A black and white phot shows a section of a rally. A Black woman wearing a hat holds a sign that says BLACK WOMEN MATTER

Why Will They Not Listen to Black Women?

Author: Anne-Marie Bainbridge

Content Warning: sexual assault, child sexual assault, violence against women, racism. 

The recent revelations regarding the DJ Tim Westwood have been extremely disturbing, not least the seemingly growing evidence that the BBC not only knew about the complaints, as was first claimed, but appear to have actively covered them up.

The question I have to ask myself is why?

The allegations come from Black and Brown women. A powerful and influential White man and the BBC (his employer at the time) dismissed the allegations as ‘unimportant, baseless or untrue’. Were these particular women’s voices not important enough to be heard or taken seriously? 

One in 40 women between 16-24 will experience sexual assault. These are shocking numbers but belie other troubling facts too, for the year ending March 2018 to year ending March 2020 combined, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) showed that those in the Black or Black British and Mixed ethnic groups were significantly more likely than those in the White, Asian or Other ethnic groups to experience sexual assault within the last year. 

In the year ending March 2020, 58,856 cases of rape were recorded by police forces in England and Wales. These led to just 2,102 prosecutions, compared with 3,043 in the previous 12 months. That’s a paltry 3.42% 

In a Refinery 29 interview; Andrea Simon, director of End Violence Against Women, noted that much more needs to be done to protect women and Black women.

“There is a huge prosecution gap, it’s almost as though rape is decriminalised….

The stats are so low. They have dipped considerably from where they were 10 years ago,”

“This was the focus of our judicial review and to try to understand [why the] CPS’s approach to rape had changed and why there had been a collapse.”

She continues:

“Within those terrible figures, there is a story of Black and minoritised women, which are worse and there isn’t any attention there. It’s hard to establish a picture of how poorly the system is serving those women because that data is not collected. We need to clearly see what the gap in justice is.” 

The Guardian and the BBC itself have been conducting a joint investigation into the Westwood case which will raise fresh questions over the behaviour of the former Radio 1 DJ. A number of women have spoken to the Guardian and BBC after the publication of the story in April and are making new allegations relating to separate incidents of alleged abuse, misconduct and inappropriate behaviour that date back as far as 1990 to 2020. Westwood initially denied all the accusations and has now gone quiet.

A parallel story for me is the eventual downfall of the singer R Kelly, this time a Black man who is now a convicted paedophile who has been sentenced to 30 years and incarcerated. The troubling aspect of this story for me is that for years and years Kelly was perpetrating these heinous crimes, in plain sight. His victims were young Black and Brown women. Even his sentence shocked me, in the land where depending on the state you will either be executed or given one of their ‘100’ year long sentences – he got just 30. 

What strikes me about these two stories is the hierarchy contained within Racism and how structures hold it in place – a powerful White man, accused of abuse of young Black and Brown women, nothing much happens (not yet anyway), a high profile Black man, is enabled to abuse young Black and Brown women, given a light sentence (by US standards) and in both situations – the victims, the young Black and Brown women have to fight harder to be heard and believed and get nothing but trauma.

Tarana Burke a Black woman smiles out at the camera, she wears a denim jacket
Me Too Movement Founder – Tarana Burke

The sad truth is that even structures for women are guilty of racism. Despite the #MeToo movement being started in 2006 by a Black female activist Tarana Burke, it has often left behind Black and Brown women, only becoming mainstream when the stories of White women’s sexual abuse came to the fore. #MeToo has had many successes, which of course we applaud, but even here, in a movement designed by a Black woman for all women we see racism. Black and Brown women’s voices are diminished and denied by the movement created to protect them. Black and Brown women are NOT receiving the justice they so clearly deserve, we keep saying it at Anti Racist Cumbria but we must first LISTEN, BELIEVE and then ACT on the voices of Black and Brown women. 

 

Sources: 

Office For National Statistics

Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW)

Refinery29 

BBC Article

Guardian Article