A survivor tells her story, invites Detroit to heal and stop rape.
was born and raised in the city of Detroit. I attended several public schools as a result of being raised by a mother who struggled with schizophrenia.
Whenever mama was sick, someone else had to care for my oldest sister and me, which left us vulnerable. I was occasionally molested by my first cousin from the age of 5 years old until about age 10. The horrific ordeal left me with too many stories to tell, and an uncertain future.
When it seems that no one looking out for your well being, hurtful things can happen. It puts you at risk of being molested and raped. When, as a child, you are taught by adults to call your breasts “bumps” or your vagina a “pocketbook,” trouble lies not far away. The mere fact that Black folks don’t talk about sexuality puts children at risk for sexual abuse. Thus, my early life experiences.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse and incest, I attempted to numb the pain and mask the horror by writing poetry, prose and rap lyrics. Somehow, when I was able to string words together in a rhyming format and use rhythmic flow, it would ease the pain. My lyrics lashed out at those who hurt me. I would feel a sense of relief once the words were on paper. I could see them scribbled and scraped across the page as if they were carved with daggers and knives. The page would bleed for me.
I muddled through adolescence and decided in my early 20s that I would go to college. I chose to become a social worker to help those in need-in particular, those that looked like me-poor Black women who had the painful experience of sexual assault and abuse.
My first field placement was at the Rape Counseling Center-Detroit Police Department, and I was on fire! I wanted to help every rape victim that needed support. I wanted to yell from the rooftops about the issue of rape and how it impacts us as a people. I wanted Black families to stop telling the lie that “our families” don’t sexually abuse our children, that it’s a White problem.
I wanted survivors to be vindicated…heard…supported…believed…healed.
I wanted all of those things for myself as well. I could feel the layers of hurt being peeled away from my body with every opportunity I had to help others. The Rape Counseling Center was the best and safest place for me. My supervisors and director were competent, patient and trustworthy. I am thankful to Althea, Ruth and Matti. They nurtured me into the advocate that I am today. Each one of them gave me the knowledge and information necessary for me to create a new organization: SASHA (Sexual Assault Services for Holistic Healing and Awareness) Center.
SASHA Center is a nonprofit that develops culturally specific programming for survivors of rape in Detroit. We will begin providing confidential support groups to survivors in June 2011. The support groups will integrate topics such as acknowledging significant ancestors, the impact of slavery, the history of rape in the United States, the effect of misogynistic rap lyrics, and engaging the Black church, other faith communities and men to eradicate rape.
At SASHA Center, we are aware that rape culture did not develop overnight, and that it will take an entire community to address this problem.
My experience as a Black woman surviving in an urban area has helped me understand the dynamics of rape as it is reflected in the experiences of marginalized women all over the world. In particular, Black women’s voices have been silenced around the topic of rape. We have had to struggle to name the problem and speak our truth. SASHA Center strives to give survivors visibility, and to focus on the sexism, racism and oppression that compound the problem of rape in our communities. We will even address the concept of snitching and how it has profoundly impacted us.
SASHA Center and Marygrove College are partnering for the third annual Take Back the Night Detroit rally on April 8, 2011, from 6 to 9 p.m. This event provides a safe space for survivors to express themselves in multiple ways, including building the Wall of Hope, hearing the spoken word, marching through the neighborhood, dancing and relaxing in the Healing Tent. Survivors, their friends and families, can experience the power of commonality and witness the triumphs and successes of those who are positively managing their lives after rape.
Though I was a victim of child sexual abuse and two date rapes as a teenager, I am alive and well enough to recognize that in order for me to have begun the healing process, I needed to find my joy (writing and learning), have positive role models and mentors and make my own decisions about what healing would look like for me as a woman of color.
Based on my journey, I am excited to be giving birth to SASHA Center, built on the principle of self-determination, empowerment and reverence for the spiritual aspects of our lives that play a critical role in how we heal. We are a non-traditional nonprofit working on behalf of survivors, placing their voices in the forefront.
To hear a WDET interview about Take Back The Night, click here.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month Activities
Take Back The Night Rally
April 6, 2011
Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit
Kalimah Johnson will perform. Lori Robinson, editor of B.L.A.C., and Stacy Barker, the first woman in Michigan to have a life sentence vacated by a federal court, will speak. Sponsored by the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s Advocacy Program and YWCA/Interim House.
Take Back The Night Detroit
April 8, 2011
Marygrove College, Madame Cadillac Bldg., Alumnae Hall, 8425 W. McNichols, Detroit
The event will include poetry, music, dance, refreshments, guest speakers, and a march and candlelight vigil. The Ava Rogers scholarship award will be given to a woman student of color at Marygrove in recognition of her work to end violence against women and children. Sponsored by SASHA Center and Marygrove College.