In These Times: “Stories of Survival”

6 08 2007

original article located here

Features > June 29, 2007

Stories of Survival

NO! explores rape within the African-American community and fights society’s instinct to focus on the racism outside while turning a deaf ear to gender violence within

By Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

The documentary NO! chips away at the myths and silence surrounding sexual assault it he black community

Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons didn’t miss a beat when a white, female student told her at a 2003 Boston College screening of her documentary NO!, “Until I saw your film, I didn’t know that black women could be raped.” Simmons, a Philadelphia resident, calmly asked the young woman why she believed such a thing. The student replied that she didn’t think black women, simultaneously praised and pilloried for their strength, would stand for such a violation—as if sexual-violence victims are able to negotiate with attackers or deter them with a hefty serving of attitude.That wasn’t the case with Simmons, now 38, who was sexually assaulted in 1989, when she was a 19-year-old Temple University sophomore on a foreign exchange program to Mexico. A clandestine date—outside the dorm and the curfew hours—turned into a rape that left her pregnant and so devastated that she dropped out of college. Nor was that the case with the women whose stories Simmons has included in NO!, which explores rape within the African-American community.

Among them is a woman who was raped by her mentor, the university’s highest ranking black administrator; another whose fraternity boyfriend wouldn’t take no for an answer; and yet another who struggles with bulimia decades after her first boyfriend beat and raped her after she refused to have sex outside.

For Simmons, NO! has been a labor of love to make the film she wanted, regardless of how long it took. Simmons began filming interviews in 1994 with co-producer Tamara Xavier, but the documentary wasn’t released until 2006, largely because of the struggle to find $300,000 in necessary funding.

With NO!, Simmons hopes to chip away at the myths and disquieting silence surrounding sexual assault in the black community, which has traditionally been so attuned to racism outside that it has largely turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to gender violence within.

“There’s this notion,” says Simmons, “that when black women come forward [and say they’ve been raped], that we’re a traitor to the race. I wanted to show these women, their faces, their names. I understand privacy and shame, but shame should be on the perpetrators.”

Simmons followed the case of Desiree Washington, the beauty queen who accused boxer Mike Tyson of raping her in 1991 in his hotel room. (Tyson served three years in prison.) Then came the campaign to “save” Tyson and discredit Washington—complete with T-shirts proclaiming his innocence. In NO!, Simmons includes footage of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan asking what Washington expected when she went to Tyson’s room as other faith leaders cackle in agreement.

Simmons wondered why those leaders and others never acknowledged that rape isn’t typically a crime committed by a stranger and that, for most black women, the perpetrator is an acquaintance who looks like them. The lack of critical reaction from the black community in the wake of the Washington case, combined with a 1994 trip to South Africa, where she met activists working on issues of sexual assault, galvanized her to make NO!. It is estimated that as many as half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.

American women are also vulnerable to sexual assault. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, one in every six U.S. women will be subjected to sexual assault or an attempted assault during her lifetime. The organization’s “Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey” estimates that 18.8 percent of black women will survive a rape or attempted rape—making them only slightly more likely than the general population (17.6 percent) and white women (17.7 percent) to experience such a crime, but much less likely to be raped than Native Americans.

Numbers alone don’t express the full extent of rape or sexual assault in the black community—a topic that has probably been discussed more extensively in novels such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple than in real life. Black women must deal with competing interests—protecting one’s self versus protecting the image of black men in a society where black men are the usual suspects of sexual crimes, facing the distrust of the police versus the need for personal security—that reduce the chance they will report rape.

With the help of anthropologist and former Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, historian Beverly Guy-Sheftall and former Black Panther Elaine Brown, NO! examines the historical forces that foster sexual violence—and suppress dialogue about it—in black communities. In a country built on slavery, which was predicated on control of black labor and reproduction, black women have been regarded as perpetually sexually available or “unrapeable.” They have never fit easily into the “good girl” mold.

“I realized that I couldn’t talk about sexual assault in the African-American community without talking about slavery,” says Simmons. “If somebody owns you, how do you have the right to consent?”

NO! is generating discussion within the black community. In 2003, writer Kevin Powell (who is black) showed an unfinished cut to a crowd of hundreds—including many African-American men—on a wintry Friday night in Harlem. Men are a vital part of the solution, says Nia Wilson, the associate director of Spirit House, an arts and cultural nonprofit in Durham, N.C. “This is not about going after black men,” she says. “This is about uncovering something we need to address, and we need to address it together. Men are the only ones who can stop rape, no matter what we say, no matter how much light we shine on it.”

