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Please note: Please be mindful when reviewing the sources in the footnotes. The articles include graphic and potentially triggering content.

 

As we celebrate Black History Month, we must acknowledge that SARA’s work is inherently built upon the work and experiences of Black Americans. Our nation exists because of the labor of Black bodies, and the sexual exploitation of Black bodies was fundamental to the system of slavery.

Slavery meant the complete and total control of the slaves’ bodies, which included control of sexual and reproductive actions.[1] What we would now consider sexual assault was commonplace and unobjectionable during this period—the same can be said of what we would now call reproductive coercion. Black people were chattel.

While we eventually outlawed explicit ownership of Black bodies, Americans never ended the sexual exploitation of Black Americans. The “Reconstruction” period saw mass violence against newly freed slaves, and, as we know, sexual assault is one of the most aggressive forms of violence.[2] And then, as Jim Crow laws created formal protections for white Americans, Black Americans had virtually no recourse when sexually victimized.[3] Today, Black people are victims of sexual violence at a much higher rate than white people. [4][5] Reports of their assaults are reported less often.[6]

Throughout this history, Black Americans, particularly women and LGBTQ+ individuals, have fought to eliminate sexual violence.[7] To be frank, listing the numerous Black advocates would take pages.[8] Anyone involved in the anti-violence movement must familiarize themselves with the history of sexual violence against Black Americans. Must give thanks and respect to the Black advocates of the past and present. And must ensure that our work successfully addresses the needs of Black survivors.

[1] See https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/sexual-exploitation-of-the-enslaved/; https://digitalcommons.tourolaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1079&context=jrge

[2] See https://eji.org/report/reconstruction-in-america/the-danger-of-freedom/sidebar/sexual-violence-targeting-black-women/; https://digitalcommons.wofford.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1029&context=studentpubs

[3] See https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/recy-taylor

[4] Numerous studies document social examples of racism that feed into rape culture for Black people, particularly women and trans individuals—forces such as adultification, rampant sexualization, and dehumanization. Please read further on these subjects.

[5] See https://www.nbwji.org/_files/ugd/0c71ee_6c3db14e392949e5bb59c679fb1f46a9.pdf

[6] See https://www.apa.org/topics/sexual-assault-harassment/black-women-sexual-violence; https://www.rainn.org/news/many-black-survivors-reporting-raises-complicated-issues

[7] See https://www.wcsap.org/advocacy/program-management/new-directors/history/history-movement#:~:text=The%20Washington%20Coalition%20of%20Sexual,now%20Sexual%20Assault%20Awareness%20Month)

[8] See https://www.equalrights.org/viewpoints/1866-to-2020-black-women-sexual-assault-awareness/; https://www.visitthecenter.org/post/black-advocates-who-fought-to-end-sexual-violence#:~:text=Rosa%20Parks,-Rosa%20Parks%20was&text=She%20focused%20on%20protecting%20black,other%20black%20survivors%20throughout%20history