Even in a post–Me Too world, survivors of sexual violence know the perils of coming forward. The stigmas endure. And a woman’s word is often not believed. Black women are at a particular disadvantage, rarely receiving the opportunity to tell their stories at all, even after longtime civil rights activist Tarana Burke saw the Me Too movement she founded become a household name in 2017.
According to a recent report from the National Center on Violence Against Women, for every Black woman who reports a rape, there are at least 15 who do not. It’s also been noted that half of all Black transgender women are survivors of sexual violence and two-thirds of Black transgender people said they would be uncomfortable asking the police for help.
However, ahead of April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Burke announced that Me Too. International has joined the National Women’s Law Center and the Time’s Up Foundation to create We, As Ourselves, an initiative that will address one leading factor of why so many Black survivors don’t feel safe enough to seek public support and one of the most pressing issues of the survivor justice movement: reshaping the narrative about sexual violence and its impact on Black survivors.
According to its website, the initiative aims to create safe spaces where Black survivors can confront their stories, to upend cultural narratives that harm and silence Black survivors, and to build new practices wherein Black survivors are believed, heard, and supported. Its first major event will be the first ever week of action during Sexual Assault Awareness Month to focus on Black survivors.
Via Zoom, Glamour spoke with Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, and Monifa Bandele, chief operating officer of the Time’s Up Foundation, about the origins of the initiative, how the survivor justice movement has failed Black survivors, and what we can all do to ensure they’ll know a justice they deserve.
Glamour: How did this initiative come to be?
Fatima Goss Graves: You know, sometimes when Black women gather, exciting things happen, and I think this is one of those examples. It’s probably not a surprise to say that Black women have been leaders in the survivor justice movement over the decades, but we’re acutely aware that our stories are very rarely told, and when they are told, they aren’t given the dignity and respect they deserve. This initiative really grew out of conversations with Black survivors, some who are household names and some who people probably don’t know but who want to change the conversation and culture and ways in which Black survivors are received.
Monifa Bandele: It was also just a response to the fact that Black women have been on the forefront of fighting for survivor justice but at the same time are invisible in the stories that were being told, and feel unworthy of care in this movement. It’s both shoring up the Black-led survivor justice movement but also saying, “See us, hear our stories, center us.” We are not just workers in this movement. We are survivors too.
The name—We, As Ourselves—was taken from an excerpt of a Paula Giddings book, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, with her blessing. What was the thought behind that?
Goss Graves: Paula Giddings has this foundational book, and for those of us who were honing this project, we felt her sort of challenge for the world was thinking about what it would look like if Black women experienced the world differently. What would it look like if—as the title says—we could actually be ourselves without the range of factors that undermine our stories? What would it look like in this case to be able to center Black survivors, their story, their ability to find justice, and their ability to heal? In some ways, I see the launch video as a first offering. But the important offering that comes next is the opportunity to take a pledge and join us in unapologetic support of Black survivors.