Thursday, July 23, 2020
A troubling legacy of American chattel slavery is the justice system’s continued failure to provide adequate protection to African-American crime victims. This piece focuses on the law’s historic unwillingness to shield Black girls from acts of sexual violence. During slavery, lawmakers refused to criminalize rape committed against Black girls and women based not only on the fact that they were considered property but also on stereotypes about their sexuality. Even though the law now criminalizes the rape of Black girls, African-American rape survivors encounter more skepticism and hostility when they come forward with their stories compared to their White counterparts. Survivors experience negative reactions not just from White society but also from their own African-American community. Stereotypes about Black girls also influence the players in the justice system, including police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and jurors. In light of the recent shift in societal attitudes ushered in by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it is important to consider whether our culture can now move away from the stereotypes that have left Black girls unprotected for centuries.