Black Women, Sexual Assault and Sexual Exploitation: A Brief Summary
Written by Farah Tanis, Executive Director, Black Women’s Blueprint (for the Black Women’s Round Table, Release of their First Annual Report, “The State of Black Women”)
While it is standard knowledge that sexual assault is widely underreported—60% unreported each year, in Black communities the number is considerably higher due to intersectional issues related to race, gender, poverty, sexuality and other identity. Approximately 9 of 10 African American victims reaching out to Black Women’s Blueprint, report never having disclosed having been assaulted to anyone within their families, community, police and/or extended criminal justice systems. Moreover, assertions by political figures, including African-American leaders that reinforce notions that rape is trivial undermine many survivors’ ability to break their silence about sexual violation. Comments by high profile political leaders such as “some girls rape easy,” a “woman’s body shuts down to prevent pregnancy during rape,” as well as messaging in some strands of hip hop, like Lil Wayne rhyming “Beat the p**** up like Emmett Till,”  on rapper, Future’s “Karate Chop” (Remix) album, it is no wonder that Black women are enduring rape in silence and isolation.
There is a dearth in information and statistical data about the incidence of rape and sexual assault against Black women. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the US nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped at some time in their lives. This includes completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration. According to the same report, 44% of women in the U.S. experience some form of sexual victimization other than rape. In addition, a 2014 report by the White House Council on Women and Girls asserts that women of all races are targeted for sexual assault however some are more vulnerable than others. The report states that “22% of Black women” have been raped but we posit that many rapes are unaccounted for. The White House report by the Council on Women and Girls also asserts the vast majority, “nearly 98%, of perpetrators are male and nearly half of female survivors were raped before they were 18. College students are particularly vulnerable, including those on our Historically Black College and University Campuses as 1 in 5 have been sexually assaulted while in college.”  The same report reveals that “repeat victimization is common: over a third of women who were raped as minors were also raped as adults.
Equally devastating is the lack of intra-community dialogue and priority given to the trafficking of our Black girls for sexual exploitation. According to the Department of Justice, between 100,000 and 300,000 children in the United States are trafficked for sex each year. Sex trafficking victims are overwhelmingly female (94 percent); Four-fifths of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases are identified as U.S. citizens (83 percent) and these trafficking victims are more likely to be African American (40 percent), while more than half (62 percent) of confirmed sex trafficking suspects are African American.
In Black communities, there are several reasons for the disparity in breaking the silence about sexual violation. First the marginalization of African Americans as a population due to the effects of racism, socio-economic and historical factors must be acknowledged. Second, our experiences working with Black communities reveal that victims do not avail themselves of services, as it is not congruent with cultural norms to expose intra-community and intra-familial issues that place already marginalized communities at further risk for discrimination. Codes of loyalty and a historical and valid need to protect our communities has been taught especially to Black women and girls who represent the bulk of sexual assault victims, also discourage survivors from speaking or seeking support.
Black men’s vulnerability to police brutality, stop & frisks, plus the reality of high incarceration rates all reinforce silence within our communities and often result in underreporting by Black victims of sexual assault. Sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia as part and parcel of a patriarchal society, also make it difficult for Black lesbian/queer or transgender victims and survivors to seek support or other chosen remedy after sexual assault. In addition to the challenges posed by gender, class and sexuality, structural racism is ever present and continues to create serious problems for Black victims and survivors of sexual assault. Therefore we cannot count on police data or other data obtained via mainstream hotlines for statistics, because a vast majority of assaults have likely not been reported to police or any other justice systems that record such data.
It is critical that we begin to look at both the external and internal factors that continue to hinder justice, healing and peace for Black survivors of sexual assault. It is critical that we look at both the historical and contemporary root causes of sexual assault against Black women and that we begin do so collectively. Sustainable, grassroots, community-led, innovative, multi-pronged programs of primary prevention against sexual assault, and comprehensive interventions responsive to the specific needs of Black communities is long overdue.
 Federal Bureau of Investigation Statistics
 Wisconsin State Rep. Roger Rivard (R-Rice Lake), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/roger-rivard-reelection-wisconsin-assembly_n_2089654.html
 The 2012 election is over, but the debate over “legitimate rape” lives on: Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rep-gingrey-akin-partly-right-about-legitimate-rape/
 Emmett Till was an African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman http://hiphopwired.com/2013/02/20/emmett-tills-family-pens-open-letter-to-lil-wayne-photos/#kb5f4SJeibKyMgUk.99
 U.S. Department of Justice
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, give, call, write and donate to Black Women’s Blueprint. 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 8, 2014 at Mother Tongue: Monologues for Truth Bearing Women, Emerging Sons and Other Keepers of the Flame, 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.
