Challenges faced by survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault are not limited to those related to the abuse or sexual violence. This is particularly true for People of Color, especially Black women. The trauma they experience often stems from more than one event, one person, or one aspect of social injustice. Sadly, those survivors’ lives are full of reminders.
Recently, one of those survivors, who we will refer to as ‘Annette’, shared a story of her search for an apartment in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, which is located near Harrisburg. After being handed an unexpected task of having to take care of her three grandchildren – an 8-year-old, 12-year-old and s16-year-old – she decided to look for a nice, safe and quiet place. She contacted a local real estate agency who had just what she was looking for and she decided to sign a lease agreement.
She completed a criminal background check, a credit check, and received a great reference from her current landlord. Annette signed a lease and made the initial payment. With the help of her grandchildren, she packed up their belongings and was eager to get settled in their new place before her eye surgery.
Two days before the moving date, Annette received a call from her real estate agent and was informed that her future landlord would like to speak to her. She called him and he told her that the lease is void because “I know who you are and I don’t want you around my kids.” Taken aback, Annette asked: “Because I’m black?” “Something like that,” he responded. Annette insisted that she has a valid lease and that she would be moving in on May 1, 2020. She attempted to speak to her realtor, however her calls were not returned, and she left a message stating that she would meet her at the property on her moving day to get the keys.
When Annette arrived at the property with her grandson, she was met by the landlord’s daughter, a resident of the adjacent property, who became belligerent, called her an f----ing n----r and demanded that she get off the landlord’s property. Her behavior was so aggressive that Annette had to call the police, not knowing that her “new neighbor” had already called them. When the police arrived, they determined that Annette had the right to be on the property and left. However, at that point, Annette feared for the safety of her grandson and she got into her car and left.
We know that A.G.’s experience is not an isolated one. Racism, blatant or subtle, exists in one form or another within every layer of our society. And the recent trends of hyper-normalization of the white supremacy, ignorance, and xenophobia only uncovered its deep and ugly roots, many of us, naively and wishfully, hoped were dying out. Well, they are alive and “well.”
In Annette, this experience triggered the memories and trauma of being raped as a young teenage girl and the years of being a victim of domestic violence. She struggles to eat, or sleep and feels anxious while trying to keep focus on her grandchildren. In others, it can trigger the feelings of defeat and helplessness that comes with the reality of racism in their daily lives; a life of not having the same opportunities when looking for a job or applying for school, not having the same protection from the law enforcement, or, most tragically, being perceived as an inferior member of society.
Among the white members of our society, Annette’s experience should trigger a call for action and desire to stop the centuries of racial injustice. Before we point fingers, call our legislators, or march in the streets, we must ask ourselves: Am I part of the problem? What can I do to prevent this? Am I brave enough to speak against it? Once we answer these questions honestly, with words and actions, the “I’s” will become “we” and we can lead the effort toward racial justice. And each step we take toward racial justice will be a step forward in the healing process of all survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
Note: The names of persons/entities involved are not being disclosed due to pending investigation/litigation.