Read All Three Reports Speaking Truth to CERD Committee (the Convention On the Eradication of All Forms of Racial Discrimination); The CAT (Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment); and the UPR (The Universal Periodic Review).

INVISIBLE BETRAYAL: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States  [link to Report

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BLACK WOMEN CENTRAL TO THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW: The Human Rights Situation for Black Women of African Descent in the United States [link to Report]

Discussing TRC

REPORT ON RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK/AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN, INCLUDING THOSE IDENTIFYING AS LGBTQ, AND THE IMPACT OF INADEQUATE RACIAL JUSTICE INITIATIVES AND VIOLENCE PREVENTION POLICY IMPLEMENTATION IN THE UNITED STATES. [link to Report]

shadow report writing photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US AT MTM2015

Posted on Sunday, February, 22nd, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

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.

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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.

GET YOUR TICKETS TO THE EVENT OF THE YEAR: Unveiling the Promo Video

Posted on Sunday, February, 8th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Mother Tongue: Poetic Prelude to a Tribunal, For Black Women, Refugees of a World on Fire [PLAY]

Police Dogs

MOTHER TONGUE: POETIC PRELUDE TO A TRIBUNAL, FOR BLACK WOMEN, REFUGEES OF A WORLD ON FIRE

Posted on Tuesday, January, 27th, 2015 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

 

Mother Tongue 2015 Image InvitationMother Tongue 2015 Image Invitation Side 2GET TICKETS TODAY

VISIT THE EVENT WEBSITE:  WWW.MOTHERTONGUEMONOLOGUES.ORG 

 

WHY WE SHOULD GIVE TO END RAPE

Posted on Sunday, December, 14th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Red BWB Accomplishments 2014WHY GIVE TO END RAPE?

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,

Farah Tanis

Co-Founder/Executive Director

Black Women’s Blueprint

 

 

 

 

 

FOR TONI CADE BAMBARA – REMOVING THE GAGS FROM OUR MOUTHS

Posted on Monday, December, 1st, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

By FClarke IIarah Tanis, Executive Director, 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.

Toni Cade Bambara, Southern Collective of African American Writers (SCAAW), 1988 ©Susan J. RossToni Cade Bambara,
Southern Collective of African American Writers (SCAAW), 1988
©Susan J. Ross

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

Fannie Lou HamerFannie Lou Hamer

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.

Toni Cade Bambara Southern Rural Woman's Network Conference, 1982 Photograph/Copyright: Monica F. WalkerToni Cade Bambara
Southern Rural Woman’s Network Conference, 1982
Photograph/Copyright: Monica F. Walker

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.[1]  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.[2] 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.[3]

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.

violenceNo 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


[1] “‘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/.

[2] Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness. The New Press: New York, 2010.

[3] 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

Farah Tanis

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.

BLACK MAN, MY MAN, LISTEN! HOLLA BACK!

Posted on Sunday, November, 9th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Holla Back Video 2Black Man, My Man, Listen! Holla Back!

By Farah Tanis, Nikki Patin and Netsanet Tesfay, Black Women’s Blueprint

Black Man, My Man, Listen!

“I have accepted you, taken you back. Embraced you, empathized with your pitiful plight, because I know they have used and abused you. I have tried to cease with my lamentations and taking your faults, your shortcomings in stride, made you a part of me… Black man? my man? I vowed to help sustain you, me, us, but…never…no not like this. This wasn’t the way at all…Black man, my man listen! Have we no more in common than before? Have we nothing at all but our name? And even that is not ours.”  – Gail Stokes, Black Man, My Man, Listen! The Black Woman, An Anthology. Edited by Toni Cade Bambara.

