VBA News Awareness Campaign Day 3: The United States of America *Special Dedication Episode to BLM*

This is a new VBA campaign in which we will be discussing a topical news article that is related to sexual assault/abuse. The articles that we discuss are related to countries with the 10 highest rates of sexual assault/abuse in the world; highlighted on the map we have displayed on the VBA homepage. Through this campaign, we are trying to acknowledge these global injustices.

– Country: United States of America (US)

– Case: Intersectionality – Highlighting the Extensive History of Black Women Involved in the US’s Feminist Narrative and the #MeToo Movement.

Our VBA Team would like to dedicate this episode of the VBA News Awareness Campaign to the Black Lives Matter Movement. We would like to further extend this acknowledgement to the many people of colour who have lost their lives due to police brutality and/or systemic racism.

Recently, discussion encompassing the multiple rape allegations against Def Jam’s Record Executive Russel Simmons have been reinvigorated. This conversation has resurfaced because of a new documentary being released this year, by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, detailing the stories of these three affected women and their integral relationship with the #MeToo movement (Tillet, 2020, para. 9). This film aims to focalise on how people of colour are repeatedly overlooked as victims of sexual assault/abuse (ibid). The dialogue this documentary advances seeks to give prominence to the intersecting systems of “racial and gender oppression,” (Tillet, 2020, para. 13), and unveil the many barriers these individuals face in (1) reporting these forms of sexual exploitation, (2) resolving these work-based sexual crimes, and (3) creating a safe space for people of colour.

In addition to this, the release of this documentary has further accentuated the long history of marginalised women who have been ignored, or suppressed when trying to tell their stories of sexual assault/abuse. To account for this, it is important to discuss the significant roles that many people of colour have held in creating these ground-breaking social movements. To begin, Recy Taylor was a black woman who “fought for justice against a group of white men who kidnapped and raped her in the Jim Crow South,” of the 1940s (McGuire, 2018, para. 2). When Taylor initiated her criminal case against these men, they threatened her with death, but Taylor “had a support network led by Rosa Parks,” and instigated a national protest movement named the ‘Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor,’ (McGuire, 2018, para. 4). This activist group later became known as the ‘Montgomery Improvement Association,’ with Martin Luther King Jr. proudly appointed as the first president of this newfound campaign (McGuire, 2018, para. 5). Through this indispensable body of activists, the 1955-1956 Bus Boycott was born, and soon received international recognition (ibid). These buses were of particular interest to the Montgomery activists because they were the place of “sexual and racial violence for black women,” who configured the larger part of the people who took the bus at this time (McGuire, 2018, para. 6). Therefore, the 1955-1956 Bus Boycott was born out of, and sustained by, the right of bodily integrity and autonomy for each and every black women; this narrative unveils the long and untold history of sexual assault/abuse experienced by people of colour – which must be recognised as the crux of the US’s feminist history.

Historical figureheads such as Harriet Jacobs, Ida B. Wells, Betty Jean Owens, Rosa Lee Coates, Fannie Lou Hamer, Joan Little, and Anita Hill must each be remembered as feminist icons for all human rights movements, and feminist campaigns. Specifically, these individuals highlight how, throughout the whole of the US’s national history, people of colour have been “at the forefront of movements against sexual violence and rape,” (McGuire, 2018, para. 17).

Contemporary, this historical framework has allowed female activists such as Tarana Burke to develop key feminist campaigns, like the #MeToo Movement (Ihejirika, 2020, para. 1). This movement was initially founded for women of colour, to express their stories of sexual assault/abuse/rape through connecting with one another under this universalised hashtag (ibid). In 2017, actor Alyssa Milano prompted more people to use this hashtag, and from this, the #MeToo Movement went viral (Ihejirika, 2020, para. 7). Gradually, society became more aware of Tarana Burke as the founder of this online initiative, and the roots that this social phenomenon held within the black community (Ihejirika, 2020, para. 8). However, Burke stated that:

“it has been difficult, not because white women hijacked the #MeToo Movement. That is not what happened. They came forward as survivors to support other survivors, and because they are white and privileged and famous and beautiful, the media was like ‘Oh, look at this shiny thing,’” (Ihejirika, 2020, para. 9).

This quotation is of particular importance, as it reinstates the disregard that people of colour experience in reporting their experiences of sexual assault/abuse, and the privilege-in-recognition that white people experience merely due to the colour of their skin. Therefore, this narrative is a constant reminder of the longstanding impact that people of colour have had on the US’s feminist history, and the evolution of women’s rights to date.

At VBA, we aim to recognise and empower all individuals who have been affected by sexual assault/abuse. We refuse to prolong a false narrative in relation to this issue, and want to uplift and memorialise the true heroes of these movements. We are here to offer a non-judgemental and non-discriminative service to anyone who requests it; as sexual assault/abuse sees no difference in gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, or class, and equally impacts all who experience it.

Sources:

Tillet, S. 2020. A Documentary for the #MeToo Era. The New York Times [Online], 3 June. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/03/movies/metoo-documentary-russell-simmons.html

McGuire, D. 2018. Recy Taylor, Oprah Winfrey and the long history of black women saying #MeToo. The Washington Post [Online], 9 January. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/01/09/recy-taylor-oprah-winfrey-and-the-long-history-of-black-women-saying-metoo/

Ihejirika, M. 2020. #MeToo founder Tarana Burke talks of the movement, Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly. The Chicago Sun Times [Online], 27 January. Available from: https://chicago.suntimes.com/2020/1/27/21106597/metoo-founder-tarana-burke-talks-movement-her-ignored-role-harvey-weinstein-r-kelly

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