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“If you tell anyone, I will hurt you.” My attacker whispered with his hot breath on my ear, as his hands slid down my pants. I was six years old. We were in the basement of my father’s home in Georgia under a blanket, while you could hear the TV blasting the soundtrack to the Futurama game on the Playstation my brothers owned. That is where the boy who touched me, trapped me. He was not a stranger to me, but my fourteen year old cousin. At the mere age of six, you’re not ever remotely aware of what promiscuity means. Someone is either dressing you or telling you what outfit to put on. There was no way I could have asked for this, let alone understand what events were occurring in that dark basement. Following up to my confused confession was the rage of a parent who felt they failed their child, I sat on the floor of my father’s room, after telling him what my cousin had did. I had never seen my father as livid as he was while my small body stood in his doorway as he ripped his room apart in rage and screamed at my uncle about how my cousin was never allowed back at the house.
At six, my words were valued. Who could imagine just nine years later my credibility on assault would be questioned?
Who would have guessed that a smile would be an open invitation for a stranger to grab you and touch you in whichever way they please? Nine years after my first assault, I am walking down the grand staircase from English Pre -AP to my Gifted and Talented class when I make eye contact with a tall stranger. Blonde, blue eyed, with a friendly smile, friendly enough for me to smile back.
The stranger diverted from his original course that was the opposite way of my destination to speak to me. “You have such a beautiful smile. What’s your name?”
Our conversation carried on all the way to my classroom where the stranger introduced himself as Lance before bidding me goodbye. I never thought I would see him again but to my surprise he was waiting outside the classroom to walk me to my next class. This behavior carried on for two weeks. In my naive freshman mind, I thought this was just a friendly gesture from a boy who was trying to make a new friend. However, this gesture turned into entitlement the more he came around me. Boasting on how he was on the football team. Reminding me he’s a senior and seniors do not usually speak to freshman, and how I should show him something to keep him interested. I never wanted him romantically, so I tried my best to turn him down gently and started to avoid him at school. Lance would start to corner me finding me walking alone to my second period or to track practice, grabbing my arm so tight when I tried to run off into the locker room I could still feel his grip while I was working out. My struggles to break free from his grasp every day clearly did not state to him I was uncomfortable. My pleas for him to let go of my arm so I wasn’t late to practice was never enough. Lance took it upon himself to take what he felt was rightfully his after weeks of being the “good guy”. Waiting for me to exit the locker room after practice, Lance approached me and as I tried to speed through the crowd of kids rushing to get home to avoid him, I felt a large hand and five iron like finger close around my forearm and a firm grip on my rear. I screamed without rage and turned around to hit and scream at him, but his look was of one that silently said “Tell anyone and I will hurt you.”
The smirk burned into my mind, just like the smirk of my cousin after he was finished touching me. I was unusually silent that night once I got home that encounter brought to life the incident from nine years ago that I tried very hard to suppress and never mention. The silence was eating at me for it was just my mind trying to figure out how I allowed something like that to happen to me again. Why didn’t I fight my attacker? Why did I let another male touch me and walk away? The pain I was feeling boiled over into anger in which I unleashed on my mother. Fifteen years old and now I understood what I went through at six and what I went through nine years later. My anger was towards myself. The places I should’ve felt safe in I was the most vulnerable. A smile led to someone I did not know grabbing me, a smile led to my cousin touching me. An event that took place nine years ago still delivered the same hurtful blow.
My mother rushed to the kitchen to comfort me as I sobbed and stuttered. I did not want to put my pain on my mother, the woman who raised my sister and I all on her own who I shared a heart with. My heart was breaking and I did not want to break hers; however, I was not strong enough to hold in that trauma, and I told her everything from the incident at six to the most recent at fifteen. The same rage my father harbored for my cousin, my mother’s mirrored for Lance. I felt so small, and could not stop crying as my mother yelled at me to stop crying because she couldn’t stand to see my pain. As I got my mom to calm down and as she comforted me, she asked me to speak to the administration the next day and my coach to ensure that everything that could be done for me to feel safe again was done.