We may all not have gotten here at the same time, to this place of pause against the actions of Hollaback! but bottom line is we’re here now—again. At yet another critical juncture when Black Women’s Blueprint is preparing its statement to the U.N. in Geneva this very week to denounce police rapes and sexual harassment as human rights violations against Black women across this nation, across generations by white slavers, white militia, roving gangs in white hoodies and burning crosses, Night Watchmen and “leatherheads” who policed the early 19th century streets, who policed the woods and policed who we could look at, act like, live like; and more recently in Oklahoma City, officer Holtsclaw discovered this past summer, who sexually assaulted approximately 13 Black women and counting. Black women are interrupted. Having just returned home after days with Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the sake of gender-justice—to end misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, again, we must interrupt our work. We’re here along with countless women of color who’ve raised their voices these past weeks in collective outcry in defense of you Black man, and for ourselves, for all of us.

Surveillance-Style Video Documentation

If you haven’t heard, Black man, there is a surveillance video. You’ve been documented surveillance-video style and reconstructed as quintessential predator. There is video which documents a white woman repeatedly harassed on the streets by you, and parallels are being drawn between her experience and the experiences of men and boys of color with police officers, because an attack is an attack is an attack and harassment is harassment.

Black man, there is a surveillance video. This Hollaback! video by focusing on the experiences of one white female, misrepresents and narrows the discussion about who you are, your experiences and yours and my life. This man Rob Bliss, the video producer, explained on reddit that “we got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera.”  Narratives are powerful tools in informing, inspiring and shaping people’s opinions about race, gender and violence. Hollaback! and its selective editing paints the issue as one of white women’s safety in black men’s space. It reinforces hierarchies based on race and gender and other identities.  It reinforces hierarchies we should both and all be working to dismantle. It overlooks the fact that all women are not similarly situated, and neither are all men nor gender non-conforming persons.

There is a woman in this video, who actually is harassed again and again, and that part is triggering, and we don’t seek to discount her experience, the woman Hollaback! selected to demonstrate how harassment plays out in these New York City streets. We are not here to deify nor demonize others. Our strategy is neither naïve nor opportunistic. Our suspicion runs deep for historical reasons. We are not casting anyone aside.

Unpacking the Brute Caricature

Black man, in this video, the representations are again crystallized, they edit out all but your face, your face and your words actually harassing again and again and that too is triggering. It harkens back to a deadly era where white men intentionally used propaganda to frame Black men as “brutes and black “bucks”, and a time when slaveholders associated African Americans with crime as part of their justification for the institution. The “brute caricature portrayed Black men as predators who target helpless victims, and in particular white women. The terrible crime most often mentioned in connection with the black “brute” was rape. Black man, remember the “brute” stereotype and the death sentence it carried was to send you and us a clear message: Do not register to vote. Do not apply for a white man’s job. Do not complain publicly. Do not organize. Do not talk to white women. The brute caricature gained in popularity whenever Blacks, and especially Black men, pushed for social equality. This organization, Hollaback! and the video’s embodiment of the dominant paradigm around race, victims and predators is astounding. The use of the “Masters Tools” is staggering. Black man, the narrow lens through which Hollaback! frames this issue, this very real issue, is both harmful and irresponsible. The video itself is violent. The video itself is a weapon which lives in a layer of systemic violence and its creators have already prospered off of it.

Black man, we need to demand a dismantling of these systems block by block.

Hind-Sight Is 20/20

How did so many of us racial justice and gender-justice activists, scholars and leaders of girls’ rights organizations and even donors within this movement capitulate to the idea that Hollaback! is expert in the practice of eradicating street harassment, a form of violence experienced by women across a variety of identities and practiced by harm-doers of a variety of identities. We have always considered this appropriation of “urban slang” and vernacular to name an organization, which is not community-based, Hollaback! problematic. How were so many of us, silent until now, seduced by the marketing and corporate glitz of this “international” organization whose goal we’ve always known did not include shattering racist stereotypes? Is it because Hollaback! evoked to some degree this notion of “multi-cultural” action against sexual harassment? However now, it has cemented its identity as gravely lacking in anti-racist analysis. Upon closer examination, it has always positioned its approach implicitly within a market-place style capitalist philosophy, more so than a framework which demands we put people and justice over profits. Hollaback! and its seductive consumeristic market-place approach to social justice blind-sided many of us.

