Rape culture is present every day and all around us. It is so prevalent that we may not always realize the piece that we experience on a daily basis or their impact on our lives overall.  Having a greater consciousness and awareness of these intricacies is critical to working towards a world that is free of sexual violence. However, there are times when the pieces of rape culture we cling to are indicative of exactly what is wrong with the anti-sexual violence movement.

Bloomingdale’s recently released an ad that, without question, promoted raping one’s friends. I honestly don’t understand how it made it through the many rounds of editing without someone calling out how utterly violent it was. Within 48 hours of its release, there was a huge uproar on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media channels. Individuals, organizations, and community groups expressed their anger and disapproval and demanded that Bloomingdale’s address the issue. Major news outlets covered the advertisement and the uproar.

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The backlash was so great that Bloomingdale’s apologized for the advertisement on social media and more formal outlets. Then there was a new onslaught of criticism about the wording of the apology, whether Bloomingdale’s had learned from their mistakes, and if there would be change in the future.

This ad was completely unexcusable. It never should have been approved and folks had every right to demand for Bloomingdale’s to answer for it and issue an apology. The problem is that this uproar about an advertisement happened concurrently with a glaring silence about an actual rape trial where Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, has been charged with raping and sexually assaulting 16 Black women.

The same social media channels and news outlets which were slamming Bloomingdales are eerily and noticeably silent about the actual rape and trauma that have impacted at least 16 Black women in Oklahoma City.  Why aren’t these channels calling out and demanding answers for an advertisement when we are not doing the same thing for someone who has created so much harm, destruction, and trauma to individuals and their families and communities? Why are they overlooking the protests happening outside the courthouse every day to express support for the survivors? Why are there so few articles highlighting this silence and how it relates to the greater societal silencing and marginalization of Black women and the violence they experience?

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The ad features an unsuspecting white woman and a predatory white man and the use of white people yet again cannot be overlooked. So often when we talk about sexual violence, we promote images of white women being assaulted by white men. We see this in promotional and educational materials, legislation, survivor speak outs, and local/national campaigns against sexual violence. We hear it in presentations when we are asked to think about ‘standard sexual assault cases’ or when we are told that we don’t have time to go into the ‘nuances’ of why the violence is happening and how it is connected to systems of oppression.

The fact that we still consider it difficult to merge the conversation of race and sexual violence is indicative of the movement’s history of racism and marginalization of the experiences of Black women and women of color. It shows the continued racism that exists both in highlighting the lived experiences people have in addition to lack of resources that are able to appropriately respond to and incorporate the many identities of survivors. We need to address how people’s identities, including race, impact their experiences of sexual violence and also how they are treated afterwards.

Sexual violence depends on a culture and society of oppressions and thus we aren’t going to effectively address or reduce it until we’re able to think about and incorporate the many power dynamics at play. Rape crisis centers and other aspects of the anti-sexual violence movement carry with them a history and perception of only being available to white women. This is something that we should be actively working to dispel regardless of whether we are working in prevention or response work.

Black women experience higher rates of sexual violence, and are much less likely to make a report. Society is much more likely to blame Black women for the sexual violence they experience or to justify or minimize its occurrence. Rape and sexual assault are about power and control. Perpetrators leverage the individual control and power they have in a situation and also rely on the greater societal levels of power and oppression that exist in order to maintain their status and silence survivors. In this case, Holtzclaw worked in a low income area and specifically targeted Black women who had a history of drug use or sex work or were involved in the criminal justice system. He understood that the power and position he held in society placed them at an even greater disadvantage of being believed and supported if they dared report what happened.

I’m not here for a movement that devotes more attention and outrage to an advertisement rather than multiple Black women who were assaulted by a police officer. By all means, be engaged and be outraged because we need that passion and drive to create a better society. However, be willing to turn that same critique inward to analyze the messages and stories that are given the spotlight.There is as much, if not more, work to be done inside the movement as there is outside of it.

 

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