As a Black lesbian who is an incest and rape survivor, for almost 25 years, I’ve worked consistently on ending sexual violence, with a specific focus on Black communities in the United States. I’ve traveled, lectured, taught and screened my Ford Foundation–funded film, NO! The Rape Documentary, throughout North America, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. I am constantly reminded that all forms of sexual violence are human rights violations and that we need a multipronged approach to end it. The courageous Black women who led the anti–sexual violence movement in the U.S. in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s must be acknowledged for their grassroots community organizing. But even with the -tremendous progress we’ve made since then, racist and sexist stereotypes continue to render Black women, transgender -people and children vulnerable to multiple forms of sexual -oppression. While “stranger danger” remains a threat, 70 percent of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Here are steps that we can take toward ending this global nightmare.
1. Believe Survivors
Many people do not report their -sexual assaults because those who do are sometimes accused of lying. The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network’s criminal justice system statistics reveal that two out of three sexual -assaults are never shared. The fact is, individuals who report sexual violence are almost always telling the truth. A False Reporting Overview compiled by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that false reporting of sexual violence ranges from as high as 10 percent to as low as 2 percent.
2. Respond Vigorously
We must address sexual violence with the same vigilance and rigor that we do racist and White supremacist violence. We have become desensitized to rape and other forms of sexual violence. We have to realize that racism is not the only societal ill that harms Black communities; sexism, homophobia and patriarchy also undermine us. And far too often, rape, child sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence are viewed as the individual victim’s problem and not a communal problem. And yet, other forms of violence such as police brutality and mass incarceration are viewed as violence -committed against Black and Brown communities. Imagine the awareness and impact if vigils and demonstrations were held every time we were made aware of incidences of sexual violence.
3. Quit Blaming victims
We must cease demonizing women and girls for being sexual beings while -celebrating men and boys for their sexual desires. Vicious victim-blaming terms like whore, slut and thot can help condone violence committed against Black and Brown girls and women. When these terms are used in response to sexual -assault, we minimize the level of empathy felt for the victim–survivors and fail to hold the perpetrators accountable.
4. Support Men and Boys Too
Too many of us don’t acknowledge the fact that heterosexual men and boys are also sexually assaulted. Society’s -homophobia and insistence on hyper-masculinity have fostered the idea that only gay men and boys are sexually -assaulted, and they deserve and/or enjoy it. This line of thinking silences many men and boys who have been victimized and, again, lets the perpetrator off the hook.
5. Stop Pathologizing The LGBTQ Community
Tragically, many people believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer victims are merely deviant sexual beings who got what they deserve. This homophobic attitude prevents LGBTQ victims from coming forward. Instead of demonizing a person’s sexuality or gender identity, it’s imperative that we focus on ending sexual violence and getting all survivors the help and support they need.
6. Teach Body Sovereignty
We must proactively educate ourselves and our young people about the sovereignty of our bodies. Knowledge empowers. We must be absolutely clear about the life-altering impact of the -sexual theft of one’s body. Society -teaches us to value our material possessions and determine who has the right to access them. Yet the right to determine who has -access to our bodies is often a gray area, especially in the court of public opinion. Our material possessions are not worth more than our bodies. No one should have the right to molest, sexually assault or batter a child or an adult.
7. Explore Survivor- centered accountability
Given the violent history of policing in Black and Brown communities, many of us are reticent to call the police in -response to any form of sexual violence. I would also argue that incarcerating people who are convicted of committing sexual violence will not stop the epidemic. Indeed, it can exacerbate it, as sexual -assault by both inmates and correctional personnel occurs all too frequently. We must hold perpetrators accountable for the harm they cause without relying -solely on the police and the prison -industrial complex. It’s time to explore survivor-centered -alternatives to the criminal justice system.Creative Interventions (creative-interventions.org-) and INCITE! (incite-
national.org/analysis) are groups that focus on community -accountability in -response to violence. They can help you find a local organization that is doing survivor–centered accountability work. And if there isn’t already one in your community, why not start your own?