Every 2 Minutes
In the 4 minutes it takes to read this post, at least 2 women will have been raped in America. Every 2 minutes someone is raped in this country. This statistic is staggering and yet, we can’t help but still feel that this is only the tip of the iceberg in a culture saturated with violence, where sexual assault and entitlement to another person’s body, access to Black bodies, female bodies and transgender bodies has been the birthright of the privileged.
Black Women’s Blueprint takes sexual assault seriously. It’s serious because Black women continue to be victimized at staggering rates. Only one in 15 Black women report it when they are sexually assaulted. So we can’t really trust the statistics that say 4 out of every 10 Black women in the United States has been a victim of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (CDC, 2010). Over 14% of Black women enrolled in historically Black colleges and universities reported a completed or attempted rape (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 2013).
What if every Black woman and girl who’ve survived sexual violation decided to speak. What would the statistics say? What would their speaking say about the ever shifting nature of rape culture in this country? Would their speaking, would the sheer number of survivors, would that push all of us to take to the streets in protest? Warranted protest?
There is a constant stream of sexual assault stories in the news. Many are incidences that should have and could have been prevented, especially on college campuses. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice released study that found that 1 in 5 women are targets of attempted or completed rape on college campuses, and 1 in 16 men. The stats on transgender brothers and sisters are too meager and not enough attention is paid to the violations of their bodies and souls. In 2013, Congress reinstated the Violence Against Women Act with provisions for improved campus safety for all regardless of gender, sexuality and gender identity. These provisions require colleges and universities to report the number of stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence incidents. Reporting the number of assaults should not be where college and universities accountability ends. What good is reporting if campus culture of sexual violence with impunity remains the same?
Sexual violence is a community issue. Many stand by and choose not to get involved because they feel no personal responsibility. This further ingrains a culture of inaction and silence. For example, a Hobart and William Smith Colleges 18-year-old freshman’s reported rape and friend’s testimony having witnessed her being raped were all dismissed within a 12-day investigation and hearing. The accused football players were cleared before the rape kit was processed and the victim’s identity was released to the college population. (New York Times, 2014). This is not uncommon as a devastating number of victims opt never to report sexual assault to avoid being so publicly humiliated and devalued and their attackers receive no more than a slap on the wrist.
Legislation to report sexual assault and “punish” harm-doers is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to end sexual assault on college campuses, all must work together to dismantle the culture of violation, privilege, inequality, and impunity that allows sexual violence to occur unchecked. We at Black Women’s Blueprint extend a call to action to college students and survivors. We support you, we believe you, and we want to hear from you. Contact us and learn more about how to become a part of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Sadness and outrage overwhelmed me as I watched the violence that erupted in Baltimore this week. The death of Freddie Gray in police custody gave rise to an all too familiar sense of despair. As evidenced by the recent stream of murders publicized in the news, it is still open season on Black people in America.
I shook my head as I read tweet after tweet demonizing the residents of Baltimore because I understood, as so many of us do, that the sadness and outrage experienced by American communities bearing the brunt of racist violence can easily become something more ominous. As a Black woman in America, I regularly battle the gamut of emotions when I hear and read about unarmed sisters and brothers being brutally murdered at the hands of those who’ve sworn an oath to serve and protect. Black women are in the vanguard of the battle against such atrocities, not because social justice is “trending” but because we continue to experience violence with little recourse.
Black women are 35% more likely that their white counterparts to be victims of violence, yet makeup only 13% of the U.S. population (Center for American Progress, 2013). Approximately 40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18, an ongoing survey by Black Women’s Blueprint places that number closer to 60% (Black Women’s Blueprint, 2011). This speaks volumes about the institutional redress available to Black women in America, and the pervasive message of impunity that is strengthened every time violence against a Black person goes unpunished.How do we survive this? How do we stop the onslaught of violence against Black people?
The violence that erupted in Baltimore was the result of generational sadness and outrage reaching a boiling point. Though violence in response to violence is reflexive, it is a dangerous diversion. We must target the root of the problem, pro-actively working towards a complete and restorative justice. We are organizing and demonstrating. We are engaging in thoughtful dialogue to raise consciousness and accountability. We are collectively using our voices, our talents, and our outlets to galvanize people from all walks of life for the cause of social justice. We are hellbent on disrupting the status quo of unpunished excessive force and racist tactics within law enforcement and government. We need the violence to stop. We have no choice but to take action. Our lives depend upon it.
Seeking Justice: Invitation to a U.N. Parallel Event of the Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission March 11, 2015 8:30am-10:30am.
PARTICIPATE VIA TELECONFERENCE
RSVP TO ATTEND IN PERSON.
