Back in December, former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery and other charges. All of the 13 women who came forward to testify against him were Black. The victims described their fear for their lives as a police officer unlawfully stopped them, and then proceeded to sexually assault them. Through their testimony, it became clear that Holtzclaw used his position of power as a police officer to commit racialized sexual violence.
If, like me, you are a White Anti-Violence Activist, you may be pondering how you even begin to take on the heavy task of talking about this case. It won’t be easy, but you have to do it. To get you started, here are a few things you should keep in mind.
You have to talk about it in the context of racial justice.
This is not just a case about sexual violence. It is not even simply a case of police brutality. This is a case in which a police officer used his position of power to commit acts of sexual violence against a specific group of people: women of color. His actions were racist. We have to talk about race if we are going to accurately reflect the implications of this case.
You have to use your privilege to influence change.
As a White person, you hold privilege in our society. You have unearned social benefits that come simply with your perceived skin color. I know that you didn’t ask for this. It’s yours nonetheless. You can choose what you do with this privilege. Understand that it is going to be easier for you to access the other systems that you work with and within. It is going to be safer for you to speak up about this injustice.
You have to hold other systems accountable.
As part of your systems-based advocacy it is important that you discuss overcoming racial and gender bias. You already know how hard it is for a person to disclose sexual violence. It’s your responsibility as a community-based advocate to work with other systems to break down the barriers to making a report, seeking medical care, or securing other benefits. These tools and resources will still not be the best option for every survivor, but it is the survivor’s right to make that choice and our job to make sure that all of the choices are there. Point out racial injustice when you see it. Do so in a professional and informed way.
You’re going to have to work harder.
The reality is that the #Holtzclaw case is just one more example in a long history of bias, abuse, and injustice against communities of color. For lots of good reasons, many Black women and girls distrust mainstream organizations and systems. Holtzclaw gave them one more reason not to trust. We have a consciously and meticulously work to make our own organizations and groups accountable. We have to educate ourselves on the history, incidence and prevalence of sexual violence in the lives of Black women. We have to honor the resilience and strength of the survivors of color who have forged their own systems of support, solidarity and healing. We have to continuously strive for cultural competence in our efforts. We have to continue to be aspiring allies in this movement for social justice in all its forms.
This is the second post in a series.