In a series of tweets Tuesday, TV star Terry Crews reminded us that black men and boys experience sexual assault too.
In the wake of sexual assault allegations against rapper Nelly and film producer and studio executive, Harvey Weinstein, it’s important for black men to tell our stories if safe to do so.
Just last week, numerous sexual assault allegations have been made against Weinstein, and that number is increasing daily. As most rape allegations go, there were a range of responses where people like Ryan Coogler, the director of 2013’s “Fruitvale Station” and Oscar-award winning Viola Davis issued powerful statements encouraging and empowering women and girl survivors of sexual assault to come forward. Coogler noted “rape is a human rights “violation” and Davis underscored that “The predator wants your silence.” Indeed, both are right.
On the other hand, rape apologists – as they so often do when a man is accused of assault –rushed to Weinstein and Nelly’s defenses to provide reasons on why a rape did not occur. As it relates to Nelly and his arrest, many took to social media to express that Nelly wouldn’t have to rape anyone because he’s attractive, a statement both inaccurate and disappointing.
As a survivor, I hate when rape happens.
It rips a life inside you and lives on with you forever even as you try to forget. What bothers me even more is how social media exposes people as rape apologists after it occurs. This is especially true if the rapist is someone people find conventionally attractive such as Nelly. Many people suddenly become Inspector Gadget attempting to poke holes in stories and question a survivor’s actions that led to the interaction. It becomes erringly similar to how white people sound when they question why a black person was killed by the police.
Rape isn’t something that only orthodoxly unattractive people do. My rapist was married and had consensual sex with her often. Tell me how this works?
Rape isn’t about how the rapist looks. It’s about taking advantage of people; it’s about power, domination, and control; it’s about using power and knowing that people won’t believe the person you rape. To be clear, celebrities are in the best position to rape because they have power, access, resources, and people who will log onto social media and defend their rape no matter how many people accuse them.
The statistics of rape are clear. According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), with data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8 percent completed, 2.8 percent attempted). Further, an estimated 3 percent of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. These numbers, however, are projected to be much higher as this is based on reportable and provided data.
As the numbers suggest, many people – including individuals who many of us know – have been raped at least once in their lifetime, but will never come forward. We are to blame.
When we have a society that uplifts and perpetuate rape culture, we are allowing the continuation of rapes to occur. And, when people defend rape, one of your followers who have been raped (and who have been forced into silence) will see it.
In the height of Weinstein and Nelly’s accusations, it’s critical for Crews’ story to not get lost because black men don’t often speak up about their own sexual assault. But here, it is connected to Weinstein in that Crews’ story comes after Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Rose McGowan, and many other women in Hollywood have gone public with tales of the harassment and abuse they sustained at the hands of Weinstein.
To be clear, it isn’t only black men who don’t speak up after experiencing sexual assault because of potential backlash. The way we respond to victims and survivors is deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and rape culture, which creates an impenetrable hurdle for those who may want to openly speak. What’s more, it’s the shaming of sexual assault and how it manifests that also impact black men and boys, too. There is an engrained attitude that men, especially those with a height and build like Crews, can’t be sexually assaulted by others. They are wrong.
Masculinity forces a deity complex onto men and makes us believe that anything not deemed as “masculine” isn’t worth exploring. When we experience sexual assault, we first tap into that constricting masculinity and if we don’t believe we can hold onto that, we silence ourselves. Then, coupled with the way we see the treatment of others who come forward, we decide to remain silent. But, we can’t let masculinity win because we all know it leaves us dead inside.
Crews’ coming forward, especially in the wake of accusations against Weinstein and Nelly, is a brave act and it’s time for black men and boys to recognize that we aren’t alone.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with theGrio and has written for the Atlantic, Slate, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, The Root and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.