We got caught in the thicket of hope and the reasoning—that we had made strides along racial lines, that the work was finished by our foresisters—Audre Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan among others still with us, to denounce the mainstream women’s movement as one with a weak-will towards racial justice. It is not finished. We are being asked to build new strategies to hold ourselves even within social-justice movements accountable. This does not mean that we need to speak for each other and we do not insist that each must know and speak of one-another’s lived experiences, but simply practice ethical principles and wise politics. For us this conversation is not about inclusion. We don’t ask Hollaback! to speak for us. To assume that they can, when they don’t live in our skin, is dangerous.

Who Told You Anybody Wants To Hear From You? You Ain’t Nothing But A Black Woman!

Even in the movement we are all subject to racialized invisibility. This video, the process of its production and the process of its editing reaffirms that no matter what our status, we are all potential objects of racist abuse. hattie gossett’s truth-seeking statement in This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color, when she says “who told you anybody wants to hear from you? you ain’t nothing but a black woman!” resonates with us now more than ever.

Black man, do you want to hear from us? When will we sit and talk? If they won’t listen to us as Black women, will you? The practice of liberation demands we prop up the humanity of all of us, me and you including those of us who are lesbians, gay, transgender, bisexual and other gender non-conforming people. Are you down for that—the rejection of patriarchy and its derivatives—sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other vile conditions in America, and vile conditions between us?

Here is the opportunity to shift the tide. We must do better, if we are to survive. How do we account for your absence in this conversation? Courageous engagement with issues beyond those that only benefit Black brothers is necessary especially here and now, because the video concerns you and us all. Black man, can we build more vibrant anti-violence communities bonded by political ideals and political struggles past and present. Black man, we want to talk with you and communicate on a gut-level, about this mutual crisis.

Black Man, Let Me Talk To You

Even as it appropriates our language, Hollaback! leaves out Black women and women of color’s experiences altogether and the different ways we experience violence in public spheres. It leaves out the ways in which violence in the form of harassment exists at structural and personal levels. It completely dismisses the notion that to be effectively addressed, sexual harassment must be tackled at various interlocking levels and with a race analysis, not rendering us either invisible or predatory, not silencing us, or those most marginalized by racist, patriarchal appropriation of public and personal assets, like body, expression, language and neighborhood streets.

We can engage Hollaback! in conversation about how Black women and other women of color experience sexual harassment, but we believe we’d be wasting time, because Black man, street harassment on our streets is something you and I, we need to address together. Street harassment is a manifestation of patriarchy’s power, the same racist patriarchal power that has its foot on your neck. The catcalling, grabbing and stalking are blatant examples of how under patriarchy, some are able to control spaces and bodies while asserting dominance. For us, Black women, street harassment is a daily reminder that we are different, that we continue to be property, that we will not be protected by respectability, that we are less worthy of respect, that you insist we occupy a particular place within the context of sex, gender and gender identity in an already racist society. We are reminded that we can’t walk half a block without being told to fix our face and grin. Brother, we cannot walk down the street without being propositioned for sex, or called a “thot”, our paths blocked not by a common oppressor, but by our own kin demanding we acquiescence.

Black man, my man, listen. The gender-justice movement must also be a racial justice one about you and me, and all of us. The failure of mainstream organizations to construct the discussion to highlight non-dominant narratives underscores this. Will you reflect all our narratives with me? Organizations are choosing to comfortably ignore the fact that the frequency and ways that women experience harassment varies widely among women of different races, socio-economic class, abilities and sexuality. By allowing this video to become public, Hollaback! is sending out a clear message about which victims will be recognized and which men will be held accountable.

Black man, please respond. Seriously, tell Hollaback! they got it so wrong, and that they need to step back.

Hollaback needs to step back. This concept of stepping back isn’t new to folks who talk about things like privilege on a regular basis. Stepping back means acknowledging that one has privilege and then stepping back to allow those with less privilege or opportunity to step up and speak and now that we have spoken, again and again, at this point, Black man, it’s your turn.

