On July 11, 2015, Dr. Julie Kain's Unitarian Universalist Church in Pensacola, Florida, hosted Ms. Haley Morrissette's "Black Women Erased" community gathering filled with powerful, terrifying, survivors' tales of rape and sexual abuse. Due to the sensitivity of the survivors' stories and the possibility for re-traumatization, the event was not filmed. My own notes do not denote who exactly was speaking.
This CJ's Street Report will provide a composite summary of what the rape survivors said in a historical context. This report will provide information on community resources available to victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. This will be followed by data collected by the Department of Justice and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control regarding rape and sexual violence directed against Black women. Lastly, since "Black Women Erased" also addressed the topic of Black women--straight, lesbian, and transgender--being brutalized by law enforcement, the final section will provide information on this topic.
In Florida, "Sexual Battery is the legal term for the crime of rape or sexual assault," as in Chapter 794 of the Florida Statutes. "Sexual battery occurs when one person forces another person to engage in sexual activity without their consent." "Sexual battery is defined as oral, anal or vaginal penetration by, or in union with the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object committed without that person's consent." "Consent means intelligent, knowing and voluntary consent and does not include coerced submission." A person does not have to physically resist in order for consent not to be given.
If anyone has read Danielle L. McGuire's At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, you know that Black women are the heart, soul, and backbone of not only the Black Liberation Movement, but the Black community as a whole.
The idea of "Black Women Erased" is that this historical fact is overlooked. Indeed, one speaker noted that when people use the term "Black people," that is translated as "Black men" and that overlooks the fact that Black women are also brutalized by law enforcement. Another speaker noted that "rape victim" simply means "white woman" and the media focuses on the rape of white women who more often than Black women seek and receive medical treatment and psychological counseling.
Mrs. Rosa Parks, for example, according to the account in McGuire's book, was a long-time, experienced anti-rape investigator trying to bring justice to Black women raped with legal impunity by white men throughout the Jim Crow South. The Montgomery bus boycott was brought about not because Black people were forced to sit at the back of the bus, but because Black women, largely domestic workers who used the bus system, were being raped, sexually assaulted, or beaten while using the buses by drivers and passengers with legal impunity. Once the boycott moved into its initial stage, Rosa Parks and the women who organized the boycott were shoved to the rear of the movement's "bus" and the nascent Civil Rights Movement around Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. created a "cartoon" version of Rosa Parks activism. This is just one of the legacies of being "erased."
Dr. Carolyn M. West, writing at the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women website noted that "Black women experienced a unique threat and danger in slavery—that of sexual assault." From the first slave-carrying ship in 1619, rape was part of the voyage. West noted that "historians estimate that at least 58 percent of all enslaved women between the ages of 15 and 30 had been sexually assaulted by White men."
After 1808, when the importation of African slaves was banned, Black women were systematically used to breed domestic slaves "to produce a perpetual labor force." After Emancipation, the Ku Klux Klan gang-raped Black women as part of the reign of terror to destroy Reconstruction. Rape laws did not recognize that Black women could be raped by white men, or even by Black men. The post-rape brutalization of Black women by the legal system was justified by the stereotype that Black women were "hypersexual" and "Jezebels." The Bible Gateway website describes the biblical Jezebel as a "most licentious woman," a "voluptuary" possessing "all the tawdry arts of a wanton woman" and coming from an "idolatrous stock."
Black women surviving under conditions of systematic physical, legal, and religious rape, according to West, "preserved their emotional health and dignity by creating a ‘culture of secrecy’ around their sexual violence. This historical trauma is inter-generational and continues to live in the collective memories of contemporary African American women."
Ms. Kathy Ferguson, a founding member of the Maryland-based Women of Color Network and its first paid coordinator of the network, noted that this "culture of silence" was not only due to fear, embarrassment, and shame felt by women of all races, but also "'Black women historically have had to carry the burden of the community. You don't necessarily want to report because you don't want the community viewed negatively."
It is this "culture of secrecy" that "Black Women Erased" addressed.
One speaker noted the rape and sexual assault of Black women by Black men, as well as their brutalization by law enforcement "destroyed the essence of the Black woman" and separated her from other women. Like the national statistics, most Black women are raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know--a male (Black or white) college friend or a family member, or even by law enforcement. One speaker noted that an Oklahoma City police officer was accused of sexually assaulting 13 Black women during traffic stops. He is facing 36 charges of rape, sexual battery, and stalking.
The speakers were unanimous that not all law enforcement officers were bad. But, one speaker said it best: "All police are not bad. But you have to call out those who are. Or else you are complicit."
Community Resources Available:
Rape Crisis 24-Hour Hotline: (850) 433-RAPE or 433-7273. The Rape Crisis Center at the Lakeview Center provides crisis intervention, 24-hour crisis phone line, individual/group/family counseling, victim assistance facilitation, and community education. The SERVICES ARE FREE and AVAILABLE WHETHER OR NOT THE CRIME HAS BEEN REPORTED. There is no time limit on the occurrence of the traumatic effect and delayed reactions are common.
Help Line 24-Hour (850) 438-1617, also with the Lakeview Center. The service is for those at risk of crisis intervention, suicide, drugs and alcohol, depression, AIDS, abuse, relationship issues, child-related problems, pregnancy, runaways, and teen problems.
Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (S.A.F.E.) are completed at the following emergency rooms: Baptist Hospital, Pensacola; West Florida Hospital, Pensacola; Sacred Heart Hospital, Pensacola; Gulf Breeze Hospital, Gulf Breeze; Santa Rosa Medical Center, Milton; and Jay Hospital, Jay, Florida.
Rape Crisis Counseling at the Avalon Center, (850) 437-8900.
For LGBTQI (Queer and Intersex), information/support in Florida call (1-888-956-RAPE, -7273).
