Kereen Odate, Acting Director at the Center for Women’s Development at Medgar Evers College in New York, says black women are reluctant to discuss sexual and domestic abuse for fear of “vilifying the black man.”
This week, U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced legislation to reenact the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an act originated in 1994 to provide $1.6 billion dollars to assist in the investigation and persecution of violent crimes against women. National organizations like the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence backed this monumental act that would revolutionize how women across the country would receive the proper help in and outside of the legal system. Much like the SlutWalk movement of today, VAWA has been influential in bringing awareness to sexual and domestic violence against women, but like so many other mainstream initiatives, minority women have been left out of the discussion and the receive the short end of the stick for equality.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I endured my first (and last) domestic violence encounter; throughout my pregnancy, I was slammed against walls, drug down the hallways of my apartment, chased out of the house with a knife, and, the night before my baby shower, fought to keep a 200-pound man from choking me to death.
I spent most of my pregnancy in fear, afraid to tell anyone, not even friends or family. At 22 years old, I never experienced anything like that and while I knew that help was just a 911 call away, the fear of being alone drove me to never make mention of the abuse until many years after my daughter’s birth.
Like me, many Black women keep sexual abuse and domestic violence a secret to protect innately the ones we love. What is this relentless behavior to preserve those who victimize versus our own selves? Many attribute this behavior to the slave history that buries itself in our psyche.
The sexual dysfunction between Black men and women, Odate says, is a direct result of the skewed purpose in which sex was used during slavery. “You were raped, “but you weren’t raped because it was for the purpose of making more kids to work on the plantation, so there’s a whole history involved.”
Even when news broke that Rihanna fell victim to Chris Brown’s anger, many misappropriated blame to Rihanna, citing she must have done something to “deserve” it. We (the societal “we”) rallied to protect and defend Chris and desperately searched for the redeeming qualities that came in the form of slick dance moves and Michael Jackson-esque pelvic thrusts. The delicate balance between self-preservation and keeping the “unified front” with Black men has caused more and more of us suffer silently at the hands of the very men we try to protect.
If 60 percent of our girls under the age of 18 are experiencing sexual assaults and the social and legal response to their encounters are limited at best, how do we begin giving girls and women the voice, courage, and resources necessary to stop sexual assaults and violence against women. In turn, raising our voices to give men the ability to learn about how to conduct healthy relationships, deal with the things that concern them most, and develop better ways to interact with women.
You do not have to suffer silently. The moments where the internal battle to save and protect him or me, in hindsight, seem so silly. However, those women who have been faced with the decision can understand that only love for self can foster the courage needed to walk away.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic and sexual violence, tell someone. If you are too afraid, contact one of the national hotlines specifically for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (206) 787-3224 (Video Phone for Deaf Callers)
RAINN (National Sexual Assault Hotline) 1.800.656.HOPE
(Post courtesy of HelloBeautiful.com)