"Silencing as an Act of Protection”: A Mixed-methods Intersectional-Ecological Exploration of Black Parents’ Beliefs, Behaviors, and Perceptions about Sexual Health and Trauma

Rochelle Davidson Mhonde

Advisor: Richard T Craig, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Anne M. Nicotera, Gary L. Kreps, Angela Hattery

Online Location,
August 11, 2022, 03:00 PM to 05:00 PM


Black people are disproportionately at risk to sexual harm, and for every Black woman who reports being raped, at least 15 do not report the traumatic incident to the police (Hart & Rennison, 2003). The barriers to disclosure to family, close sources, and authorities for Black survivors include a historical “culture of silence” (Gay 1999). Utilizing Intersectionality and the social-ecological model, silence as a communicative behavior is contextualized by the macro layers of rape culture, the histories of systemic racism and heteropatriarchy, among other forms of structural oppression. This exploratory study utilizes a mixed methodological approach grounded in a transformative framework (Sweetman, Badiee, and Creswell; 2010) with a mandate for social justice and systemic-level interventions (Alinia, 2015; Cho et al., 2013; Collins, 2009; Esposito and Evans-Winters, 2022) in three Phases: Qualitative—Quantitative—Qualitative. Phase 1 employs aspects of community-based participatory research (CBPR) with social workers and community leaders (i.e., advisory panelists) in focus groups (N=5) to discuss cultural beliefs and communicative behaviors about sexual health and trauma that are considered norms within Black communities using Critical Thematic Analysis (Lawless & Chen, 2019). Phase 2 builds upon the recommendations from the advisory panelists in Phase 1 to adapt quantitative measures to explore Black parents’ beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors. Phase 2, a survey of Black parents (N=457), includes scales that measure rape myths, sexual communication, self-efficacy, religiosity, perceived discrimination, and demographic variables. In Phase 3, focus groups were used to further explore parents' perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors (N=21) through their narratives about discussing sexual health and trauma with their children. This study explores silence(ing) as a cultural marker of Black communities regarding stigmatized sexual health topics, particularly sexual trauma.


Keywords: Intersectionality, mixed-methods, perceived discrimination, racism, rape myths, self-efficacy, sexism, sexual health, sexual trauma, social-ecological model