#18. “Collision of Crises” for Black and Brown Survivors of Sexual Violence during COVID-19

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women of color who are survivors of sexual violence have faced disproportionate hardships compared to white women survivors, ColorLines’s Shani Saxon reported in November 2020. Saxon’s report focused on the findings of a study, “Measuring the Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Survivors of Color,” conducted by the organizations “me too.” and FreeFrom, which examined the “compounding socioeconomic effects” of structural racism and COVID-19 on survivors of sexual violence and intimate-partner violence. According to its authors, the report “represents a call to action and social investment in survivors’ lives that cannot wait.”

The study’s findings—based on survey responses from 737 participants, aged 18 years or older—revealed a “collision of crises,” involving the intersection of systemic racial inequality with unemployment or unsafe work, food and housing insecurity, economic precarity, and lack of healthcare. Survivors of color, the study found, are especially at risk of facing “pronounced food and housing insecurity” during the pandemic, with financial insecurity “greatest among Black and Brown women survivors” (with white women having, on average, 5.76 times the financial resources of Black and Brown women). Moreover, the study noted that survivors who lack financial resources during the pandemic have been “at greater risk of returning to a harm-doer.”

Survivors of color reported that specific resources, including child support payments, student loan debt relief, and hazard pay for essential workers, were crucial to their health and safety. The study also made seven policy recommendations for addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on survivors of color. These recommendations included investments in housing, healthcare, childcare, and programs that enable survivors’ financial freedom. For instance, the study’s action plan calls for changing the federal definition of domestic violence to include economic abuse, creating paid and protective work leave for survivors of sexual or intimate-partner violence, and resources for “survivor-led initiatives to end sexual violence.”

Establishment news outlets such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have covered racial and gender inequalities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; but, at the time of this volume’s publication, none appear to have reported on the study of the pandemic’s economic impacts on women of color who are survivors of sexual or intimate-partner violence, which is the specific focus of Shani Saxon’s ColorLines report.

The closest relevant coverage appears to have been a March 2021 New York Times article that explained how President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief plan included millions of dollars for organizations dedicated to ending domestic abuse, as well as vouchers for survivors to help them find a safe place to rebuild their lives. But the Times’s report failed to connect all of the dots, acknowledging that the pandemic “has disproportionately affected people of color” while describing domestic abuse as “a crisis that cuts across race, class and gender.” Though the latter claim is true, it seems like a deceptively incomplete analysis in light of the findings reported by ColorLines. 

Shani Saxon, “COVID Causes Long-Term Harm for Sexual Violence Survivors of Color: Report,” ColorLines, November 20, 2020.

Student Researcher: Lindsay Wilkinson (Salisbury University)

Faculty Evaluator: Shannon O’Sullivan (Salisbury University)

Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.