Wilson, who is black and a sexual-violence survivor, is also a member of UBUNTU, a coalition that combats racism and violence. Simmons allowed UBUNTU to use NO! to foster dialogue around North Carolina. Wilson recalls a screening for a white audience that was disengaged from the topic. All of the reactions Wilson had learned to expect—tears, outrage, personal testimonies—didn’t happen. The audience members acknowledged the violence, but their comments and lack of emotion told her that they couldn’t relate to this type of violence.

Wilson told the audience, “I can watch a Lifetime movie with a cast full of white people and cry because I’m conditioned to relate to you. But you are not conditioned to relate to me. You, especially this group who thinks you’re so politically correct, you cannot watch a movie with people with brown skin and see yourself.”

Bryan Proffitt, a 28-year-old white schoolteacher and UBUNTU member, says that talking about rape and race requires starting from a framework that acknowledges a history of interracial violence, white supremacy, male domination and myths that need debunking. “There’s always a good bit of anxiety about how white folks are going to see this film. ‘Oh, look, black guys are rapists. We knew that.’ We’ve always tried to be careful of framing this film beforehand because we recognize that white people come in with that particular narrative and we want to challenge that before they see it.”

Before each screening, the UBUNTU facilitator reads a statement that lists 27 reasons the film is being shown, including: “Because the stories of survivors of sexual assault are powerful and sacred.” “Because there are survivors here.” “Because this film holds us all accountable for the world that we comply with and perpetuate.”

This April, NO! was selected as a featured resource by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Everywhere I’ve shown the film,” says Simmons, “someone comes up and discloses she’s a survivor. I could be the only black woman in the room—me and the women on the film—in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, women stand up and say, ‘This is my story.’”

For more information on NO!, visit www.notherapedocumentary.org.





THANK YOU!!!

29 04 2007

Thank you so much to all who planned, attended, supported, believed in the Day of Truthtelling! I will post more in detail about yesterday’s events shortly, but it was incredible…thank you!

In addition, we are so very grateful for the support and solidarity from the bloggers who have joined us in speaking truth – we are still learning how many of you all out there have been by our side this weekend. In particular, we are grateful to Brownfemipower for her constant support (and general brilliance) and for spreading the word about the DOT. Thank you! Thank you to:

…who we know posted on the Day of Truthtelling as powerful voices for change. Thank you for moving the struggle to end sexual violence out in all directions on line, as we moved it down Main Street in Durham yesterday!





Important information about men and sexual assault

21 04 2007

Info from the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center website via Shiny @ mindsay

There is great societal denial of the fact that men get sexually assaulted. Chances are– except for the occasional bad prison joke–most of us don’t ever hear about the topic of male sexual assault. The need to deny the existence of male sexual assault is partly rooted in the mistaken belief that men are immune to being victimized, that they should be able to fight off any attacker if they are truly a “real man.”
A closely related belief is that men can’t be forced into sex– either they want it or they don’t.These mistaken beliefs allow lots of men to feel safe and invulnerable, and to think of sexual assault as something that only happens to women. Unfortunately, these beliefs can also increase the pain that is felt by a male survivor of sexual assault. These beliefs leave the male survivor feeling isolated, ashamed, and “less of a man.”

No wonder so few men actually get help after being sexually assaulted. The fact is that only 5 to 20% of all victims of sexual assault actually report the crime– the percentage for male victims is even lower. Feelings of shame, confusion and self-blame leave many men suffering in silence after being sexually assaulted.

Below are some of the unique problems and concerns that male survivors may experience:

Read the rest of this entry »





Article from the News and Observer:

19 04 2007

Case’s end worries crisis counselors: Some say fewer assaults will be reported

by: Anne Blythe, News and Observer Staff Writer

Some Triangle rape crisis counselors said the Duke lacrosse case’s end could inhibit sexual assault reports, but the organization that runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline supports N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision to dismiss the charges…

…Locally, some experts predicted a chilling effect.”Any time you have a case that is heavily publicized and includes a lot of survivor stigmatization, it has an effect on reporting,” said Donna Bickford, director of the Carolina Women’s Center at UNC-Chapel Hill…

…That many news outlets, including The News & Observer, named the accuser could dissuade victims from coming forward, some said…

…Manju Rajendran, an organizer of a protest last spring at which people angered by the rape charge banged pots and pans at the house where the party occurred, said Friday that she still believes the accuser.

