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Black Women Betrayed: The myth of ‘the strong Black woman’

JAZELLE HUNT | 2/6/2015, 9:45 a.m. | Updated on 2/6/2015, 1:10 p.m.
A woman gets raped every two minutes in the United States. According to the U.S. Justice Department, nearly 1 in ...
Sharita J. Lee is forced to revisit her rape of 20 years ago in the midst of the Bill Cosby controversy Sharita J. Lee

– Part I –

A woman gets raped every two minutes in the United States. According to the U.S. Justice Department, nearly 1 in 5 Black women – 19 percent – are raped each year. Many experts suspect those figures severely understate the problem. For example, research by the Black Women’s Blueprint Inc., a New York City-based civil and human rights organization of women and men, reports that 60 percent of Black women have been sexually assaulted by the time they are 18 years old.

Whatever the actual number, too often, the victims – including a surprising number of males and young girls – suffer alone. Efforts to discuss the abuse are usually met with disbelief or a feeling that such behavior should be quietly swept under the rug, as though ignoring the problem will magically make it disappear.

As a matter of policy, news organizations generally withhold the names of rape victims. But Black women in particular are beginning to break this silence, bravely coming out of the shadows to publicly reveal their names and faces and share their painful stories in hopes of exposing and ending this all-too-common violence. This series examines rape in the Black community and the long path toward healing.

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For 20 years, Sharita J. Lee was numb. She did not cry. She did not love the men she dated. The only emotion she could muster was rage.

But that changed recently when she caught wind of the storm of sexual assault allegations involving Bill Cosby, America’s favorite television dad. One by one, more than 30 women lodged charges against the comedian, some dating back 45 years. And one by one, their revelations were met with skepticism, personal attacks on the accusers, and even outright scorn.

“Until then, I had thought about [my assault], but I didn’t have any emotion about it,” Lee recalled. “I wouldn’t have felt anything until I read that article,” Lee said.

After reading the article about comedian Hannibal Buress’ jab at Cosby, Lee scrolled to the comments section. She couldn’t believe how many people questioned why these women were coming forward decades later. Appalled, she opened her laptop, and penned all the gory details of her rape and its aftermath for the world to see. Her account was published on a blog just before Christmas.

It took Lee close to two decades to truly break her silence.

Unforgettable night

Two decades ago, she was a 20-year-old New Orleans native serving her country as a member of the U.S. Navy. She had joined the military to distance herself from home, where her stepfather physically abused her mother, who was battling alcoholism.

But she returned to New Orleans immediately when she learned her grandfather was on his deathbed. During her visit, she ran into a childhood friend at her uncle’s house, and the two caught up. A few hours passed as they laughed and reminisced on the couch. Then, Lee got the call that her grandfather had died.

Abruptly, in the middle of condolences and small talk, he lunged at her. In a fluid flurry, he grabbed her legs and pulled her toward him. He pinned her knees to her chest. She shoved him. Unmoved, he yanked the back of her pants up to her thighs. He was a foot taller and outweighed her by 100 pounds. She was stunned.