Yesterday, I was walking around my neighborhood, the neighborhood I’ve lived in since I was 4 years old. It was around 9:30 at night, I was within sight of my house, and a car stopped. A middle-aged man, alone in the car, said to me, “Aren’t you worried about someone coming and taking you?” He proceeded to explain to me that, “Things like that happen around here.” By “things like that,” I can only assume he means sex trafficking.
This man, in whatever his intention (which was not offering a kind caution), made me feel unsafe in my own neighborhood. And more than anything, it made me angry. Angry to believe that even in my own neighborhood, within sight of my house, I should not feel secure alone at night.
And maybe your response is, well, women shouldn’t be walking around alone at night. And that is part of the problem. We’re co-signing an agreement with society that it’s the women’s responsibility, not her community’s, to keep her safe. As though I should “know better.”
I know no woman who has walked around alone (whether at night or during the day) who hasn’t at some point questioned her safety. For me and for many, we’ve questioned our safety hundreds of times. It comes with the nature of being a woman. Even during the day I’m stopped by men trying to pick me up. Beyond being scary at times, it’s exhausting, frustrating, and upsetting to be reminded on a daily basis that to some I am simply a female body to be used and abused.
And then I’m reminded of all the women who have not had the privilege and luck I’ve had. I think of Oluwatoyin Salau, a powerful Black Lives Matter activist, who was killed at the age of 19.
After escaping an abusive family home, she tweeted about experiences with men who presented themselves as helpful and then proceeded to sexually assaulted her. At one of these men’s homes, she took a shower. Now, before you come up with ideas of how she could’ve “better protected herself,” I want to remind you that taking a shower is an ongoing struggle for someone without a stable home. And that accepting help from seemingly kind strangers is a facet of surviving on the street. So, this woman, who advocated for the dignity and right to life and happiness of oppressed people, couldn’t even find it in her own life. Let me reiterate: she was 19.
This is the world we live in: a world in which a woman who has not been blessed with a safe home (and even those who have) is perpetually vulnerable to rape, sexual assault, and murder.
And so when we say Black Women Lives Matter, it’s not because all women aren’t vulnerable to sexual assault, but because Black women (along with other women of color, immigrant women, LGBTQIA+ women, and disabled women) are disproportionately so. Now, if you’re a white person reading this, I’m not asking you to feel guilty, I’m asking you to CARE. Because if you live in a neighborhood in which you feel safe walking at night, if you’ve been lucky enough to never experience a sexual threat to your personhood, it might be easy to see stories like this, deem them inherent tragedies of life, and move on. As though we don’t each play a role in a society that allows this to happen.
First off, we need to recognize the HISTORY aka the context of all of this. Like the hypersexualization and dehumanization of women of color. Or to bring it to the present, the relationship many communities of color have with the police, further perpetuating the unlikeness for women of color to seek help (and to receive it).
This is part of why we’re hearing calls to defund the police. Because trauma and abuse, disproportionately present in these communities, need to be addressed by mental health professionals, not armed enforcers. This is why we talk about the need for counselors, not police, in schools. Because traumatized children don’t need to be policed, they need to be treated and supported in their healing.
Once again, if you’re privileged, if you’re white, I’m not asking you to feel guilty, I’m asking you to step outside of the bubble you’ve been lucky enough to live in to see that the reality your parents sought for you to feel safe and protected is not the reality for many. And that one of the most definitive factor of this is race. I want it to truly sink in that it was a matter of fate that any of us are in the position we’re in — it’s not a matter of integrity, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, or “making good decisions”; it is a roll of the cosmic dice that has resulted in whatever skin color we have.
So what can we do about it? We can support those who support these girls and women. And if you’re making excuses about why you can’t afford to give to organizations, I want you to take a look at your most recent Amazon or takeout food orders or the new outfit or video game you’ve purchased and seriously challenge the notion that you can’t give. And beyond that, we need to support those who are doing this work to understand and change this system. And look, if you can’t donate, educate yourself, challenge your own ideas, LISTEN to the stories of women of color. Because this is the same system that poses a threat to your daughter, friend, wife, girlfriend. There is no safety for women without safety for all women. (Setting aside the reality that sexual assault is a threat to men as well.)
So while you’re celebrating being an American tomorrow, let’s look at the whole picture of what that means and the ways in which your America is not everybody’s America.
Organizations to Support (to name a few):