“I’m one of just a huge number of people, especially assault survivors, especially women, especially people of color, who have seen different versions of this story play out so many times,” Rajendran said.

“The way she has been personally attacked because of the fact that she spoke up sends a message to survivors that they need to stay silent if they want to stay safe. If you’ve already been violated, to get a message like that is scary.”





Aishah Simmons: But Some of Us Are Brave

15 04 2007

The following essay is from acclaimed filmmaker and activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons in support of the National Day of Truthtelling. Please read her powerful words, forward this email to everyone you know, and JOIN US IN DURHAM ON APRIL 28 AS WE TELL THE TRUTH AND BEGIN TO CREATE A WORLD WITHOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE!!!

For more information, visit our website at http://truthtelling.communityserver.com and do the following things…

1) Register to let us know that you are coming

2) Get your organization to endorse the event

3) Contribute funds to help us reach our goals for the day. Your contribution is tax-deductible.

Thank you

Day of Truthtelling Organizing Committee

But Some of Us Are Brave—In Support of the April 28, 2007 National Day of Truthtelling in Durham, North Carolina
By Aishah Shahidah Simmons

While there are many folks who are rejoicing that Imus was fired, I fear that we may have won a battle but could have *temporarily* lost this relentless racist/sexist war against Black women in the United States. While most eyes were focused on the outcome of Imus’ fate, the accused members of the Duke Lacrosse team were exonerated. Very, very tragically, many of the same Black (overwhelmingly male) voices who were demanding the firing of Imus, haven’t said a peep about the recent dropping of charges against the accused members of the Duke Lacrosse team. Additionally, in the ongoing mainstream media discussions about Imus calling the predominantly Black women’s basketball team at Rutgers University “nappy headed-ho’s,” there hasn’t been any mainstream media correlation/analysis/commentary/discussion about the fact that:

1. Some of the (White) Duke Lacrosse team members called the two (Black) women “niggers” and “bitches”;
2. One of the (White) Duke Lacrosse members threatened to rape them with a broomstick;
3. Another (White) Duke Lacrosse team member spoke of hiring strippers in an e-mail sent the same night that threatened to kill “the bitches” and cut off their skin while he ejaculated in his “Duke-issued spandex;” and
4. Another (White) Duke Lacrosse team member shouted to the (Black woman) victim as she left the team’s big house, “Hey bitch, thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt.”

Instead there were subtle and not-so subtle racist implications that hip-hop is the cause of Imus’ racist/sexist comments; and that the Black woman stripper/whore (not daughter, not mother, not college student, not sex worker) lied on/set up the innocent White Duke Lacrosse team members (who hired her and her colleague to perform for them).

So, in this very direct way the corporate owned media message to the American public is that Black people, especially Black women, are the perpetrators of violence against White men (and I would argue Black men too).

Based on the overwhelming deafening silence from mainstream Black (predominantly male) ‘leaders’ and organizations about the documented racist/sexist comments made by the White Duke Lacrosse team members, it’s clear to me that no one will speak for us– Black women–but ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rape survivor, a child sexual abuse survivor, a domestic violence survivor, a stripper, a prostitute, a lesbian, a bisexual woman, a heterosexual woman, a single mother (especially with several children from different fathers), on welfare, a high school drop out, college educated, working in corporate America, working at a minimum wage job with no health insurance, or working in the film/music/television entertainment industry. Yes, I placed what some people would view as very different/distinct categories of Black women in the same category because I firmly believe that if any of the aforementioned Black women are at the wrong place at the wrong time (which could be at any time), we, Black women, will be left to heal our very public wounds alone.

I was the young Black woman who in 1989, at 19 years old six weeks shy of my 20th birthday, said “Yes”, while on a study abroad program. I was the Black woman who broke the rules of the university where I attended by agreeing to sneak out, after hours, to meet the man who would become my rapist. I was the Black woman who after breaking the university enforced rules started to have second thoughts but was afraid to articulate them and was afraid to turn around because my friends were covering for me. I was the Black woman who paid for the hotel room where I was raped. I was the Black woman who said to my soon-to-become rapist, “I don’t want to do this. Please stop.” I didn’t “violently” fight back. I didn’t scream or yell to the top of my lungs” because I was afraid. I didn’t want to make a “scene.” I blamed myself for saying, “Yes” for breaking the rules for paying for the hotel room.

