Serena is at it again. In the upcoming Rolling Stones article she makes some controversial (to say the least) comments about the Steubenville rape victim. When she heard the news on the verdict of the trial she is recorded as saying
Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you—don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.
Well. I should start off by saying that this type of victim blaming is precisely why only 46% of rapes are reported, and out of that only 3% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. In a society that would rather blame a survivor than support them, those numbers aren’t surprising. On top of the trauma of sexual assault, a survivor has to also deal with the stigma and judgment that comes along with reporting their rape.
But I for one am not surprised by Serena’s comments. To be clear, I am not saying that black women (or black people for that matter) are especially insensitive when it comes to rape. This is a societal sickness that afflicts people from every walk of life. But I’d like to dig deeper into why I’ve heard comments like this from several black women, and now most famously Serena Williams.
According to a study by The Black Women’s Blueprint, 60% of black girls have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. This is nearly double the often quoted 1 in 3 statistic of women who experience sexual abuse. And these assaults are underreported. For every black woman (or girl) who steps forward, 15 do not. This is 3 times the number of white women who report (1 for every 5). Black women understand that our womanhood will not be protected. Our attacks are not talked about. From a very young age our bodies are sexualized. This sexualization makes us unattackable. We’re just jezebels who got what we were looking for. With this knowledge, many of our caregivers teach us at an early age that it is our responsibility to protect ourselves from attack. Instead of blaming the society that does not value us or our right to say no, we are taught not be “fast.” We are supposed to be good girls, because good girls don’t get raped. So when we are attacked we stay quiet because we’ve been taught that it is our fault.
And when other girls (of any race) are attacked, it is because they didn’t do enough to protect themselves. Someone didn’t teach them that girlhood is dangerous and you must always be on guard. Men are not to blame. It is the fault of the girls for thinking they are safe around men.
Now, I’m not excusing Serena. She is wrong. Rapists are to blame for rape. A society that protects rapists and shames survivors is to blame for rape. But survivors never are. But the trauma black women face knowing that society does not value us, manifests itself in ways such as this. There’s a lot of healing that needs to take place so we can address this mindset. We need to teach our children that they deserve and have the right to have control over their own bodies. That they have no right to impose their will on other people, and that other people have no right to impose their will on them. And most importantly, that if something does happen to them that it is not their fault. And that we will fight like hell to get them justice. Comments like Serena’s have no space in that.
Note: This article focuses on the rape of women. I by no means deny or mean to minimize the fact that other genders are also raped. The focus on women is due to Serena’s comments being geared toward women rape survivors.