On behalf of our Human Rights Commissioners and Board of Directors, The Black Women’s Blueprint would like to invite you to Seeking Justice, a United Nations Parallel event on Wednesday, March 11th during the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting in New York.
The CSW event will engage key feminists, clergy, scholars, journalists and advocates like yourself in strategic dialogue about our implementation of the first Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Against Sexual Assault (BWTRC) in the U.S. and our plans for a Tribunal at the U.N. in April 2016.
Why the BWTRC: Launched by Black Women’s Blueprint in 2010, the BWTRC is the first of its kind to focus on sexual assault and Black women in the United States. As an independent body, led by civil society, the Truth Commission’s objective is to examine the history, context, causes, and consequence of rape/sexual assault on women of African descent. It is a bold, innovative and groundbreaking move by Black women across generation, ethnicity, sexuality and other identities to confront the ever-shifting nature of rape culture, and sexual violence against African-American/Black women in the United-States.
What We Have Accomplished: Black Women’s Blueprint has worked with over two hundred women on the ground. In addition to our domestic advocacy work which includes direct social services and justice reform, we have taken the fight for racial and gender justice internationally. The organization monitors U.S. compliance with human rights treaties and advocates for reform through treaty bodies. Since 2013, we have submitted three shadow reports—a CERD Shadow Report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2014, a CAT Shadow Report to the Commission of the Elimination of All Forms of Torture (CAT) on state sanctioned violence against Black women in the U.S.; and a UPR Report for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to member states interested in the U.S.’ track record on the treatment of women of African Descent within and at its borders. In addition, we have engaged with the White House Council on Women and Girls and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on Campus to ensure the voices of Black women remain central to any processes aimed at protecting bodily integrity and personal security for women and girls in communities. We are also leading efforts to organize Black women around Cities for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and are sponsoring the March 14, 2015 Global African Women Birthing the Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development.
On March 11, 2015, the meeting will take place at Guild Hall, the Armenian Convention Center, 630 2nd Avenue (at 35th St.) NY, NY 10017. A phone conference line will also be available in the event you are unable to join us in person. During the Parallel Forum we will update you on the current work of the BWTRC, discuss the critical challenges we have faced, ask for critical feedback and direction, discuss next steps and more importantly share our plan for the much anticipated 2016 Tribunal. As a leader in our very diverse community, we are excited at the possibility of your participation in this process as well as the discovery of ways to build collaboration and resources.
We look forward to hearing whether you will be able to join us in this groundbreaking work to address the complexities that living at the intersection of race and gender creates for women of African Descent who are survivors of sexual assault. Again, we thank you for your commitment.
Read all three reports, click on the links below.
- Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment (CAT): Invisible Betrayal: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States
- Universal Periodic Review (UPR): The Human Rights Situation for Black Women of African Descent in the United States
- Convention On the Eradication of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD): Racial Discrimination And Sexual Violence Against Black/African-American Women - The Impact of Inadequate Racial Justice Initiatives and Violence Prevention Policy Implementation in the United States
From all of us at Black Women’s Blueprint, From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much for your gift of time and your generosity of spirit.
From all of us at Black Women’s Blueprint, From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much for your gift of time and your generosity of spirit.
We think of you as amazing for taking the time, for choosing to show up, to honor Rosa Clemente, asha bandele, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi. We thank you for your willingness to give, call, write and donate to Black Women’s Blueprint so that the work of our Truth Commission on Black women and their experiences with rape in the U.S. could be realized. I can tell you that your gesture means more than you can imagine. Thank you for your gift of presence.
By showing up in community Saturday, February 21, 2015 at Mother Tongue: Poetic Prelude to a Tribunal, For Black Women, Refugees of a World on Fire, we are ensuring each others survival. We are reclaiming peace in our communities. Thank you for standing with us this year, for your continued partnership and vigilance in ensuring we remain effective on this crucial journey.
- Farah Tanis, Executive Director, Black Women’s Blueprint | Chair, Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Give because rape is a profound violation of a person’s rights, body, and sense of self and safety. Culturally speaking, the effects of sexual violence can last a lifetime, rippling out to family members, school and work, communities and down through generations.
Give because less than 3% of foundation funding goes to ending rape, because less than 10% of government funding goes to ending rape, because it is the people, those of you who’ve survived rape, who know someone who has survived, who love someone who has survived, who support the work to end rape. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”. You make a difference when you give something.
“Cross over onto a new place where stooped labor cramped, quartered down, pressed and caged up combatants can straighten the spine and expand the lungs, and make the vision manifest.” –Toni Cade Bambara, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.
If we are to make the vision manifest for a world where there is real justice, a world where sexual assault is no longer the expectation, where it is no longer a fact that a woman is raped every two minutes, a world where not one more victim is put on trial for being assaulted, then it’s time we flip the script. We are putting rape culture on trial—globally. We invite you to join us.
Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB) is a national Black feminist organization using civil and human rights approaches to organize and develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and gender, race and other disparities are erased. Launched in 2010, we engage in progressive research, historical documentation, and policy advocacy; and organize on social justice issues steeped in the struggles of Black/African American women within their communities and the dominant culture.
Putting Rape Culture on Trial: The Journey to 2016
We’re straightening up the spine and expanding the lungs, and we’re making the vision manifest. In April 2016, we will convene the first ever Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a tribunal to focus attention on Black women in the U.S. and their historical and contemporary experiences with rape and sexual assault and we’re holding those responsible, accountable.
In August 2014, we sent a delegation to the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland to testify before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and in November we stood in front of the Committee Against Torture (CAT). We called for the U.S. to recognize human rights violations against Black women and address the historically high rates of sexual assault in this country.
This year’s Mother Tongue Monologues on February 21, 2015 is a “Poetic Prelude” to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It will celebrate those women and girls most often silenced and will specifically celebrate Poet Laureate Sonia Sanchez and the three sisters who created “Black Lives Matter”, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Brignac, Opal Tometi.
If we are to make the vision manifest for a world where there is real justice, a world where racism and sexual violence are no longer the expectation, where it is no longer a fact that a woman is raped every two minutes, a world where not one more victim is put on trial for being assaulted; if we are to make this vision manifest, then it’s time we flip the script. We are putting rape culture on trial—globally as we stand in protest to bring about civil and human rights for all our communities. We invite you to join us by making a donation.
Like you, we are committed to challenging the power structures that keep us from being truly free. With everything you give, you propel us forward to finish the great civil and human rights work of the brave women and men who came before us, on whose shoulders we still stand. By making a one-time gift of as little as $50, you will sustain the essential movement-building to dismantle the rape culture that has made sexual violence so common an experience for Black/African women and girls.
To show our gratitude for your Giving Circle donation, you will receive early bird pre-sale ticket access to Mother Tongue 2015, your choice of a commemorative BWB gift, a listing as a supporter to BWB as well as attendance at all Truth Commission preview events.
Until There Is Peace,
Black Women’s Blueprint
“Cross over onto a new place where stooped labor cramped quartered down pressed and caged up combatants can straighten the spine and expand the lungs and make the vision manifest.” ~ Toni Cade Bambara, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
Straightening the spine and making vision manifest despite the proverbial gag of our mouths, is what it sometimes feels like to be in this movement for racial justice. Crawling through electrical fences with razor sharp barbed wire, and scattered minefields stretched out for miles across communities, through homes and official buildings dictating what space Black women should take, what secrets Black women should keep, and what bodies should be put first, before ourselves is what it often feels like to be in this movement. With each attempt to blast the old locks off carefully constructed cages, we are reminded, that this is what it feels like to be in this movement for racial justice.
Tell me, when has any freedom fighter, any human rights defender ever had to ask permission to speak up in protest? With or without your permission I have found the words. I have found the words to deploy as weapons in the war against my being sold-out by those I consider my kin, sold-out by my own community, and even at times by my own self. I have found the words of wise-militant Black feminists like Toni Cade Bambara—words seeding ideas, logic and strategy—as fuel to propel me, fists clenched, even with my back to the wall, ready for their strike-back, which almost always comes.
Tell me what freedom fighter, what human rights defender has ever had to ask—can I stand up? With or without your permission I’m already standing, cage doors flying open, my sisters’ strong fingers already pointing out the dangers we face as we traffic in and out of our communities, communities which still refuse to see us.
What freedom fighter, what human rights defender ever said—excuse me, but can I denounce this injustice? With or without your permission, I’m already exposing the hypocrisy of some who proclaim my struggle is interlocked with theirs, proclaim to accept me—cis gender woman, full of pride, full of pain, full of struggle inherited from generations of dark-skin women, from the bush of West-Africa, to Haiti, to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. I’m already denouncing my being required to add my name to your lamentations about your abusers and bless your plight for freedom, while you refuse to acknowledge my very presence. I am required to stand by you and fight with you and for you, while you refuse to add your name in affirmation of my narrative, my life and the histories living within me.
