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 the U.S. to focus on rape and sexual assault of Black women, and the risks and consequences posed by their lack of economic, social and political security.
The BWTRC seeks to address the historical and contemporary injustices committed against Black women and pave the way for healing, justice and reconciliation. The Commission combines research and documentation of Black women’s experiences with sexual violence, provides victims a public platform, holds harm-doers accountable and strengthens the rule of law through institutional and systemic reform.
The Commission has four mandates.
- 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: The BWTRC provides space for healing and services for victims.
- Justice: The BWTRC promotes institutional and systemic reform via city-wide campaigns to ensure women’s continued access to education and economic security.
- Reconciliation: The BWTRC provides tools that empower communities to hold harm-doers/perpetrators accountable.
Through strategic partnerships, the BWTRC is collecting narratives from first, second, and/or third generation survivors of rape or sexual assault. These narratives will inform a broader analysis of sexual violence against Black women and girls in the U.S., as well as serve to strengthen the hearing process. Narrative collection and concurrent healing symposia will focus on the following ten states, chosen for highly concentrated Black/African American populations: New York, Michigan, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Florida and California. The Commission will culminate in a national public hearing in 2016.
The Need for Truth and Reconciliation
The U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations in the world where mass rapes have occurred systematically against an entire race of people (African American women). There has been no outcry from human rights communities, no processes for justice, no recognition of such violations and no acknowledgment of its impact on the culture of violence against Black women today. A truth and reconciliation commission would go a long way towards recognizing and addressing past and present suffering, and helping Black women and their communities to heal.
Within Black communities, across ethnicities, sexual assaults are disproportionally high. Black women make up 13% of the U.S. population, yet a staggering 40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18 (Center for American Progress, 2013). An on-going survey by Black Women’s Blueprint reveals that number as closer to 60%. For every Black woman that reports a rape, at least 15 do not (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009).
There is 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 struggles. Psycho-social stressors can undermine a victim’s pursuit of education, decreasing their earning potential and economic stability throughout the course of their lives.
The poverty in which many women live increases their risk for being victims of rape/sexual assault. 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. These challenges are 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.