To live among broken men: theorizing rape and incest

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To live among broken men: theorizing rape and incest


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On April 9th, Ronald Savage rocked the hip hop world with his testimony about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Zulu Nation founder, Africa Bambaataa. Initially, the Zulu Nation dismissed the allegations “as nothing more than a continuation of the decades long HIP HOP COINTELPRO campaign to discredit and destroy the Universal Zulu Nation.” However, as more survivors of Bambaataa’s abuse emerged, the momentum shifted. It was clear that Bambaataa had abused children, other leaders had covered up for him and that a thorough investigation and process of healing was necessary.

While many people are understandably shocked that sexual abuse could penetrate the inner-most circles of pioneering Zulu Nation, this is also an opportunity for our communities to reflect on just how commonplace sexual abuse, incest, pedophilia and rape is.

The May 21st gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl in Brazil by 33 men and Brock Turner’s rape of a 23-year old woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University are the latest high-profile examples of the everyday terror exercised against women.

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The Universal Zulu Nation

Ronald Savage’s story, my family’s story, my story and so many other stories of survival highlight the need for a Marxist historical interpretation of sexual violence & incest. Marxism—the painstaking, socio-economic investigative method—does away with the vacuous theory that sick, depraved abusers are merely an aberration of the human spirit. The wide prevalence of sexual violence speaks volumes about the criminal, decadent nature of capitalism.  There is a specific system that engenders the widespread abuse of women and children.  The facts speak for themselves—one in four girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.[1] 40-60% of Black women are abused before they reach 18. 3% of men report they were raped.

A political orientation towards sexual violence and trauma reveals that it is the product of a specific, temporal confluence of factors. The dialectical materialist method, a profound examination of the deep-seated causes of a social phenomenon, explains why sexual violence and incest are both widely prevalent and inevitable under capitalism.

This article will examine the connections between poverty, patriarchy, rape and incest both in my own life and family and in the writing of organic intellectuals and community leaders who have honestly grappled with this urgent issue.

My story

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Two different AAU basketball coaches, Jim Tavares and Jack McMahon, whose teams I played on, were known pedophiles. A 1999 Sports Illustrated article, “Every Parent’s Nightmare,” outlined the sexual abuse that hundreds of us survived at the hands of Jim Tavares.

Tavares preyed upon me and other young boys who came from poor homes where there was only one parent trying to make ends meet. He gained access to our homes by giving us money and taking us on trips across the U.S. to play in national Junior Olympic AAU championships. If I had a father or a family with money, I would not have been an easy prey.

Just as the marksman knows how to hunt and snipe, the molester knows how to prey on children and attack.

There is no need for me to repeat the details as the article outlines Tavares’ pattern of abuse.  Predictably, the authors, William Nack and Don Yaeger treat Taveres and the other coaches as society’s outliers, extremely demented individuals who went astray. This article argues a different perspective—that rape and incest are inevitable and predictable products of a specific social system that we have the power to unmask, confront and overcome.

Theorizing rape and incest

I was raised by woman warriors. Many of the women in my family survived horrific episodes of rape, incest and sexual terrorism which I have written on elsewhere. From my earliest memories, I felt the pain and trauma of my mother, my sisters, aunts, grandmother and other women in my family seethe through my own being. Why did my loved ones and I endure degrading, sadistic abuse? Their scars and my own have been formative in my story. With no strong male role models, I was mentored by the pain and survival of women. All of the suffering they experienced and survived made me question from an early age the source of so much horror.

Sexual violence is bigger than African Bambaataa, the priests convicted of child molestation within the Catholic church and the sexual violence that occurred within my own family. Sexual violence is an endemic, society-wide phenomenon that we must tackle and resist with a broad, revolutionary approach if we want to spare our children from the trauma so many of us survived.

My family of mixed Irish, Scottish, English and Finish roots was not unique in terms of the intensity of what we survived. As I discovered through my travels to other continents, hearts, islands and memories, there are survivors of rape and incest spread across the world.  The U.S. has the thirteenth highest rate of rape in the world.[2]  My family, then, was not an exception, but rather the very incarnation of larger social forces at work.

A critical view of rape and incest challenges the widespread view that men intrinsically act like “pigs” and “dogs.” No one can dispute that many of us men act like pigs and dogs, but what explains the pigicization or dogification of male behavior?

Feminist sociologist Maria Mies explains that “human sex and sexuality have never been purely crude biological affairs. ‘Human nature’ has always been social and historical. Sex is as much a cultural and historical category as gender is” (Patriarchy and Accumulation 23).  In more proletarian terms, men are not born as piglets but are rather pigified—or groomed to be pigs—over time. The inverse is also true; we can fight to undo patriarchal socialization and create a safer, healthier world to raise our children in. It is this political orientation towards sexual trauma that guides our work as revolutionaries.  We fight for another world not just because of the pain of the present but because of the infinite promise of the future.

