Rape and the myth of ‘the strong black woman’

SPECIAL REPORT: Rape in the black community.

by Jazelle Hunt NNPA News Service | 3/2/2015, 10:47 a.m.
SPECIAL REPORT: Rape in the black community.
It took Sharita J. Lee close to two decades to truly break her silence about the sexual assault that turned her life upside down.

WASHINGTON – For 20 years, Sharita J. Lee was numb. She did not cry. She did not love the men she dated. The only emotion she could muster was rage.

But she recently caught wind of the storm of sexual assault allegations involving Bill Cosby, America’s favorite TV dad. One by one, more than 30 women lodged charges against the comedian, some dating back 45 years. And one by one, their revelations were met with skepticism, personal attacks on the accusers, and even outright scorn.

“Until then, I had thought about (my assault), but I didn’t have any emotion about it,” Lee recalled. “I wouldn’t have felt anything until I read that article,” Lee said.

After reading the article about comedian Hannibal Buress’ jab at Bill Cosby, Lee scrolled to the comments section. She couldn’t believe how many people questioned why these women were coming forward decades later. Appalled, she opened her laptop, and penned all the gory details of her rape and its aftermath for the world to see. Her account was published on a blog just before Christmas.

The topic of rape has not only been revived by the controversy surrounding Bill Cosby but also by misbehavior in other segments of society. For example, dozens of high-ranking military officers have been fired for rape or having inappropriate sexual affairs with women within and outside their command.

Rape on college campuses has received wider coverage following a series of high-profile campus rapes, including one at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Department of Education announced last May that it is investigating 55 colleges for mishandling complaints of sexual violence, a figure that has since risen to 90.

Last month, two Vanderbilt University football players were found guilty of raping an unconscious fellow co-ed and two more former football players are awaiting trial. And Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a former Heisman Trophy winner, has been dogged for more than a year amid allegations that he raped a FSU student in December 2012; an attorney for the student announced plans to sue the university.

Most Americans do not know as much about rape as they think.

According to the Department of Justice:

• Somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 2 minutes;

• 22 percent of victims were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17;

• 25 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys are sexually abused before the age of 18; • 70 percent of rape and sexual assault victims know their attacker prior to the assault and

• Of college women questioned, about 90 percent of rape and sexual assault victims knew their attacker prior to the assault.

It took Sharita Lee close to two decades to truly break her silence.

Two decades ago, she was a 20-year-old New Orleans native serving her country as a member of the U.S. Navy. She had joined the military to distance herself from home, where her stepfather physically abused her mother, who was battling alcoholism.