On The Criminal Justice System And Its Biases Against Black Women And Girls

Black girls and women are more likely than any other group of people in America to become victims of sexual violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Another crushing reality is the vast majority of sexual assault victims don’t see their offenders brought to justice in a court of law. It’s even harder for Black girls and women to get the justice they deserve. There’s a crucial reason for this: Black girls and women are not believed in court.

During my legal career, I’ve served as a public defender and private defense lawyer. I’ve represented clients in criminal matters including murders, rapes, high volume drug cases, sex crimes, and federal offenses. What I’m going to lay out here may be disheartening, but one of the most important aspects in any trial is believability. The judge or jury’s ability to believe one side versus the other is often the determining factor between a guilty or not guilty verdict. In the law, we use the term believability interchangeably with the term credibility. As for Black women and girls, believability and credibility are not assigned to us the way it is for others. This may sound anecdotal, but research proves it.

Read more at Essence. 

How Societies View Black Girls and Women

Black women and black girls are disproportionately subject to prejudices, stereotypes and violence on an ongoing basis.

Social activist Lovelyn Nwadeyi, Soul City Institute CEO Lebo Ramafoko and Sunday Times lifestyle editor Pearl Tsotetsi share their experiences of surviving the world in a black woman’s body with Talk Radio 702 host Eusebius McKaiser.

The discussion refers to a ground-breaking study on the erasure of black girls’ childhood, which puts data behind the lived realities of many black women.

Learn more at EWN. 

Women and Girls of Color Need Justice Too

A growing number of individuals have expressed support for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ harmful Title IX proposed rules on sexual harassment, including sexual assault, in schools by pitting the rights of sexual assault survivors against efforts to further racial justice.

By doing this, these individuals—often white, self-identified feminists or conservative men—erase the experiences of survivors of color, particularly Black women and girls, who are frequently disbelieved and blamed when reporting sexual assault, pressured to stay silent about their assaults, and pushed into the criminal justice system (referred to as the “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline”).

As survivor-advocates of color working at the intersections of racial and gender justice, we understand that women and girls of color are disproportionately targeted for sexual harassment and assault in schools. The blatant disregard for the lives of survivors of color is a common and misguided tactic that creates a false choice between protecting survivors and protecting against racially biased disciplinary practices.

Read more at ReWire

On R. Kelly and How We Fail Black Girls

Earlier this month, two million viewers tuned in for the premiere of Lifetime’s six-part documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly”. The docuseries chronicled the R&B musician’s reported legacy of alleged abuse, predatory behavior and child pornography charges throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. Episodes prominently featured the testimony of R. Kelly’s victims, as well as clinical specialists and activists like #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. Among this wide swath of voices, a common observation was situated at the center of nearly every interview. Survivors and commentators alike remarked that Black women and girls aren’t seen as victims in situations of sexual violence as a result of societal misogynoir. This documentary reveals a disturbing pattern of racist institutional failings endemic to the American criminal-legal system—failures only further complicated by the state violence that Black citizens routinely face from the same law enforcement officials that claim to protect the public from abusers like R. Kelly.

Read more at the Duke Chronicle 

The Case of the Missing Girl

Three months ago, a couple from rural Wisconsin, James and Denise Closs, were found shot dead in their home. That same night, their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme Closs, disappeared.

Jayme, thankfully, was found alive on Thursday night. Her reappearance was one of the biggest news stories of the week, trending on Twitter, and even outperforming some of our coverage of the government shutdown.

That outsize attention became a racial flash point on social media.

Read more at the New York Times’ Race/Related newsletter

‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Sheds Light on Bigger Issue: Black Women Raped at Higher Rates but Report Less

Survivor after survivor say they were sexually assaulted by R&B singer R. Kelly, many of them as teenagers, in the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”

“Maybe they stayed in silence because they didn’t feel like they had a way out,” said Teresa Stafford of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Stafford watched the three-part series and says the women’s stories are all too familiar.

“We actually see a lot of young ladies that have been, you know, groomed, into believing that somebody loves and cares for them and then the person is actually taking advantage of them and victimizing them and causing harm to them,” Stafford said.

Stafford says this is especially true within the black community.

Read more at WCPO. 

Who Cares About Little Black Girls?

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

So said Malcolm X in 1962. And in the decades since, those words have continued to resonate: a rallying cry for black women who felt sidelined in the fight for civil rights, ignored during the feminist awakening and discounted even as their protests against police violence have earned that movement new attention.

But it’s a new year. And three episodes in the first week of 2019 have given black women ample reason to consider whether anything has changed.

Read more at the Houston Chronicle

‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Spurs Change, But Years Of Activism By Women Of Color Made It Possible

Lifetime, an American TV network known for programs like “Dance Moms” and “Project Runway,” saw its highest ratings in two years when it aired “Surviving R. Kelly,” an astonishing six-part docuseries featuring interviews with women who alleged they experienced abuse at the hands of the hip hop star.

An average of 2.1 million people tuned in to watch the show, and according to a Twitter representative, more than 2.6 million people with accounts tweeted about R. Kelly between Jan. 3 (the series’ premiere) and Jan. 7.

Since then, nonprofits and law enforcement agencies have reported concrete signs of change. The National Sexual Assault Hotline, which is operated by RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, told HuffPost that the service experienced a 20 percent surge in calls during the program’s air dates.

Read more at the Huffington Post

Cyntoia Brown, R. Kelly and the Refusal to Recognize Black and Brown Female Victims

Cyntoia Brown said she was forced into prostitution when she was 16 and was scared for her life when she shot Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old who picked her up for sex in 2004 at a Tennessee Sonic.

She was tried as an adult and given a life sentence for first-degree murder and aggravated robbery, which was commuted Monday by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who said in a statement that her rehabilitation and young age warranted mercy.

What Haslam didn’t mention was the violence Brown said she experienced leading up to that point. And that didn’t go unnoticed by the advocates who helped catapult Brown’s case to the national stage.

“It is a travesty that he does not address the crimes that happened to her,” says Tonya Lovelace, CEO of Women of Color Network, Inc., an initiative that works to end violence against women, addressing the unique challenges facing women of color. “The point is that the actual crime here is the demand for girls, the child trafficking and the statutory rape that she endured.”

Lovelace and other advocates also noted that Brown’s commutation came amid another national flashpoint on violence against women of color. The docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which premiered Jan. 3 on Lifetime, made headlines this week alleging that Kelly physically and sexually abused scores of girls and women while the music industry turned a blind eye. Kelly denies the allegations.

Read more at USA Today. 

After the ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Documentary, #MeToo Has Finally Returned to Black Girls

“I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were black women,” Chance the Rapper said in the final episode of Lifetime’s six-part documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired last week.

A few hours before the show, Chance wrote on Twitter: “Any of us who ever ignored the R. Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being set up/attacked by the system (as black men often are) were doing so at the detriment of black women and girls.”

Chance’s blunt admission has long been true. For 20 years, black girls and women accused the R&B singer Robert Kelly of sexually assaulting minors. Yet he still enjoyed enormous success.

So his spectacular fall — due in large part to the work of Dream Hampton, an executive producer of the documentary — marks a seismic cultural shift. Over the past week, we’ve had conversations with many people who had never believed black girls’ allegations against him until they saw the documentary (which the two of us, who are sisters, consulted on in its early stages).

Read more at The New York Times