What April Teaches Us About Rape Culture and What You Can Do About It
One in five women and one in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, while 43.3 percent of women have reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes. For Black women in the New York City area, the probability of such an attack is even higher: the rate of rape among these Black women is 22 percent higher than that of white women in New York City alone. And these statistics refer only to the number of assaults reported — this does not include assaults that haven’t been registered. If these were considered, the stats would be much higher. Sexual assault is the most underreported crime in the U.S. and it is estimated that 63 percent of rapes are not reported to police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In regard to child sex abuse, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they are 18 years old, however, only 12 percent of these crimes are reported to the authorities.
These statistics illustrate the importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month, both of which are in April. These statistics aren’t just shocking numbers. There are people attached to those numbers, real women, men and children. They are our friends, coworkers, sisters, and daughters. These statistics paint a clear picture of the harms done through and by rape culture.
According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, rape culture is defined as a society whose prevalent social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or banalizing violent behaviors about gender and sexuality. On a daily basis, rape culture constructs gender roles and makes women responsible for male sexuality. Characteristic behaviors associated with a culture of rape include survivor-blaming/shaming, sexual objectification, denial of sexual violence and other acts that are a manifestation of misogyny, sexism, and, in Black women’s case, racism too.
When it comes to Black women at the intersection of race and sex, stereotypes regarding their sexuality, including terms like "promiscuous" and "exotic,” impact the way their stories are received and their stories are likely to be used against them. Because general public opinion is manufactured, established through centuries of social conditioning, most ideas about Black women fail to represent them correctly and adequately. It is worth noting here that Black women live through a complex array of realities and have varying, unique experiences. Still, public opinion has been shaped in such a way that Black women are usually blamed for the harm done them.
In a society steeped in rape culture, blame is usually placed with survivors of gender-based violence. This undoubtedly includes the criminal justice system. Approximately nine of 10 survivors who have reached out to Black Women’s Blueprint report to our counselors that they have never disclosed the sexual assault to anyone in family, community or police systems before coming to BWB. Some of them decided not to report the abuse because they know the so-called criminal justice system would likely only cause them further harm. Others feared backlash from their peers and other community members should they accuse a Black man of assault.
In the case of Bill Cosby, litigation in the matter was met with cries like “leave him alone! He’s an old Black man.” It was made clear during the Anita Hill hearings that, within the Black community, rape culture functions as a machine that continues to violate Black women bodies in different instances. Now, April is coming to an end. But the movement to end gender-based violence against Black women isn’t. Black women have struggled, throughout history, to obtain the rights they deserve and have their voices heard. Black children who have been sexually abused are at high risk of falling prey to a system that not only silences them and overlooks their abuse, but often punishes them for surviving such abuse. Both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month are yet another wake-up call to break the silence, raise awareness and take action against these violent realities that impact Black communities.
Over the last decade we, at Black Women's Blueprint, have worked to make the world a better and safer place for our Black women and girls, where gender, race and other disparities are erased. The 2016 Black Women's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) on Rape and Sexual Assault was the first of its kind to call on society to examine the history, context, causes and consequences of sexual violence against Black women, girls and gender-fluid people. Our latest Black Feminist Resources provide ways to break the silence and disrupt gender-based violence.
Here are some ways you can take action to diminish rape culture in the U.S. Download our toolkits.
Address Sexual Violence in Black Communities
Two-thirds of all sexual assaults in Black communities reported to the police involved people under 18 years old. In nearly 95 percent of the cases, the offender was a family member or acquaintance. Addressing gender-based violence in Black communities is of prime importance in achieving racial justice.. With Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and other Black men accused of sexual violence, the community has been reticent and the backlash against Black anti-violence advocates has been devastating.
As an organization in which many of us are survivors, we are on constant journeys to create models that promote a community of care for survivors. Beyond Lights, Camera, Action & Surviving R. Kelly Viewing Parties is one of our many guides to address sexual violence in Black communities. In order for there to be a Black future where all Black people are thriving, Black men must be anti-rape activists with Black feminist and womanist politics and philosophies. In this toolkit, we discuss how to engage Black men and Black communities and understand resistance to addressing sexual assault.
Be Accountable for the Safety of Children in Schools, Daycare and Other Public Spaces
Far more men than women are abusers. In fact, approximately one out of 20 men, and approximately one out of 3,300 women are sexual abusers of children. Seven years ago, a study by the Black Women's Health Imperative found that 40 percent of Black girls in this country have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of Black men before the age of 18. Within African-American and Black immigrant families, limited conversations with children about human sexuality can also send a more general message that sexuality is taboo, making it virtually impossible for victims of sexual abuse to feel comfortable disclosing their abuse — especially if the abuser is a member of the child’s social network.
Protecting Every Child: a Guide to End Child Sexual Abuse is our prevention program that has had current and past success in creating a safe space for disclosure, supportive services, children’s services and advocacy. When Black children have been sexually victimized they often exhibit maladaptive symptoms as a result of their abuse. Behavioral changes often characterize these symptoms, but children are often punished for these behavioral changes. Communities must advocate for those who are blamed for their vulnerability, pay attention to the signs and recognize grooming, the process in which an predator/abuser gains the trust of the child and their family with the intention to harm them sexually.
Take an Active Participation with Recognition, Self Education and Action on Campus
College freshmen and sophomore women appear to be at greater risk of being victims of sexual assault than are upperclassmen. Ninety-nine percent of people who rape are men (according to the US Department of Justice) and persons with a disability had an age-adjusted rate of rape or sexual assault that was more than twice the rate for persons without a disability. According to An Examination of Sexual Violence Against College Women (NCBI/NIH.GOV), 84 percent of the women who reported sexually coercive experiences experienced the incident during their first four semesters on campus.
Bystander Mixtape: Sexual Violence Prevention Toolkit Campuses - Part 1 of 6 embodies the spirit and language within communities that want to activate accountability for those who struggle with intervening in potentially violent situations due to a cultural value system. It is a full program packed with demonstrations and exercises placing gender-violence and sexual assault within the context of oppression and bystander intervention within an anti-oppression framework committed to a survivor-centric approach. The Bystander Mixtape training teaches Black men to take a more aggressive stance against patriarchy, abuse and other acts of violence performed within our communities especially against our Black women, trans Women, and gender non-conforming population.