Joan Little was charged with first-degree murder in 1974 after stabbing a white prison guard who sexually assaulted her at North Carolina's Beaufort County jail.
Then just 20 years old, Joan's case became a cause célèbre combining the civil, women's, and anti-death penalty movements. It prompted fierce debate over a woman's right to defend herself against an attacker. A capital murder conviction would have led to Joan's death by electric chair.
However, after a five-week trial, Joan became the first woman in United States history to be acquitted on the grounds of self-defense against sexual violence.
Black women and men everywhere protested on her behalf, and a committee in her name raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her bond and legal fees, according to the Barnard Center for Research on Women.
As Angela Davis has noted, the support of Joan showed that public pressure and the collective power of the public can be "earth-shaking" it can change lives and societies.
Joan was not the first woman forced defend herself against sexual violence and, unfortunately, she won't be the last. Black women and girls face sexual violence at alarming rates and that is usually not the end of their suffering. They then face blame, retraumatization and even punishment for surviving the abuse.
A recent case involves Cyntoia Brown, who spent more than 10 years in prison after killing a man who intended to sexually assault her. She was recently granted clemency.