Scarred children

The social scientist seeks to unearth the nature of the childhood that the rapist / molester experienced. A baby is not born a rapist or a sadist. The mainstream media’s dominant perspective that rapists are biologically-flawed, unredeemable sociopaths projects a pessimistic view of humanity. While there may be individual examples of perpetrators who were biologically or mentally engineered towards violence, this is a rare exception and not the rule.

According to Family Violence Interventions for the Justice System, men who witnessed their fathers’ violence are 10 times more likely to engage in spouse abuse in later adulthood than boys from non-violent homes.[3]

Men who commit brutal violations of children’s inner-sanctity most often experienced this violence themselves as children.  They internalized their own skewed view of themselves and the world.  They never knew what it meant to be complete, integral, loved or healthy. Broken from an early age, if not in the period of gestation, they learned to reproduce the insidiousness.  Buried in their own self-torment and self-hatred, they struck out against what was most precious and vulnerable around them, children and women. Deprivation begat deprivation.

A system of patriarchy shapes the behavior of the rapist who shows an utter disregard for the humanity of women. The potent combination of poverty and patriarchy mold the acting out of the self-depreciation in a particular way.  Having never known inner peace, the impoverished and unhealthy psyche annihilates the peace closest to it. Only a thorough exploration of the violator’s childhood and formative years can begin to connect the missing dots.

Broken men

In addition to being criminal and perverse, sexual violence against children, women and men is a self-effacing behavior. To subject a defenseless child or woman to sexual abuse is the work of a broken man. The question before us is what overarching forces convert so many men into vile, demented creatures, who carry contempt for life itself in their fractured hearts?

Black Panther Soledad Prison Field Marshal, George Jackson asserted before white supremacy: “You will never count me among the broken men!”

A 25-year-old sociologist—with a PhD earned in the streets of LA and the prison cells of San Quentin—Jackson theorized about the outward reflexes of the broken man.  Informed by a keen understanding of the wanton ruthlessness that surrounded him in America’s internal colonies (ghettos) and prisons, Jackson refused to become ensnared in the trap that pitted Black on Black, man against woman, and oppressed against oppressed.

"They will never count me among the broken men."

“They will never count me among the broken men.”

In Soledad Brother, Jackson charted the source of the broken reflexes—petty fights, alcoholism, rape and murder.  From solitary confinement, within an 8-by-12 foot prison cell, Jackson sought to dominate the insidiousness so that it did not dominate him.

Like another great anti-colonial thinker, Frantz Fanon, who was writing in the same time period in Algeria, Jackson observed how his contemporaries acted out their trauma in reactionary ways because of their conditioning and precisely because they were deprived of a penetrating, revolutionary understanding of social reality.

The political economy of rape Part I. The abuser

It is only in the social laboratory of intense class exploitation and misogyny that so many rapists can be called into existence.  My analysis is not an attempt to justify Bambaataa’s abuse nor apologize for the rapist but rather an effort to explore the malignant social forces that call so many rapists into existence.

In such a profoundly patriarchal society, different social-psychological forces act on men and women’s psyches. Men are expected to be protectors and breadwinners.  But what happens when their whole world—and with it their entire self-image—has been obliterated by material reality?

Too many men—conditioned by misogyny and deprived of employment and dignity—are broken men.  In their deranged psyches, formed in the crucible of a materialist and patriarchal society, they seek to assert and insert themselves in twisted ways as “men” in a society that rejected and emasculated them. The inability to live up to their socially contrived ideals renders them depressed and broken.

Women in oppressed communities are hit the hardest by rape.  Some 34.1% of Native American women have been raped. The next highest percentage was among mixed race women, 24.4% of whom reported being raped.[4]  Incapable at this historical juncture of articulating their social rage in a revolutionary direction, the oppressed misdirect their fury in reactionary ways.

Rape is about power. Rape is one demented form of misdirected vengeance in which the oppressed assert power when they have lost control over their surroundings.  Soldiers, under stress of battle, also often become ruthless perpetrators of rape, or gang rape, while pillaging the wealth of the conquered.[5] Alcohol and drugs—the traditional opiates of the oppressed—further distort reality, ensuring the stunting of proactive, revolutionary sentiments.

The origin of patriarchy

Two questions now confront us: what is the nature of the dog-eat-dog, patriarchal rat race that defines everyday working-class survival and how did we arrive at this point?

