The Clarion

Invisible victims: The true story of Recy Taylor

Rachel Husted, Staff Writer

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After being brutally raped by six white men, Recy Taylor was expected to keep quiet, as many other black women had done before her. In 1944, when Taylor was raped, women of color were not equal to white men in many facets of the law and especially in societal standing, but even despite this, she refused to be silenced.

Inspired by the book “At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle McGuire, the documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor” was presented in Madison College’s Mitby Theater on Oct. 11. The movie shows how Taylor raised her voice against her rapists, and how, although she may not have won her own case, she served as an inspiration for other women to take a stand.

After the documentary a panel took questions from people in the audience. Christina Greene, department chair of UW-Madison Department of Afro-American Studies, said, “One of the things that I think is really compelling about this film and the book is that it underlines the long legacy of black women’s anti-rape organizing… We know that black women were organizing and resisting rape going back to the time of slavery. The women who then organized in the 1960s and ‘70s really stood on the shoulders of African-American women in particular, whether they knew it or not.”

When looking at women’s suffrage history, white women are accredited with more of the work because of “this idea of black history being subsumed into white history, as we write it, as we represent it,” said Katherine Phelps, a Madison College faculty member in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department.

Nestic Morris, an outreach coordinator at Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), also mentions the black woman’s struggle for justice, as they are often unheard compared to their white counterparts. “I’m still having to fight from the back, so sometimes I need my white aspiring allies to do the work, whatever that looks like,” she said.

In this way, survivors and the allies of the unheard victims can work together to fight against the issues of today, including the ways in which the legal system fails women as society remains complacent toward rape. This complacency extends even, and especially, toward sex workers.

“Both historically and contemporarily, sex working, what people call prostitution, [is] being used to justify sexual violence,” said Bianca Gomez, a gender justice coordinator for Freedom Inc.. “It’s clear, watching the film and listen- ing to her family, that she wasn’t engaging in sex work, but I don’t care if she was a sex worker. That does not mean that she was not raped and tortured.”

In some cases, society extends past indifference toward sexual assault into allowance. Specifically, Greene discusses one form of institutionalized sexual assault — rape and other sex crimes occurring often within the U.S. prison system.

Greene said, “Despite the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, women are sexually assaulted in unspeakable numbers in our prisons of today… It’s important to know that about 35 states actually have a sort of loophole that apparently allows so-called ‘consensual sex’ between guards and inmates.” However, prisons are not the only institutions in which sexual assault occurs regularly.

In fact, black women are not the only ignored victims of sexual violence. As a community outreach specialist at the Rape Crisis Center, Natalia Hildner said, “There’s sexual assault happening in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers and border patrol receiving absolutely no accountability, no punishment for that.”

Hildner goes on to emphasize how serious these issues are.

“When I watched this film, I could only draw parallels between the black community and the Latino community, and how we talk about institutions such as slavery and legal segregation as something that happened in the past, when the reality is it’s only evolved, and it has a different mask now,” she said.

Underlining the need to recognize the overwhelming indifference toward sexual assault in society and counteract it, Madison College faculty member and counselor Blanca de Leon said, “It is the responsibility of parents to raise your children to be aware.”

Hildner also expressed her desire for the continued spread of awareness for the story of Recy Taylor and other overlooked survivors like her.

“I hope that this dialog continues and the narratives don’t become side narratives and alternative narratives but that they become the narrative,” she said.

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Invisible victims: The true story of Recy Taylor