This week’s GOP Senate confirmation of dangerous theocrat Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court capped an epoch-defining year of unrelenting assaults on the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights of women of color. Barrett, whose fierce opposition to abortion rights and contraception is medieval, was Trump’s 220th federal judicial appointee. With Trump’s fascist judicial legacy firmly in place, Black women’s self-determination is even more imperiled.
Nonetheless, in the runup to the November 3rd election, there has been little public engagement with how this historical moment of political turbulence resounds for Black girls and the #MeToo movement against sexual violence. Although #MeToo was founded by Black feminist Tarana Burke, it has not emerged as a mass movement with substantive long term impact on poor and low-income communities of color (even though women of color employees in the service industries and other low wage sectors have long challenged systemic sexual abuse in the workplace).
Teachers, students, artists, and organizers took to the streets to raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of rape culture and domestic violence on Black girls and Black communities.
On October 17th, teachers, students, artists, and organizers from the Women’s Leadership Project and Positive Results Center took to the streets to rally and raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of rape culture and domestic violence on Black girls and Black communities. Domestic violence rates have skyrocketed since the pandemic began, highlighting already existing socioeconomic disparities within vulnerable communities of color where access to preventive health care is limited. The rally was the first time I had ever seen Black and Latinx girls march through Leimert Park (or anywhere in L.A. for that matter) calling out the normalized sexual violence they experience every day.
The Standing4BlackGirls coalition was spearheaded by L.A.-based Black women and girls-led gender justice organizations and supported by affinity groups such as the California Black Women's Health Project, Media Done Responsibly, and Rights4Girls. Although there were many who stepped up to support the action, there were also many in the community who did not, underscoring the difficulty of organizing around sexual violence, misogynoir, and patriarchy from within. Coalition demands include creation of a fund for Black girl domestic violence survivors, creation of a regional task force focused on Black girls, and development of safe spaces, housing, treatment and mental health and wellness resources for Black girls across sexualities.
During the event, youth and adults spoke of the toll misogynoirist victim blaming, victim shaming, and slut shaming have on Black girls who are more likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of eighteen than non-Black girls. These experiences are magnified by poverty, homophobia, transphobia, and foster care placement. WLP alumni activists Zorrie Petrus and Brianna Parnell discussed the double and triple burden that Black girls and women are saddled with.
Black women comprise a disproportionate number of essential workers who do non-unionized minimum wage jobs in hazardous working conditions with minimal PPE. They are often the primary breadwinners in families where Black girls are also caregivers. For sexual violence victims, silence and shaming from Black families, faith institutions, and the community at large contribute to this triple burden. Being at home with limited access to counselors, teacher advocates, afterschool programs, and affinity groups puts Black girls across sexual orientation at even greater risk of abuse.
In addition, when Black girls are told to just pray or trust that “God has a plan” as antidotes to sexual abuse, true healing and treatment are hindered. Exclusive reliance on faith remedies for healing, rather than humanist alternatives, can be problematic for queer and trans youth dealing with faith-based discrimination. Moreover, psychotherapists who are not trained to understand the culturally specific impact of misogynoir, adultification, and hypersexuality on Black girls may not be effective in treating Black girl clients. WLP student Desja Sheridan expressed frustration about the dearth of Black women
practitioners in psychotherapy. The practitioner pipeline issue has deep implications for the long term mental health and wellness of Black girls into adulthood. As Skid Row activist and poet Suzette Shaw noted during a recent coalition meeting with South L.A. Assemblywoman Sidney Kamlager, unresolved trauma is a major source of stress for older Black women. Older Black women’s struggles with poverty, domestic and sexual violence, racism, criminalization, and ageism can lead to long term homelessness in a system that already blames and revictimizes Black women for being unhoused.
In the runup to November 3rd, these issues have not been on the national or local radar. As a result, the coalition is advocating for policies that redress the nexus of domestic violence, poverty and educational injustice. Black girls have some of the highest rates of domestic sex trafficking in the nation, as well as high rates of death by gun violence. Not only are they impacted by the sexual abuse to prison pipeline, but easy access to firearms in the community puts them at greater risk for homicide.
One of the new House provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) would essentially bar stalkers and unmarried individuals who abuse their partners from owning guns. However, reauthorization of the act has languished due to the GOP’s corrupt alliance with the NRA, as well as the GOP's opposition to expanded provisions for the LGBTQ and Native communities. The coalition is also in support of Justice L.A.’s Measure J ballot initiative, which would allocate ten percent of the County’s budget to community and support services and shift revenue from police, jails, and legal services (which eat up 42% of the County’s budget).
As Kandee Lewis, executive director of the Positive Results Center, noted during the rally, the number of Black girls who are victimized by sexual violence before the age of 18 is probably higher than the 40%-60% cited in a 2012 survey conducted by the Black Women’s Blueprint. Shaming, blaming, fear of police violence, and community pressure on victims to stay silent to protect Black men play an insidious role in this regime.
According to a recent survey conducted by King-Drew WLP 10th and 11th graders Mariah Perkins and Kimberly Ortiz, nearly 70% of BIPOC teen sexual abuse survivors have never received therapeutic or community assistance to address their trauma (the majority of the youth in the survey were female-identified and African American). Bucking community silence and resistance, this cannot be the legacy that we leave Black girls and women with. Expressing solidarity as a teen Latinx feminist Kimberly said, “We need change now! We are on the brink of having LGBTQ rights, same sex marriage and abortion legalization taken away.
Our community has to unite. Black and brown girls need to support one another and use our voices. We can no longer stay silent because silence kills. Together we can be heard.”