The women’s organization UltraViolet has been mentioned on social media lately, for their anti-Paul Graziano ads and petition to have the Baltimore HABC Commissioner fired. While I commend them for their effort, I was dismayed last night to read this:
Since this story broke, many women, including myself, have repeatedly tried to stop people (including journalists) from using the term “trade sex for repairs” when talking about this issue. Because the women didn’t trade. They were raped. I never thought that in 2016 I would have to explain the core definition of “rape” to people…but alas, here we go.
Rape is the abuse of power. Physical power, economic power, etc. It has very little to do with sex — I doubt you’d find many crime experts who would disagree with this definition. The women who live in public housing are women of color — many with children, poor, and living under horrific conditions. No heat, no hot water, leaky pipes, faulty wiring — conditions that I freely admit I could not live under for very long. The men who raped these women were in a position of power — they held all the cards. They could then abuse this power, by telling these women, “No, I’m not fixing your leaky pipe, unless you…” They could use this power to control what happens to these women (and to their children), and they either had to comply, or risk enduring more horrific conditions. This is not a “trade”. This is rape.
The other thing that bothers me about the “trade” scenario, is that it places some of the responsibility on these women. Women who, by virtue of being poor and African-American, are already stereotyped as being over-sexualized, and therefore somehow complicit in what happened to them. As if this was an everyday business transaction gone wrong. Sanitizing rape, no matter how innocuous the statement may seem, only perpetuates the stereotypes that women somehow brought their assault on themselves by their behavior — it places the burden on the victim, and furthers the shame and reluctance to go to the authorities to make a complaint. It hurts all of us.
We need to stand with these women, and ensure something like this never happens again in our city — but in order to do that, we have to clearly and plainly state what happened, without sanitizing. Again, I’m thrilled people are joining the Graziano-Must-Go bandwagon — it’s been a long time coming. However, we have to do it in such a way that doesn’t re-victimize the residents in our public housing complexes, and we have to do it without regard to readership numbers or the potential for funding.
Stop calling it a “trade”. It was rape.