Sexual violence against women and girls is a life-shattering issue that our community must address. It's the pink elephant in our closet that Black America does not want to acknowledge and that is causing our families great pain.
It's true that this is not solely a Black family issue but incidents ranging from rape, sexual assault and abuse to incest and forced prostitution, strike sisters in disproportionate numbers. A woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
A recent Commonwealth Fund survey also revealed that 16 percent of African-American women reported they had been physically abused by a boyfriend or partner in the prior five years. And a recent survey by the Archives of Internal Medicine found that Black women accounted for 53 percent of the violent deaths that occurred in the homes of female victims-despite the fact that we make up less than 8 percent of the total population.
Alesia Adams, of Atlanta, Ga., is keenly aware of these statistics in her role as developer and project coordinator for The Center to End Adolescent Sexual Exploitation (CEASE). In 2000, she decided to help make a difference. She had been working with the Fulton County Juvenile Court, helping children who had been prostituted. She noticed that girls as young as 10 years old were being coerced into prostitution and jailed while their exploitative pimps went free. Adams spearheaded an effort to protect our young girls by founding CEASE, an effort to provide a safe haven and treatment for girls who have been sexually exploited
"I got involved because I was assigned five years ago to a child that was a 12-year-old, crack-addicted prostitute. Ten men had had sex with her and she was found asleep in the street. She got me involved because I could not find services for her. I sat in court and heard about more children dancing in sex clubs and I was outraged that no one paying attention." (A full report on this chilling issue will run in the September edition of ESSENCE.)
As a result of Adams' efforts, in 2001 the Georgia legislature awarded $250,000 in funding to Angela's House, the first safe haven, which can serve just six girls. And the Georgia legislature passed a law to make to pimping or pandering girls a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison if convicted. So far, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta has indicted 15 pimps. For more information or to donate to Angela's House contact: www.juvenilejusticefund.org or AASquared2@aol.com
But much work is still needed. There is a role for all of us to play in stopping sexual violence. As Susan L. Taylor says in this month's ESSENCE, battering and sexual violence is having a deep and dehumanizing affect on the lives of Black women and girls. And when our women's lives fall apart, the children, the community and the culture suffers. We must all get involved in the movement to end sexual violence. Here's what you can do:
* Know the issue. Knowledge is power, so learn all you can about sexual violence. Three Web sites that will break it down in a real way include the National Black Women's Health Project, the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Women's Health Information Center.
* Support legislation that makes a difference. Right now, there are at least four bills winding their way through Congress, including the Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act and the Children Who Witness Domestic Violence Act. You can read more about them (and other pending legislation) as well as contact your state representatives, via the Family Violence Prevention Fund's excellent Web site.
* Attend conferences and seminars on the subject. Circle May 30 to 31st on your calendar; that's when The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community is sponsoring a conference titled Black Males and Domestic Violence: What Do We Know, Where Do We Go? The gathering will be held at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia and guest speakers include Haki Madhubuti and John Singleton. Log on to www.dvinstitute.org to find out more about it.
* Join organizations that benefit survivors of sexual assault and increase prevention programming. Many states have coalitions against sexual assault; log onto your state's Web site to find out how to get involved in local efforts. On another front, check out the Black Church & Domestic Violence Institute, which uses a faith-based perspective to help clergy, advocates and other practitioners aid sisters abused by domestic violence. This Atlanta-based organization has regional resource sites; for more information, contact them at www.bcdvi.org.