Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rape and Racism: Why Tufts didn’t care I was Raped

Trigger Warning

This is a guest post

A rapist has taken away perhaps the most fundamental right that any human being has, and one that all women, people of color, trans people, and children have stolen from them on a regular basis: the right to control one’s own body. The impacts of this theft of choice can last a lifetime.

Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault pamphlet

When I made the decision to report my rape to Tufts, I was well aware that I was not a “perfect victim” but I did not know how that was going to matter so much in how seriously Tufts took my rape. I must admit that I was overly naive, but I was confident that my school was going to at least follow their own rules when it came to my report. I unfortunately learned quickly that I was very wrong. Over time I heard bits and pieces about the administration’s reactions to my assault and their subsequent indifference. Little did I know that being a woman of colour was another point against being far from a “perfect victim” who deserved justice.

Countless hours of reading about how many disadvantages I have as a woman of colour as well as a rape victim in our society brought me to the conclusion that my story is yet another example of intersectionality of discrimination. What exactly is intersectionality?

An intersectional approach to analyzing the disempowerment of marginalized women attempts to capture the consequences of the interaction between two or more forms of subordination.  It addresses the manner in which racism, patriarchy, class oppression and other discriminatory systems create inequalities that structure the relative positions of women, races, ethnicities, classes, and the like.  Moreover, intersectionality addresses the way that specific acts and policies operate together to create further disempowerment.
—- “Background Briefing on Intersectionality” Center for Women’s Global Leadership

I won’t hesitate to say that my experience with Tufts has left me completely disempowered. My gender already greatly increased my chances of being raped. My class gave me little resources and power/influence to be able to find outside help that could have preventing things from getting so terrible in the aftermath. And my race made me perceived as less believable when I reported. In the end the specific acts of admin members (not believing me, not accommodating me academically, etc) in addition to an already greatly lacking sexual assault policy lead to a very unfortunate turnout.

The issue of intersectionality in the context of rape is actually something that has been analyzed. Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” writes (emphasis mine):

Generations of critics and activists have criticized dominant conceptualizations of rape as racist and sexist. These efforts have been important in revealing the way in which representations of rape both reflect and reproduce race and gender hierarchies in American society.

…[A] sexual hierarchy [is] in operation that holds certain female bodies in higher regard than others. Statistics from prosecution of rape cases suggest that this hierarchy is at least one significant, albeit often overlooked factor in evaluating attitudes toward rape. A study of rape dispositions in Dallas, for example, showed that the average prison term for a man convicted of raping a Black woman was two years, as compared to five years for the rape of a Latina and ten years for the rape of an Anglo woman. A related issue is the fact that African-American victims of rape are the least likely to be believed.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a policy that effectively addresses intersectionality. It is hard to try and plead my case (and expect 100% equal treatment) to a group of people primarily compromised of older, privileged, straight, white men who will never be subjected to the discrimination and marginalization I will have to experience as a woman of colour. This is why training (not only just about sexual violence, but about the different dynamics that are related to it) is SO IMPORTANT.

Lisa M. Calderón, M.L.S., J.D. wrote a piece titled “Rape, Racism and Victim Advocacy” in which she emphasizes the importance of victim advocates being aware of the dynamics of race in relation to rape. The points she raises can also be applied to key university players that have to deal with student-student rape. Does Tufts University want to consciously participate as a contributor to a “society that validates certain victims while excluding others?” Remember that the reaction of the community to a survivor is a KEY FACTOR in how quickly they recover.

Elizabeth Kennedy, Research Analyst at Brandeis writes about “Victim Rape and Rape” in which black women are less likely to report,and when they do they are even less likely to get their case persecuted. A study even shows that jurors are even less likely to convict when the survivor is black as opposed to white. She finds that there are a “range of inequalities that African American women face as victims of rape.”

The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation showed that rape victims are a lot more likely to withdraw from school if they report to their university and react negatively. People of colour already have lower college graduation rates. Does Tufts as an institution want to contribute to the perpetuation of these statistics? All of these things need to be kept in mind when dealing with survivors of sexual assault. Ignoring that the class or ethnicity of a student matters when dealing with a case of sexual assault merely continues the cycle of discrimination and oppression.