“Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue.”
― Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions
16-year-old Houston native Jada made headlines earlier this week after her rape went viral. In an interview with local Texas news station KHOU, a tearful and visibly shaken Jada recounted the assault: Upon receiving an invite to a party by a friend, one of the hosts offered Jada a drink (punch). Jada claims the “punch” was spiked, she fell unconscious and awoke nonplussed and unclothed, clouded in a haze of confusion and horror after realizing that beyond being stripped of clothes, her power, too, laid unresponsive.
“I had no control,” said Jada. “I didn’t tell anyone to take my clothes off and do what they did to me.”
Adding insult to injury, many attendees of the party used Twitter, Vine, and other social media outlets to mock and delegitimize the alleged assault, further victimizing the 16-year-old. The insensitive hashtag “hit that #jadapose” spread rapidly online and featured kids imitating and “posing” how Jada was found at the party: awry and forgotten.
But even the most grim and dismal circumstances are met by a beam of hope.
A sea of support flooded social media in solidarity with Jada’s courageousness and sacrifice for justice. Users coined a hashtag “#IAmJada” and interestingly enough, thwarted the culture of silence and anonymity often associated with victims of sexual assault—especially rape—all of which suggest a long-overdue societal shift on how we process, articulate, and provide support for victims. Furthermore, Jada proved that, although saddened by her experiences, justice only comes with an open and honest dialogue.
No hiding. No shame. No running away.
“There’s no point in hiding,” she said. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.”
When I first read Jada’s story, I reacted in three ways: my heart, soul, and body wept. Next, a flurry of anger roared through my veins. I asked myself, “How could this happen?” “How is she navigating the convoluted realm of social media even with support?” My emotional response came to a screeching halt when I realized what the media barely acknowledged: Jada is not only a victim of sexual assault, but she is a Black assault victim.
In essence, I understand why many believe “#IAmJada” is a justifiable approach to combating the fundamental misunderstanding of rape and its victims; it highlights that we all should bring awareness through our own lived experiences. I applaud the media’s sympathetic tone and willingness to tackle such a difficult issue. But what I do not stand for is the lack of emphasis on an issue that continues to pervade and plague the African-American community—especially among Black women.
By taking a normative approach to discussing rape, the media falls short, failing to make room for an open discussion about the astounding prevalence of sexual assault in the Black community.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, rape has steadily increased in the African-American community within the past few years. Those who live in urban environments too face a heightened risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, many media outlets glossed over these blistering statistics to focus more on sensationalizing Jada’s story.
Do I stand in solidarity with Jada? Absolutely. Jada deserves justice and I hope the support of family, friends, and those dedicated to the cause make for a healing experience like no other.
But are we all Jada? Not quite.
Even though progress is being made to create a climate of understanding and awareness, failing to acknowledge the elephant in the room in national conversation makes for a false reality.