Days after the sexual allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein were made public, dozens of women in Hollywood came forward, not just against the movie mogul, but to share their painful experiences with being sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped. Their bravery triggered a movement not just among actresses, directors, and female producers, but with women of all backgrounds who were now courageously speaking up and challenging the dangers and abuse they face in various workplaces and in their personal lives. For many women, it’s created a platform for them to be vocal for the very first time. It’s also highlighted the stories of women of color, who for years have been left out of this conversation.
Despite being started by Black activist, Tarana Burke, for a while Black and Brown women’s stories of sexual abuse still weren’t being heard or acknowledged in the #MeToo movement. The difference today is that they are now demanding to be heard.
“Culturally we are encouraged to keep things quiet, whether it’s due to image or shame,” says Body Positive Life Coach, Reiki Practitioner, and founder of Love Your Curvas, Jaquelin Rodriguez, who is currently organizing an event on rape culture and the female body in NYC this April with women’s lifestyle journalist Johanna Ferreira (also the author of this article). “Personal matters are generally kept under wraps regardless of the severity. You just never talk about what is going on within the family outside of the family. It’s one of the things we are taught at an early age.”
Between cultural influences, socio-economic limitations, and lack of representation, it’s no wonder women of color – especially Latinas – experience harassment and sexual violence at much higher rates than white women. It took white women and powerful actresses in Hollywood to get people to listen. But women of color have been dealing with sexual assault and abuse for decades. They’ve just been silenced.
“I think when you look at statistics and see the number of Latinas in poverty, where sexual crime tends to be more rampant, you could guess that we’d experience more if it,” says journalist and freelance writer, Mandy Velez. “Not to mention, the fact that it’s hard enough for Latinas to shake some of the racial biases against us that make us less human. When people are seen as less than, as so many of us and our fellow sisters of color [are], we’re more likely to be abused.”
According to the National Latina Network, one in three Latinas have experienced some sort of domestic violence and according to the Domestic Violence Child Advocacy Center, many Latinas experience abuse at home and are often times misinformed about the legal rights and resources that are available to them. The stigmas that still surround conversations on sexual assault especially in the Latin community, certainly don’t help.
“I actually feel that [the #metoo movement] impacts Latinas differently in their level of exposure to the movement. A large number of Latinas [in the U.S.] do not speak English and are not aware of the work that is being done to shift the paradigm and uplift the voices of women,” says Life Coach and Healer, Dieniz Costa. “There is also a lot of cultural stigma in our community that even makes discussing the campaign a taboo in many of our families.”
Costa who is a survivor of sexual assault herself, believes culture plays a huge role in why many Latinas remain silent about their abusive experiences. “I too had experienced complete and physical depletion from carrying around my rape and every sexual assault I ever experienced,” she adds. “[The #metoo movement] was a deep reminder of the power of holding space for other women and saying the two words ‘me too.’ Culturally we are taught to value our virginity as something that is precious and adds value to who we are as girls and women. We are taught to be modest and yet everyone loves the sexy, Budweiser-ish Latina and the imagery of a long-haired, tanned-skin Latina on the beach holding a beer while her butt sticks out in the air … we are taught to blame ourselves and often our own families blame us when we experience violence, not to mention that in many Latino families, the abuse [takes place] within the family.”
While we are definitely making strides and allowing our voice to be heard, the fear of speaking up, of being blamed, and even to seek counseling, is still overwhelmingly frightening for many Latina survivors. Velez, who only recently started sharing her #MeToo story, still hasn’t found it in herself to confront her abuser, who was actually a good friend of hers back in college.
“One time that stands out to me was when I woke up from being passed out drunk to one of my guys friends sticking his fingers inside me. I remember everything before: I had told him “no” repeatedly that I didn’t want him to follow me to my room and pushed him away,” says Velez. After not being heard Velez “conceded and passed out on the bed, hoping he’d get the hint.” But he didn’t.
“Our friendship changed, I changed and the worst part was I felt like that’s just what happened … I think so many women feel that way and I think it’s why that Aziz Ansari story was so controversial,” Velez adds. “So many women experience situations that are bad but they feel like it’s just how it is. It’s hard because, at least for me, I was cultured to always keep my legs closed, don’t sit on men’s laps. Nobody ever openly told the men around me to be respectful of women. Most of them were, but I think many Latin people still subscribe to [that] “old school” thinking of women having to watch out for those boys who only want one thing. It’s our job to keep ourselves safe so when we can’t, it almost feels like a personal failure.”
The #MeToo movement in many ways provides strength and empowerment for women who before this felt like they would never be heard or believed. It also provides a sense of healing. But how to do you really find healing from trauma that you’ve been forced to internalize for so many years? How to do you really heal from the misogynistic pain that’s been engraved in the patriarchy for centuries?
Intuitive self-care coach, healer extraordinaire, and yoga therapist, Angela Alfieri says it starts with speaking up. It starts with openly sharing your story.
“When we see one another sharing our stories, it gives us courage to also share ours. When you express traumatic energy out of the body, mind, and heart like this, it helps us all heal,” says Alfieri. “We become a mirror for one another and are reminded we are not alone. Women who speak up are inspiring the younger culture with a door to walk through that will liberate them to take a stand for themselves and other women. Things cannot change until we see the truth and own our piece of it.”
For survivors, self-care is crucial but many times that requires seeking help first, whether it’s with a counselor, therapist, or life coach.
“[Women need] to seek professional medical help, find supportive environments, speak to people they trust, and find alternative healing modalities in addition to therapy such as movement, meditation, and touch healing such as Reiki,” says Rodriguez. “The body holds on to trauma from the experience and these alternative options provide different types of additional support. The road to healing starts with telling their truth. The more it’s internalized, the more damage it creates.”