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Me too

The last two years, women have come forward about the sexual assault/harassment they have experienced within the industry.  Most of the women who are coming forward about sexual assault/harassment are white women. While writing this piece, I googled famous black women who have come out about sexual assault. My google result came up short and all that popped up was the ongoing investigation about Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault against women he worked with. Never mind that Gabrielle Union spoke out about her rape, never mind that Oprah Winfrey has come out about her rape as a child.

Not that this is shocking but the #MeToo campaign was created ten years ago by Tarana Burke a black woman, an advocate, consultant and blogger (Just So we're clear, Me too was started by a black woman ten years ago). Latina women have also come forward since 2016, with #NoEsNo (No means no)  and #MiPrimerAcoso (My first harassment.)

When we speak about sexual assault/violence we forget about one particular group that experiences sexual assault/violence more than any other group; Native American women and girls. According to a Huffington post article released back in April, 17.7 Million women have been sexually assaulted since 1998. Native American Women have the highest number of reported sexual assaults followed by Black and Latina women with white women  just falling 1% under black women. These are the cases reported, I am afraid to hear the number of incidents that go unreported.

There are many misconceptions and stigmas that come with sexual assault. We know the largest influencer of sexual assault is not only the men and women who inflict sexual violence but rape culture. Rape culture is telling women "boys will be boys." as a response to an incident that has left them uncomfortable and/or traumatized at the hands of a man/boy. Rape culture is saying that "The clothes you wear, will determine how much people respect you." Rape culture is telling women to "protect yourself and be more selective of who you are alone with." Even though more than 30% of all sexual assault survivors know their attacker (family member or close friend.) Rape culture is suggesting that men/boys cant be raped because masculinity has been tied to sexuality and the use of their penis.

Rape culture is telling little girls to change their shorts or flattering clothes because "uncle so and so" is coming over. Rape culture is sexually assaulting LGBTQIA women because they "never been with a man before." Rape culture is assaulting LGBTQIA men because "they need to feel what its like to be a woman." Rape culture is the violence women face when declining unwanted advances from men on the street. Rape culture is hyper sexualizing black and brown girls because they experience puberty earlier than their white counterparts. The list is endless. Speaking out against sexual assault/violence is another movement within itself that requires Intersectionality. Too often, women of color that are heterosexual, Cisgender and LGBTQIA are minimized, ignored and overlooked when it comes to sexual violence.

Women of color carry the guilt, shame and pain of sexual assault for all of our lives like our white counterparts except we are less likely to receive any support especially support that ties to our mental health with it still being a taboo in the black community. It is said that when you experience trauma that is life changing, you mentally remain the age at which you were traumatized. Its also important to know that there are two times in your life where trauma can be most significant; when you are age two and in your teenage years.

I was 13. 

I was two months in to my eighth grade year. My rapist was 16, he was close to me. My rapist was one grade ahead of me as he was left back two years. Prior to my assault he was my boyfriend which ended because of his mental and physical violence towards me. I was going through a lot of changes during my middle school years, to no fault of my parents I was ill-equipped to handle most of my close friends being sent to private schools, not being black enough for some of the black students and not being "good" enough for some of the white/non-black students. I responded with fighting, skipping school and at times stealing. I wanted someone to see me and hear me. The only thing every saw was my behavior. Even my own parents couldn't verbalize or make sense in my sudden change.

There is this idea that children who come from two-parent, middle class homes are don't experience wretched things like sexual assault but I did. I experienced bullying, intimate partner violence and peer pressure. Unbeknownst to me I was simple projecting years of racism, sexism and hyper-sexuality forced on me not by my family but from those around me. My parents were married and still are. My parents encouraged for us to come to them but I couldn't. I had been silenced so much that by the time I got to them at the end of my day I was depleted and was helpless.

I was 13. 

I waited two days and then I reported my sexual assault, it was eating away at me. I never wore those jeans again. I smelled my vomit on them every time I saw them, no matter how many times my mother washed them.