INVISIBLE BETRAYAL: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States

Posted on Sunday, November, 9th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

photo

(Nikki Patin, Director of Training and Cultural Programs, Netsanet Tesfay, Esq. Counselor and Coordinator, Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

I. INVISIBLE BETRAYAL: POLICE VIOLENCE AND THE RAPES OF BLACK WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES

22 September 2014

Submitted by:

Black Women’s Blueprint

Farah Tanis, Executive Director, Chair, Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault

Betty Rosenda-Green, Project Coordinator

 With support from:

Women’s All Points Bulletin

Crista Noel, Executive Director

 

Yolande M. S. Tomlinson, Ph.D.

 

To the Committee Against Torture (CAT) 53rd Session

Additional Supporters:

·       Aaliyah Sharif, Advisory Board, Black Women’s Blueprint

·       Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Creator NO! The Rape Documentary, Commissioner, Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault

·       Cassandre Pluviose, Advisory Board, Black Women’s Blueprint

·       Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women

·       Christina Jaus, Founder/Executive Director, WHEELS Collective

·       Dikun Elioba, Advisory Board, Black Women’s Blueprint

·       DRUM – South Asian Organizing Center

·       Ebony Murphy

·       Free Marissa Now (FMN)

·       Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)

·       Kerry McLean, Human Rights lawyer, Commissioner, Black Women’s Truth Commission on Sexual Assault

·       New Jim Crow Movement

·       Ololade Siyonbola, Advisory Board, Black Women’s Blueprint

·       One Billion Rising-Atlanta

·       Reverend Lorena M. Parrish, M.Div., M.S.W., M.Phil., Ph.D., Advisory Board, Black Women’s Blueprint

·       Samuel Maddox Sullivan

·       Silvia M. Dutchevici, MA, LCSW; Critical Therapy Center, Advisory Board, Black Women’s Blueprint

·       Vickie Casanova Willis -Trinity UCC Justice Watch Team, Black People Against Police Torture

·       Women With A Vision, Inc.

II. Reporting Organization(s)

1. Black Women’s Blueprint 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 where gender, race and other disparities are erased. Launched in 2010, it engages in progressive research, historical documentation, and policy advocacy and organizes on social justice issues steeped in the struggles of Black/African American women within their communities and the dominant culture. Black Women’s Blueprint is the convener of the first ever Truth and Reconciliation Commission to focus on Black women in the U.S. and their historical and contemporary experiences with rape/sexual assault. The organization is the national technical assistance provider engaging 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country, providing training and capacity building to address gender-violence on their campuses.

2. Women’s All Points Bulletin (WAPB) is a human rights and community policing nonprofit that seeks to eradicated violence against women during policing encounters.

III. Issue Summary

4. Rape in the United States is  a systemic crisis, even as 60 to 80 percent of rapes go unreported according a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice.[i] Furthermore, when victims do report, those incidents are systematically undercounted by at least one million cases by police departments.[ii] As scholars and advocates have pointed out, rape and sexual assault are systemic practices that continue because of the larger culture of violence within which people live and state officials operate.[iii]

5. Sexual misconduct by police officers, or public officials, is the second most prevalent form of police crimes as noted by a 2010 annual report conducted by the CATO Institute.[iv] The number is likely higher as victims tend to underreport in general, police officials tend to use a more limited definition to assess incidents of rape,[v]  officers tend to profile victims whose credibility will likely be doubted, and victims of police crimes are, understandably, reluctant to report the crime to their perpetrators, the police. 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.

6. As the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination asserts in its General Comment No. 25, it is important to consider how issues of gender are interlinked with race to “only or primarily affect women, affect women in a different ways, or to a different degree.”[vi] With that fact, black women in the United States face a peculiar from 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.

7. As women, Black women were subjected to sex-specific violations such as rape, forced pregnancies, and other gender-based violations. As Blacks they were subjected to chattel slavery, as was also true for Black men and children, and were therefore reduced to being viewed, treated, and consumed as property, and not as human beings.[vii] As bodies to produce other enslaved bodies, as flesh to satisfy their slave masters desires, as slaves to be worked as needed, and as property to be sold at will, Black women were deemed not able to be raped. Slave owners and other white colonialists justified this torture and inhuman treatment of Black women through stereotypes and pseudo-scientific justifications of their degraded moral capacity, lascivious behavior, and animal-like capacity for sex.[viii] Under this logic, Black women were thought to not only lack the capacity to make morally sound decisions but they are made to bear the blame for their own abuse. This racist logic further implies that this capacity and animalistic quality functions to entice their perpetrators, which means they have sought out their own rape and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, Black women could not be raped because they were not legally people (but property).