We are only sorry that the Brooklyn Museum pushed us out before we could complete our conversations with our Black brothers on the panel and those who provoked feelings, thoughts, reactions via the invisible theater.
You/we have asked for more conversation and we are planning it.
We’re Continuing the Debate In a Few Days with the CUNY Young Men of Project CHANGE.
TO ACCESS THE MOTHER TONGUE LIVESTREAM VIDEOS Send a request for the link to firstname.lastname@example.org
MOTHER TONGUE: Monologues for Truth Bearing Women, Emerging Sons & Other Keepers of the Flame | You’re Invited February 8, 2014Posted on Friday, December, 13th, 2013 by in Blog - (0 Comments)
Call for Story Contributions by Women, Girls and Gender Non-Conforming Survivors
As we continue to deploy our voices in the wars against sexual violence, we call on others to submit YOUR STORY. We are reaching out to women, girls and gender non-conforming people in communities of African descent to join us in the curation of an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Women’s Resistance entitled, Dwelling. Part of a series of curated exhibits integral to Witness: A Site of Consciousness that will take place at MoWRe beginning this February 9, 2014 to raise awareness about the impact of sexual violence in our lives.
- We invite you to email or mail your story, an image, textile/fabric containing your story as a survivor of sexual violence in whatever way you wish to tell it.
- You may also submit stories that speak to the lived experiences of a loved one with sexual violence.
- If you are not a survivor of sexual violence, many of us know all too well what it’s like to live on-guard and live cautious lives for fear of violence in a society that glorifies violence. Submit your story regarding that lived-experience or state of being, whatever that personal, daily state is.
- In your story, please highlight/include your hopes, dreams or demand for homes, communities and other spaces without sexual violence, in whatever way you want to frame that hope, dream or demand for zero sexual violence.
- Email your piece to email@example.com or mail: P.O. Box 24713, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11202
- All contributions to be received by January 15, 2014.
- By submitting your story via email or mail you agree to join us by having your story exhibited in Dwelling.
- Include with your submission a phone number or email where we can reach you if necessary.
- If you are in the N.Y. area and want to be involved in the process of creating Dwelling, please include this in your email or mailed submission.
To Learn More About MoWRe visit us.
Written by Monique John
(previously published in PCP Media)
In case you missed it, musical genius CeeLo Green was recently cleared of rape charges from a woman who claims he drugged her while out to dinner in July 2012. Though the rape charges were thrown out due to “insufficient evidence,” Green still faces four years in jail if convicted of furnishing a controlled substance.
As a CeeLo fan, I was really caught off guard when I found out that he had been accused of rape. But I was appalled by the lack of commentary on the issue from my favorite cultural critics. More than that, I was disgusted by the tasteless ways the story was reported from two popular, trusted news sources. For one, I think that after the phenomena of “Blurred Lines,” the Steubenville rape case and the even more recent Maryville case, people are exhausted from talking about rape culture and sexual deviance. But more importantly, the irresponsible reporting and the resounding silence from pundits on the story I encountered signaled to me that we—as black people and as consumers of media products—are too embarrassed to talk openly and objectively about rape as a social and human rights issue, especially when it implicates (famous and celebrated) black men.
The story of Green’s rape conviction has been out since late last year but I first heard about it a few days ago during Shayla Scott’s afternoon spot on 107.5 WBLS, one of New York’s leading black owned and operated radio stations. While recounting the story, the on-air personality outright dismissed the victim’s accusations, suggesting that we shouldn’t take the victim seriously because she waited over a month to report the incident. Scott then made another ridiculous argument that CeeLo wouldn’t possibly have committed a date rape because in her view, a man of CeeLo’s age and wealth wouldn’t be using Molly anyway.
An even more humiliating description of the case appeared on Ebony.com. In its “Black Pop Daily” segment, the magazine quoted Rick Ross’s infamous verse in U.O.E.N.O. as an analogy for the incident. I found it jarring to read such a crass and insensitive account of the rape case considering the strong feminist arguments branded by Editor Jamilah Lemieux and Columnist Feminista Jones’ in past articles published by the magazine.
In fairness, officials claim that the victim’s claims couldn’t fully be proven because they couldn’t determine if she was too intoxicated at the time to consent to sex. However, I still found it discouraging that part of the reason officials dismissed the victim’s claims was because she had been on multiple dates with CeeLo and had also been intimate with him prior to the rape. Including that detail as a count against the victim’s credibility suggests that those presiding over the case didn’t even consider intimate partner violence as a factor. It’s now well known that women are much more likely to be raped by someone they know rather than a random creep hiding in the bushes. Furthermore, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network has found that twenty-eight percent of rapes are committed by someone the victim is in a romantic or sexual relationship with.
