We must create financial support for child abuse survivors of color

We must create financial support for child abuse survivors of color
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By age 11, I was a survivor of child sexual abuse committed by two male relatives. This proclamation frees me from decades of carrying their shame.  The monsters weren’t sharks in the deep end of the pool, or in the darkness under the bed. The monsters were in my family.

It would be another 30 years before I sought professional help from a therapist. In the meantime, I developed a two-pronged approach to surviving by becoming the super good girl who didn’t speak up or talk back. I escaped through books, art and music. I lost my voice, but found other ways to persevere.  

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According to Statista, African American children suffer some of the highest rates of abuse at 13.9 per 1,000 children. Only American Indian or Alaskan Natives have higher rates of child abuse at 14.2 out of 1,000 individuals. Other children of color suffering child abuse include multiple race children at 11.2 per 1,000; Pacific Islander children at 8.6 per 1,000; Hispanic children at 8 per 1,000, and Asian children at 1.6 per 1,000.

 

Black girls and women should not be left alone to figure out their own recovery from sexual trauma. I kept quiet about my sexual abuse out of shame and the cultural concept of black people not airing dirty laundry.

We saw that in the final vindication of law professor Anita Hill who was initially vilified during the 1991 confirmation hearings when she testified to her experience of sexual harassment by now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  R. Kelly accusers have been called “fast” to shame them and imply they played a role in their sexual abuse.

Because black girls and women aren’t believed and publicly humiliated, they keep their trauma to themselves.

Georgetown University Law Schools Center on Poverty & Inequality reported that black girls between 5 and 14 are viewed by adults as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers. According to the report, black girls know more about sex. Called “adultification,” these are examples of beliefs that make it easier to trivialize their pain and deny them protection accorded to white children. 

When black girls are viewed as adults, their sexuality is magnified beyond their years. The Georgetown Law School Report confirmed what black women have experienced for generations.

 In my high school in Homestead, Florida, a white teacher deemed the dance team’s uniforms inappropriate. The uniform was simple and contemporary—a long-sleeved white blouse and white leggings with an orange and blue vest, white gloves and white KEDS. She did this because she projected her racist beliefs on to their black and brown bodies.

In middle school in San Antonio, Texas a white teacher sent me to detention for wearing a knee-length “mini skirt.” These often-repeated aggressions take away childhood and teen moments granted to white girls of the same ages. 

The #MeToo Movement, started 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, and now in its second wave, provides space for survivors of sexual violence and sexual harassment to publicly speak about their pain and call out their perpetrators.  

From Hollywood to the arts and nonprofits to the newsroom, pain long buried is coming to light and freeing sexual trauma survivors. Allies in the entertainment business have created The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund for survivors of workplace harassment and violence.

Girls of color surviving sexual abuse and trauma deserve the same financial support. As an African American woman, I propose the creation of three new community funds with assets of up to $10 million each led by women of color in the Southern United States because girls of color are deserving of additional resources to protect, support, nurture and comfort them.

I contend it is time to support these girls and women with policies to protect them, funding to allow them to thrive and direct support so they do not have to suffer in silence. They do not just deserve our recognition, they deserve all the resources we can offer.

To be sure, there are other funds committed to the lives of girls of color, and some specifically focused on black girls and women in this country. They include the Groundswell Fund in Oakland, California with $13.7 million in assets; SisterSong in Atlanta with $1 million in assets; and the Novo Foundation in New York with $652 million in assets, and a new initiative launched with $90 million.

The International Rescue Committee with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, developed the Caring for Childhood Services of Sexual Abuse, guidelines to treat survivors of sexual abuse in humanitarian settings. Currently, the spotlight is on refugees and global victims of war, forced migration, and environmental disasters.

But we have victims here in the U.S. Domestically, childhood sexual abuse is also an ongoing crisis worth funding.

Through its Office of Violence Against Women, The Department of Justice administers 25 grant programs and granted $450,840,083 to 751 organizations and agencies in 2017. Only four programs directly address girls of color and women.

Generation Five includes a global list of grassroots organizations and resources, but very few address child sexual abuse perpetrated against girls of color. I counted three, the YWCA, Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), and San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR).

A recent report, As the South Grows, revealed “the Alabama Black Belt and Mississippi Delta benefitted from just $41 in foundation funding per person between 2010 and 2014,” in comparison to the national funding rate of $451 per person and the New York rate of $995 per person.  

Considering 40 percent of the country’s girls of color live in the South, more resources are critical to protecting them. Geographically located in the South and narrowly focused on the prevention of sexual violence against black girls and early treatment, the community funds are desperately needed.

The funds I am suggesting would have three goals: to support leaders embedded in their communities and on the front lines; increase research on other girls of color, particularly Latinas; and amplify the voices of girls of color with their own platforms to be heard and offer their own solutions.

As a fundraising professional with 20 years of experience, I know the resources exist. Twenty-nine donors joined Agnes Gund to create the Art for Justice Fund with a goal of $200 million.

Similarly, donors could collaborate to create three community funds with pooled resources and adopt the South to end sexual violence against girls of color. Policy makers can push the Department of Justice to increase funding for these programs.

It took me three decades to address the pain of my childhood experience. That is time lost no one should endure. The young girls and women of color deserve the tangible support.

Cassandra Porter is the founder of Optimism by Fire which is an organization that promotes black philanthropy. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.