8. While legal slavery has ended, the rape and sexual torture of Black women and the justification for this torture still continue. 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 functions in the United States.[ix] And it is still not widely accepted or acknowledge. Michelle Alexander and a number of other scholars and advocates, for example, have documented the ways the criminal justice system still functions as a form of new Jim Crow.[x] Yet, for all the acknowledgement of this new-era racial apartheid and the terrorism of the police and criminal systems officials, it has mainly functioned to raise the profile of the torture and deprivation of life of Black men.[xi]

9. Black Women and the Police: Nationwide, there is a rise in police interaction with Black women, as over 2 million women were arrested in 2010 in the U.S.[xii] An increase in arrests means increased contact between police and women in Black communities, which are over-policed.[xiii] The Women’s Prison Association (WPA) states that nationwide, the number of female arrests has increased by over 800 percent from 1977-2007 while the male prison population grew by 416 percent during this same time period.[xiv] The WPA also states that two thirds of women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, such as drug-related crimes. From 1999-2008, there was an increase of 19 percent of female arrests related to drug crimes compared to ten percent for men. When looking at this issue through both a gendered and racial lens, WPA cites that 93 out of every 100,000 white women were incarcerated in 2008 while the number for Black women is 349 out of every 100,000. Although the Black population is 13 percent of the entire population of the United States, meaning around half of Black women make up 6.5 percent, Black women comprised 32.6 percent of the female prison population.

10. Officer Daniel Holtzclaw & Oklahoma City: A white Oklahoma City police officer by the name of Daniel Ken Holtzclaw was charged in August 2014 on sexually assaulting, raping, stalking, fondling and exposing himself to at least eight Black women, who are between the ages of 34 and 58, during traffic stops while on duty.[xv] According to reports, Holtzclaw targeted these women because he profiled them as drug users, prostitutes and sex workers. Given that all these women are Black and at least one is not in fact a sex worker or drug user, and none fit the typical age profile, Holtzclaw profiled these women precisely because of their Black female identity. Despite the admission of investigating officers that there might be more victims, Holtzclaw was released on a mere $500,000 bond after having an initial $5,0000,000 bond.[xvi]The reduction of the bond and the attempts of Holtzclaw’s family’s and legal strategy to discredit these women as legitimate victims signal a disturbing but likely outcome to this case.[xvii] As well, Holtzclaw’s celebrity as a former college football player, his status as an officer, and the race and presumed social standing of the victims collude to contribute to the minimalization of the incident in any news outlet, including social media. Instead, the few places that do raise the incident are opinion blogs and other lower-profiled news outlets, which only serve to cast further doubt on the actual violations. Despite the facts that 22 percent of Black women and 50 percent of racially mixed Black women experience rape in higher amounts when compared to white women, [xviii]  the long-standing legacy and continued devaluing of Black women as legitimate victims of rape and assault generally compounds Black women’s continued victimization and likelihood to get a conviction against a police officer no less.

11.  Silence prevails and the invisibility is almost complete 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.  There is a dearth in resources allocated for the collection of data and consequently a lack of information and statistical data specific to the incidence of rape and sexual assault on Black/African American women in the United States.  The experiences of NGOs such as Black Women’s Blueprint reveal that the number or sexual assaults and those that go unreported are considerably higher in Black communities than in other communities. It is for these reasons and more that we ask the committee to follow on the Special Rapporteur on Torture to not only designate rape as a torture, but to break the silence around the rape of black women by calling for the Department of Justice to open a federal investigation into the of Daniel Holtzclaw cases specifically and other police rapes of black women case nationally.

IV: Concluding Observations

12. The Committee Against Torture made two recommendations in its 2006 Concluding Observations on the last report submitted by the United States that relate to the issues outlined above. To date, these recommendations have not been fully implemented.