Bourgeois science argues that sexism and racism are inevitable. Because they see these learned behaviors as a product of man’s nature, they seek to convince everyone that these systems of domination have always existed.

History proves otherwise, debunking the prevailing ideas of the historical defeatists.

Friedrich Engel’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State documents the existence of matriarchal societies for thousands of years. Thoroughly researching what he calls “primitive communist societies,” Engels shows that for the bulk of the human timeline, women were in positions of power in the family and community.

One prominent example was in the Taíno culture of Quisqueya, what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The warrioress and cacica (chief), Anacaona, went off to battle and led resistance against the Spanish invaders, with her partner, Caonabo, taking charge of the home and raising the children. In 1503, upon capture she was publicly executed because she refused clemency in exchange for being the concubine of one of her captors. The Spanish colonizers were determined to eradicate the leaders of any resistance to their double enslavement of Native and African women.

Marxists pinpoint the emergence of private property, surplus and profits—or class society—as the origin of patriarchy. The origins of rape, incest and violence against women are the result of what Engels called the “world historic defeat” of women. With the development of private property and “the right” to inheritance, the son was elevated above the daughter as the heir to the estate. Just as the enslaved of the colonized countries existed as chattel property for the colonizers, women too were converted into their property; the masters and lords could do as they wanted with “their” women.

Under feudalism, the lord’s “droit de seigneur” empowered him to take a “serf’s wife” into his bed before she married and slept with her husband for the first time. In other words, the lord was allowed to rape the daughters and mothers of the exploited class because they were his property. This “droit” or “right” also entitled the lord of the estate to prey on peasant girls and to violate their virginity whenever he chose. This was often ceremoniously witnessed by male members of the court who were powerless to intervene.[6]

Social systems theory

Every social system merits its own analysis but feudalism, slavery and capitalism share these predominate features: 1) the sanctity of private property 2) the prioritization of profits over human dignity and 3) the relegation of women to a position of the slave’s slave in the productive process.

Where does patriarchy fit into this exploitive economic base?

Maria Mies’ Patriarchy and Accumulation tracks how for centuries women’s unpaid, invisible work enabled the massive theft of the surplus labor of the wage earner.  The productive process rested on the exploitation of the workers’ labor which was not possible without the wife’s behind-the-scenes toil.  The woman then was the serf’s serf, the slave’s slave and the wage laborer’s laborer.

To dig up the historical roots of the monstrous epidemic of rape and incest in the U.S. context requires a profound historical reckoning with one of its original sins—slavery.

The legacy of slavery

Through the dehumanization of Blackness, the slavocracy justified infinite predations upon the bodies of Black women and Black men.

The entire slave quarters were at the disposal of the slave traders and masters.  The Portuguese slavers built their castles with a master bedroom that had two doors leading to two corridors.  One corridor led to the slave quarters, where there was an army of slaves at the master’s sexual disposal.  The other corridor led to confession, where the slavers asked their priests and their gods for forgiveness for their acts, before committing the next round of transgressions.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ masterpiece Black Reconstruction in America captured the white Southerners’ attitude toward the Black man and woman.  In order to capture the dehumanization process, Du Bois cited a visiting German sociologist, Carl Schurz, who was hired by President Andrew Johnson to study the South: “Men who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors, will cheat a Negro without feeling a single twinge of their honor. To kill a Negro, they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman, they do not think fornication; to take the property away from a Negro, they do not consider robbery.”[7] In his gripping sociological portrait of the antebellum South, Du Bois breached the unbreachable and spoke the unspeakable: “Southerners who had suckled food from black breasts vied with each other in fornication with Black women, and even in beastly incest. They took the name of their fathers in vain to seduce their own sisters. Nothing—nothing that Black folk did or said or thought or sang was sacred” (p.125).

The very essence of slavery was the breaking of the Black mind, body and soul.

A culture of white rape of Black women—hiding behind its antithesis, the publicly-flaunted, genteel South and morally-robust Bible Belt—has traversed centuries.  The myth of the “Black rapist” was used to mask the identity of America’s original rapists—a wealthy class of roughly 60,000 white slave owners. The myth of the Black rapist served to deflect focus away from the slave master’s abuse of Black and white women and funnel mass discontent into “populist” campaigns, such as lynching and state executions.  Society was mobilized in pursuit of “the boogey man” while the true “boogey-man” held the noose.

Describing the typical slave master, Du Bois wrote: “Sexually they were lawless, protecting elaborately and flattering the virginity of a small class of women of their social clan, and keeping at command millions of poor women of the two laboring groups [Black and white] of the South” (p. 35).

