The fact that sexual violence is often experienced along racism for many people of color is almost always completely glossed over in discussions about sexual assault and rape. It’s something that is mentioned when discussing sexual violence — everyone nods their head in agreement. During these conversations, most white people contribute to this head-nodding circle while looking at their shoelaces, heads down to avoid eye contact, because they don’t know what this means and are unable to admit it.
I think that most of the reason this topic gets so little attention in circles discussing sexual violence is because those circles are most often dominated by white experiences. Just mentioning that the experiences of people of color exist feels like enough to most white people in almost every sexual violence discussion I have been a part of.
However this is never enough, and it’s all we get.
Additionally, I have only ever heard this topic described using the “neutral” word racialized and I think this is also because of the strong presence of white supremacy and white domination in sexual violence awareness movements. But my experiences weren’t “racialized;” they were racist.
It’s time to start calling things as they are, regardless of how uncomfortable they make others.
I am not going to try and explain every aspect or instance of these experiences here, because it would fail. Instead, I’m going to share with you my personal experience of racist sexual violence. I’m finally able to articulate some of what I have experienced in a way that explains how racism influenced my experience with sexual violence. I’m writing this piece because I want others to have more information on this topic, and because writing and sharing will be healing. With that said, a person’s story of sexual violence is theirs and it should never be expected that they share with you or anyone else.
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During my freshman year of college, I spent a lot of my time with people in one specific fraternity. I didn’t know anyone at this new school and was struggling to make friends. I was nervous, shy, and these were the only people I could get to talk to me without going so far outside of my comfort zone that I started to breathe in strange patterns. Without getting into too much detail, by the end of my first two months of college I had been sexually assaulted twice and raped once. These acts of violence were committed by different members of the same fraternity.
Yes, this violence was partnered with substitutions of my name including ‘Asian Goddess’ and ‘Geisha Doll’ and ‘Japanese Princess,’ contributing to my dehumanization, but it went deeper than that.
One week into October, almost everyone I knew on campus began suggesting I dress as a Geisha for Halloween. They told me I would be “perfect,” that I would be everyone’s dream *Asian* girl. Pretty soon, these suggestions started to become threats, and people had specific demands. They would debate with each other in front of me whether it would be “hotter” for me to dress in a ‘traditional’ kimono or in an appropriated ‘sexy’ kimono costume. Of course, this wasn’t the language they used, but I won’t get into that here.
At the root of it, they were debating which was more attractive to them between the docile, submissive stereotypes of Asian women, and the angry, hyper-sexualized stereotypes of Asian women; not that they don’t dehumanize us in both categories periodically anyway.
It went deeper than a man raping me and using the defense that it was “just too hard to pass up the opportunity to have his own little Asian girl, even if it was only for a night.”
Halloween was getting closer and closer, and my anxiety was increasing every day. I didn’t have the money for a kimono costume, but was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t show up desirable the way they wanted me to be, drenched in the blood of my heritage, heart soaked in my Japanese grandmother’s tears. I had a last-minute idea.
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A week before Halloween weekend, I went home and dug through my closet to pull out the kimono my aunt had given me before a summer festival in Ichikawa about seven years prior to that. It was bright red with an intricate flower pattern and made of beautiful silk. This Kimono was one of the few things that has validated my Japanese identity despite being raised in the U.S. and not being fluent in Japanese.
I tried it on, and as to be expected, it was too small for me, but it would look fine for the boys who were only looking for a dressed up soy sauce-marinated piece of meat to please themselves with anyways. The only problem was, despite being too small, I knew it still wasn’t short enough for what they wanted from me. I put it back in its box. After my mom had fallen asleep that night, I went into my room, pulled the beautiful piece out of its box and cut six inches off the bottom.
I cut more and more off until it was what I thought they wanted. I finally stood up, pulled it over my shoulders, walked to stand in font of my mirror, and immediately began sobbing. I destroyed the object that held me closest to my family in Japan. I remember telling myself in that moment that I had just proved every Japanese person who ever said I wasn’t really Japanese right. What would my aunts and cousins in Japan say if they saw this?
I thought doing this, wearing this, was the only thing that would keep me safe, that would make me accepted.
The men who hurt me had been quickly teaching me to think that pleasing them was my main value in the world, and it was what would keep me safe. I used to feel humiliated admitting I let myself think this for an entire year, but this wasn’t my fault.
It was a futile attempt at safety and acceptance, but I am not responsible for the ways white supremacy and sexism harmed me.
I didn’t end up wearing my cut-up kimono that weekend. Instead, I went out dressed in a flapper costume and I was raped while wearing it, but this wasn’t because I hadn’t worn what that fraternity collectively decided they wanted from me. They were disappointed, but this would have happened whether I dressed as their “perfect geisha doll” or not. The thing is, to them, it didn’t really matter.
They had already dehumanized me.
My needs, pain, comfort, and boundaries already meant nothing, not because of what I was wearing, but because of the racial identity.
I was born with what had been formed and categorized in a way that took my humanity away under white supremacy. They were going to hurt me because they wanted to no matter what I had worn.
This is my experience of what racist sexual violence looks like. It’s gas-lighting, manipulative, and traumatic. It enforces patriarchy, strengthens white supremacy, and dehumanizes non-white bodies.
This isn’t something that can just be mentioned and moved on from. It’s not something to ever have an excuse not to engage with while discussing sexual violence. Conversations on sexual violence must be intersectional, must account for my voice, my story and we must call it what it is.