Rape, American Style

Rape in Delhi and AmericaWhen I was five years old I was sexually assaulted by neighbors. Ours was a tranquil post-white flight neighborhood of beautiful single family homes, obsessively tended lawns and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses home improvement. It was the mid-seventies; before black women’s experiences with rape had come into broader public consciousness through works like The Color Purple and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  The term sexual assault was largely unknown. The language that rape prevention activists now use to validate the everyday terrorism girls and women deal with was not a part of our vocabulary or classroom curriculum.

In my critically conscious upbringing I was raised to clearly understand the racist police who abused and murdered us, the racist criminal justice system that jailed us, and the racist cultural history that rendered us invisible. I was taught to revere the black warriors who crusaded against the holocaust of slavery and its aftermath. But I was not taught to know, understand or identify the casual predators that moved in and out of our lives without detection or censure; the parasites who posed as strong upstanding black men in the light of day and terrorized with impunity behind closed doors buttressed by violent silence.

Last month’s barbaric gang rape and murder of a 23-year old female student on a bus in Delhi, India was a stark reminder of this violent silence and the global expendability of poor women of color in so-called democratic societies. The suspects—who were recently charged with rape and murder—allegedly attacked the young woman in order “to teach her a lesson” for being out with a man. Commenting on the international outrage that the crime has elicited against the backdrop of India’s economic ascent, writer Kishwar Desai reflected that “a certain class of men is deeply uncomfortable with women displaying their independence, receiving education and joining the work force. The gang rape becomes a form of subduing the women, collectively, and establishing their male superiority.”

India is dead last on Trust Law’s 2012 list of 19 best and worst countries for women’s rights. Muslim fundamentalist Saudi Arabia is number 18. The U.S. is number six. But like South Africa (number 16) and Brazil (number 11), institutional racism, sexism, and heterosexism determine access to health care, reproductive rights, and economic opportunity in the U.S. In her article “Black Women, Sexual Assault, and the Art of Resistance,” Brooke Axtell writes that “the Department of Justice estimates that for every white woman that reports her rape, at least 5 white women do not report theirs; and yet, for every African-American woman that reports her rape, at least 15 African-American women do not report theirs.” Between 40-60% of African American women have experienced sexual assault by the age of 18.

Decades after “Denim Day,” “Take Back the Night” and other global rape awareness movements were popularized my students are still living the reality of violent silence. Nearly every girl in my Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) feminist mentoring program has been the victim of sexual assault or abuse. Initially, most have no language to articulate their anger, much less their post-traumatic stress experience. The repressed rage that girls of color carry with them about rape and sexual harassment comes out in shame, blame, and self-hatred. It’s spit out in the casual misogyny of their embrace of epithets like “bitch” and “ho.” It’s displayed in the yards of Rapunzel-esque hair that they swath themselves in to obliterate their “ugliness.” And it is manifest in the increasing number of  very young girls that are sucked into prostitution; brutalized by gang rape and “pimped out” by men they view as father figures.

During a recent day of dialogue moderated by WLP students at Washington Prep High School many girls were loath to identify sexual violence as a significant factor on campus. There were numerous anecdotes about girls being threatened with gang rape as well as adult male campus security guards sexually harassing girls. Nonetheless, it was female behavior, and not male behavior and the culture of the school, which was criticized. In the grand scheme of the community the experiences of girls of color don’t matter. Far too often in mainstream discourse, rape is only politically significant when it is framed as a phenomenon that happens “over there”, in the backward “third world,” or “here” to a young white female victim in the civilized U.S.

sikivu hutchinsonIn the aftermath of the young Indian student’s death, the outcry against the country’s misogynist culture of rape, murder, and dehumanization will hopefully be a watershed for legislation protecting women from sexual assault and intimate partner violence. But the patriarchal nationalist resentment that writer Desai portrays as India’s affliction also drives the savage anti-feminist backlash in the United States and its culture of violent silence.

Sikivu Hutchinson
Black Femlens

Friday, 4 January 2013



  1. Murray says

    “Last month’s barbaric gang rape and murder of a 23-year old female
    student on a bus in Delhi, India was a stark reminder of this violent
    silence and the global expendability of poor women of color in so-called
    democratic societies.”

