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Do We Respond Differently To Sexual Assault When Black Men Are Accused? 


In the wake of women coming forward to accuse Hollywood juggernaut Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, more victims of sexual misconduct have felt empowered to come forward, fighting against a society steeped in volatile victim shaming with more protections for the accuser than the perpetrator.

Last week, signs accusing students of rape were put up throughout the campuses of Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University, bringing the current national conversation on sexual assault to the doorstep of these historically Black colleges and universities. The signs, which went up Wednesday, also accused the administrations of each school, which make up the Atlanta University Center Consortium, of covering up sexual assaults. 

On this week’s episode of ESSENCE Now, Tarana Burke, creator of the Me Too campaign, The Root editor Danielle Young and ESSENCE’s News and Culture Editor, Christina Coleman, discuss sexual assault in the Black community and how we respond to it.

Burke, who started her campaign to let survivors of sexual assault know they weren’t alone, wasn’t surprised to hear the news that Spelman students were actively calling out misconduct.

“Spelman has a long history of being very active and outspoken,” she said. But when it comes to how the Black community responds to sexual assault, it could look different from the Weinstein reaction.

“It’s drastically different. Sexual assault doesn’t know any race, class or gender, but the way we respond to it does. We can see that in the case of R Kelly. All his accusers are Black girls and he still has a prominent position in our community,” Burke said.

“There’s also the notion that because of racism and the various oppressions we operate under, Black women almost have to be complicit in their own abuse just to survive. We don’t report, we don’t come forward because look what happens when we do.”

Coleman said she also believes the way the Black community responds to sexual assault can endanger Black women.

“I think it’s a cultural thing. For Black people, we are taught at a really young age that we shouldn’t snitch, nobody wants to be a snitch,” Coleman said. “The other part is always protecting Black men. We saw that with Cosby,” she said, referencing the “bring a Black man down” rhetoric.

“But it is at the expense of Black women.”

Young, who recently came forward in an article about the sexual harassment she experienced, noted the difference with how we respond to sexual assault, particularly when a Black man is being accused.

“It’s a solidarity thing in blackness,” she said. “It’s up to us, Black women, to always lift up and to love and nurture and to hold up Black men.”

Check out the conversation above.

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