Panel to discuss how race, ethnicity, and religion intersect with sexual violence

On Friday, Nov. 3, at noon in Rappaporte Treasure Hall, ChaeRan Freeze of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Women’s Gender, and Sexual Studies, will moderate a panel discussion on how race, ethnicity, and religion intersect with sexual violence. Panelists will include Angela Frederick Amar of Emory University, Sarah Deer from the University of Kansas, and Brandeis’ Bernadette Brooten, the Myra and Robert Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies, who organized the event. It is sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and the Brandeis Provost’s Diversity Fund.

Bernadette Brooten discussed the upcoming event in an interview with BrandeisNOW.

BrandeisNOW: You've explained that sexual violence occurs in all communities—be they religious, racial or ethnic—but differently in each. Can you expand on that?

Bernadette Brooten: First, the rates of sexual violence differ greatly from one community to another. So, too, do the rates of those who trust the police sufficiently to report the crime. How law enforcement, prosecutors, and juries respond also varies, especially with respect to race and ethnicity. A community’s economic circumstances and ability to have a political voice can determine whether a survivor has access to legal protection and other resources. In some communities that have experienced high levels of sexual violence, such as African Americans and Native Americans, individuals may feel that rape is inevitable and may lose hope. These high rates of assault have very concrete histories. During slavery, white rape and coercion of enslaved women were not illegal, and during legal segregation, the Ku Klux Klan and others committed acts of sexual terror against black Americans.  Native Americans have experienced sexual assault by non-Natives since colonization, and tribal authorities still do not have jurisdiction over non-Natives who rape an Indigenous person on their reservation.

BN: Given the critical role that environment plays in how sexual violence is (or is not) addressed, does reducing it require that we take a different approach for each communal context?

BB: We all, especially white people, need to work to overcome our implicit racial and other biases and to understand how each culture deals with sexual violence. Harmful racial and religious stereotypes can shape how potential jurors and others view sexual assault: of black, Mexican, or Muslim men as predators; or of women of East or South Asian origin as submissive and bound to tradition. In addition, white and other survivors of sexual assault by whites suffer when the authorities and society more generally fail to hold these perpetrators accountable. Stereotypes of others as offenders can distract from perpetration by whites. Fortunately, some of that is changing.

Most importantly, we need to listen to survivors, and support each community’s efforts to address this universal issue.  
BN: As you mentioned earlier, community is where we as individuals will often turn for support, and yet when it comes to sexual violence, community can also serve as a barrier. Does that make justice especially difficult to achieve in some circumstances?

BB: Religious communities can sometimes provide great comfort to survivors. Latina and African American women may be more likely to turn to their pastors rather than to the police following a sexual assault or rape. Religious leaders, however, may also blame survivors for being guilty of religiously prohibited pre-marital or extra-marital sex. In some ethnic and racial groups, survivors who report to the police and see their rapist convicted may face the charge that they are betraying their people or that they are responsible for putting another member of their over-incarcerated community in prison. Many of the hindrances to justice, however, often lie outside of the group, such as harmful racial-sexual stereotypes and beliefs or racial profiling.

BN: How will the panelists you've invited examine the wide scope of this issue?

BB: Sarah Deer of the University of Kansas will focus on sexual violence against Native American women, analyzing potential legal measures to reduce the very high rates, and taking account of the history of settler colonialism, with its many rapes of Indigenous women. Angela Frederick Amar from Emory University will speak about culturally competent bystander intervention trainings and about cultural competency as the prerequisite for proper responses to survivors more generally.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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