The next day I silenced my tears and walked straight into the administration office to speak to the vice principal Mr. Craig, a middle aged, bald, African American who looked after the small population of black students who attended Brandeis High school. I sat in his office hopeful that my situation will be handled along the same lines as my father had nine years ago. I began to explain my story and before I could even finish the first thing to come to his mind and out of his mouth was “What were you wearing when he touched you?” I was in such shock for not only was I in a school-issued uniform, but I did not understand how the clothes on my back could give someone the right to touch me without my consent and harass me after I made it clear I wanted nothing to do with him. Holding back tears, I slowly stated to my vice principal on how I was in my track uniform which the school provided for me, I had cut off communication with Lance and never engaged with inappropriate conversation, let alone anything that would have led him to believe I wanted him as anything more than a friend. Mr. Craig wrote notes, and said he would file a report and Lance would be spoken to and punished.
To me, that sounded amazing. I felt justice was served; sadly I was wrong. Lance was never removed from the team. He continued to purposely take the same routes as me ensuring that I would face him every day until I changed my routes to getting to class to avoid him. I was left feeling as if the people who were meant to protect me, were only out to protect what mattered to their image and the protection of my attacker left me feeling as if my word was a lie.
However, right after my incident a fellow classmate accused her ex-boyfriend, a white male, first string quarterback of our high school football team, of raping her and the entire nine yards was offered to her, police escort to classes, a restraining order against him; of course, the difference between her and I is that she is white. Don’t worry: just like Lance, he was excused from his crimes against women for his contribution to the school was greater than the one his ex made. This led me to believe that race and status determines the credibility and punishment of a victim and a perpetrator respectively.
After my assault, there was no offer of counseling for emotional trauma, no offer to walk me to classes for my peace of mind. All I was handed was doubt about my statement and a goodbye as I exited the administrative office; I left feeling that if another incident similar or worse to the one I experienced were to happen to me again on campus grounds those who were to protect me would dismiss me. I lost the trust in the justice system at the educational level and slowly felt like there was no one I could trust. The incident left me feeling that if I were to be assaulted again, what would be the use of reporting the incident? “If African American women perceive that society does not consider that they can be raped, and that they would not be believed if they disclose or seek help from authorities that represent societal views regarding “real rape” (Wyatt). Women of color have experienced violence against us since the beginning of colonization as a way to subdue our culture and identity. The historical context of rape and sexual exploitation of black women has been occurring for more than 400 years; this has led Black women in America to be more inclined to feel as if their assault was warranted and they do not have the right to be protected. “Gendered race myths were also used to discount black women as legitimate victims”(David, 1985, P.9, Neville, H., & Pugh, A.). These myths separate them from their white counterparts who are deemed to be the “damsels in distress”, true victims in any case whether their attackers were genuinely guilty or innocent. This misconception pins each race against one another feeding into the racial divide in a vicious theme such as rape culture where those involved are experiencing the same dehumanizing and traumatic situation; however, the aftermath is handled differently. With black women, the fear of coming upfront about their assaults is deeper than being told they are lying indirectly or directly, when most victims, no matter the race, know their attackers, such as I did. At any time, my attackers who were allowed to get off easily could come back to reassault me or commit a worse crime out of anger for being found out, and the sad reality is that no one will care for.
To a society when a victim of color comes forward about any type of assault they have experienced or survived, whether the attacker is well-known or an acquaintance, the discrediting phrases hit differently than to other victims of other races: “While rape culture affects all women, the experiences of Black women are unique, as they include the intersection of racism and sexism (misogynoir)”(Wilson). The mouths of the spectators inflict the venom that kills victims on the inside slowly:
“How did you not know those were going to be his intentions?”
“You did insinuate that this is what you wanted.”
“You led him on; it’s not all his fault.”
