In the Aftermath of the Kavanaugh Hearings, Amandla Stenberg Writes a Searing Op-Ed on Sexual Assault

Amandla Stenberg attends ‘The Hate U Give’ Atlanta Red Carpet Screening at Regal Atlantic Station on Oct. 3, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Amandla Stenberg attends ‘The Hate U Give’ Atlanta Red Carpet Screening at Regal Atlantic Station on Oct. 3, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images for 20th Century Fox)

To say that Amandla Stenberg is one of the voices of her generation would be an understatement. At only 19, the star of the acclaimed film adaptation of The Hate U Give has repeatedly demonstrated a depth and social awareness belying her age. And in a painfully candid and nuanced op-ed published Saturday by Teen Vogue, the actress and activist opened up about her history with sexual assault in response to watching the Kavanaugh hearings.

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The proceedings, which were repeatedly called “triggering” by sexual assault survivors across social media, have proven yet another litmus test for how far this country still has to go in recognizing, interpreting and confronting sexual assault. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was seemingly “the perfect victim”: white, blonde, educated, accomplished, married, a mother, well-bred, soft-spoken and delicate in her overall demeanor. Not to mention the fact that she was only 15 years old at the time of her alleged assault.

And yet, for all of her bravery and the risk she incurred in coming forward, the refusal of the Republican-led Senate to seriously act upon her accusations threatened to render Dr. Ford’s vulnerable testimony just another part of their insulting and ongoing political theatrics, rather than a pivotal and teachable moment in how we treat victims—or a corrective one, after the treatment of Anita Hill.

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In response to the testimony and treatment of Dr. Ford, Stenberg writes that “My heart can’t help but feel sore that, once again, it has become a survivor’s responsibility to sacrifice self in the name of public safety.” She also references multiple instances of her own assaults, both in situations that began as explicitly or implicitly consensual. In doing so, she reveals a fundamental and frighteningly common nuance in which many instances of sexual assault occur—and why so many aren’t reported.

When people come forward with stories of their assaults, they are often met with “Why didn’t you speak out sooner? If this really happened, why did no one know?” As if, amid trauma, we would want to reaffirm these events and make them even more tangible, real, and dangerous; give them shape and power by affording them words and uttering our feelings out loud. ... The moment you speak out about assault, you’ve entered a battle where you’ve been appointed defender of your own legitimacy. You are given the responsibility of, after having just been subjected to devastating trauma, navigating impossible protocols, lest you be charged as the culprit in your own attack. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Damned to subject yourself to physical and public scrutiny, more vulnerability and social repercussions, or damned to allow the residual feelings to fester inside. Either way, you sacrifice comfort and safety within your own body, and sometimes it’s easier to just keep that pain to yourself and hope it goes away. And that is understandable and OK. We should not be condemned for being unsure of how to move through pain.

And how to move through the pain of publicly watching yet another victim be denied justice—a perfect victim, at that? In the end, it’s yet another phase of trauma visited upon victims, as one woman’s report became just another box to tick off in the march towards her alleged predator’s inevitable confirmation to the Supreme Court—an appointment that will, ironically, give him even more power over women’s bodies and autonomy for generations to come. What message does that give 15-year-old victims today?

In the face of what has begun to feel like indefatigable (and undefeatable) heteropatriarchy, Stenberg’s message is loud and clear:

“It is not your fault. It is not your responsibility to figure this out by yourself. It is not your responsibility to sacrifice your comfort to gratify others. Assault can look like many different things. Consent is continual.”

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The Glow Up tip: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). 

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

yestheyarereal
Yes...They Are Real!

When I was assaulted by my next door neighbor at to age or 11 or so, I already knew not to tell anyone because I thought no one would believe me. I wasn’t only just scared of not being believed. I equates molestation to sex, and didn’t want people to see me sexually (if this makes any sense). Like many girls going through early puberty, being the only kid in class with breasts, I was embarrassed by my body. The boys made comments and stared. The girls treated me differently. And adults thought I was “fast”(go figure, I hadn’t even kissed a boy yet). So I thought the assault would cause people to see me as a sexual being even more than they already had.

When he did it, I objected, and said no. He didn’t threaten me with physical harm if I told. He didn’t even threaten me with the oft used threat of “nobody’s going to believe you” that commonly used by abusers who are close to their victims. I remember his response like it was yesterday. With a sincere look on his face, he said “I thought you wanted me to take a feel of it”.

Back in the day(80s in my case), especially in small towns, kids would play all around unsupervised. And he took advantage of this by offering candy to kids, and beer to parents. Molesters don’t just groom the kid, they groom the family too.

I didn’t have to let those two years pass by before letting my secret out. But I did. I did so because even at the young age of 11. I already knew my race worked against me. I knew the weight of a Black girl from a poor family in rural Alabama, against a 6o-something year old White retired cop/Klansman. I knew that my word would mean shit.

In fact, my word meant so little that even my aunt(dad’s sis) called me a liar. Spreading word throughout the tiny 950 pop. community. Oddly enough, I didn’t give two shits what the strangers thought. What hurt the most was the fact that a close family member doubted me. “Doubted” is probably the wrong word to use here. She straight up told people I lied!

Fortunately I had a mama bear as my protector, who quickly set the relative straight by kicking her ass. Yes, i know mature people don’t fight. It probably wasn’t the best way to handle it, but whatever. And when justice failed me, my Mom and her significant other went to pay the molester a visit to “set him straight” too...with a gun. They didn’t shoot him or anything. From what I was told years later, she was worried who would be there for us kids if anything happened to her by going to jail. She just wanted to scare him with a warning that she better not see him near another kid alone. Did he abuse another kid? I dunno. But after she paid him a visit, never saw another kid near his home again. And his rusty, old, lyin’ ass died a slow death from lung disease.

Just wanted to offer up my version of #whyididntreport.