Ain't I a Victim?

A community's response to an alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas tragically reminds us that when it comes to the sexual assault of girls and women of color, instead of blaming the attacker, too many unjustly blame the wounded.

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Then there's LaToya Bell, a young woman who, when asked her thoughts about the convictions of 14 men and boys for raping an 11-year-old in her Milwaukee neighborhood, told the Associated Press, "Four to five years? [Those boys] (are) getting time for nothing. That girl, she knew what she was doing." 

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, the producer and director of No! The Rape Documentary, finds these attitudes about black female sexuality sickening. "Why does rape become the penalty for being fast? And why are we willing to turn our girls over to the wolves to teach them a lesson?"

Yes, why are we so willing?

Black Girls and Women: Sacrificial Lambs

Simmons believes that history provides some of the answers. "We have a legacy of black men being painted as rapists. From the murder of Emmett Till and the Scottsboro trials, black men have been unjustly lynched or jailed for doing something as innocent as winking at a white woman," she explains. "And so to counter all of this, we feel that we have to prove the myth wrong by saying 'No, black men don't rape,' but sometimes they do, and because we want to protect them, we choose to say nothing and blame the woman."

So if we reject the stereotypes about black men being brutal black bucks who want to savagely rape white women, it means that we accept the jezebel stereotypes about black women. "Black women [have been seen] as oversexed and promiscuous, [which] makes many people extremely insensitive to black female victims," says Imani Perry, an associate professor of African-American studies at Princeton University.

And while, in 2011, African Americans no longer worry about public lynchings, we are consumed with fear about the prison industrial complex and an unfair American legal system. In the minds of some black folks, speaking out about rape means handing over our men to the oppressive "system." Therefore we make a conscious (or unconscious) decision to sacrifice women's well-being for the freedom of men.

What's even more depressing is that many rape victims carry the burden to protect their own attackers, which can lead to low reporting of attacks. "I see this a lot with women who come to us for help," says Scheherazade Tillet, executive director of A Long Walk Home, an organization that uses art therapy and performance arts to educate people about rape and bring about social change. "Not only do they blame themselves for the attack or wonder what they did to bring it about themselves, but they don't want to be responsible for sending another black man to prison by going to the police."

And so essentially, women and girls end up paying for racism by being taught to accept sexism for the sake of the greater good.

We Need to Break the Silence