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“Truth. Justice. Healing. Reconciliation.”

Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault begins April 28.

"Truth. Justic. Healing. Reconciliation."

These mandates, issued by the Black Women’s Blueprint, honor the lived experiences of women and girls of African descent who have survived sexual violence in our country.  Black Women’s Blueprint and beyond have worked hard for over five years up to organize an opportunity like this. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, a Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) will convene  to amplify the voices, stories and experiences of Black women and girls April 28 through May 1, 2016 in New York City.

The United States has a long and tragic history of sexual violence against Black women and girls. Not only do Black women and girls experience sexual violence at higher rates than the national average…

“Over half (53%) of all [African American ] study participants indicated rape victimization, and 44% reported sexual coercion within their lifetime, with approximately 42% reporting both.” –NSVRC, 2016

Our systems have failed them too. For many Black women and girls, mainstream criminal justice and victim-services organizations simply were not - and often still are not - an option. While rape crisis centers have worked hard to carve out space for the voices of victims beginning in the 1970s, this work almost exclusively focused on the social, political, and economic needs of  White women. Black women’s voices and life experiences were systematically left out of the conversation.

This BWTRC proves to be a watershed for a national healing of the hurt that systemic sexual violence against Black women and girls has caused. And there will be much more work to be done beyond the Commission. However, as Andrea Piper-Wentland described in a recent letter, convenings like this Commission are a meaningful step in that direction as they reify the power and value in having an opportunity to share your story and be truly heard.

Black Women’s Blueprint provides opportunities for survivors to participate in this historic event. Through their site, there are opportunities to register, tell your story, or donate to this important cause. You can also view the Digital Reckoning Video Series, which includes videos on the impact ofviolence on individuals and communities, what the nation owes to Black Women, and what White allies can do.

In PA, there are 50 Rape Crisis Centers serving every county. Each of these centers is funded to provide services to every member of the community, including Black women and girls. Counseling, advocacy, accompaniment and support are available at no-cost to any survivor.

There are also several national organizations dedicated to serving and advocating on behalf of survivors of color. The Women of Color Network, headquartered in Harrisburg, provides technical assistance to build capacity of Women of Color advocates. The National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA) works to build community in reclaiming leadership and ensure inclusion in anti-sexual violence services.

The tireless work of survivors and activists to bring this issue into the spotlight are to be commended. There is so much work to do and we all have a part to play.