Submitted to the AFRO by Rhonda Wilbon & Kevin Daniels

April 2019 marks the 18th Anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During the month of April, all around the country, there are activities and educational campaigns to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it. This year the campaign theme is “I Ask.” The theme is to send the message that asking for consent should be a healthy, normal, and necessary part of everyday interactions.

But what about those who are not able to give consent? It seems that even within the #MeToo movement, there is still a very important population that continues to go unnoticed, lurking in the shadows, still too taboo to be heard or even spoken of by adult survivors themselves: Children, who continue to suffer in silence.

Dr. Rhonda Wilbon, an Associate Professor, in the School of Social Work at Morgan State University. (Courtesy Photo)

The legal age of consent varies from 16 to 18 years old from state to state. In Maryland, the legal age of consent is 16, and there is no “close in age exemption,” which means that no one, in the state of Maryland, can have sex with anyone 16 years old and younger. The law has been established because there is a recognition that children are not developmentally capable of making decisions about engaging in sex. Nor are they mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with the life-long negative outcomes of being sexually violated. And while it is illegal to have sex with children, only 5 in 1,000 perpetrators of child sexual abuse will go to prison for their crime.

The statistics on sexual violence are overwhelming. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) every 92 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and every 9 minutes that victim is a child.  

While it is difficult to find statistics specific to African American Children, according to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, from 2005 to 2010 African American girls and women experienced higher rates of sexual assault than any other race or ethnic group; 40-60% of Black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18; and 40% of confirmed sex trafficking survivors in the U.S. are African American.

According to Dr. Rhonda Wilbon, who has spent over 32 years working in the Field of Sexual Violence Prevention, “while this issue is a pandemic, little is known and even less is being done about the epidemic in the Black community.”  She further believes that child sexual abuse is at the foundation of many of the major problems we see in the Black family and community, and just like with other racial groups, 90% of children know their abusers. And, although many of the long term consequences such as (are substance misuse; mental illness; depression; suicidal ideation; fear of authority figures including teachers and professors; un-diagnosable physical illnesses; chronic pain; school dropout; homelessness; at risk of sexual assaults as an adult; human trafficked; attachment and trust disorders; trauma and PTSD) are prevalent in the Black community, little is known about how to work with children and adult survivors of child sexual abuse, thus there are few specialized services, and the core of the pain keeps getting harder and harder within, and the code of silence keeps getting stronger and stronger, and both the pain and silence continues to be passed on to future generations.

Based on her experience and expertise working as a psychotherapist providing counseling services to adult survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual assault for over nine years, Dr. Wilbon believes, “the only thing that is more damaging to African American’s and the Black family is racism and our history of being forced into enslavement.”  

Dr. Rhonda Wilbon, LCSW-C, LICSW, is a former Consulting Psychotherapist for the DC Rape Crisis Center, and an Associate Professor, in the School of Social Work at Morgan State University, in the Ph.D, Department. Dr. Kevin Daniels, Ph.D., D.Min., is chair of the Civic Action Committee and Minister’s Conference of Baltimore/Vicinity.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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