I’m hoping that the (slim) defeat of accused child sexual predator Ray Moore in the race for U.S. Senate in Alabama is not a damper on the exposes of the culture of sexual violence so pervasive in this country. I’m hoping that every man who’s ever grabbed, groped, felt, fondled, pushed, pulled, patted or rubbed a woman’s body part without her permission and gotten away with it is still sweating bullets every day he wakes up.
For a while, there were almost announcements about powerful men being knocked off their proverbial thrones by accusations of sexual crimes. There may be some who think the snow-balling effect of women exposing the sexual aggression of men in the workplace is an overkill. The women who have suffered in pain and silence certainly don’t think so.
While much of the spotlight is on the entertainment industry and political arena, this offensive patriarchal behavior is not relegated to power players Russell Simmons or Congressman John Conyers. Keep coming down the ladder and you get to the academic and banking fields. Keep going and you get to the supposedly sacred spaces in the churches, synagogues and parishes. Keep moving and you uncover the sexist abuses in the fast food and health care industries where you find low-wage working women. Keep going and you run into the likes of Uncle George or Grandpa Willie right inside your own home.
In the African-American community, the silent nature of sexual violence is real. The stats are alarming. Studies cite 40-60 percent black women report being subjected to forced sexual contact by age 18. Yet we are less likely to report incidents than white women. Legitimate distrust of the system and fears of betrayal mute the voices of victims, but not the trauma.
Sexual violence is so ingrained and commonplace in our society and particularly in communities of color that we often have a hard time acknowledging that any wrongdoing has occurred. If a victim so much as thinks about calling out a perpetrator, she often faces retaliation, isolation and rejection. You gotta be one strong, courageous sistah to step out of the shadows and name your violator.
There have been some phenomenal black women who have given their best to take issues of incest, rape and sexual harassment out of the dark. Women like Loretta Ross who helped to found the first rape crisis center in Washington, D.C. Women like Aisha Simmons, a rape victim herself, who produced “No! The Rape Documentary.” Women like Robin D. Stone, author of “No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse.”
Brothers have also stepped out. Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s documentary “HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” broke new ground in exposing and exploring the sexual violence in the genre that reinforced negative behaviors in our relationships and communities. Advocacy groups have emerged with black men taking the lead in supporting women while giving men the tools and education they need for transformation.
As someone who has long fought the culture of violence against women in whatever form that violence takes, I would love for the women who survived the sexual actions of these men to get the justice they deserve. Just as imperative is their coming out of the shadows and joining with the voices of their survivors-sistahs (and brothers) to take a stand.
Victims should be inspired to come forward and collectively shed their shame and take back their power. This is the main way that change will be made – and be permanent.
Sexual abuse will not stay in the news cycle even though the Groper-in-Charge occupies the White House. It will be up to the rest of us to do the more important, less glorified work not captured for the evening news camera. Let’s intensify and expand the discussion about the pervasive culture of sexual violence in this country. Let’s push for more and different ways for women to report these atrocities and get the support they deserve.