On Thursday morning, my News Feed steadily erupted with headlines similar to this one: “Teenage Girl’s Rape Goes Viral”. As blogs, media outlets, and friends shared the story over and over again, all of their comments were the same.This was horrific. This was sickening. However, none of the statuses expressed surprise that another young woman (technically defined as a child by the law) had been raped and that her attack had been caught on camera. We are no longer surprised by these stories. We have come to understand them as one of the darkest threads of our country’s cultural tapestry. We have accepted that, unfortunately, this is the world we live in today.
On Thursday, something inside of me broke. Two days later, it is still not fixed. I am sure it never will be, as long as these kinds of stories populate my News Feed.
For those of you who are unaware of this story, Jada is a 16-year-old high school student from Houston. She attended a party, at which she was handed a drink soon after she arrived. She believes it was drugged, as she has no memory of what happened that night. The only evidence exists in photos and video of her unconscious, brutalized body that began showing up in her social media network. After seeing these images, she came to a horrible realization: She had been raped. But if that was not enough, her attacker(s) thought the violation of her body and humanity was entertaining enough to not only capture it through images, but to also share it with others on social media.
The fact that a young girl was raped is horrific enough. The fact that her rape was caught on camera and shared online for the amusement of potentially millions of people? I cannot physically or psychologically process this. But the tragedy and atrociousness of this story does not end there. After images of an unconscious Jada began circulating online, so did the mocking Twitter hashtag #jadapose. Under this hashtag, people began posting their own “versions” of Jada’s unconscious body.
If there is any redemption to be found in this story, it is in the bravery of Jada herself. Often, victims of rape are not identified by the media, to respect and protect their privacy. However, Jada has made an incredible choice to reclaim her body and her story. She has decided to come forward and show her face publicly (under her own consent), to tell the story of what happened to her.
Today, I praise Jada. Today, I salute Jada. Today, I honor Jada. Today, I pray for healing and justice for Jada.
But sadly, I know none of this is enough to protect Jada or the millions of other girls and women who will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Even as I write this, people are sending her harassing messages (and still mocking her through social media). Thus, she has requested to be homeschooled. Her attacker has boasted on Twitter that “no pills [were] involved, just a bottle of Ciroc” and joked that he has bail money. And within the last 24 hours, news has come out that more unconscious teenage girls may have been raped, these cases also linked to Jada’s attacker(s).
So what do we do with this story, and all the other stories like it?
First, it is time we accept that we live in a rape culture. Yes, these here “free” United States of America uphold cultural norms where sexual violence and gender-based violence (often intertwined) are commonplace… and dare I say it, expected. We have to acknowledge that although sexual violence is inextricably linked to violence against women, men and gender non-comforming folks are just as affected by rape culture in a myriad of complex ways. We have to rectify the fact that women (and men and gender non-conforming folks) often do not report when they’ve been raped, because pressing charges and having their attacker convicted of a crime is an uphill battle. One that often leads to them re-living and being re-traumatized by their attack again and again. We have to accept that live in a society where we want the rape survivor to prove their rape, and even if they do… we choose not to believe them. Or even if we do believe them, we allow their rapist to go without punishment.
Every time we call a girl “fast”, we perpetuate rape culture. Every time we call a girl a “THOT”, “hoe”, “slut”, or “whore,” we perpetuate rape culture. Every time we consume media where the hyper-sexualization and objectification of (Black) women’s bodies is evident (and the women themselves may not have agency over their own representation), we perpetuate rape culture. Every time we tell our girls how to “protect themselves” instead of telling our boys how to be respectful and to recognize the bodily autonomy of women, we perpetuate rape culture. Growing up, my mother gave me the “don’t get raped” run-down that many girls get: don’t wear suggestive clothing; don’t drink anything you haven’t made yourself; don’t stay out too late; don’t go out by yourself; have your keys in your hand walking to your car late at night… Not once do I ever remember my brother getting the “don’t rape a woman” speech.
And lastly, we must remember that Jada is a Black Girl. And while sexual assault and rape against any human being is an unfathomable, and yet still very real atrocity, it is different for Black Girls. Black Girls and Black Women have a history of being sexually brutalized in this country. We must remember the lies that have been told about our Black female bodies: they signal a sexuality that is both criminal and irresistible; and if we are raped or assaulted, it is our fault. We must remember that these lies are told to do one thing: make our bodies a commodity to be consumed, discarded, and ignored. We must remember that these lies help perpetuate a rape culture that denies us our right to be Black and Woman and human. We have to remember that living in a rape culture and a society that devalues, dehumanizes, and overly sexualizes Black women is a very present, very dangerous reality.
We must remember these things, so that we can fight against this narrative with everything we have.
For Jada, for ourselves.
Photo Credit: KHOU
Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, storyteller, and teaching artist living in Southern California. She is a graduate of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has performed in New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Washington D.C., and Southern California. For more of her wit and work, visit her website (michelledenisejackson.com) or follow her on Twitter (@MichelleJigga).