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The fight for racial justice and the fight to end sexual violence are inextricably linked. Sexual violence and racism plague our nation and have resulted in harm for hundreds of years for Black women and women of color. From Recy Taylor to Oluwatoyin Salau; from Thomas Jefferson to Daniel Holtzclaw; from chattel slavery to the prison industrial complex, these issues are part of a long history that starts at the place where racism and patriarchy meet, and where power and privilege were seeded.
So much of the conversation about Black lives over the last month has centered either the lived experiences of Black men or the racial experiences of Black women that it’s left little room to contend with how both race and gender impact the lived experiences of Black women and femmes. For instance, while reports of excessive force are the number one reported form of police misconduct, reports of sexual abuse are right behind it, and since Black women can have a higher rate of interaction with law enforcement than white and Latinx women, it would stand to reason that Black women experience more sexual abuse at the hands of law enforcement as well.
Black women are also at a higher risk of being killed by police than white and Latinx women. So we should be front and center in the conversation about the Black people and police in this country—but we are not. Instead, we see efforts to undermine the current demand from the movement to defund police by using survivors of sexual violence as props. The claims that moving funding from local police will somehow further endanger survivors of sexual violence fail to take into account the countless Black survivors for whom police intervention is not a safe or feasible option and the utter failure of law enforcement to effectively respond to or adjudicate gender-based crimes. The widespread neglect of these conditions are a hindrance to racial and gender justice movements because they, in essence, re-injure us and make us increasingly vulnerable to further acts of violence.
The Survivors’ Agenda, founded alongside our sisters in activism, Fatima Goss Graves and Ai-jen Poo, is a multi-racial coalition born out of the need for survivors to lead the conversation about sexual violence and public safety. Centering the most marginalized in the movement to end sexual violence, we know that acknowledging the interlocking systems of oppression is a critical element toward collective healing and systemic change.
Survivors of sexual violence, particularly survivors of color, hold the answers when it comes to addressing and eradicating these problems. We know what reallocating funds within over-policed communities could do for survivors and their communities; it means that service providers would have the most up-to-date information about the communities they serve and the resources to respond to their needs. We could actually focus on prevention in schools with consent education curricula and offer comprehensive and culturally-sound mental health and social services.
Listening to survivors does not mean that people should “study” survivors or “interview” Black people who have been made vulnerable to both state-sanctioned and sexual violence because of their race. Instead, survivors of color should be leading these conversations, proposing the solutions, and they should be empowered to create the vision of what a safer world looks like. Survivor voices—particularly those of Black women, trans women, and other women of color—have been silenced and overshadowed for far too long.
But we know what we need. We always have known what we need. We know how the systems, laws, and people have failed us, made us vulnerable to violence and re-traumatized us rather than help us find justice.
Black women are some of the original power-builders in this country and, along with other women of color, we are the true experts who are in the best position to identify the gaps, the flaws, and the priorities that are needed in order to end sexual violence and racism forever.
The Survivors’ Agenda will write a new chapter in this story of liberation. It will be one that places leadership where it belongs and will uphold agency and safety as a birthright granted to all. This new chapter will be one that articulates a vision for the world of our dreams where our racial and gender identities are recognized not as pathologies but as an innate power we hold.
For more information about The Survivors’ Agenda, go to www.survivorsagenda.org.
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