Recognizing that sexualized violence against women of colour is an unacknowledged crime
Andrea J. Ritchie is a lawyer whose speciality is police misconduct. In her 2017 book, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Colour, she reveals that there are no clear statistics on the violence perpetrated by police against women of colour in the United States. “Although national data show more black men are killed at higher rates than women,” Ritchie writes, “those numbers don’t tell the whole story […] There are no numbers counting police rape or police sexual harassment or unlawful strip searches.”
Women of colour face incidents of police violence in statistically smaller numbers than men of colour, but they are targeted in a particular way. According to the Huffington Post, in 2015, a black woman named Charnesia Corley was stopped by Texas police for allegedly running a stop sign. The officers who stopped her said they smelled marijuana in her car, which, in Texas, is grounds for a cavity search.
Corley said she “felt raped” after the officers publicly searched her vagina for 11 minutes. Her lawyer, Samuel Cammack III, said a police officer “body slammed Miss Corley, stuck her head underneath the vehicle and completely pulled her pants off, leaving her naked and exposed in that Texaco parking lot.”
The officers involved in Corley’s case were charged with “official oppression,” but those charges were later dropped. Corley is currently pursuing a civil case against them, according to the same article. This case is an example of how police violence against women of colour often takes on a sexualized tone.
The lack of statistics available on sexualized police violence seems to point to the conclusion that sexual violence against women is not considered a form of police violence in American society. In my opinion, this lack of information is to be expected in a society that, as a whole, doesn’t take sexual violence, especially against women of colour, as seriously as it should.
Here in Canada, according to Sexual Assault and Rape Statistics Canada, only six out of every 100 sexual assaults are reported to the police, suggesting that many victims don’t trust police or the judicial system. If the government doesn’t even consider it necessary to categorize these actions as violence and gather statistics on them, should we be surprised that they fail to press charges against the officers accused of committing them?
This case reminds me of a situation very far north of Texas, in Val d’Or, Que. In 2016, the Crown decided not to convict six police officers accused of sexual misconduct against a number of Indigenous women. According to the CBC, there were 37 complaints filed against local police by members of the community, including sexual harassment and rape. As with Corley’s case, this situation involved a specific type of police violence, one that is both sexualized and racialized.
These cases demonstrate that women of colour are often the victims of not only violence but a dehumanizing form of sexual violence. Both Corley’s and the Val d’Or cases reinforce the notion that sexual violence is not really considered violence in North American society, and that public officials still fail to be properly reprimanded for the disgusting acts they commit.
Graphics by Alexa Hawksworth