National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE -4673)
GLBT National Help Center (1-888-THE-GLNH, 1-888-843-4564)
Statistics on Rape and Sexual Assault (Straight, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender)
For every Black woman who reports her rape, 15 Black women do not report theirs. (1)
Around 40 percent of all Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18. (1)
Just under 19 percent of Black women report being raped in their lifetime. (1)
In 2007, Black female victims of intimate partner homicide were twice as likely as white female homicide victims to be killed by a spouse. (2)
Black females were four times more likely than white females to be murdered by a boyfriend or girlfriend. (2)
Black females experienced higher rates of rape or sexual assault in 2008 than white females or females of other races (2.9 compared to 1.2 and 0.9 per 1,000 females age 12 or older, respectively.) (2)
Overall, 18 percent of all women have been raped at some point in their lives. (3)
51 percent of women were raped by an intimate partner and another 41 percent by an acquaintance. (3)
42 percent of all women experienced their first rape before the age of 18; nearly 80 percent experienced their first rape before the age of 25. (3)
35 percent of women who reported being raped before the age of 18, reported a completed rape as an adult. (3)
22 percent of Black women, nearly 19 percent of white non-Hispanic women, nearly 15 percent of Hispanic women, nearly 30 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native, and 33 percent of multiracial non-Hispanic have experienced rape at some point in their lives. (3)
41 percent of Black women, 47.6 percent of white women, and 36 percent of Hispanic women experience other sexual violence in their lifetime. (3)
Nearly 44 percent of Black women, 34.6 percent of white women, and 37 percent of Hispanic women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking in their lifetime. (3)
Estimated number (Table 2.3) of rape victims, lifetime: White, 15.2 million; Black, 3.1 million; Hispanic, 2.2 million; American Indian, 234,000; and, multiracial, 452,000. (3)
Estimated number (Table 2.3) of other sexual assault, lifetime: White, 38.6 million; Black, 5.9 million; Hispanic, 5.4 million; American Indian, 424,000; multiracial, 786,000; Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.6 million. (3)
Research suggests that victims of intimate partner and sexual violence make more visits to health providers over their lifetime, have more hospital stays, have longer duration of hospital stays, and are at risk of a wide range of physical, mental, reproductive, and other health consequences over their lifetime than non-victims. (3)
These physical consequences include: asthma, irritable bowel movement, diabetes, high blood pressure, frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, activity limitations, poor physical health, and poor mental health. (3)
An estimated 17 percent of Florida will experience rape during their lifetime, compared to 18 percent nationwide, and nearly 42 percent of Florida women will experience sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime, compared to nearly 45 percent nationwide. (3)
44 percent of lesbian women, 61 percent of bisexual women, and 35 percent of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (4)
22 percent of bisexual women and 9 percent of heterosexual women have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (4)
Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13 percent), nearly half of bisexual women (46 percent), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17 percent) have been raped in their lifetime. This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women, and 19 million heterosexual women. (4)
Of those women who have been raped, almost half of bisexual women (48 percent) and more than a quarter of heterosexual women (28 percent) experienced their first completed rape between the ages of 11 and 17 years. (4)
46 percent of lesbians, 75 percent of bisexual women, and 43 percent of heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes. (5)
"Most studies reveal that approximately 50 percent of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime." (6)
"The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs [NCAVP] reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people were three times more likely to report sexual violence and/or harassment compared to heterosexual people who reported to NCAVP in 2010."
"The chances that a woman will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being raped are 50 to 90 percent."
"Rape victims are four times more likely to have contemplated suicide after the rape than non-crime victims, and 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide."
(1) Women of Color Network, Facts & Stats Collection, June 2006.
(2) U.S. Department of Justice, Female Victims of Violence, September 2009.
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report.
(4) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, An Overview of 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation.
(5) National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Statistics About Sexual Violence, 2015.
Black Women and Law Enforcement Violence
According to the African American Policy Forum's social media guide for #SayHerName, noted that although "Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color."
The African American Policy Forum's longer report, noted that the "resurgent racial justice movement in the United States has developed a clear frame to understand the police killings of Black men and boys, theorizing the ways in which they are systematically criminalized
and feared across class and irrespective of circumstance. Yet Black women who are profiled, beaten, sexually assaulted and killed by law enforcement officials are conspicuously absent from this frame even when their experiences are identical. And they remain invisible when their experiences are distinct--uniquely informed by race, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation."
The social media guide reported that in 2013, Black men and Black women in New York City experienced essentially the same treatment by the police. Of all stops of males, 55.7 percent were Black; similarly, of all police stops of females, 53.4 percent were Black.
Both the social media guide and accompanying report, highlighted selected cases of Black women killed by law enforcement that have not received national media attention.
Thematically, Mya Hall, Gabriella Nevarez, Natasha McKenna, Miriam Carey, Sharmel Edwards, Kendra James, Shantel Davis, and LaTanya Haggerty were all killed after "driving while Black," according to the report.
The social media guide highlighted that Shelley Frey was killed in Houston by an off-duty sheriff and Houston-area minister; Kayla Moore, a transgender woman with mental illness died after being arrested by police in Berkeley, California; Michelle Cusseaux, killed by Phoenix police; Tanisha Anderson, killed by Cleveland police after slamming her head into a concrete sidewalk; Alberta Spruil, died of a heart attack after police broke into her apartment and threw a concussion grenade; Rekia Boyd, shot in the back of the head by an off-duty Chicago police detective; and, Kyam Livingston, died after being left alone in her New York City police cell for 20 hours; she had complained of cramps and diarrhea, but officers ignored her pleas for help for hours. Perhaps the youngest victim of police violence was Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven year-old Detroit child who was shot in her sleep by a Detroit police officer during a raid on her grandmother's apartment.