White women are less likely to feel personally responsible to intervene to stop a potential sexual assault if the potential victim is black, according to a study published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly.
The study, conducted by Jennifer Katz, Christine Merrilees and Marisa Motisi of SUNY Geneseo and Jill C. Hoxmeier of Central Washington University, presented a scenario to 160 women: you’re at a party and you see a man leading an intoxicated woman into a private bedroom. The intoxicated woman was given a name; in some cases, the name was nondistinct, such as Laura, and in some cases it was distinctly African American, just as LaToya.
When the name sounded African American, participats “reported less intent to intervene, less personal responsibility to intervene, and greater perceived victim pleasure” than when the name was nondistinct.
“We found that although white students correctly perceived that black women were at risk in a pre-assault situation, they tended not to feel as personally involved in the situation,” the researchers at SUNY Geneseo, Jennifer Katz and Christine Merrilees, said in an interview with PsyPost. In other words, “despite their shared status as women, white female bystanders in the current study may have felt that a Black woman’s plight was not as personally relevant because race has a more powerful effect than gender on intent to intervene and feelings of responsibility to intervene,” they write in the study.
The study, published last month, aligns with previous research that found white people, in general, less likely to help black victims. A 2008 study on racial bias in helping behavior found that “as [a situation’s] level of emergency increased, the speed and quality of help white participants offered to black victims relative to white victims decreased.” When the victim was black, the white participants also viewed the situation as less severe.