By Lisa Snowden-McCray, Special to the AFRO
Last week, as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. to testify about allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in the 1980s, groups that help sexual assault victims reported that they had been especially busy.
“We are experiencing unprecedented wait times for our online chat,” reads a message on the group Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)’s home page. According to RAINN, they saw a 338 percent increase in call traffic. They said that the Friday after the hearing was the busiest day in their 24-year history.
The effects of the #MeToo movement, a reckoning that has prompted women from all walks of life to speak out about the ways powerful men have abused and harassed them, have been felt all over the country and in Baltimore, too.
Women who are survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse and their supporters protest during a
#MeToo march in Hollywood, California on November 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Delegate Curt Anderson was stripped of his leadership position and forced into anti-harassment training in August. Last month, an ethics panel found that Anderson had indeed made inappropriate sexual comments but couldn’t confirm the veracity of a sexual assault that allegedly happened 14 years ago. And last April, Quincey Gamble, a campaign advisor for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, stepped down after charges that he harassed and assaulted two women he dated came to light.
“We can’t ignore sexism and gender violence in our communities anymore,” says Brittany Oliver, one of the leaders of the Black women’s activist group Not Without Black Women (NWBW). “We can’t afford to ignore it. It’s something that we have to deal with.”
Oliver says that as the #metoo movement moves more and more to the center of the national conversation, NWBW has seen a larger number of women seeking them out, looking for help.
“There have been more and more Black women who have been reaching out for resources and support and information about how they deal with sexual harassment and abuse within their own spaces,” she says. “At work, at home, on the street and public space, in community activist spaces; more and more women have come to this awakening if they haven’t before and finally realized what has happened to them in the past wasn’t OK.”
Oliver says that #metoo means something especially different for Black women, who often must deal with the double burdens of racism and sexism. She says that 2018 March for Black Women, held Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. many people discussed just that.
“Anita Hill came up a lot during the march. Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas back in 1991…and we’re still here advocating against the same issues. The Civil Rights Movement turned their backs against Anita Hill because many of the leaders felt like she was a quote unquote race traitor,” Oliver says. “She made her voice heard.”
Oliver says that, with the #metoo movement so prominently in the news, it is understandable that women who have been victims of sexual harassment might be feeling more on edge lately. She says that it’s important that women listen to themselves and not feel pressured to do anything they don’t want to do.
“There is no limitation on what bravery looks like. There is no perfect way of dealing with the sexual trauma that one has experienced from dealing with sexual violence,” she says. “The first thing is just thinking about what your needs are and whatever those needs are, not being ashamed of it. Because there is no one size fits all approach around sexual violence. It’s all complex, it’s all multifaceted, and it looks especially different when you’re dealing with black women who are silenced.”
She says that victims don’t have to speak out if they aren’t comfortable doing so.
“You have to determine what works for you,” she says. “Really listen to what your body is telling you in that moment. Whatever response you have, whatever you do or don’t do, is absolutely valid.”
Contact NWBW on Facebook or Twitter. You can also contact RAINN at 1-800-656-4673 or www.rainn.org. In Baltimore, people seeking more information about sexual harassment and assault can contact FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture at upsettingrapeculture.com and anti-street harassment group Hollaback Baltimore at bmore.ihollaback.org.