College Rape: Does the Media Focus Only On White Survivors?

ByWagatwe Wanjuki

It seems like talk about campus rape is everywhere. I angrily Facebooked a link about a rapist's punishment of a five-page book report after being found guilty of sexual assault at Occidental. I winced when I learned that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit aired their own unique brand of sensationalized storytelling about campus sexual violence and institutionalized cover-ups. This Saturday's Melissa Harris Perry MSNBC show even had a segment featuring survivor Annie Clark who is a complainant in a federal Title IX against University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.

As a survivor of campus sexual assault, and as someone who became a feminist and an activist after my own experience of institutional apathy towards my attacks, I feel conflicted. I am so glad that this serious issue is getting more attention, but I am increasingly frustrated and almost scared by the lack of diversity that I see in the survivors receiving national media attention. As I look at photos and watch the media appearances of these resilient, brave survivors I can't help to feel invisible. I browse a network of campus rape survivors who are working to combat institutional apathy towards rape victims and struggle to find other women of color who are like me.

One of the biggest reasons why feminism appealed to me in the aftermath of my rape report being ignored is that it allowed for an intersectional analysis. I was able to look at how my different identities worked together to facilitate an unsympathetic university response to my abuse and rape. Considering how being a scholarship student, woman of color, and a first-generation American worked against me when I turned to the administration provided some comfort during a very painful part of my life when I tried to pick up the pieces. If we can try to expand the narrative beyond the protection of rapist athletes or an adjudication gone wrong, we can talk about why a black woman like me didn't even get to have a judicial hearing to examine not only my rape report, but the violent threats and attack done by my rapist as well. We can talk about with people of color already at risk for higher rates of student debt, unemployment, and sexual violence, dropping out of college after rape would have a disproportionate impact on them than their white counterparts.

Why does the representation of survivors in the media matter? Validation of black women of survivors would go against the jezebel stereotype that, in fact, black women are not all sexually insatiable creatures and can be raped. It would challenge attitudes that black women are more to blame for being survivors of sexual and domestic violence and that being raped is just as serious as if they were any other color. An important message that media attention on rape survivors means that "you matter." Do not other survivors — whether they are men, of color, poor, LGBTQ, gender non-conforming matter, too?

What has contributed to young white women being the face of rape survivors in media? I do not know. It may be a reflection of our culture to be more sympathetic to white female survivors as talking about rape and rape culture in mainstream media becomes more prevalent (a sort of extension of "missing white woman syndrome"). It could be general distrust or fear of the mainstream media to properly tell our stories. Or maybe no one wants to listen. When I first was trying to get attention to my story, I remember reporters, producers, and magazines alike asking me to rehash the painful details of my story only to pick to feature other survivors: all of them pretty, female, and white.