I’m already breaking the codes, no longer operating under the radar, no longer “background figure”, “subordinate being” or “self-sacrificing”, unapologetically speaking of the individual and collective violations against us by police, by the state, by its institutions, against Black women like me. I have found the words, eyes bright blazing lights, my mouth shouting and inciting others to tell about the murders of Black women through the middle passage and the police rapes on the streets and in backs of patrol-cars in Oklahoma City, all while meditating on the words of Sister Toni Cade Bambara on the issue of roles in the movement, on male anxiety and women’s vilification—we rap about being correct, but ignore the danger of having one half of our population regard the other with such condescension and perhaps fear that that half finds it necessary to reclaim his manhood by denying her peoplehood. ~ Toni Cade Bambara, On The Issue of Roles, The Black Woman: An Anthology
Today, with or without your permission, Black women are armed with ancestral voices, our narratives, our testimonies and are speaking to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, for our foremothers whose bodies were tortured and were indeed as proclaimed by Sister Fannie Lou Hamer—“never theirs alone”. Black women are denouncing police rapes and sexual harassment as torture against us, across this nation, across generations by white slavers, white militia, roving gangs in white hoodies and burning crosses, night watchmen and “leatherheads” who policed early 19th century streets, who policed the woods and policed who we looked at, talked like, lived like; and more recently officer Daniel Holtzclaw discovered last summer, reported to have sexually assaulted approximately 13 Black women, and counting.
We will be heard, finally. For Black women in the United States specifically, fully accounting for the ways in which their experiences of sexual assault, or rape more specifically, constitutes an act of torture requires understanding the historical context and institutional legacy of slavery and the contemporary burden placed on victims of police sexual assaults. With that fact, Black women in the United States face a peculiar form of rape-based torture that has its origins in American slavery and the state apparatuses that evolve to protect the interest of the economic elites, white men, and public officials.
While legal slavery has ended, the rape and sexual torture of Black women and the justification for this torture still continues. Contemporary gendered and racial profiling of Black women are rooted in the enforcement of Slave Codes, Black Codes, and Jim Crow segregation laws, which were state sanctioned practices that were a combination of de jure and de facto forms of social, legal, and economic laws, policies, and other constrains placed on Black people in the U.S. For example, “We Charge Genocide,” a petition submitted to the UN by the Civil Rights Congress in 1951, documented thousands of incidents of police violence against African Americans alone. While the modern Black civil rights movement ushered in a formal end to Jim Crow era segregation, it has taken decades to gain mainstream acknowledgement of the multiple and covert ways that racial apartheid functioned and affected Black women in the United States. Michelle Alexander and a number of other contemporary scholars and advocates, for example, have documented the ways the criminal justice system still functions as a form of new Jim Crow. Yet, for all the acknowledgement of this new-era racial apartheid and the terrorism of the police and criminal system officials, it has mainly functioned to raise the profile of the torture and deprivation of life of Black men.
Tell me what freedom fighter, what human rights defender has ever had to ask—can I speak, can I stand up? With or without your permission I’m already speaking, already standing, cage doors flying open, my sisters’ strong fingers already pointing out the dangers we face as we traffic in and out of our communities, communities which we insist must see us—now.
No longer will silence prevail and the invisibility remain within Black communities and in greater society about Black women’s lives, about the level of sexual victimization, the systematic exclusion of our specific gendered experiences in the broader agenda for civil and human rights.
We’re removing the gag to…cross over onto a new place where stooped labor cramped quartered down pressed and caged up combatants can straighten the spine and expand the lungs and make the vision manifest. ~ Toni Cade Bambara, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.
Black women are speaking about police rapes against us. Read the report: INVISIBLE BETRAYAL: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States
 “‘Apartheid is Flourishing’ in the US, says UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Available at http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/08/20/375957/un-apartheid-is-flourishing-across-us/.
 Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness. The New Press: New York, 2010.
 Ibid. In the book’s introduction, Alexander admits that this is mainly an examination of Black and Latino men, and more needs to be done to assess the treatment of Black women.
Farah Tanis is a transnational black feminist, women’s human rights activist and co-founder, Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint working at the grassroots to address the spectrum of sexual violence against women and girls in Black/African American communities, and working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the nation on issues of gender, race, sexuality, anti-violence policy and practice. Tanis launched and Chairs the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the U.S. ever to focus on Black women and their historical and contemporary experiences with sexual assault. She is founder and is lead curator at the Museum of Women’s Resistance (MoWRe), which in 2013 became internationally recognized as a Site of Conscience. Tanis created Mother Tongue Monologues, a theatrical and multimedia art vehicle for addressing Black sexual politics in African American and other communities of the Black Diaspora. Tanis is a 2012 U.S. Human Rights Institute Fellow (USHRN) and is a member of the Task Force on the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Tanis served as Almoner for the Havens Relief Fund for seven years allocating emergency monies for women in need across the five-boroughs of New York City. Recently, Tanis served on the Board of Directors of Haki Yetu working to end Rape in the Congo region of Africa and the Board of Right Rides which provides safe rides home to women and LGBTQ people in New York City.