💭 Ethereal Epiphanies

Short-form lightly edited, lightly structured essays, written in 30 minutes.
Published on:
February 11, 2024

RHOP S8 E9, Black Women, And Sexual Assault

Watching the latest episode of "The Real Housewives of Potomac" was quite difficult. In this moment it brought back to my attention the fact that so many Black women face various types of sexual assault and violence. Almost half of the cast shared their own experiences, and just like in real life, some of them were able to talk about it because they had already healed and addressed the issue many years ago. Others, however, were still currently affected. Take Mia, for instance, who was triggered just by hearing other survivors' stories. I can only imagine it must have brought back memories, especially since she admitted to never having dealt with this. She had blamed her best friend, who was like a sister to her because she felt that it was her fault, or perhaps that she wasn't protected enough. This is something I can personally relate to. I believe when you don't get the proper mental health support, mentorship, or psychological care, it's so easy to be easily triggered by any situation, to have flashbacks, and to hold onto so much anger and blame towards others.

This is a topic I grew a strong interest in researching after being gaslit. What strikes me as a Black woman, and as an adult, is that most Black women I know have faced some type of sexual assault. If I were to list all the Black women in my life and put a number to it, I'd say somewhere between 60 to 70% have experienced some sort of sexual assault, be it groping, molestation, or rape.

I will never in my life forget that day one of my friends had an experience where she was raped on her way to school. For a very long time, I was the only person to know this. She was never, ever late to school; she was never late to class, and it was very odd for her to either miss class or be late to school in general. I knew something was up when she had missed her first three classes and wasn't answering my phone calls. She came to school angry, and distraught, and she looked like someone had beaten her up. I honestly thought she might have gotten into a fight on the way to school. As I kept questioning her, begging her to tell me what happened, she grabbed me by my shoulders and said, 'I can't talk about it right now.' By the end of the school day, she pulled me into one of the empty classrooms and made me promise not to tell what she was about to tell me. I just remember telling her, 'Listen, you know I'm always here for you, whatever you need.' She then went on to tell me about the man she had been telling me about for some time, who kept bothering her on her way to school. I just looked down because I knew what she was going to say next. I had been through the same thing before that neighbor, a person you know, who always catcalls you. But it's not like a normal catcall; it's very predatory, and you always have in the back of your mind, a feeling in your throat that one day they're going to go way beyond their catcall and cause harm to you. And that's exactly what happened. I was speechless, and I just kept saying that I was sorry. I felt a lump in my throat as she straightened her body and held back tears. The next thing she said to me was, 'Well, this ain't the first time this has happened. I just hate that this time it's someone I know. I know his face, I know his name, and I can't come to school without crossing paths with him.

I've now watched quite a few of the 'Housewives' shows to aid my writing, and many of them have quite similar stories. Favorites like Nene, Kenya, Porsha, and Sheree… all recount being assaulted and or abused.It could be a neighbor, someone they see frequently, or even a current boyfriend. I've also noticed, perhaps due to a reluctance to share, a disparity in the narratives between shows with white cast members and those with black cast members. I think it might perhaps reflect real-life statistics: far more Black housewives have come forward with their stories than white housewives.

Henceforth, they all had to do the same thing that any other woman, or black woman, has to do after such scenarios and situations. They go through these things in life and have to keep moving. They have to get up the next day, go to school or work, and still function as if everything is normal as if nothing ever happened.

What's also notable is how many people outside our community are unaware of the quite high statistics and numbers of Black women who get assaulted. In Europe, the lack of studies or statistics on this leaves room for many to believe these things don't happen. I can't express how many white people in my life are in utter disbelief when I tell them about my own experiences, especially the ones I've had during my travels in their home country. There is always a very strong reaction to immediately deny and blame, they can't fathom it; they don't think these occurrences take place, or that it's something so rare that it would be nearly impossible, especially not to women who "don't purposely put themselves in those situations.

It's particularly unsettling in all-white spaces, where I find most of the Black women I know face even more mistreatment, discrimination, and sexual assault encounters. And it's downright appalling when a person suggests that maybe men act this way with Black women because they find them attractive, as if sexual aggression is justified by desire. It's a backward logic that fails to acknowledge that desire does not negate racism or make the aggressor any less offensive. US history, through the appalling actions of countless white slave owners who sexually exploited their Black female slaves, demonstrates a disturbing reality. These men often viewed their victims in a dehumanizing, even animalistic manner, yet still harbored sexual desires for them. This clearly illustrates racial fetishization.

Watching episodes like the one on 'The Real Housewives of Potomac underscores how much Black women need each other's support and a strong sense of community. Many of these traumatic experiences are unavoidable, but having a supportive network can make a significant difference. We must collaborate, to potentially prevent such situations. I've personally experienced the impact of having resources, like the ability to take taxis home at night, thus avoiding the risks associated with walking or using public transport.

There were times when I lacked these means, and it was then that the support of friends, ensuring I had taxi fare, was invaluable for my safe return home. This is fundamentally about taking proactive steps to prevent assault or any form of harm. It emphasizes the importance of community care, being there for one another, and the security that stems from solidarity

This last Housewives of Patomic episode, although difficult to watch, serves as a poignant reminder of the strength inherent in our collective support. It acts as a call to action, urging us to stand united, to believe in victims, to seek to understand their experiences and to build and maintain communities and support networks. These networks are essential in ensuring our safety, uplifting our spirits, and ensuring our voices are heard

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). (2021). Sexual Violence and the Spectrum of Black Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Disparities. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8590152/.
  2. National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI). (n.d.). Black Women, Sexual Assault, and the Criminalization of Survival. Retrieved from https://www.nbwji.org/post/black-women-sexual-assault-criminalization.
  3. Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence (OAESV). (2021). Sexual Violence Against Women of Color. Retrieved from https://oaesv.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/oaesv-sexual-violence-women-of-color.pdf.
  4. Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. (n.d.). Black Women Raped at Higher Rates. Retrieved from https://clevelandrapecrisis.org/black-women-raped-higher-rates-news-5-cleveland/.
  5. Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR). (n.d). Violence Against Black Women: Many Types, Far-Reaching Effects. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/violence-against-black-women-many-types-far-reaching-effects/.
  6. Women's Leadership and Resource Center, University of Illinois at Chicago (WLRC). (n.d.). Workplace Harassment Against Black Women. Retrieved from https://wlrc.uic.edu/workplace-harassment-against-black-women/.
  7. Office of Justice Programs (OJP), U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). Race and Rape: The Black Woman as Legitimate Victim. Retrieved from https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/race-and-rape-black-woman-legitimate-victim.
  8. The Baltimore Sun. (2015, June 9). Why Are Black Women Less Likely to Report Rape? Retrieved from https://www.baltimoresun.com/2015/06/09/why-are-black-women-less-likely-to-report-rape/.
  9. Ujima Community. (2018). Women's Violence Stats. Retrieved from https://ujimacommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Ujima-Womens-Violence-Stats-v7.4-1.pdf.

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