February in the United States is Black History Month. As we honor this month-long event, we can recognize it as a beneficial time to discuss the importance of intersectionality when it comes to anti-oppression work and efforts to address sexual violence.
Intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by scholar and theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, points to how oppressions—such as racism, sexism, classism, etc.—work with each other and individuals experiencing multiple oppressions have complex lived experiences and relationships to others, their community, and institutions.
Rape culture thrives and flourishes off all types of oppression. The Holtzclaw case is a prime example of this, as he targeted women of color with a criminal history, who lived in a lower income neighborhood. The assaults represent a clear, systematic abuse of authority and control that is exercised in many ways by some people in positions of power. While there is still much work to be done, activists working at the intersections of oppressions have begun to generate awareness and social change in efforts to promote equity and action.
In an effort to honor contributions from past, present, and emerging activists, we would like to share a vision for a world without sexual violence, where communities are free from abuse and inequity.
- The voices of women of color, specifically Black women, are valued and sought out. Women of color experience higher rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault than other racial or ethnic groups. As we saw in the Holtzclaw case, little attention is paid to the realities of these women’s lives or how privilege afforded a police officer protection and the benefit of the doubt.
- Social justice movements work together to address ALL needs and realities. Misogyny and sexism are the root causes of sexual violence, but from these roots grow other social problems: lack of access to reproductive and sexual health care, harmful media representations, wage gaps and workplace inequality, and numerous others. In order to eliminate sexual violence, social justice movements can embrace intersectionality and work together to tackle multiple root causes of oppression.
- Everyone is able to move through spaces and places freely without the fear of violence. Women and Black people can attest to purposefully altering routes, actions, and behaviors in an attempt to prevent or limit constant threats of violence. In a world without sexual violence, all spaces would be safe.
In order to effectively advocate for all survivors of sexual violence, we must see the intersections of all oppression and understand how the dynamics of sexual assault can look different for communities. As advocates, we can work together to help shape a safer world.
Sarah Bear is the Training & Outreach Coordinator for NJCASA. She is responsible for coordinating NJCASA’s Training Institute, providing outreach at events, and managing the agency’s social media presence. She is passionate about using social media as a tool to positively affect change in the anti-sexual violence movement, and strives daily to help dismantle rape culture.
Liz Zadnik is the Statewide Capacity Manager for NJCASA. She collaborates with local preventionists and professionals to promote prevention and social change. She is passionate about supporting communities in their journey to create safe and healthy spaces for all.