The protection of predators in society against the cries of the victims, especially when the victim is of color creates an even more dangerous environment for colored girls, specifically black girls. This environment is one where black girls are shown at a young age that they are only sex objects with no voices: “If Black Women are viewed as always desirous of sex, then sex in any form will be viewed as acceptable to Black Women and the charge of rape will be denied,” (L.M. Williams)(Neville, H., & Pugh, A.). When black girls are being touched by their cousins, uncles, mothers boyfriends, step dads, and told to keep silent or discredited when using their voice, it is due to this practice of hypersexualizing black women and creating a sense of entitlement to their bodies. That is why abusers are allowed to get away with their crimes, white or black, because society is very quick to condemn the black victim instead of their attacker.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse,Incest, National Network) only make up 27% of the common predators on a race statistic they still suffer a harder loss than their lighter complected brothers in crime. If a black man were to be accused of rape whether the allegations were true or false, his life is already ruined, his sentencing is extreme in terms of the crime. For example, two University of Tennessee players were accused of raping a white female student at a party after fellow party goers discovered she had voluntarily had sex with both players at the same time and was embarrassed by her choice. Thankfully, the jury was fair and just and both boys were acquitted but in cases such as this one many black men are not lucky, such as Emmett Till who was falsely accused of offending a white woman in 1955 and lynched at the age of fourteen. America has continuously shown the black community that there is a clear divide in who is truly seen as equal and is protected by the law and who is not, and even though lynching is no longer a problem, the legal system is still able to hang us.
While society portrays black males as the most dangerous or susceptible to violence, white perpetrators who make up 53% for the race of common offenders, are treated as if they were a child in a candy store and knew no better than to steal what they wanted. Harvey Weinstein, a famous producer in Hollywood, was called out for his misconduct with actors he had the pleasure of working with, yet there were no documentaries on him, no boycotts to remove the movies he produced from the shelves or theatres. The public did not deem him beastly enough to condemn him for his evil habits—similar to my attacker Lance who was a “good young man, who was set to go to college and then play professional ball.” As if his future was more important than mine, as if Weinstein’s career was more important than those of his victims—to the extent where it was no longer publicized, but he had the respect to be handled privately and vanish from the public eye. The talented Stanford swimmer who blamed party culture for his choice to rape a girl who was not in her right mind to give consent—he was deemed as a “misunderstood”, “confused” and promising college athlete who had one mess-up. As if taking a piece of a girl is equivalent to stealing a bag of chips from a corner store.
God forbid if a black college athlete were to be accused of rape, or sexual assault: his face and business would be aired out in front of the entire nation while his future were to be destroyed just like his kin before him.
The intertwining of racism in rape culture is very unsettling, for it shows how corrupt our country truly is due to the fact “Rape bears a direct relationship to all of the existing power structures in a given society. This relationship is not a simple mechanical one, but rather involves complex structures reflecting the complex interconnectedness of race, gender, social class oppression which characterizes that society” (David, 1985, P.9) (Neville, H., & Pugh, A.). Without power, men tremble and if they can not exercise their power in some way than they have failed as a man, that is how this country was built on the notion of someone has to be above someone else. The white male and female are put on a very high pedestal above the negro male and female, while the negro male has a bit more standing than the negro female, creating the unequal complex of who to save first when it comes to fire rape bestows on one’s life.
In this country the only way we can work to fix this broken system is for those who lack pigment in their skin to use their privilege that was created for them by their ancestors almost four hundred years ago to speak up against this inhumane and evil practice.
- Neville, Helen A, and Aalece O Pugh. “General and Culture-Specific Factors Influencing African American Women’s Reporting Patterns and Perceived Social Support Following Sexual Assault: An Exploratory Investigation.” Violence Against Women, vol. 3, no. 4, 1997, pp. 361-381.
- Polone, Gavin. “Hollywood’s Cosby Culture of Payoffs, Rape and Secrecy.” The Hollywood Reporter, vol. 420, no. 43, 2014, p. 38.
- RAINN | The Nation’s Largest Anti-Sexual Violence Organization.
- Wilson, Macy, et al. “Acting Mannish: Unpacking the Origins of Rape Culture through the Lens of Black Masculinity,” 2018, pp. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
- Wyatt, Gail Elizabeth. “The Sociocultural Context of African American and White American Women’s Rape.” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 48, no. 1, 1992, pp. 77-91.