 I spoke up. Only my parents, my sister,  my three closest teachers and the school resource officer heard me. They believed me. My trauma went ignored by school support staff and I spent the rest of my eighth grade year up until February of 2006 skipping school, fighting, distancing myself from my family. I was ashamed. I was told that it was because of "who I was" that I called this onto myself. It wasn't until I auditioned and admitted into performing arts school in another part of the county that would allow me to distance myself and start over fresh.

I was able to start over fresh at 14. Everything was fine until the last part of our Young teen segment in Literature at the end of ninth grade. We read Speak which is about a 13 year old girl who was raped the summer before her freshman year of high school. I asked to be excused from watching the movie. "I would feel better just reading the book" I told Mr. E. "Why?' He asked confused. I just stared down. Mr. E caught on. "Sorry, just take your stuff and go next door. Don't worry about the assignment I had for the movie, you're excused and go speak to Mrs. Geigley if you need to Barb, ok?" I never went. I was too busy replaying that night in my head.

Reading Speak brought some healing to me.

I still have my copy.

I spent ten plus years unable to cope and move forward. My senior year of college I glossed over my rape to my former therapist. I still did not want to address it, I just wanted it to be known.

I was 13. 

At 25, in front of my work colleagues when asked why do we do this work, I came clean. 13 Year old me was tired of living in shame. Little Barb wanted to tell her story. Little Barb wanted to speak after 12 years of silence. I gave her the room to speak, she shared her part and peacefully let go. I cried the tears that I wanted to cry 13 years ago, I clinched to some of my colleagues like I wanted to be held that night 13 years ago. Our facilitator looked me in my eyes and said, "You've been carrying that weight for a long time and I think you've been waiting so long because you weren't being heard." Avis was right and for the first time in a long time people were seeing AND hearing me. I remember when I finally spoke up and my father came home and asked me, "are you okay?" "Yes, I'm good." He knew I was lying, we both were too afraid to talk about it. For him it meant he failed me and for me I was embarrassed.

This past week, two months after I finally freed myself from my sexual assault I made a visit back to my old middle school. I spoke with the SRO (school resource officer) who I confided in,  became a father figure to me and we talked about that day and the pain that came with it. We talked about my growth as a person who I initially reported my sexual assault to and how relevant that experience is to my role as a mother and a role as a member of my community and my work. I spoke to my teachers that knew and responded accordingly and they spoke so much love on me and bragged about how they knew I would be the one student that would have the success that I have. They saw me then and they knew that I would be who I am now. I hadn't realized it but I had been avoiding that school, it brought me so much hurt. It also brought me resilience and people who have nothing but unconditional love for me. I am glad I went back, I believe that was a field trip 13 year old Barb and I needed.

I was 13. 

I understand how the weight of my sexual assault impacted my experiences with motherhood. My ongoing fear of someone harming my children. My agitation with people making comments about my oldest daughter breasts developing, her developing figure and the size of her butt grows daily, yet I remain patient as I ask family, friends and even strangers to not make comments or point out her growth. Not because I am denying it but because we need to understand how we inadvertently sexualize black and brown girls bodies, "that girls got a shape on her!" "Wow, where is the time going?! She has titties!" *cringe*

 We need to move away from that.

Why do I do the work of restorative practices and pushing for cultural competency in schools? My story- long and complicated is the answer. I want society to stop criminalizing black and brown girls while policing and mistreating our bodies. I want society to stop saying women need to protect themselves and instead say, "men need to understand that  regardless of relationship status you are not entitled to her body." I want women and girls who have experienced sexual assault to know they are not alone. I see you and I hear you.

I was 13. 

Kenneka Jenkins

LaVena Jackson

Charneshia Corley

Janese Talton-Jackson

My sisters that have spoke up

My sisters that remain silent

Me too. 

For more information about sexual assault and ways to help/educate you can visit these websites:

Me Too

Women of Color Network - Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault


Sexual Assault and The LGBTQ

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