White Women May Be Less Likely to Help Black Women at Risk of Rape

Blurred group of people at house partyWhite college students may be less likely to intervene with black women at risk of being raped than with white women facing the same risk, according to a study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly. The study looked at how women responded to a hypothetical scenario in which a severely intoxicated woman was led into a bedroom at a party.

People who are severely intoxicated cannot consent to sex. A 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice found 89% of college students who were raped reported drinking alcohol prior to the assault. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Women’s Willingness to Intervene in a Sexual Assault

Researchers presented 160 white female college students with a story about a man leading an intoxicated woman into a private room during a party. In some versions of the scenario, the potential victim had a stereotypical black name, such as LaToya. In other versions of the story, the woman had a name that researchers determined was not racially distinct, such as Teresa.

Participants who read either version of the scenario perceived the woman was at risk of being sexually assaulted. Participants were unlikely to blame the victim in either scenario. However, those who read about “LaToya” were less likely to report a willingness to intervene in the hypothetical situation. They also felt less personal responsibility for the victim, and some participants believed the victim experienced pleasure from the hypothetical rape.

The study’s authors suggest differences in race and ethnicity can affect a bystander’s sense of personal involvement in this type of scenario, and a lack of personal involvement affects willingness to intervene. They recommend that educators address race and ethnicity in any bystander intervention education, as this lack of personal involvement can put black women at a distinct disadvantage on college campuses with predominantly white students.

Rates of Victimization Among Black and White Women

Most research points to higher rates of sexual victimization among black women than white women. The 2010 NISVS found 22% of black women had been raped, compared to 18.8% of white women. The report shows black women are also more vulnerable to stalking victimization, with a lifetime rate of 19.6%, compared to a rate among white women of 16%.


  1. Katz, J., Merrilees, C., Hoxmeier, J. C., & Motisi, M. (2017). White female bystanders’ response to a Black woman at risk for incapacitated sexual assault. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 036168431668936. doi:10.1177/0361684316689367
  2. Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Ruggiero, K. J., Conoscenti, L. M., & Mccauley, J. (2007). Drug-facilitated, incapacitated, and forcible rape: A national study. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e667182007-001
  3. National intimate partner and sexual violence survey 2010 summary report [PDF]. (2011, November). Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • chase


    March 17th, 2017 at 9:46 AM

    Well I can only speak for myself and not for other female readers but it would be a cold day in hell before I wouldn’t intervene in an event like this, no matter who the victim is or what he or she looked like! It might cause me to get hurt as well, but so be it. I am not gonna stand by and watch another human being be hurt or taken advantage of.

  • Lamb E

    Lamb E

    March 17th, 2017 at 3:49 PM

    Sorry to say most white american women are down for themselves and yes they wouldn’t help a bw in need. I know this a bw married to wm. They want all the protection for themselves and their sisterhood is a sham.

  • A woman

    A woman

    November 9th, 2017 at 5:45 AM

    I think that such studies can only be interpreted as evidence of a phenomenon when they also consider other factors, or at least should mention that there are other factors to be considered. I haven’t looked into so this is really only speculation on my part, but I am sure black women are at higher risk of being subjected to violence, not just to sexual violence. The worse one’s real or perceived socioeconomical situation is, the more likely one is to be subjected to violence. Black people, women in particular, are generally in a worse socioeconomic situation, and this is so even when the individual is highly intelligent, capable and has a college degree. We all know that racism, perceived racism and fear of racism are the culprits. However, unfortunately, there are also cultural factors involved, which are at least partially created from the inside, even if they are often caused by outside factors. We all know that mothers, especially single mothers, who are subjected to violence which is directly or indirectly witnessed by their children tend to normalize, often unknowingly, the acceptability of such violence. This goes for women of all colours, but the phenomenon is even more rampant in families in subpar socioeconomic situations, thus moreso in black families. Could it be that the reason why white women are less likely to help black women is not because there is a superiority complex but because they expect that trying to help will not only have no effect but even cause trouble or even a risk of danger to the helper?
    Case in point. My white sister has a black colleague with whom they often discuss their personal lives. The black girl tells my sister about her boyfriend’s serial cheating, complaining not about the cheating itself but about the trouble of having to get tested for STDs again, about having to change the bed linen all the time because she never knows who else slept in it, etc. My sister asked her why she doesn’t dump him – she told her “you’re a nice girl, you can do better than this”, to which the girl replied na-ah she can’t because that’s just how men are and we should accept them as they are, telling my sister she envies her for the rare catch she has who doesn’t fool around in her back. This girl makes the same money as my sister and has similar expenses, but it turns out she is considerably worse off because she supports her mother, who is in her forties only and can’t hold down a job because of depression and other similar issues. The girl was raised with a series of stepfathers in the picture. My sister has stopped trying to encourage this girl to look for greener pastures – greener pastures are something she doesn’t believe in. This is not the first time she sees this learned helplessness in black girls and I have seen it often enough as well.
    I find that such studies needlessly point at specific culprits when the issue is obviously more complicated than that. Or maybe it is tje media coverage that is too narrow and sensationalist? In any case, it would have been interesting to know whether the reverse is also true, that is, are black women less likely to help white women at risk if rape?
    When it comes to sensitive topics like racism which are also serious ongoing social issues with grave consequences, we all owe it to ourselves to be careful to have research and subsequent reporting faithfully reflect the truth, and the WHOLE truth. Reporting such as that above can have unintended negative consequences and even further perpetrate the phenomena it means to correct.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.