COMMUNITY, FEATURE STORY

We Aren’t Talking Enough About the Sexual Assault of Womxn in BIPOC Communities

**TRIGGER WARNING** Today’s blog post discusses information about sexual assault and/or sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.


By Emelda De Coteau 

Years ago, I read a quote from Audre Lorde which never left me: “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you…” Many of us, as womxn of color, are taught to deny our pain, and if that does not work, swallow it whole, in spite of the accompanying wounds to our spirits. 

While womxn and girls (across ethnicity) experience sexual violence at high rates (1 in 6 in the U.S. according to data from RAINN), the impact on womxn within BIPOC communities is stark:

  • Indigenous women are “2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races. “According to a 2010 GAO Study, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of sexual abuse, firearms violations, homicide and other violent crimes occurring in the lives of Native American womxn.” 
  • 1 in 5 black womxn are rape survivors, 40% of confirmed sex trafficking survivors are Black, and “for every Black woman who reports rape at least 15 do not.” The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, 2018 report
  • Black, Indigenous, and Latinx womxn are vulnerable to sexual assault by some police officers who target groups no one believes. In her book, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color Andrea Ritchie discusses this abuse extensively.

The collective anguish of womxn in BIPOC communities is routinely dismissed– especially when attackers are men in power. Ebony Evans, artist, organizer, and co-founder of Say Her Name Coalition puts it this way:

“Black womyn would have to be seen as human for us to not be targeted by police. We experience and will continue to experience harm to our bodies because to them we are still mammies not capable of experiencing pain. 

The entire world steals from Black womyn, profits from our labor, and places us on the back burner to use at our expense whenever they please… When we get killed by the cops and have to create our own movement, it is a clear indication that we are not centered when we are brutalized but are expected to show up for every movement.” 


READ: “WHEN A BLACK WOMAN WALKS INTO A ROOM”


Black Womxn – Mental Health Impact of Sexual Assault and Healing

The impact of sexual assault on the mental well-being of Black women cannot be understated. Carolyn M. West and Kalimah Johnson both focus on this throughout their paper, “Sexual Violence in the the Lives of African American Women,” citing multiple studies which highlight increased vulnerability to “PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, pain-related health problems, such as back pain, and non-pain symptoms, including fatigue and nausea.” 

Moving through all of this distress, in addition to dealing with racism, produces a term researcher Dr. Arline Geronimus coined – weathering which analyzes the biological impact of variables such as race, gender, and poverty on us. Given the extensiveness of this trauma, embracing healing practices is imperative:

“What has been so important for my healing journey is understanding I don’t need to apologize for my body, and that I can take up as much space as I please. I suggest divorcing concepts that tone police how survivors should show up as many of them are seen through a patriarchal lens.

Click HERE if you or someone you love is in need of support.

Radical Black womyn and femme writers like Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde to name a few wrote for and to us directly. I think reading their works moves something within and I definitely recommend it.

I also think engaging in new activities that encourage the body to move brings forth healing as well: Dancing in all forms, yoga, meditation and sports. Writing is also liberating – poetry and journaling,” Evans says.

Over a year ago, I wrote a poem (“Wounds Become Wings”) about surviving grief, but it also relates to sexual trauma in many ways, “our wounds can become wings,” a bridge connecting us to other survivors.

As Alice Walker reminds us: “Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister?”


Additional Resources: 

Feature Image: photo courtesy of Alex Sorto.

Emelda leads Pray with Our Feet (PWF), an online community lifting up the intersection of progressive Christian faith and social justice. She co-hosts the PWF podcast with her Mom, Trudy.

Emelda serves as the founder of Women Creatives Chat, a community centering wellness and empowerment for women of all artistic disciplines through events (both online and live), workshops, and mindful products and services. She also writes about wellness and holistic healing practices for Modestine Tea and Breaking the Silence…Healing the Pain.

You can read Emelda’s other features on Good Life Detroit here and here if you like. Special thanks to Emelda for sharing her insight on the importance of Black mental healthcare. Look out for more of her writing on GLD!


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