In light of the recent attention and responses of sexual harassment from the press and key figures in Hollywood, we need to draw our attention and action to change the culture of the industry and our society that allows for any form of sexual violence to exist. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual violence in a larger framework of rape culture and we must shift our focus to the proponents that have reinforced these systems.
Environments in which any level of abuse of a sexual nature and objectification is routine, where the rights of others are minimized, excused or disregarded lead to the normalization of sexual violence. Bystanders have key roles in the persistence of sexual violence, they aid and abet these norms when they look the other way or play into the schemes and systems that perpetuate rape culture. Most importantly, however, is that bystanders can use their power and influence to stop and prevent sexual violence by standing up, speaking out, and making significant changes.
It isn’t the sole responsibility of one individual or one case of sexual harassment/violence to create these shifts, we need to focus on the culture that allows sexual violence to happen and commit to changing the conditions that allow rape to happen at all.
I am happy to share CALCASA’s support for the March for Black Women that is set for September 30, 2017 in Washington D.C. and declare that we stand in solidarity with the Black Women’s Blueprint, Inc., a key organizer in the movement.
The March for Black Women is embracing the strength of black women “in all their diversity” and centering their voices to condemn the violence and oppression black women face including high rates of incarceration, sexual violence, murder and the disappearances of black women and girls. I respect the March and the Organizers for demanding that the violence, including sexual assault experiences, that plagues the lives of black women and girls not be normalized or denied. The march is highlighting the importance of addressing gender justice in efforts to end sexual violence and all violence against black women.
In 2016 I had the honor of attending the 2016 Tribunal of the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault where I left hopeful on it’s potential to galvanize the group into action, and that day has come. This Saturday the mass mobilization will call for the following actions:
- Issue a Congressional resolution to apologize to all Black women for centuries of abuses, including sexual violence and reproductive violations against Black bodies, especially the brutalization of trans-identified women.
- Beyond the 2016 Gender Bias Policing Guidance, ensure immediate and sustainable measures by the U.S. Government to eliminate incarcerations, incidences of rape and “sexual misconduct”, police murder and violence against all Black women, and especially trans-identified women.
- End the threat against the human right to health-care and increase access, including all reproductive health care, bar none.
- Ensure economic justice for Black low-income women at the communal and federal level, many of whom are at increased risk for violence due to lack of economic power.
- Cease and desist all threats of deportation of immigrant women across the country, especially those whose deportation may cost them their lives or safety.
There is a layered and complex reality of violence and oppression that calls our movement to center the voices of women of color. It is critical that we center the needs of those survivors most marginalized, silenced and unseen. Strategies to prevent and end sexual violence must recognize the urgency in understanding the larger structures of systemic oppressions that shape our society, and CALCASA is adamant in identifying and working within this reality.
For more information on how to support and take part in the March for Black Women at mamablack.org
On Monday a group of 14 survivors of sexual abuse began a 5-day hunger strike on the lawn of our state Capitol. They have put their lives and health on the line in order to demand Governor Brown’s signage of AB1978 into law. These women, my sheros, are the janitorial workers who clean our offices every night while we sleep. They have come forward in spite of language barriers, immigration status, shame and fear and in so doing, they are teaching us how to create social change, they are teaching us how to dismantle rape culture.
CALCASA has been working in solidarity with the SEIU-USWW and the MCTF to expose the abuse against janitorial workers, support legislation and educate policy-makers, provide training to employers, foster partnerships among workers and the local rape crisis center program to create promotoras (educators) within their own ranks. The California legislature sent a strong message through the recent passage of AB1978. The legislation would require training for both employers and workers in the janitorial industry and create governmental oversight to ensure protection of the legal rights of these workers. Now it’s time for Governor Brown to do his job by signing #AB1978 into law!
For those of us working for social justice and culture change, we have so much to learn from this group of women. Their action this week exemplifies how the personal is political. I spent a good part of Wednesday with them, witnessing as they publicly shared their stories, supported and assisted one-another. Some were taken to the hospital but none wanted to end the strike. The courage symbolized through their 5-day hunger strike demonstrates their refusal to be invisible. They shout out Ya Basta!
The women have risked their health and their lives in order to shine the light on the sexual harassment and assault experienced by janitorial workers. They have taken a tremendous step in making the invisible visible. However, the responsibility of Ending Rape on the Night Shift should not lay with them. We each have the responsibility of honoring and respecting them, of partnering with them to expose the sexual abuse of janitorial workers in order to create system’s change. Please join with the hunger strikers and CALCASA to say Ya Basta!
You can help by:
- Taking two minutes to contact Governor Brown today to sign AB1978 into law.
To learn more about the sexual abuse of janitorial workers, read Leticia’s story.
“We see you, we honor you and we thank you.” Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault.
Herstory was made on April 28- May 1, 2016, when over a hundred survivors, black women and men, and their allies convened in New York to shed light on the experiences of the rape and sexual assault of black women in America. The four-day gathering was conceptualized and organized by the Black Women’s Blue Print and was attended by black women from around the nation, including the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The gathering included allies and supporters concerned with the impact that sexual violence has had and continues to have on black women, their families and communities.