    If A) you’re highlighting this because she was Indian, well in India, Indian women will likely be the victims of rape. It’s not because of racism (her attackers were Indian anyway). If B) you instead want to point out that nobody cared because she was Indian well, that’s wrong too.

    But what can you expect from somebody who called Daniel Dennett and the other horsemen ‘white supremacists”. lol. Don’t care if you’re black, white, brown or yellow. You’re a fucking idiot.

  2. says

    Let’s not beat around the bush. As long as it is people of the same community who are victimizing black women, I don’t think there will be much attention paid to it. If it was some serial rapist breaking into black women’s homes, it would get attention from the usual activists, but as it is, what is the angle? We should put more men in prison, separate more families? If there’s going to be a solution, it needs to be endogenous to the black community, not imposed from the outside.

  3. Ryder S says

    Probably the woman raped in India was a “woman of color”, because she was from India. I hazard a guess that the vast bulk of women raped in India are “women of color”. As are most women raped in Mexico, sub Saharan Africa, South America, the Philippines…

    I’m seeing a pattern here.

    I took a detour today, on a walk. I thought of taking a shortcut I found, but as I headed down this back street, I changed my mind. I was aware it was probably the “bad” part of town. Most towns and all cities in America (and much of the world) have such places.

    We all understand the reasons.

    But I decided to go the long way ’round. Ten years ago, I could hold my own against a punk… probably run one down, and with any luck, beat them hand to hand. Not any more. Today, I decided that a walk for coffee wasn’t worth the elevated risk of being the wrong person, in the wrong part of town.

    Being from California, it’s nearly impossible to be “permitted” to carry a concealed hand gun. This is a “privilege” largely granted to the privileged class.

    Politicians like Dianne Feinstein have the right to bring protection with them… but not me. I’m just an American.

    My glock was safely tucked away at home, useless to me. Had I had it, concealed, I would have headed down that back street without hesitation….

    And then it struck me like a ton of bricks.

    Now I know precisely why we are loosing neighborhoods… to crime and blight… at the rate we are. Good people stop going there. And the good people that live there, are afraid to go out.

    All it would take to totally reclaim a neighborhood, is for good people to “occupy” the streets once more. Sure, the bad men that ignore concealed carry laws would still be there, but it would only take a couple of cases where someone met them with the same deadly force they had… for them to think twice about a mugging or a rape. When the day comes that a would be victim actually shoots and perhaps kills an attacker, that’s the kind of news that gets around a neighborhood.

    It’s simple. By disarming good people in the name of “safety”, we’re all far less safe. All of us.

    Demand your right to protect yourself. Fire hypocrites like Feinstein. Start walking your neighborhoods for exercise, and to meet the other good people that share your town… and take it back. Less theft, fewer beatings and muggings, fewer murders, and fewer rapes.

    At some point, intelligent people have to realize when they’ve made a mistake… and disarming good people is one of those mistakes.

    Now a black man in the Whitehouse that has never lived in a bad neighborhood, is planning to make it all much worse. He’s going to try to disarm good Americans more than they have ever been in the history of the Nation, and the results, by now, should be easy to predict.

    Stand up for yourself.

  4. Josh says

    You’re talking about “ghetto” people. “Ghetto” blacks aren’t limited to a geographic area, it’s a mentality. Both the men and women from the permanent underclass are predatory, the differences are only in physical size and strength. I’m Black and don’t know any female who has this type of history of sexual abuse, nor do I know men who are sexual predators for sport. Stop writing these stories as if this is a Black problem, it’s a low-class Black American problem.

    These things don’t happen to Blacks with recent European, Caribbean, Brazilian, etc. ancestry. American born and raised Blacks have a slave-descendent victim mentality that causes them to be perpetual victims and engage in pathological, self-genocidal, socially destructive behavior. The only solution is education and true assimilation into mainstream culture. Truly educated people don’t commit or tolerate such barbaric behaviors.

    • Ryder S says

      It’s true… black America seems to have, in rather general terms, split 50-50 with respect to a permanent underclass. They seem unable to vote outside of racial lines, but in terms of a basic cultural foundation, there is a divide. I have wonderful friends that are African American… but they are the REAL deal. They are FROM Africa. (Kenya and Tanzania). Awesome guys… and radically different, as Americans, than others that just happen to share the same skin color.

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