The Cost of Silence: Sexual Assault and The Black Community

By DaiJhah Owens

Activation Warning: This article discusses rape and sexual assault and may be trigging to some readers. Please read with your mental health in mind, friends.

Sexual assault does not discriminate. It does not care about your race, culture, gender, sexuality, economic status, or religion. However, the experiences of sexual assault victims can vary depending on these identities. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As I reflect on the work being done to end gendered and sexual violence and the work that still needs to begin, I couldn’t help but think about my sistas.

Data shows that black girls and women 12 years old and older experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian, and Latina girls and women. 40-60% of black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18. Sexual Assault is already the most underreported crime across all racial groups but black girls and women are the least likely out of white, Asian, and Latina girls and women to report their rape or sexual abuse to family or law enforcement. Rape and sexual assault will never be okay no matter what community you identify with but I, as a black woman, would like to bring awareness directly to the experiences of black women within our community.

The data is not surprising. Black women are socialized to swallow their pain and keep moving. We have too often been the collateral damage to the unspoken agenda to protect the black man at all cost. Black women are consistently on the front lines defending our men against sexual assault accusations, understandably so. Black men have too often lost their lives and freedom due to false sexual assault reports (Emmitt Till, Central Park Five, etc.) However, this does not excuse the abuse black women experience at the hand of their own.

Those of us who experience sexual assault by a member of the black community are shamed into silence by others in our community, usually without them even having to say a word. If a black woman does muster up enough courage to come forward and tell her story, she isn’t met with love and compassion, she is met with side eyes and whispers. “She’s always been fast”, “She thinks she’s grown”, “she’s just another black Jezebel”  are all sayings we’ve heard often in the black community to paint black women as willing participants in their own abuse. That somehow, some way she was an accomplice to the abuse she experienced, therefore exonerating the black man of any responsibility. Why can’t we uphold black men without suppressing black women? As a community, we have failed black women. Our persistent silencing of their pain has cost black women far too much.

Dear Black Woman, I’m so sorry. Sorry that you’ve had to take a back seat to others’ pain. Sorry no one cared enough to hug you, to tell you it wasn’t your fault. My words fall short at expressing the deep sadness I feel for you. I’m sorry your story will follow you to your grave because there wasn’t an environment where you felt safe disclosing your pain. I’m thankful, in spite of the constant reminder of your lack of worth, you’re still here. You braved through trauma you shouldn’t have had to.

There’s no strength like that of a black woman, and no one can tell me otherwise.

DaiJhah Owens is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. DaiJhah is passionate about shifting political power to oppressed groups through education. She believes there is nothing more powerful than an educated black woman who can smell political BS a mile away! Connect with her on Instagram at @d_nakhole!

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