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SEXUAL ASSAULT AND WHITE SUPREMACY ARE FOUNDATIONAL TO THE U.S.

Rape legislation, historically, has acted as an extension of white supremacy, never as a real means to afford protection to women subjected to sexual coercion. 

TW/CW: this article discusses sexual assault and anti-Blackness

On March 25,  Tara Reade provided an excruciating account of her sexual assault at the hand of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr on The Katie Halper Show.

Reade, who first spoke of Biden’s inappropriate touching in defense of lawyer Lucy Flores in 2019, explained that the assault occurred when she had been a staff assistant to the Delaware senator in 1993.

Biden has since won the Wisconsin (April 7) and Alaska (April 10) Democratic primaries. It would also take 19 more days until publications like the New York Times would consider Reade’s allegation.

Biden is protected by rape legislation that continues to protect and under-sentence white men who rape.

In “Rape, Racism, and the Law,” scholar Jennifer Wriggins traces American rape law to its origin: to punish the sexual assault of white women by Black men (i.e. the myth of the Black rapist). Its inverse is, of course, to protect white men in their “institutionalized assault” of Black women. This racialized and rigid conception of sexual assault had several ramifications that persist to the present day. 

Even as rape statutes became race-neutral after the Civil War, race still constituted a principle role in hearings, where juries were allowed “to consider the race of the defendant and victim in drawing factual conclusions as to the defendant’s intent in attempted rape cases.” A Black man accused of the rape of a white woman was often deemed guilty, by the virtue of his race and (wrongly) associated immorality.

What results from the excess and harsh punishment relegated to this form of coerced sex — largely fabricated by white supremacy to maintain control of Black men and white women — is that “all coerced sex experienced by Black women and most coerced sex experienced by white women” became “implicity condoned” by the legal system. 

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The rape of white women is rendered inconsequential before the criminal justice system unless the perpetrator had been “a violent Black man who is a stranger to the ‘virtuous’ victim.”  But, as Griggins writes, “the great majority of rapes of white women are committed by white men.” 

This has provoked an aggressive criminalization of Black men as perpetrators of rape, but also in a woeful abandonment of Black women as victims of rape. 

Who leaves (mostly and often) unscathed? White men. 

Why? Rape legislation, historically, has acted as an extension of white supremacy, never as a real means to afford protection to women subjected to sexual coercion. 

From Donald Trump to Biden, each are protected and nurtured by white supremacy, as allegations of rape become leveled. Trump witnessed allegation after allegation in 2016, only to win the presidency. Biden has seen several allegations of inappropriate touching and one allegation of rape, only to win the Democratic primary.

Not only is the racist legacy of rape legislation a disservice to survivors of sexual assault, but so is the politicization of sexual assault.

From Christine Blasey Ford to E. Jean Carroll and many others, Reade’s experience is sidelined to make room for partisan take after take, which leads to a symbolic annihilation or “‘the way cultural production and mass representations ignore, exclude, marginalize, or trivialize women and their interests.’”

As in, whereas the narratives of individual women may assume an at-first influential role in the news, they ultimately become “trivialized and subsumed through political rhetoric” and thus disappear. Political agendas, in which sexual assault allegations are deployed as a “rhetorical weapon intended to discredit or harm an opposing candidate,” become more championed than the experiences of the survivor. 

White feminists like Alyssa Milano, who have co-opted the #MeToo movement in recent years, have abandoned survivor’s rights to instead support Biden’s presidential run

Her highly publicized image in the Kavanaugh hearings may distort the reality: Milano is not a survivors’ champion.

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She aligns herself with the politicization of sexual assault allegations — a politicization that is often careless and negligent toward the survivor, but nonetheless a politicization that does not threaten Milano’s position as a rich, white woman. When a sexual assault allegation surfaced, which did not work in favor of her preferred political agenda, she was quick to dissociate from the #MeToo movement. 

From rape legislation to its politicization, the survivor — in this case, Tara Reade — is rarely centered and often disappears once the allegation’s political usefulness dissipates.

Anuhya Bobba is a narrative writer who became disillusioned by the western hegemonic thought that guided her education as well as by the nonprofit industrial complex that shaped her professional life. As a contributing writer for Wear Your Voice, she tries to understand and verbalize this disillusionment, especially as it relates to current day news and politics. In a past life, she worked in the nonprofit sector in India and in the United States, providing communications support to organizations that served survivors of domestic violence to organizations that sought access to better early childhood education. She has a B.A. in International Affairs with minors in Journalism and Public Health from The George Washington University.

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