When I think of a victim of sexual assault I don’t think of anyone who looks like me. Sexual assault is a white woman’s problem and black women don’t have time for things that don’t concern them.
We don’t talk about rape to such a point that when we do experience sexual assault, we don’t have the vocabulary to match our trauma. We don’t talk about the sexual violence that has been unleashed on our bodies to create products to be sold instead of children to be raised and loved. We don’t talk about the objectification of our bodies for entertainment and sexual desire, and we definitely don’t speak about these issues when the assailant is another person of color.
I am black before I am a woman. Three people sat on the panel that night and all of them were white. The one person of color on the stage was reading questions for them.
How can I join #MeToo, a movement started by a black woman, when the face of the movement on Tulane’s campus is a face that can’t imagine a day in the life of another with a darker pigment? It feels like there’s no room for women like us to say #MeToo when every voice that seems to matter, every voice that gets to sit on a stage and speak into a mic is white.
With the stats for black women who reported sexual assault lower in comparison to white women, it might seem strange to others why I care so much, or why so many students of color have been in silent pain in the days following the release of the climate survey. It’s because I know, just as so many other marginalized students know, that people like us can’t afford to come forward.
When I hear stories from my sisters and femmes of color being stalked by employees of this institution, being sexually manipulated, objectified or harassed by fellow students or others, I already know that it will go unreported. I know that when asked if they have ever been sexually assaulted or harassed, their answers and mine will always be “no, not me” and never “me too.”
Not the Narrative
I guess I didn’t think it was sexual assault because I didn’t fit the narrative: innocent, straight girl violently raped by a frat boy. No, even six months later, I was calling it miscommunication, misunderstanding, a damn mistake.
When you think of sexual assault, do you think of a girl being taken advantage of in her own bed during a sleepover with one of her good friends? I didn’t, which is why my mom still doesn’t know, my friends don’t know, and I still see her all the time on campus.
My story isn’t like other people’s, and because of that, I feel like I have less of a right to be a victim. Maybe if our narrative changed, if our narrative even talked about LGBTQ+ victims (and God forbid, future victims), maybe I would start to realize that not only was I a victim, but she a perpetrator and this society a bystander. Maybe if my sorority even talked about the LGBTQ+ community and the problems it faces, I would feel like my problems are valid. Or maybe not, but at least another member of the far-too-high victim statistic on this campus would be spoken for.
It Makes Sense
My friend Simenesh and I were walking back to our dorms after the campus Climate Survey results were revealed, reflecting on why and how the problem of sexual assault plagued our campus. Tulane students were out on McAlister, going to Bruff, getting into their Ubers, going to their respective Greek date parties. Business as usual.
And then Simenesh said it, “They are privileged without knowledge of consequence.”
It all makes sense. You go to a school that only the elite can afford with the sprinkle of students of color to adorn your websites and then try to teach how privilege is an assumed power that can be unfairly exercised over anyone. It all makes sense because it is a system of education that has said that its mission is to broaden the minds of all students but still allows some to not understand the basic rules of consent. And you see no issue with these transgressions. This is what America looks like. This is what our society looks like: people with any type of power over another will exercise it in the most brutal way, if not now, then eventually. And they will see no issue or punishment for their transgressions.
When you pay close enough attention to the obvious patriarchal society that our school and our country exist in, sexual assault has always been prominent throughout our history. We know these crimes are not about sex, they’re about power.
The main goal has to be dismantling the thought processes and structures on this campus and in our American society that reinforce them.
There is a correlation between the high sexual assault rate and alcohol usage on this campus, but trying to solve both of them at the same time places less emphasis on the often overlooked reasons behind sexual violence.
Solving these problems individually can result in a more effective action plan, rather than a plan that will abandon outstanding issues of both of the problems.