The Truth Commission on Black Women and Sexual Violence
The Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) is the first of its kind in New York City or in the U.S. focused on rape/sexual assault against women of African descent, and the risks and consequences posed by their lack of economic security.
The Commission has four mandates, which are inherent to any Commission:
- Truth: The BWTRC provides victims across three-generations of Black women with a public platform by combining oral narrative and critical participatory research, documentation and survivor leadership development;
- Healing: It provides space for healing and services for victims;
- Justice: It effectuates institutional and systemic reform via city-wide campaigns to ensure women’s continued access to education and economic security; and
- Reconciliation: It provides tools that embolden communities to hold harm-doers/perpetrators accountable.
Why A Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States:
The U.S. is one of the few places in the world where mass rapes have occurred systematically against an entire race of people (African American women) and there has been no outcry from human rights communities, no processes for justice, no acknowledgement or recognition of such violations and its impact on the culture of violence against Black women today. A truth and reconciliation commission would go a long way toward recognizing and addressing past and present suffering and helping Black women and their communities to heal.
Within Black communities, across ethnicity, the number or sexual assaults and those that go unreported is considerably higher. Silence prevails and the invisibility is almost complete within our Black communities and in greater society about Black women’s lives, about the level of victimization, the systematic exclusion of our specific gendered experiences in the broader agenda for civil and human rights. In 2007, approximately 40% of black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18 (National Black Women’s Health Project). A more recent and on-going survey by Black Women’s Blueprint reveals that number is closer to 60%. For every Black woman that reports a rape, at least 15 do not report (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009).
Moreover, research shows an undeniable, complex and often cyclical connection between violence against women and poverty. Violence can jeopardize women’s economic well-being, often leading to homelessness, unemployment, interrupted education, and other daily stressors and struggles. In turn, the poverty in which many women live increases their risk for being victims of rape/sexual assault The same research reflects, an often neglected dimension is that poverty can make women and children more dependent on others for survival and therefore, less able to control their safety or to consent to sex. Indeed, women with household incomes under $7,500 are twice as likely as the general population to be raped or the victim of other assaults.
Psycho-social stressors can undermine a victim’s pursuit of education, decreasing their earning potential and economic stability throughout the course of their lives. This is especially relevant for African-American and Black immigrant women who represent a disproportionate number of those living in poverty and those experiencing rape/sexual assault in New York City.