Friday, August 9, 2013

The Collision of Race and Gender at the Intersection of Sexual Assault

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Sexual assault is a crime against humanity. But not all victims of sexual abuse elicit the same level of compassion and support from the media and society. Some victims’ stories are little more than whispers on the voice of public consciousness while other stories scream for our attention; we take notice. We are horrified and disgusted, but our horror and disgust has limitations because even in a crime as horrific as rape we still discriminate. 

Since the beginning of the year the media have saturated us with rape stories. We learned of a woman who was gang raped on a bus in New Delhi, India and died from her injuries. Numerous other rapes in India put the spotlight on sexual assault in India, but India was not alone as we learned of rape cases in the United States and Canada. There were the members of the U. S. Armed Forces who worked in sexual prevention and were charged with sexual misconduct. 

A string of stories involving rape and social media in America and Canada in which the acts of violation were recorded and posted online seemed to happen one after another. Two of the victims committed suicide, and the rape conviction of two football players divided the small town of Steubenville in Ohio. New stories kept coming. I was wondering if there actually more rapes, or were we just paying more attention? I was hopeful that the constant attention would force us to address these crimes against women and girls. 

 Then in May, we learned of the Cleveland, Ohio kidnapping case that continues to dominate the headlines as the captives speak out. Ariel Castro lured three young women into his home and held them hostage for 10 years. He recently pleaded guilty to 937 felony accounts including, rape, assault and kidnapping. The repeated rapes resulted in pregnancy for one of the victims. Castro was sentenced to life without parole plus 1000 years. This story has been everywhere, as it should have been, but there was another sordid story of rape and torture unfolding in another courtroom, and if it had not popped up in a news feed on my Face book page, I would have missed it. As I read the details, I couldn’t help but wonder where was the coverage? And where was the outrage? 

Aswad Ayinde whose real name is Charles McGill was sentenced to 50 years in prison for raping and impregnating his daughters. This was the second of five such trials. He received a 40-year sentence in the first trial totaling 90 years in prison. Ayinde raped five of his daughters, and fathered six children with three of them. He was said to have a God-complex and was trying to create a “pure” bloodline. Ayinde was the director for the Fugees “Killing Me Softly” video.

This story reeks of sadness and anger. The rapes were happening with the mother’s knowledge, and on the child welfare agency’s watch. It was reported that the rapes took place in various homes and even in a funeral home. It has all the makings of a titillating tale to entice public attention, but it was a widely under reported story. A Google search yielded 34,000,000 hits including such notable sites as Fox, CNN, and the Huffington Post for the Cleveland kidnapping case, but a Google search yielded a mere 208,000 hits on less prominent news sites and blogs for Ayinde. Why wasn’t this story just as newsworthy as the others? Why was there such a huge disparity in the coverage?

I’m in this place again. and  it’s hard to stomach the silence around stories of sexual assault and Black women and girls. Unless it involves a big-time celebrity (R. Kelly and Mike Tyson) or the story has some lurid angle (the rape and murder of Ryan Harris in which two young boys were brought in for questioning), we don’t give too much time or attention to these stories. Why? I remember feeling the same sense of rage and despair when I read about the woman in Dunbar Village back in 2007.  She was raped, sodomized and forced to perform oral sex on her own son!  I felt the same way when I read that James Bevel, a former top adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was convicted of incest. Neither of these stories was widely reported, and if I had not been surfing the internet, I would have missed them.

There’s a part of me that understands that the Cleveland case is one of hope for families with missing children. I recognize how rare it is that after such a traumatic event that there could possibly be a happy ending. The young women are united with their families and moving forward with their lives. That’s wonderful. They deserve that. But all girls and women who survive sexual assault deserve our sympathy. How can we pick and choose?

Ayinde’s story bothers me on so many levels. This man raped and tortured his daughters. He delivered the babies at home, and when two of the babies died, he buried them. He home-schooled his children and threw up his middle finger at authorities, and he got away with it for 30 years. I am standing in the gap of race and gender, and the two have collided wrecking the lives of five young women and their children. The daughters of Ayinde and Bevel, the woman in Dunbar Village represent the lifeless, human carnage at the intersection of race, gender and sexual assault.  When will we recognize that sexual assault really is a crime against all of humanity—and not just those of a lighter hue?


  1. Thank you for exposing the disparity in reporting. Women in general and women of color in particular are not valued. When this changes, humanity will be much better for it!

  2. stephanie, i love that you write about such issues, while raising our consciousness around the intersections of race, class, and gender and the devaluing of black women and girls. you convey your thoughts in a very clear, accessible manor, which makes reading your work that more pleasurable.
    the things you bring up in your work, and in particular, this essay, can not be understated, and must, therefore, be reiterated as often as possible until we all get it right. yes, it is very frustrating to see the disparities in reporting the lives of women and girls and knowing that the lack of concern, compassion and justice is not equal across the board. great writing!

  3. Thank you Stephanie for sharing another article that raises our awareness of such horrible injustices.

  4. Again, you have brought attention to an issue that needs to be given more concern. Not only am I concerned that women of color who are victims receive no justice, I also have a problem with how the media ignores such crimes. Unfortunately, when these crimes against women of color are not reported, people don't think they're occurring. That's why it's imperative for us to choose our news sources wisely. We should seek out information sources that are responsive to our needs. Thank you for providing a springboard for conversations about issues that are important to us.