made it”. To darker skinned Black girls, it says that you are ugly and undesirable. It says to light-skinned girls that you are coveted, not for your uniqueness, personality or intelligence, but for your appearance.

It’s sickening to me because most of these people are operating subconsciously under the influences of our countries painful history of racism. They have been brainwashed and don’t even know it.

It is hard for a people to feel good about themselves collectively, succeed collectively and grow collectively when there are so many of us that don’t feel comfortable in our own skin.

I believe this causes an increase in a multitude of issues including academic problems, violence, substance abuse and mental illness. stock-footage-an-angry-sad-girl-shows-her-frustration-black-and-white

Colorism doesn’t only affect Black people, but most people of color around the world who are influenced by European standards.

There have been many studies on the length some Hispanic cultures have gone through to guarantee that darker genes don’t enter (contaminate) their gene pool, so much so, that some families insisted on cousins marrying cousins.

In Brazil, before the rise of a pro Afro-Brazilian movement, many Black Brazilians didn’t identify as Black, and preferred to be identified as mulatto. Brazil even went through a period of “White washing” a few decades ago where the government was afraid that Brazilians were too African/dark-skinned and aggressively urged Europeans to migrate to the country to help lighten the face of Brazil.

Being identified as Black, around the world, has a very negative connotation behind it and many people try to escape that by denying they are Black all together if possible, preferring to be called Latino, Dominican, Puerto Rican, or whatever their nationality, despite their obvious African heritage.

I am not an expert on this subject from the Latino point of view, but I would refer you to the actress Zoe Saldaña, who is a Dominican-American and proudly calls herself a Black woman. And the Dominican-American author Junot Diaz who talks frequently about colorism in the Dominican community in his works.

In America, at least in the Black community, we seem to have to face and deal with colorism more often, most likely because we are only about 13% of the population and have such a long history of racism and prejudice.

I told these young girls not to date a guy because of the color of his skin or his potential to help her have lighter-skinned children with “good hair”, but to date a guy because he respects her, loves her and treats her like a queen.

This post is not about race, but it’s about how this type of thinking negatively affects many aspects of these girls lives.

These girls are all in counseling because of anger, self-esteem and depression issues. If I didn’t like my skin complexion, the texture of my hair or my self, I would have problems with anger, self-esteem and depression too.

I will continue working with these girls on accepting and loving themselves and plan on showing them this video (below) during our next group session, in hopes that it will help open up their eyes to some of the subliminal messages they have been receiving about themselves.

The video is only about ten minutes, if you have the time, take a look at it and tell me what you think. It talks about the Clark Doll Experiment, but it goes deeper with a personal touch.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas and A.N.T.S.

Recently I watched as Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas won two gold metals in the Olympics and made history by becoming not only the first African-American woman, but also the first woman of color to win the individual-all around in gymnastics. Remarkable feats for anyone, let alone a 16 year old. Being an African-American I was so proud of her, so you can imagine my shock when I was told that much of the talk about Gabby within the African-American community online wasn’t about her gold metals or her history making accomplishment, but about her hair. Her hair? Are you kidding me?

I took some time reading different blogs and websites and was shocked to see that a lot of people were more concerned about the texture, style and condition of her hair than about what this 4’11” exceptional athlete was doing in London. The more I read, the more I found myself enraged at the ignorance of those who expressed that Gabby was representing all African-American women “and her hair should look good” while she was doing it. This is so ridiculous. She is representing African-American women, showing that if you are dedicated, focused, work hard, refuse to take no for an answer and never give up on yourself, you can accomplish all of your dreams. Instead, many people are worried about the superficial and that got me to thinking.

There are so many places I could go with this. I could talk about the psychology of racism, self-hate, the European standard of beauty, stereotypes, the psychodynamic value (or devaluation) of African-American hair, post traumatic slave syndrome, images in the media that make many African-American’s consciously or sub-consciously reject their own images as attractive, self esteem, and the list could go on and on. However, I decided to try to stay as true to this blog as possible, and discuss something I think everyone could benefit from and that is understanding automatic negative thoughts, or ANTS.

You see, we all have automatic thoughts which are thoughts that just pop into our head without us giving much thought about them. We will discuss this more in detail next week. We all at times even have ANTS (automatic negative thoughts), but some people seem to be infested with ANTS and when reading those disparaging remarks about Gabby, I realized that those people were infested. Instead of looking at a beautiful, successful, incredible young woman, they quickly pointed out the negative and decided to focus on that for whatever reason (in the African-American community, the word “crabbing” is often used to describe when other African-American’s complain about more successful African-Americans, often in attempts to make the other person feel bad while also making the person complaining feel better about themselves). Those ANTS keep them from being able to truly see or recognize the beauty right in front of them.

People with ANTS, if you take them to a beautiful beach will complain that it’s too hot, the waves are too loud, it smells too salty or that the sand is getting between their toes.  If you take them on a beautiful midnight stroll they will complain that the moon is too bright or that their feet hurt. Or, if you show them a beautiful teenager making Olympic history, will complain that her hair isn’t done nicely. They will never be happy unless they are complaining about something. They are so used to being miserable that they are only happy when complaining. These people usually don’t even know that they have a problem because they have lived with the ANTS for so long that they are part of them.

Are there people in your life who have ANTS? People who always seem to rain on your parade, point out the negative in every situation or seem to only be somewhat content when they are complaining about how miserable they are or pointing out flaws and imperfections in other people? If so, recognizing that they are infested with ANTS helps keep you from making their issue, your issue, and allows you to detach from them either physically or emotionally. Maybe you recognize that you have an infestation of ANTS. Start paying attention to your automatic thoughts, especially those ANTS and next week we’ll start working on getting rid of them.