Targeted Counseling For Black Sexual Assault Survivors Coming To Cleveland

photo of rape crisis center door
The counseling program is for Black survivors who are seeking justice through the courts. [Todd Carlson / Cleveland Rape Crisis Center]
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The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is launching a counseling program for Black survivors of sexual assault who are in the middle of legal action.

The center will use a curriculum created by Cleveland-area psychologist Tyffani Dent specifically designed for African Americans. Sessions will aim to address both the trauma of sexual assault and the community pressure survivors often feel to not help to send a Black man to prison.

“A lot of times, they don’t trust the system even as a victim,” said Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Chief Advocacy Officer Teresa Stafford. “We want to make sure they have that additional support and can get the justice that they are seeking.”

For every sexual assault reported, about 15 more are never brought to the police because of the circumstances Black women face, Stafford said.

“They have additional pressure sometimes when they’re engaging with the criminal justice system, especially if their perpetrator is from the same race or ethnic group as they are from,” said Stafford.

A survey last year from the Pew Research Center found nine in 10 Black Americans thought Black people are treated less fairly by the criminal justice system than white people. the survey also found 61 percent of white adults held the same view.

Stafford said she has noticed difference in experiences with the system in her own work with survivors in Cleveland.

“We’re talking about the historical challenges that Black women face when they’re trying to seek justice through the criminal justice system,” Stafford said. “Oftentimes they’re not afforded the same due justice as their counterparts.”

Survivors typically find themselves facing even greater challenges than what Black women are usually burdened with as they seek charges against someone they know, often someone from the same race, from within a community that does not trust the criminal justice system, she added.

“The pressure of putting another person of color, specifically a Black man, inside the criminal justice system, one that is often not very just to that individual, that pressure from the community is something that Black survivors tend to experience that other survivors don’t experience,” Stafford said.

The targeted counseling sessions at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center initially will be available to women from Cuyahoga County. The center plans to start the program early next year.

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