By Mosopefoluwa Faramade
For the longest time, discussions have been had on the links between racism and sexual violence. Here are some examples of how these two concepts intersect.
On September 3, 1944, Recy Taylor, an African American woman, was walking home with two other church members after a church meeting at Abbeville, Alabama, when she was threatened and kidnapped by six white men driving by in a truck. She was taken to a quiet place where the six white men gang-raped her.
Taylor’s case was tried in court, but despite the men’s confessions, physical evidence, and multiple witnesses of Taylor’s abduction and rape, two male and white grand juries dismissed the case, and no charges were brought against Taylor’s perpetrators.
In 2019, these were the words of LaQuisha Anthony, an African American woman who was raped in college, “I suffered in silence for 12 years. I don’t want nobody to experience that long stretch of suffering.” After LaQuisha was raped, she did not tell anyone.
These stories only serve as a glimpse into the difficult circumstances faced by women of colour worldwide today. Studies have shown that 35% of black women get raped during their lifetime and that for every 15 black women assaulted, only one reports the assault.
Racism, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one race is superior to the other.”
The ideology of racism is firmly rooted in certain beliefs and attitudes which support that;
- All humans can be classified into biologically separate, discrete and exclusive populations called races, with a person belonging to only one race.
- Phenotypic differences and physical attributes such as skin colour are markers or symbols of racial identity.
- Each race has distinct qualities of intellectual ability, morality and temperament; that races are not equal and can only be ranked either superior or inferior to another.
- The behavioural and physical characteristics are inherited and innate, therefore making them fixed, permanent and unchangeable.
- Distinct races should be separated and develop their institutions, communities and lifestyles, segregated from other races.
These beliefs and attributes ultimately promote division and discrimination among humans all over the world.
The concept of racism with respect to the people of colour came into existence during the period of the slave trade, which happened several centuries ago. Then, a large number of the black population were transported as slaves from Africa to Europe and America for the purpose of working on sugar plantations to meet up with the increasing demands of the British population for sugar. These slaves were bought in exchange for textiles, gunpowder and silk, which the British slave traders took down to those African countries.
The slaves were transported in horrific conditions, beaten and mutilated, with only four out of five surviving the journey. Those who survived the journey only lived for the next two to four years because of the harsh and terrible working conditions they were exposed to. This experience was worse for the female slaves as they were not only beaten or exposed to horrendous working conditions, they were also used as objects to fulfil sexual desires. They were raped, forced into prostitution and forced to reproduce to grow the slave population of the slave masters, further dehumanising the black women and making it “culturally acceptable” for the slave masters to abuse them.
Racism promotes oppression and discrimination. Oppression is defined as the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. At the same time, discrimination is described as the unfair or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, sex, or disability. This is what is also expressed in the context of sexual violence.
During the era of the slave trade, rape was used as a weapon to assert power and demean not only black women. Fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were also victims and reminded daily that they were considered less than men because they could not protect their “womenfolk”.
Therefore, this distorted view and perspective about what the black woman and the entire black race represented then emerged from the dehumanising experience the race was subjected to several centuries ago but which unfortunately is still the perspective that some individuals still hold on to strongly today. This clearly explains why black women are at a disproportionate risk of sexual violence today.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 5 Black women are survivors of rape, 1 in 4 Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. For every 15 black women assaulted, only one reports the assault to the police.
Survivors who do not report do so because of fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, shame, delay or absence of guarantee in getting justice after filing a report. It has also been reported that these survivors are also denied access to health care in some places.
Following this, Stand to End Rape Initiative, Nigeria (STER) joins her voice with individuals and organisations worldwide, working tirelessly to bring an end to the oppression and discrimination of women of colour.
The universally approved fundamental rights of women, including the right to live free from violence, slavery, discrimination, right to be educated, to own property, political participation, health, dignity, and to earn a fair and equal wage, also applies to these women. Hence, these women should not be viewed or used as tools to satisfy sexual desires.
STER now recommends that government and non-government officials holding the authority of power, especially in the Caucasian countries of the world, should ensure that women of colour are treated with dignity and respect, be protected against every form of violence and discrimination. True justice should be served against the perpetrators of violence, and free access to post-rape care should be made available.
In conclusion, there remains what seems like an impenetrable wall of silence around violence against black women; we must all rise and play a role in breaking this silence.
Photocred: National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Black women, the forgotten survivors of sexual assault. https://www.apa.org/pi/about/newsletter/2020/02/black-women-sexual-assault
I suffered in silence for 12 years’: Rape survivor helps black women talk about sexual violence.
Black women and sexual assault. National Center on Violence against women in the Black Community.
Building the myth of Black inferiority. https://www.britannica.com/summary/race-human
Racism: A Brief History. Show Racism the red card. Immigrant Council of Ireland. https://theredcard.ie/racism-a-brief-history/
Apyrl Alexander. Opinion: Why too few Black women and girls report sexual violence. https://coloradosun.com/2021/04/06/sexual-violence-black-women-opinion/