Long before the first major headline or the first widely covered protest, Black women were forming coalitions and holding events and observances to spread information and educate the larger public about the impacts of sexual violence. Sojourner Truth first connected racial oppression with gender oppression when she recited Ain’t I A Woman in 1851. A group of Black women testified before Congress following the Memphis Riots of 1866 that involved gang rape by a white mob. These women make up the first known group to speak out against sexual assault, despite laws that gave white men permission to legally assault and rape Black women.
Although women continued to push for control over their bodies and protection against assault over the century that followed, the issue of violence against women didn’t re-emerge as a topic of public conversation until a number of incidents involving white women garnered widespread media attention in the 1960s and 70s. Rape crisis centers then began sprouting up across the country in the early 70s in response to the lack of care and services for survivors after they were violated. Seeing the heightened need for more local centers, state coalitions began to form, starting with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in 1975.
Take Back the Night began as a global effort to combat sexual violence and violence against women. In 1972, a group of women at the University of Southern Florida marched through campus demanding resources and safety for women. To this day, numerous colleges across the country participate in Take Back the Night to come together in the name of gender and reproductive justice.
In 2000, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Resource Sharing Project polled sexual violence coalitions across the country in an effort to further coordinate the activities and tactics that raised awareness and prevention education in service to sexual assault survivors. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first nationally observed in April 2001.
These initiatives led to the culmination of sexual assault awareness as a national campaign, but not without the leadership and radical vision of Black survivors. Despite the constant overshadowing and erasure of Black femmes, women, and girls in the movement that still takes place today, we are breaking down the domains of power, weed by weed, stem by stem. We recognize the influence that narratives have in the shaping of our laws, ideologies and beliefs about consent, agency, body autonomy and who is deserving of protection and care. We, As Ourselves is a collective effort to uproot harmful thoughts and beliefs about Black survivors and in its place, plant more seeds of dignity, joy, and full humanness.
Even today, as we bear witness to the increasing attacks on and state-sanctioned violence against Black girls and Black trans women, we recognize the thread of misogynoir that runs through our communities, seeking to make victims out of all of us. But we are survivors, and we’ll only get louder. That is why we are launching the first-ever Week of Action during Sexual Assault Awareness Month that is solely focused on Black survivors. This week, we want to:
- Ensure that Black survivors are centered during a month that historically has not centered them;
- Elevate Black survivor voices by sharing nearly a dozen survivor voices through our existing content;
- Continue driving awareness and engagement with We, As Ourselves that result in doubling the number of pledge takers in support of Black survivors; and
- Provide calls-to-action and resources that deepen the conversation about Black survivorhood.
As we wrap up Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is imperative that we position ourselves for further action beyond April. Black survivors deserve our full attention, not just when it’s trendy to care, but especially when it seems like no one does.
What would it look like if we could actually be ourselves without the range of factors that undermine our stories? What would it look like in this case to be able to center Black survivors, their story, their ability to find justice, and their ability to heal?
-Fatima Goss Graves, Executive Director, National Women’s Law Center for GLAMOUR
This week is an invitation to answer these questions with us. There is no one right solution. Being correct is not even important here. What matters is that we commit to being in lockstep towards a world that wants to hear our stories and treat our issues with the gravity it deserves.