It’s Not a Scandal, It’s a System

Photo from “Eminence” by Jo’Nella Queen Ellerbe, Jacinta Lomba, and Taylor Michael

I have an issue with #MeToo. And it’s not just because this intellectual property was misattributed (Tarana Burke started “Me Too” 10 years ago for sexual assault survivors).

I have an issue with 1: collapsing sexual harrassment and sexual assualt. I’m not saying there’s a hierarchy of oppression or trauma, but they are not the same thing.

2. This is another movement that lifts up the plight of survivors rather than holding perpetrators accountable. We’re putting the onus on women who “suffer sexual abuse.” No! Name the perpetrator! It’s not some abstract “gender-based violence.” It’s not just “sexual violence against women”…it’s male violence.

I saw a recent Facebook post that highlighted Jackson Katz’ TEDx Talk: “Violence Against Women — It’s a Men’s Issue. He laments, “Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence.”

Abusive men are the active agent.

Violent, insecure men are the alkaseltzer of sexual assault.

I only wish we could name these agents publically. But, alas, the system is set up in such a misogynistic, patriarchal, sexist way that if a woman were to publish her rapist’s name, and he hadn’t been found guilty in a court of law, she would be charged with slander or defamation.

We tell women abused by men that they are “strong” and “courageous” for coming forward, when the process of reporting should be a lot simpler. But the process isn’t easy because we don’t foster a culture of belief. If your response to the overwhelming number of #MeToo posts has been, “I can’t believe this!” or “Really? That many?” you are complicit in this dynasty of disbelief.

It’s less about #MeToo and more about #NowWhat.

We knew these stories existed, we just didn’t want to admit it. Because admitting it would mean naming your own Truth: as victim and perpetrator; and as bystander. Conversations that we have at the church picnic (“stay away from Deacon So and So”) or the family BBQ (“don’t ever be alone with Uncle Jo Jo”) teach survivors how to navigate life as a victim, rather than remove the threats so we can put an end to male sexual violence against women and girls.

The Black Women’s Blueprint has an ongoing study that found 60% of Black women are sexually abused before they turn 18-years-old. Sixty. Percent. And, since the Black church is 85% women, that means that half of Black church congregations have been sexually abused.

How can we be so silent about such a horrific epidemic? If there were a really dangerous intersection that resulted in pedestrians getting hit and walking around with broken legs, there would be petitions and public outcry to remedy the issue. Well, this is the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality, and we have way too many broken spirits walking around our churches…

How is it that in our communities of faith we have to fight for faith in us?

You mean to tell me that you DO believe that an entire body of sea water can be split down the middle, but you can’t believe a woman when she says she was raped? You WILL believe that a woman conceived a baby without having sex, but you won’t believe a child when she says she’s being molested?

I demand we create a culture of Believing.

It’s only when survivors are believed and supported that we can transform into Surthrivors. “Surthrivor,” a term I created in 2009 and explored in my thesis, is used to describe someone who is flourishing despite experiencing life’s harsh, extenuating circumstances. I’m a Surthrivor. And I’m committed to ensuring that other Black women survivors of faith can live their best possible lives, sooner rather than later.

I am currently a part of the inaugural cohort of the Do Good X Startup Accelerator. Do Good X nurtures Christian social entrepreneurs who wish to do good in the world. I am leaving the ideation phase and moving into the prototype stage. In order to refine my work, I am seeking Black Christian women who have suffered male sexual violence to take a confidential survey as a part of my research. Please — take it and share it with (y)our Sistas.

You have a voice. I hate when people say, “I’m speaking for those without a voice.” That’s bullcrap!

There’s no such thing as the voiceless. Only the silenced.

And, Sis, I want you to know that I hear you. I see you. I acknowledge you. I believe you. And I am so sorry this happened to you. It wasn’t your fault. I’m here for you. I love you.

Me too. Now what?

Photo Credit: 7am.life
If you are triggered by this article and you need immediate support, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). They’re available 24/7! I am sending you prayers, love, and light.