I am one of countless women, regardless of race/ethnicity/national origin, age, sexual orientation, class, religion who experientially learned that the (often unchallenged) punishment for women who use poor judgment with men is rape and other forms of sexual violence. And the reward for those same men who perpetrate the sexual violence that we (victim/survivors) experience is the opportunity to perpetrate again and in turn say “WOMEN LIE.”

“For all who ARE survivors of sexual violence. For all who choose to BELIEVE survivors of sexual violence. For all who KNOW WE CAN end rape culture.” come to Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, April 28, 2007. Join the numerous individuals and organizations from across the United States who will come to Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, April 28, 2007 to participate in “Creating A World Without Sexual Violence – A National Day of Truthtelling.”

This mobilizing event is organized by a coalition of organizations including North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Ubuntu, Men Against Rape Culture, SpiritHouse, Raleigh Fight Imperialism Stand Together, Southerners on New Ground, Independent Voices, Black Workers for Justice, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization/OSCL).

For more information on the National Day of Truthtelling, visit:
http://truthtelling.communityserver.com/
https://iambecauseweare.wordpress.com/
www.myspace.com/ubuntunc

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a Black feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker, writer, and activist based in Philadelphia. An incest and rape survivor, she spent eleven years, seven of which were full time to produce/write/direct NO! (The Rape Documentary), a feature length documentary which looks at the universal reality of rape and other forms of sexual violence through the first-person testimonies, activism, scholarship, cultural work, and spirituality of African-Americans.
www.NOtheRapeDocumentary.org
www.myspace.com/afrolez
*******************************************
Following is a non-inclusive list of books by Black feminists who address Hip-Hop and Feminism
(There are many more books than those that are listed):

Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip-Hop’s Hold On Young Black Women by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting
http://www.amazon.com/Pimps-Up-Hos-Down-Young/dp/0814740146/ref=sr_1_1/104-7242712-0915962?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176220047&sr=1-1

Prophets in the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip-Hop by Imani Perry
http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0822334461/ref=sib_dp_pop_toc/104-7242712-0915962?ie=UTF8&p=S009#reader-link

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down by Joan Morgan
http://www.amazon.com/When-Chickenheads-Come-Home-Roost/dp/068486861X

From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism by Patricia Hill Collins
http://www.amazon.com/Black-Power-Hip-Hop-Nationalism/dp/1592130925/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3/104-7242712-0915962?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176220157&sr=1-3

Gender Talk: The Struggle For Women’s Equality in African American Communities by Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall
http://www.amazon.com/Gender-Talk-Struggle-Equality-Communities/dp/0345454138/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-7242712-0915962?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176219973&sr=1-1





Before You Condemn Her

29 12 2006

The first time I heard the “N” word used by a white person was in my
high school lunchroom. A classmate whispered stupid “N” as a young
Black man walked by him. The whole table erupted in laughter as I, the
only Black person at the table, sat fearing that I would be next. One
of my girls at the table noticed my discomfort and said ” Don’t worry…
you’re not a “N,” you’re one of us.” Having somehow acquired some
higher value in their eyes, and safe from their contempt I sat in
silence.
As a Black Woman and a survivor in Durham, I am now reliving the fear and
confusion of that experience constantly. I feel a heaviness in my
chest as I breathe air thick with racism, classism and misogyny, and
dodge careless verbal assaults and contemptuous glares as I choose
along with other survivors, to step away from the “safety of silence,”
because, as the poet Audre Lorde once said “Your silence will not
protect you.”
So before you condemn her think for a moment about the things not
being said in the media, things irrelevant to the D.A and defense team
that are urgent to Black woman survival.
Consider for a moment the violence placed upon our bodies long before
either dancer entered that house. Consider the violence of a group of
drunken White men specifically and deceitfully requesting us as
dancers. And consider the assaults on us as these men spewed threats
and racial slurs at them. Consider the violence of entire communities
venomously condemning, one woman as she seeks a justice entitled to
her under the laws of this country, and lastly consider what it must
feel like to be a Black survivor in Durham. No our silence will not
protect us, “So it is better to speak”(also Audre Lorde).