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Staff Discussion – January 2019

    Staff Discussion: January 2019
    It’s Time for Action

    With the release of the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary, there has been a new level of visibility on his many victims. While R. Kelly’s abusive and predatory behavior is not new news, the documentary brings to light that young women of color are his primary victims, and they have been speaking out for years.  Here at The Women’s Safe House, we asked the questions, why is it so hard to believe women of color when they come forward as victims? And, what can we do as advocates to help?

    Where do we begin?

    TWSH staff came together to discuss this topic in January. Our discussion started by looking at how rape culture is portrayed in the media. We live in an age where famous individuals have great influence over younger generations who aspire to dress, act, and even use the products that these “icons” are promoting. Media often portrays young girls as hyper-sexualized in the way they dress and act, while men are shown treating these hyper-sexualized younger women as objects. As consumers, we absorb what is being shown to us, some are able to use a critical eye and realize that these behaviors and stereotypes are fictionalized and should not be followed, however, some believe that the media is promoting what is seen as acceptable/normal behavior.

    Why is that a problem?

    1. Our children are listening to and being influenced by this music
    2. Both girls and boys believe this behavior is okay because it is normalized
    3. A lot of money being made off of promoting unhealthy and abusive behavior
    4. Women of color are less likely to be believed when they come forward with claims of abuse

    We spent some time discussing why women of color are not believed and their stories aren’t given the same amount of attention as others may receive. There was one question that really struck me, “Why does it feel like we (people of color) always have to support our own but no one else does?” The discussion opened up and the following comments were made.

    • We feel that way because we have and continue to suffer so much oppression in the community
    • You don’t report rape you just put it away and heal your wounds but in turn, it is passed on to your daughters and young children that you don’t tell
    • Old spiritual and cultural beliefs reinforce silence on these issues
    • Sometimes there are people in our own community that don’t believe us

    Our discussion also touched on the stresses facing mothers raising young black men.  We touched on fears of their son’s potential negative experience driving while black, as well as concerns that their sons could be falsely accused of rape.  We recognize that an estimated 2-4% of rape accusations are false, so while the chances of a false accusation are low, it could potentially ruin a person’s life, especially if you are a person of color.

    How do we create a culture of support, respect, and consent?

    As advocates for women and children that have experienced domestic violence, we need to understand how to best help our clients. We have to lead by example. So below are some action items that we can take in and out of our shelter:

    1. Support and believe women of color
    2. Teach children what consent means.
      • For victims of domestic violence, control over their body and circumstance is important because the abuser took control away from the victim, leaving them to feel helpless.
      • Even small children can learn to understand the concept of consent by asking them for permission to be hugged or giving them the ability to say no to other forms of physical contact (like sitting on someone’s lap, playing with someone, or coloring).
    3. We ask people to be touched, even parents ask their children.
    4. In the shelter, we explain to everyone why we ask for permission and why we don’t hit when we become frustrated. It is important for parents to understand that hitting was used for the mother as a means of control and if you hit children it is perpetuating that cycle of abuse.
    5. Ask kids to think critically about what they are consuming to see how they are interpreting media.
      • For example, if you notice a relationship in a movie or music video that displays abusive behavior such as stalking, harassing, controlling, etc; ask how they feel about that relationship? Do they feel like that behavior is acceptable in a partner? What would they do if a partner treated them that way?
    6. Examine what we do and say in our everyday lives. Even the most well-meaning comment may be letting you know that you need to protect yourself from rape when we need to focus on why people rape. For example: If you come downstairs and your shirt is a V-neck and your mother tells you, you better be careful. The signal we send is that we as women need to protect ourselves from rape.


    We want to see a change in our community.  In order to make that happen, everyone has to take steps toward change. We are willing to be the movement and we hope you will join us. It’s time to take action!

    What can you do to help with this movement?
    Send us your thoughts, comments, and ideas to Burgandy Fitzhenry at