The statements from Scott and Ebony were problematic for three reasons. One, Scott’s comments don’t acknowledge whatever personal battle the victim may have felt over whether or not she felt ready to tell the authorities and risk undergoing the grueling process of having to go to trial. It’s a common dilemma rape victims face because they know that exposing their most painful experiences to virtual strangers. Furthermore, subjecting themselves to possible harassment and isolation from friends, family and acquaintances doesn’t guarantee that their rapist will be prosecuted, much less convicted. That’s probably why 60 percent of rapes never get reported to the police and why only three percent of rapists actually spend time in prison for the crime.
Secondly, promoting the idea that Green isn’t a credible date rapist just because he’s older and wealthy implies some misleading notion that rapists only come from certain age groups and economic classes. It is much easier to predict whether someone is prone to exhibiting sexual violence by their behaviors.
Thirdly, using the language displayed by Rick Ross’s date rape lyrics to explain the case as a news story completely trivializes the victim’s experience of being drugged, as well as anyone else’s experience of being drugged or date-raped. Every time we apply an analogy to someone’s rape testimony—or use the term “rape” itself as an analogy—it takes away from the seriousness of what happened and it makes it harder to make reparations for the victim.
Many feminists have written op-eds about people’s tendencies to slut-shame rape victims, leaving more of their faith in the accused harm-doer than the one who has allegedly been harmed. I’m more concerned with why we as black people have the instinct to discredit those who make allegations of sexual violence from the jump. Slut-shaming and victim blaming aren’t unique to black people. But our history of being seen as sexual deviants colors our reactions to these rape allegations. Consider the stories of Clarence Thomas. Or Mike Tyson. Or R. Kelly. Or even—dare I say it—Michael Jackson. These are just some of the black male celebrities we have exonerated from their allegations of sexual violence, upholding these men as heroes and cultural ambassadors. Simultaneously, the victims who testified against them were maliciously harassed and seen as traitors to the black community.
When we look at the work of Melissa Harris-Perry that examines the use of shame and respectability politics to hinder black people’s freedom as sexual beings, we realize that our problematic responses to sexual violence have much deeper roots than the rape cases of the late 20th and early 21st century. In addition to being considered second-class citizens for centuries, we’ve been shamed for crime and disease, dysfunctional and unhealthy lifestyles, irresponsible parenting, dependence on public assistance and lack of education. We have even come to shame one another to deflect our pain, using the term “ratchet” for those who fail to assimilate to white culture and abide by its accompanying moral code—a moral code we never even created.
If we didn’t invent this moral code and considering that shame brings us such torment, then why do we buy into it? Why do we feel the need to project our misery from being shamed as black people and as sexual beings onto others by dismissing their narratives of sexual violence? Psychology tells us it is easier to blame the victim rather than accept that the world is a cruel place. The rape victim’s personal boundaries, intentions and overall account become irrelevant simply because we don’t want to know her perspective.
In a world where black men are constantly being criminalized for things they didn’t do, we feel the need to always protect them—even if it means smiting one of our sisters in the same breath. So we bury our shame by sympathizing with the oppressor, putting him on a pedestal to deny the fact that the stereotype of the dangerous black male rapist isn’t always just a stereotype. Yet if we’re not being honest with ourselves about the harm imposed by some of our brothers, we’re placing a detriment towards our own safety and progress towards a rape-free society.
I have no idea if Green actually raped the woman that took him to court. I’m only equipped with the information presented on brief news reports covering the story. I’m not going to criminalize Green simply because someone has accused him of being a harm-doer. But I ask that those deciding on the case look at the facts exactly for what they are, and that they not let their discomfort with the topic of rape and black sexuality hinder their ability to bring justice to Green and his accuser. Despite our distance as onlookers, we become perpetrators when we immediately discredit rape victims’ testimonies to avoid facing the collective shame that accompanies them.
Monique John is a writer and activist specializing in women’s rights and is the Outreach and Communications Manager at Black Women’s Blueprint.
SEXUAL ASSAULT HAS ALWAYS BEEN AT THE CENTER OF CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE FOR BLACK WOMEN. WE CALL ON MEN, WOMEN, TRANSGENDER PERSONS AND OTHER ALLIES ACROSS RACE, SEXUALITY, EXPRESSION, AGE AND ETHNICITY. JOIN US IN THIS WORK.
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Going to the strip club for a night out with friends was never something that appealed to me—that is, until I saw other women doing it.
Nicki Minaj. Rihanna. Diamond. Young B. These celebrities have made going to the strip club a part of their brand, singing about their titty club escapades, posing for Instagram photos with strippers and hosting events as if the strip club were any other venue.