Witnessing and Testifying: The Right to Truth and the Duty of Memory – The day was dedicated to the delivery and documentation of testimonies by three generations of survivors who experienced sexual abuse between 1944 and 2016. We heard from Robert Corbitt, younger brother of Recy Taylor and black male anti-rape activist, about his sister’s brutal gang rape by six white men who kidnapped and raped her on her way home from an Alabama church in 1944. He shared about Rosa Parks’ involvement in the investigation, the men’s’ confession, and the state’s failure to hold them accountable. He talked about the healing that Recy felt in 2011, 67 years after the assault, when the state of Alabama recognized the injustice they had done to Recy Taylor and issued a formal apology.
Survivor after survivor recounted her assault and shared her truth. A common theme for this day and the days that followed was the deep sense of invisibility and isolation experienced by these women. I watched a beautiful woman’s cathartic experience when, with tear-filled eyes, she brought the crowd to its feet during a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. This was the first time in five years that she had allowed herself to pick up her violin, after she was sexually assaulted by her trusted “friend” and co-composer five years earlier. My heart was both pained and full as I witnessed the commissioner helping to bring healing to each of these courageous survivors. I watched and listened to her as she spoke simple but powerful and life changing words to each women after testimony: “We see you, we honor you and we thank you.” Throughout the day my emotions were tender and my heart ached as I asked “why had this taken so long?”
United Nations and Tribunal Hearings on the Historical Sexual Assaults on Black Women in America – The day began at the United Nations Headquarters and was filled with testimony from black women in commemoration of the International Decade for People of African Descent. This event continued with public articulation and timeline of what has historically happened to the bodies of black women and girls, with a focus on the intersections of sexual violence and reproductive justice.
Survivors shared their powerful stories and insights. We heard from Jannie Liggins, sexual assault survivor of former Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, as she spoke about her ordeal; her fear that he was going to kill her, her prayers and the words she spoke to herself “you picked the wrong lady tonight,” as she went directly to the police following the assault. It was Jannie’s report that was the catalyst for what later resulted in a conviction and 263 year sentence. Michelle Duster, writer, speaker, educator and great granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, also spoke: “We are here to heal for our ancestors, ourselves and our future!” Lynn Rosenthal, the former White House Advisor on Violence Against Women was in attendance through the last day and she too shared a powerful message, declaring, “We are here these four days to remember the forgotten and see the invisible.”
I respect the Black Women’s Blueprint and its co-founder Farah Tanis for their courage to ask such bold questions as “What does this nation owe to black women?” and for providing a platform for our movement and the nation to begin to answer this question. I respect them for demanding that the sexual assault experiences of black women and girls not be normalized or denied, but rather that they are recognized and evoke outrage. It is my hope that the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will serve as a crucial step towards galvanizing us into action!
Written by Sandra Henriquez, Executive Director, CALCASA
Inspiration for the Denim Day campaign is rooted in the experiences of sexual assault survivors. Today, as we were joined by over 20 legislators at our state’s Capitol, I felt proud and inspired about the advances we are making in changing attitudes about sexual violence, about the partnerships we are forming, the allies we are gaining and about placing the experiences of those who are most marginalized at the center of our work.
In 1999, a Supreme Court judge overturned the rape conviction of a driving instructor convicted of raping his student. The judge’s belief was that because the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The women of the Italian Parliament were outraged and showed up on the courts steps wearing jeans in a demonstration of solidarity with the rape victim. These women centered the experience of the survivor, thus spurring national inspiration. In response to the case and the activism around it, Peace Over Violence developed the Denim Day campaign, which is now recognized throughout California, the nation and even Italy. Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.
Today I was inspired, as I listened to nearly 20 state legislators speak about the bills they have authored to increase accountability, increase justice for survivors and prevent sexual assault. As I witnessed the growing understanding and commitment by our legislators about the impact that sexual violence has and the belief that it can be prevented, I became acutely aware of how far we’ve come in centering the experiences of survivors of sexual assault – including military, campus, and incarcerated survivors. While I recognize how much work there still is to do, I am inspired about ensuring that out work focuses on ALL survivors, and that the voices of those who are often invisible and most marginalized are uplifted.
There were so many moments today when I felt pride and inspiration. I felt proud when Georgina, a janitorial worker had the courage to speak out about her sexual victimization. She talked about being a single mother, about being sexually assaulted at work and about the fear she experiences daily when she goes to work. In so doing, she reminded us that we are not defined by our victimization but we are complex people with complex lives, and survivorship is not all defining but is one experience that we carry. I watched as Georgina gave the audience insight into the circumstance and experience of thousands of other janitorial workers. I watched Georgina exude hope and inspiration as she called out the word often used in liberation movements “Basta!”
I felt proud of all the legislators, funders, partners and stakeholders that joined us today. I felt proud when a I saw legislators wearing jeans and an apron, the uniform that many janitorial workers wear, and when a handful of the members of the California Senate and Assembly, broke out in Spanish to speak directly to the janitorial workers, letting them know that they had been seen and that their voices are being heard. Among my greatest moment of pride was when the large crowd of Spanish and non-Spanish speakers closed out Denim Day California on the Capitol steps by joining and repeating the chant originally coined by Dolores Huerta in the Farmworkers Movement “¡Si, Se Puede!”