Rape Culture in the Black Community: A People Unoffended
Over the last year, there has been no shortage of instances in which the rape culture in this country, and specifically, in the African American community, has been placed front and center. Unfortunately, even with a number of high-profile cases taking center stage for some time, the pathology and trauma associated with an emboldened rape culture has yet to be placed under the microscope. Not that there are no intense debates on the topic, but it does not seem that anyone is willing to examine the causality and damage done to a society that seems to be unoffended by the atrocities associated with rape.
The truth is that it is nothing new to have a woman complain of being raped and find herself being victimized a second time by a system that seems all too willing to defend the rapist with greater ferocity than the victim. In fact, the attacks against a woman who files an official complaint of rape can be so inexorable that a large number of women simply refuse to pursue charges.
According to recent studies, rape may be the most underreported major crime on an international level, with some studies having the numbers as high as 91.6 percent (Editors, 2015). The survey also revealed that a person is raped in the U.S. every two minutes, with as few as six percent of these attacks being reported.
While rape is a heinous crime regardless of the race of the victim and the perpetrator, as a Black man, I have to place my focus on the devastation that is taking place in the Black community, with Black women and minor children being the primary targets. One of the most devastating statistics that paints an immensely vivid and disturbing picture is the fact that more than 60 percent of Black women admit to being sexually assaulted as minors (Pollard-Terry, 2004; Starr, 2011).
What makes these numbers even more disturbing is the fact that a large number of these instances of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) were at the hands of a relative or friend who the young girl should have been able to trust (Amodeo, Griffin, Fassier, Clay, & Ellis, 2006).
While we could spend pages going through statistics and empirical data that outline the devastating psychological and emotional impact of rape, I would rather focus on observing the response of Black men in particular when the topic surfaces. As the tension between Whites and Blacks continues to intensify and it seems that almost any topic can incite conflict and heated debates, it is not difficult to find ongoing discussions surrounding the recent disparities in sentencing between perpetrators of rape along racial lines.
For instance, Vanderbilt football player, Corey Batey, a Black man, was sentenced to 15 years for raping an unconscious female on campus. During the same time period, Brock Turner, a white swimmer at Stanford University, was sentenced to six months for the exact same thing. In fact, Turner was caught in the act behind a dumpster. The judge cited that jail would be too traumatic for Turner.
While we could easily open up the debate about White privilege and status, I believe it is much more important to address the rape culture that is so prevalent right in our own communities.
Allow me to be clear, while I am someone who is actively involved in the Black community, and I am intimately in touch with the need to deal with the injustices that Blacks face on a regular basis, I have no problem with a rapist being sentenced to 15 years or longer for violating a woman or a child — regardless of race. In fact, as much as I believe that six months for rape is a travesty, I am not here to make that argument at this time. With all of the discussions surrounding these particular cases and others, including the White teen who was sentenced to 30 days for molesting an 8-year-old boy he was babysitting, I am not here to deal with the legal inequities associated with the perpetrators of rape. I am here to speak for our women specifically, and women in general.
Some of the things I heard come out of the mouths of Black men concerning rape has completely made me embarrassed to be a Black man. As Black men, our absolute number one priority is to protect our women and children in that order. A huge influence on our lack of mobility is directly associated with the fact that our women don’t feel safe in the presence of our men. Not only do they not feel safe because we fail to protect them from exogenous forces that seek to harm them, but we are, far too often, the culprit.
Black men love to point an accusatory finger at Black women and label them bitter, hyper-emotional and toxic, but rarely are we inclined to examine the causes of the behavior we despise. Black women are one of the most prevalent groups impacted by clinical depression (Wallace, 2016), and yet she is the most untreated and underserved. And, we are willing to completely ignore her plight, rather than engage it at the source. As a race of people who are constantly insisting that we are on the edge of assumed power through revolution, we must be willing to engage this mastodonic issue with specificity and the determination to create a paradigmatic shift in our thinking concerning rape and molestation in our communities.
We must be willing to stop pretending that our women and children are not being assaulted at alarming rates. We must be willing to stop the silent condonation of those who are aware of these atrocities but remain silent. But, instead of asking our women to take the lead in this fight, I am calling for Black men to take charge and assume their roles as leaders and providers. We cannot break free of the psychological bondage that is the legacy of slavery if we remain broken as a result of victimizing ourselves.
Make no mistake about it, we need our women to provide the spiritual life necessary to experience true elevation and power, and it is far too much to ask of them while they bear the burden of unaddressed trauma directly associated with rape, incest and molestation. Rape, molestation and incest in the Black community can no longer be the topic of casual conversation that is dismissed by men and whispered by our women. We must hold any who would violate our women accountable.
Just as importantly, we need to stop the victim shaming, and abandon the proclivity to defend the Black a man simply because he is a Black man, or a wealthy Black man. It is time to send a message to anyone who might feel safe violating our women and children that they are no longer safe.
Additionally, my beautiful black sisters, I know that you have fought your way through the unthinkable, and at times you feel alone. I understand that many of you feel broken, and some of you even feel tainted and unworthy, but I want you to understand that it is not your fault. We have failed you, whether it is through direct violation of your purity and sanctity as our queens, or in our silence or indifference. I want you to know that there are Black men who stand with you, and care about you. There are Black men who desire to honor and protect you. For the failures of the past, on behalf of every Black man who has failed you in some way, I personally apologize.
I breathe life into your dry and brittle bones, and I challenge you to be great despite the horror of yesterday. You are unique, resilient and built for what lies ahead.
Finally, I am challenging every black man who reads this to be a covering for our women. Provide a haven of safety from which they can heal, recover and be restored. Where many of our women are on spiritual and emotional life support, dare to love them back to life. I know that it is in you to be protectors of our greatest asset. We cannot sit idly by and ignore this rape culture that has cost us so dearly. Today we must stand up and be what our very design demands of us — Black men! ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D.
Amodeo, M., Griffin, M. L., Fassier, I. R., Clay, C. M., & Ellis, M. A. (2006). Childhood Sexual Abuse Among Black Women and White Women from Two Parent Families. Nation Criminal Justice Reference Service.
Editors, R. (2015). National Crime Survey. Department of Justice.
Pollard-Terry, G. (2004, July 4). For African American Rape Victims, A Culture of Silence. Los Angeles Times.
Starr, T. J. (2011). More Than Half of Black Girls are Sexually Assaulted. Newsone.
Wallace, R. (2016). African Americans & Depression: Denying the Darkness. The Odyssey Project Research Journal .