I have spoken with dozens of ordinary, millennial women that have gone to the strip club so often that they almost see it as a mundane activity. I, however, am fascinated by the phenomenon. For years I’ve read feminists’ and hip hop scholars’ arguments against hypersexuality in the media and the exploitation of women’s bodies, especially among women of color and in the context of strip club culture. Yet I’ve also observed everyday women of all sexual orientations (particularly those of the hip hop generation) who have echoed those arguments still patronizing these clubs as a venue for socializing and sexual experimentation—and genuinely loving it.
There is a wealth of literature speaking out against patriarchy and sexual objectification. However, there is relatively little that holds women accountable as agents of that exploitation, as opposed to being objects of it. To have an honest, productive conversation about gender politics and sexuality in hip hop, we must acknowledge the way we as female consumers engage in and enjoy social institutions that perpetuate patriarchy and sexual objectification of female bodies—particularly because the accompanying media products have historically depicted us assuming passive sexual positions. Placing women who frequently patronize strip clubs at the center of that discussion would help bring it to life.
Understandably, this is not an easy conversation because it is so politically incorrect, making it all the more urgent. On the surface, the strip club appears to be a site where blackness, queerness and capitalism collide at heterosexual men’s economic benefit. Sexy ladies are checking out other sexy ladies (a reality that may make anti-gay blacks shudder), while male strip club owners are sitting pretty on racks they collected from dancers’ payments on exorbitant house fees.
But deeper than that, women are deriving pleasure from gazing at a body type already loaded with political baggage. With her giant breasts and butt cheeks the shape of basketballs, the stripper physique is directly reminiscent Sarah Baartman. The parallel is undeniable, given Baartman’s legacy of being put on display to be poked and prodded by strange (white) people titillated by her curves.
Even the much sought-after “stripper booty” itself is brimming with symbolism in the context of black sexual politics. Theorized by Patricia Hill Collins “the booty” is inextricably linked to the stigma of black promiscuity, connoting male plundering and ownership of female bodies. It is all a familiar narrative told to a more contemporary and catchy instrumental.
If I sound terribly bleak, I don’t mean to. Like the words, “nigger,” “bitch,” “slut” and “dyke,” we as women have the ability to claim strip club chic for our own satisfaction. With businesswomen like Amber Rose, Trina and Diablo Cody infiltrating the Hollywood elite, there are plenty of examples of females proudly doing that. This whole phenomenon could ultimately be an example of turning patriarchy on its head.
We ultimately have to ask ourselves if the strip club is truly an institution we want to support. There are the obvious injustices of strippers’ poor working conditions and occasional horror stories of women being pushed into prostitution. But then there’s the more subtle aspects of how glamorizing strip clubs is negatively impacting our music and even our sex lives. The dramatic decline of female emcees in the mainstream arena is accompanied by the rising presence of stripper-video girls and stripper-turned socialites, strippers now being the ones to inform the hypersexualized identities of the few mainstream female rappers that are left. It all suggests that there’s only one way to be sexy and female in the hip hop community.
Sex itself has increasingly been discussed as if it were transaction, rather than some shared, intimate experience in hip hop and in real life. Between the media’s hype around young people hooking up and hip hop’s obsession with using luxury items to attract sexual partners, studies have shown that we millennials approach choosing our sexual partners more impersonally than generations before us. The trends sound oddly similar to the dynamics of a strip club, given the casualness in which women are offering their sex to whomever will patronize them. It is an inconvenient truth that being active in strip clubs and our sex lives is completely different than being dominant in them.
Yes, we can have fun at the strip club. But how much fun and for how long?
“Economic systems influence culture and social values. An economics of commodification creates a culture of commodification, where everything has a price, and nothing has value.”- Vandana Shiva, Our Violence Economy is Hurting Women.
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PIMPING THE BLACK MOSES: EVERYTHING HAS A PRICE AND NOTHING HAS VALUE–BLACK WOMEN RESPOND TO RUSSELL SIMMONS’ “APOLOGY” AND NEW PLANS FOR A HARRIET TUBMAN FILM.
In a year that has seen Black women sold out by Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Kevin Hart and A$AP Rocky via hateful lyrics and interviews, Russell Simmons has become the latest famous Black man to throw Black women under the bus in order to turn a profit with a “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape”.
Moreover, because of its far reaching consequences, transnational feminists often assert that rape is an extortion of assets–assets like education, employment, reproductive choices, community, and in the case of re-casting Harriet Tubman in a lie, implying if she was raped she “pretended not to enjoy it”, its an extortion of history, culture, identity and legacy.
Janell Hobson, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at the University at Albany, author of The Rape of Harriet Tubman, in the August 17 issue of Ms. Magazine’s Blog, joins us for a live conversation tonight with the truth about Harriet Tubman, Russell Simmons, rape culture, porn culture, the economics of commoditfication and in a community in where many are committed to strategies of resistance, accountability and restorative justice, where do we go from here? Call into the Show 213-559-2943 or LISTEN LIVE