13. Paragraph 37: “The Committee is concerned about reports of brutality and use of excessive force by the State party’s law-enforcement personnel, and the numerous allegations of their ill-treatment of vulnerable groups, in particular racial minorities, migrants and persons of different sexual orientation which have not been adequately investigated (art. 16 and 12). The State party should ensure that reports of brutality and ill-treatment of   members of vulnerable groups by its law-enforcement personnel are independently, promptly and thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished.

13. Paragraph 41: (a) Prevent and punish violence and abuse of women, in particular women belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities. Do these measures include providing specific training for those working within the criminal justice system and raising awareness about the mechanisms and procedures provided for in national legislation on racism and discrimination?

(b) Address the report of an increase in incidences of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault (National Crime Victimization Survey, December 2008).

(c) Ensure that reports of violence against women are independently, promptly and thoroughly investigated, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished. Please include statistical data on the number of complaints concerning violence against women and the related investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sanctions, as well as on compensation provided to victims.

14. Paragraph 42: The Committee requests the State party to provide detailed statistical data, disaggregated by sex, ethnicity and conduct, on complaints related to torture and ill-treatment allegedly committed by law-enforcement officials, investigations, prosecutions, penalties and disciplinary action relating to such complaints.

V: U.S. Government Report

The following list provides a summary of relevant statements made by the United States Government in its most recent periodic report to the Committee Against Torture.

Paragraph 8-10: The U.S. Government has no intention of enacting separate torture statue as it believes U.S. Constitutional rights brings it within full scope of its treaty obligations.

Paragraphs 230-249: Although the government said that it would ensure investigation and ‘appropriate punishment’ and that the U.S. Department of Justice under its Civil Rights Division has addressed sexual assault as police misconduct, we still do not see the implementation of this statement being done seriously. Further, the use of misconduct is ambiguous at best and does not amount to an acknowledgement of police rape as torture. In its response the Government asserts that cases of rape and sexual assault have gone down, but it ignores the facts that it is not using the new or expansive definition of rape to make this assessment and

Paragraphs :

VI: Legal Framework

The following articles of the Convention are called into question under this report: 1, 2, 4, 10, 12, 13, and 14

VIII: Other UN Bodies Recommendations

ICCPR Article 7: Right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

ICERD:

Articles 1: Black women are disproportionately impacted in nearly all categories of analysis with respect to rape and sexual torture; Article 2 calls for effective measures to remedy discrimination; Article 5 puts responsibility on government to address racial discrimination with respect to health outcomes. Article 6 calls for government to ensure access to competent tribunals

CERD General Comment No. 25 also calls for the recognition of the interlinked, and therefore unique, nature of discrimination when race is considered along with other factors such as gender.

Special Rapporteur on Torture: “It is widely recognized, including by former Special Rapporteurs on torture and by regional jurisprudence, that rape constitutes torture when it is carried out by, or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of public officials.”[xix]

IX: Recommended Questions:

1.     What immediate and sustainable measures does the U.S. Government plan to take to eliminate incidences of police rape, sexual assault and sexual misconduct, and what will the timeline for implementation look like? What resources will be allocated for the training of officers and other public officials and for the collection of information and statistical data that is inclusive of Black/African American women and other interlinked identities that make women vulnerable to police crimes?

 2.Given the June 2011 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police which acknowledges the own and others’ awareness and documentation of police sexual misconduct, what steps is the government willing to take to reform police behaviors, enact strict disciplinary policies and procedures.

 3.Why has the Department of Justice not open an investigation into the rapes and sexual assault cases involving Officer Daniel Holtzclaw in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma?

X: Recommendations:

1.                We respectfully ask the Committee to continue the work of the special rapporteurs on Torture and other regional jurisprudence to acknowledge that police rape, and the rape of Black women, is torture.

 2.               Open a federal investigation into the Oklahoma cases involving Daniel Holtzclaw, similar to other civil rights investigations undertaken by the Department of Justice.

3.               Amend the Prison Rape Elimination Act to say Prisoners instead of Prison and redefine “in custody” to include the moment a person comes in contact with an police officer or relevant public officials.

