The new book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools is an examination of the experiences of Black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged “by teachers, administrators, and the justice system and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish.” In the book, author Monique Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, Black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.
Alliance for Girls launched their latest report, Together, We Rise: The Lived Experiences of Girls of Color in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose. This report was produced to inform the San Francisco Bay Area work of the National Philanthropic Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives, and in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of California.
“The powerful first-hand stories from the girls featured in this report underscore how important it is to invest in the lives of young women, especially those of color, in order to create a just and equitable California,” said Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. “Listening to their dreams and their struggles is the first step towards empowering them to disrupt the cycle of poverty, violence, and disinvestment.”
Together, We Rise is a girl-led report involving leadership from Alliance for Girls’ (AFG) Young Women’s Leadership Board. In several listening sessions across the Bay Area, girls of color identified the ways structural and systemic barriers impact their identities, producing data that exemplifies existing research themes found in previous AFG reports, with samples totaling over 250 girl-identified youth. From childhood, girls are told about the limit of their worth through the perpetuation of gendered stereotypes and structural violence, in the shape of inequitable pay.
All women have a difficult time proving sexual abuse, but for black women and girls, it can be nearly impossible. So they often suffer in silence and abuse goes unreported. The decision by some African American women not to report their sexual assaults may also be influenced by a criminal justice system that historically has treated European-American perpetrators and victims differently than perpetrators and victims of color.
According to National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, among students, 11.2% of black girls in a national high school sample reported they had been raped and 52% of a black Midwestern high school and college students reported sexual coercion.
The purpose of the #Metoo movement, founded by Tarana Burke, was to empower women of color living in underprivileged communities who had experienced sexual abuse. She created a hashtag for the voiceless. But this movement has become a catalyst for white Hollywood actresses. Moving far from its source, one seldom hears references to the founder or to black women in the mainstream #Metoo discussion
Early in the morning on Nov. 7, 2017, a teacher noticed a 14-year-old girl crying in the hallway at Carol City High School in Miami-Dade County. The girl, who was later referred to in court papers as Jane Doe, reportedly told the teacher, “I think I was raped.”
Moments later, Doe went to the assistant principal’s office to tell administrators about the three boys who she said sexually assaulted her in a school bathroom. A school police officer questioned Doe, a Latina ninth-grader, and asked her to write a statement about what happened. Later that day, Carol City High administrators decided the event was consensual. They suspended Doe and the three accused boys for 10 days, noting that the students had violated rules against “inappropriate sexual behavior” on campus, according to the state attorney’s office.
“School is supposed to be a resourceful place, somewhere you can trust,” Jane Doe, now 16, told The 74. “That wasn’t what it turned out to be. It turned out to be somewhere where they just turned their backs against you.”
The scenario that played out at Carol City High mirrors cases around the country. A school in Piscataway, New Jersey, handed a 10-day suspension for “disorderly conduct” to a black girl who said she had been sexually assaulted on a bus. After a girl in Tucson, Arizona, said that she had been raped, the school district suspended her for “public sexual indecency.” A Brooklyn, New York, high school suspended a 15-year-old female black-Hispanic student “with well-documented developmental disabilities” who was sexually assaulted by a group of boys, according to the complaint, because administrators considered it “consensual sexual conduct on school premises.” At least one of the accused male students was later charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.
School is one of the most important early environments to foster future success in a child, and teachers play a huge part in crafting what their students’ future lives and careers will look like.
But when teachers play such an important role in guiding young and vulnerable mini-adults through the world, what happens when certain children aren’t given the same attention as their peers? When a child is seen as needing less nurture and support than their classmates, what kind of long-lasting impact can this have?
In 2017, Georgetown Law’s Centre on Poverty and Inequality released “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood“, a study that provided data showing that “adults view black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5-14.” Because of this, they are seen as needing “to be comforted less” and are assumed to know more about “adult topics”.
According to a report from Delta Community Based Services, 56% of children in Arkansas experience some form of trauma before reaching adulthood. Some recover, but some inevitably experience negative effects well into adulthood.
One of the things I love about being a professor is the chance to start over. Although I gripe about the end of summer, each new group of students offers fresh insights and challenges.
As I head back to campus this fall, I will be thinking of Cyntoia Brown.
Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she was charged as an adult and convicted of premeditated first-degree murder, felony murder and “especially aggravated robbery.” Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old man, had solicited Brown for sex and taken her to his home. Ms. Brown claimed that she had shot Mr. Allen in self-defense. In 2006, she was sentenced to concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole until she had served a minimum of 51 years.
As with other abused girls, Ms. Brown’s efforts to survive her conditions brought her into the “abuse to prison” pipeline that disproportionately affects girls of color. The abuse suffered by these girls leads to encounters with the criminal justice system, and this system treats them as perpetrators rather than as victims and survivors of abuse. Thus, rather than being sheltered, protected and provided with resources, girls who have been sexually and physically abused are criminalized for surviving their abuse.
You can tell I’m an Asian-American woman by looking at me. What’s not so obvious is my ADHD; even I didn’t know about it until this year because, in our American society, people who look like me are not “supposed” to have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).
I was not “supposed” to have ADHD as a girl; the ADHD stereotypemaintains that only boys who misbehave have ADHD. My elementary school teachers saw a shy girl who listened to directions. What they didn’t see was that I was trying so hard to keep track of what my teacher and classmates were saying in class that I didn’t have time to consider speaking up, so I defaulted to not talking at all. But at recess, I was so energetic and talkative that my friends often called me “hyper,” which I was.
Although May 5 is nationally considered a day for celebration, in many tribal communities, it is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native American Women. The date commemorates the birthday of Hanna Harris, a young mother and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana, who was reported missing in July 2013 and found murdered a few days later.
Hanna’s story is emblematic of the struggle plaguing tribal communities and indigenous women living in cities. Native American women face extremely high rates of violence, an epidemic which is marked by the lack of data around the number of women who go missing or are murdered in and outside of reservations.
Over 5,700 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing as of 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center, but only 116 of those cases were logged with the Department of Justice. Eighty-four percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice. A 2008 study found that women in some tribal communities are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average.
The Seattle City Council on Wednesday heard testimony on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The hearing came on the heels of months of controversy across the U.S. and Canada about failed data collection when it comes to these missing persons cases and murder investigations. On Tuesday, the Washington State Patrol released a 36-page report outlining its findings into missing girls and women.
The State Patrol found 56 women from Washington are missing, 12 from King County. Studies from across the U.S. and Canada put that figure into the thousands.
Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez called for the committee hearing to better understand data collection and to find out what political leaders and police can do to help.