Trigger warning: racism, sexual assault, child sexual assault
Sexual assault in the United States is far more common than most people realize. It happens in the workplace, with acquaintances, walking on the street, in the home, and everywhere one could imagine. Many women report feeling rape anxiety—a feeling of impending sexual assault—during normal daily activities. This invisible fear may become evident when a woman lashes out at a “hey beautiful” comment or unwanted physical contact, such as a stranger’s hand around her waist in a crowd.
Personally, I feel rape anxiety when I am around racists. Racism is a huge trigger for my anxiety because my sexual assault may have been racially motivated. I was raped by a racist who actively hated immigrants, people of different religions, and anyone non-white. No one can know if that is what caused him to take out his rage against me in such a dehumanizing way, but I suspect that motivated the attack.
Ten years later, I still feel sick when I hear “harmless” racist jokes because I never know if that racism could be directed at me in a dangerous way. I experience all the fears that white women do in public and walking down the street, but I also feel an added layer of fear because of my skin tone. Even though I’m a successful, independent adult, I am still acutely aware that I am no safer now than I was as a high school sophomore. The weight of this vulnerability is constant and deep.
Racialized sexual harassment and assault is common for women of color and is even more widespread for transgender women, gender nonconforming people, and disabled women of color. But why does it commonly go unaddressed when we talk about women’s issues? And why do some groups avoid it when they talk about systemic racism? Women’s rights organizations must fight for racial justice or acknowledge that they only fight for white women. As a woman of color, I see no compromise on this issue.
I admire Legal Voice greatly for their willingness and effort to change the conversation from sexual assault as imagined from a white perspective to a more comprehensive view of the issue. I’m glad that they have chosen to participate in the Black Lives Matter march this weekend, and that they are learning from people of color-led organizations. Unfortunately, they had to cancel the sign-making event for the Black Lives Matter march due to lack of interest. This was not the case with the sign-making event for the women’s march. My hope is that Legal Voice and their supporters will show up for communities of color with the same love and enthusiasm as they have shown other movements.
As someone who has suffered from both racism and sexual assault, both independently and together, I can say that I do not feel more connected to my gender identity than my racial identity. I feel them both as interconnected parts of me—the same applies to my queer identity and my multiple privileges. I experience the world as one human being who lives at the intersection of various identities.
Just because I am a minority* and a woman, does that mean my sexual assault does not matter because it was racially motivated? I hope you would say, “Of course not!” Then it should require no leap in logic to fight for people of color with the same enthusiasm that you fight for women’s rights. Each person with a marginalized identity has a window into others’ experiences with discrimination. While this does not mean they have a mirror into that discrimination, it should be enough to hold empathy for women of all races, abilities, religions, and citizenship status. Our experiences may not be the same, but our movements must be united.
* I am a racial minority in the United States. It is important to acknowledge that women of color are in the global majority.
Photo credit: Tachina Lee