Make no mistake: Sexual abuse is an equal opportunity plague. It knows no color, culture, creed, Zip code or wallet size. It happens in families of every composite; from nuclear to blended, religious to revolutionary. And recent headlines of sexual violations by men of the cloth, politicians and Hollywood honchos show just how pervasive a problem sexual violence is.
Like everything Hollywood, stories of actors being sexually violated dominated the headlines, and perhaps served as a model for survivors coming forward. Yet I can’t help but wonder why the ensuing narrative at best marginalizes survivors of color.
Not that I don’t applaud those brave enough to reclaim their voice, nor am I suggesting there is a barometer on suffering. Let’s establish that all pain is pain, and that regardless of skin tone, suffering is individual.
I, too, was sexually abused as a child, and uncles, doctors, church elders and law enforcers were among the perpetrators. I, too, have been raped. I, too, have been sexually violated. And I, too, have removed the shackles of shame, blame and guilt that so plagued my formative years. Having chronicled tales of the abuse in a book titled "Maybe God Was Busy," I’ve learned the power of reclaiming my dignity. Yet that was not enough. It was not enough to simply reassign the shame; it was critical to help humanize the statistics, especially in the African-American community where sexual abuse is rampant but still treated as the best-kept secret.
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The corrosive culture of silence and secrecy has led to generations being lost to victimization. Silence is complicity with the abuser; it is telling them we are in agreement with their predation. And we must finally admit that praying alone can’t fix everything. We must realize that while the faithful pray, the predators continue to prey. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in recent headlines screaming yet another pastor has been arrested and charged with sexual crimes against children.
And let’s not forget just recently, Nicki Minaj’s 38-year-old brother Jelani Maraj was convicted of repeatedly raping his 11-year-old stepdaughter. But again, we don’t have to look to the stars for evidence of sexual abuse of our young girls and boys — we need only look to what should be havens for children: homes, relatives, churches, schools, playgrounds.
When I was first molested by my mother’s brother, I actually reported it, even though no one had told me it was taboo for an uncle to touch a niece in that way. But as I found out, it was more important to protect the family name than an 8-year-old child. The sum proved greater than its parts. Protection of the sum left me vulnerable to years of abuse by uncles, church folks, the doctor and just about everyone charged with protecting a child. And sadly, I grew up thinking that I was the only one being violated — until I could no longer hold the secret and started talking to other family members. "Me Too" became a chorus as loud as the silence that shrouded my childhood. Of my mother’s eight brothers, four are known abusers — two of their own daughters. And yes, "Me Too" transcended generations.
Somehow I’d like to think that by speaking about the abuse that so plagued my family we have at least stemmed its pervasiveness and succession into future generations. I suspect it is like that in a lot of families. Now I am no longer being burdened with the protection of the family name. The best protection of any family name is to take a lesson from Hollywood and shine the spotlight on those who threaten it, make pariahs of predators.
Sexual crimes (assault, abuse, harassment, misconduct) have become topic du jour—and that’s a good thing. However, we need to broaden the scope to include the abuse of our girls (and boys) of color. We cannot afford to be absent from the larger conversation when our kids are being ravaged in their homes, schools, churches and parks. Until we can acknowledge sexual abuse is not just a little sex but a life-altering epidemic in our black and brown households as well, we will continue to fail our children. Isn’t it time we stop protecting predators at the expense of our kids?
We cannot continue to pretend sexual abuse is not happening to us and most often by us.