4.               Enact federal legislation that requires the federal government to record complaints of all allegations of police violence, abuse and misconduct (including excessive force, rape, sexual assault, illegal searches, false arrest, wrongful prosecution, and racial profiling) against state and federal law enforcement, incidences of police abuse and misconduct at all levels as well as officers dismissed for misconduct; this information should be made explicitly available to the public via an online database.

5.               Working with community advocates and other relevant stakeholders, enact a Police Rape Commission to investigate, document, prosecute officers found to have raped or otherwise sexually abused, assaulted, and harassed women and girls, and provide the Commission with adequate resources  and an online database so that it is sustainable and avoids backlogs of complaints and data.



[i] Fenton, Justin. “FBI Seeks to update definition of Rape.” September 29, 2011, available at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-09-29/news/bs-md-ci-fbi-rape-definition-20110929_1_sexual-assaults-definition-fbi-plans . See also the follow report from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, available at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv11.pdf and also similar information from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates.  

[ii]Chemaly, Soraya. “How Did the FBI Miss Over 1 Million Rapes?” The Nation. N.p., 27 June 2014. 22 Sept. 2014: http://www.thenation.com/article/180441/how-did-fbi-miss-over-1-million-rapes.

[iii] See “Ten Things to End Rape Culture.” The Nation 4 February 2013, available at http://www.thenation.com/article/172643/ten-things-end-rape-culture#.

[iv] This report is accompanied by an addendum on police rapes and it provides statistical insight on the impact to all women, including Black women.

[v] Note that as of 2012, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Policy Board with approval by the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has approved a new definition of rape as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with anybody part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim” (pg. 5). This is a change that law enforcement officials note will cause a “big increase” in reported (which is not the same are recorded) cases of rape (pg. 31). For more information, see http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Critical_Issues_Series/improving%20the%20police%20response%20to%20sexual%20assault%202012.pdf.

[vi] “General recommendation XXV on gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination.” Annex V. GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS. At its fifty-sixth session the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

[vii] There is a plethora of literature on this dual burden placed on enslaved women. One example is Jennifer F. Morgan’s Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in the New World. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2004.  

[viii] A key text to articulate this inhuman definition of people and Black women is Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588)

[ix] “‘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/.

[x] Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness. The New Press: New York, 2010.

[xi]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.

[xiii] cite

[xv] See the accompanying addendum that discusses the phenomenon of “driving while female”, where a study in Philadelphia, entitled Driving While Female (2002) found more than 400 examples of police using their badge to exploit women.

[xvi] Tessa, Jessica. “How Police Caught The Cop Who Allegedly Sexually Abused 8 Black Women.” Buzzfeed 14 September  2014, http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/daniel-holtzclaw-alleged-sexual-assault-oklahoma-city#rds7xn.  

 [xvii] Bernd, Candice .Police Departments Ignore Rampant Sexual Assault by Officers.” Truthout , 02 July 2014: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/24677. As Bernd quotes Jen Marsh, vice president of victims services at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), “‘[Officers] tend to choose victims that would lack so-called credibility in the eyes of other law enforcement, whether it was somebody who was engaged in sex work or whether it is somebody who was intoxicated or who was using drugs, and then they use that justification for why that person cannot be believed.”

[xviii]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, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.  Further, 47,220 women reported experiencing rape in 2013.  Black women experience rape at a rate of 22 percent higher than white women in New York City, for example, and women who were half Black (or racially mixed with Black) experienced sexual assault at a rate 50 percent higher than white women. 

[xix] Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on Torture report before the Human Rights Council, 15 Jan 2008, A/HRC/7/3, para 36

 

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10 QUESTIONS ABOUT RAPE: Answer Anonymously

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“This invisibility, however, means that the opportunities for creative research are infinite.” – Barbara Smith, Black Feminist Historian, Author, Scholar.

Black Women’s Blueprint Relaunches Important Survey In Order to Continue the Work of Ensuring Our Stories Count. Because Our Experiences and Our Lives Matter.

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10 Questions About Rape

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