Lawrence Konner’s remaking of Alex Haley’s Roots in June 2016 served as a vivid reminder that the slave owning class used rape as a weapon against the Black family.

Slavery birthed patterns of rape and incest that our society has yet to heal from.

Rape and brokenness in Beloved

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a gripping account of the twin terrors of sexual violence and slavery.[8]  A cursory examination of the central characters of Beloved reveals the wanton, white supremacist terror unleashed on Black America.

Halle and Paul D represent generations of Black men pinned down and broken by slavery. Sexual violence against Black men, women and children was one of slavery’s preferred weapons “to break” their slaves.

Halle was Sethe’s partner and father of her children. After witnessing a gang of white men rape his wife, Sethe, and then drink her breast milk, Halle went crazy.  Feeling powerless, he disappeared for ever from the family unit because what “he saw go on in that barn that day broke him like a twig” (68).

Paul D, Sethe’s friend, confidante and a fellow slave, alludes to a rape he suffered on the Sweet Home plantation: “Saying more might push them [Sethe and Paul D] both to a place they couldn’t get back from. He [Paul D] would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lids rusted shut. He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him” (73).

The scars from the whip, tattooed onto Sethe’s back, form a chokecherry tree, symbolizing the slave experience.  The barefoot, poor white woman Amy who helps Sethe deliver her fourth child, Denver, describes the scar: “A trunk—it’s red and split wide open, full of sap, and this here’s the parting for the branches.  You got plenty of branches.  Leaves, too, look like, and dern [darn] if these ain’t blossoms. Tiny little cherry blossoms, just as white.  Your back got a whole tree on it. In bloom” (79).   According to Morrison’s’ poignant metaphor, “the fire on her back” is the Black nation, which despite the indescribable abuse, is strong and full of life, giving birth to future generations who will carry the scars but resolutely confront the slave master’s terror.

Sethe protecting her family.

Sethe protecting her family.

Slavery and rape pushed Morrison’s characters to extremes. When the slavecatchers came to abduct Sethe’s four children and sell them out of state, Sethe resisted the only way she could.  As she breastfed her youngest daughter, Denver, she simultaneously beat her other daughter, Beloved, to death, to save her from the horrors of slavery.  Her two young boys and Denver were soaked in their sister’s blood and only survived the grueling scene because of the intervention of another slave.

Toni Morrison recreated these tormenting images in order to bring slavery alive for the reader.  Without understanding this original sin, little else can be understood in the American narrative.

Historical trauma

Dr. Joy Degruy Leary explored the effects of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome on generations of African Americans.[9]  The slave system was a breeding ground for incest within the slave quarters, as well.  Upsetting the traditions and stability of the family, slavery disempowered the husband figure and humiliated the father figure.  Slavery was crafted to make the oppressed internalize a sense of shame and humiliation.

Men, women and children were packed into barns and stables unfit for human existence.  In his autobiography, Frederick Douglas described the barbarism he was born into in Baltimore, Maryland.[10]  Deprived of space and privacy and unable to clothe their children, the masters packed multiple families into shacks, without mattresses,  blankets or adequate clothing. Slavery was a vortex of bestiality that spiraled out of control destroying human connections.[11]

Unable to stand down the oppressor, the emasculated slave—the trapped lion—projected his hatred towards those at home.[12]   Sexual transgressions were the reincarnated transgressions of the master, once again unleashed on the double victims, Black women and children.

This historical trauma—set in motion—by a four-century long reign of terror reappears in families today.   The conventional wisdom and oft-repeated, racist claim that “slavery occurred so long ago and Black people should just get over it” is designed to disconnect the terror of the past with the terror of the present. Sethe, Baby Suggs, Beloved and Toni Morrison’s other characters remind us that the legacy of slavery lives within, and part of that legacy is sexual trauma.

History offers context for the harrowing fact that 40-60% of Black women are sexually abused before they are 18. Failure to spiritually and consciously come to terms with the historical trauma damns the present fighters to wallow, unconsciously or semi-consciously, in the past. This is an apt metaphor for the survivor of sexual violence, whose only way out of the trauma, is through it.

From chattel slavery to wage slavery

The enslavement of Africans in the Americas was one branch of the patriarchal system Engels denounced and the most vicious reenactment of boss-worker relations which played out in other social systems.  Slavery was America’s original sin, upon which the descendant systems of exploitation were based.

The heir to slavery, capitalism—through its disempowerment of women—continues to be a breeding ground of sexual violence.

The following formula synthesizes the reproduction of the class system and the cycle it sets in motion.  An exploitative economic base (i.e. serfdom, slavery, industrial and extractive capitalism) gives birth to internalized discord, self-hatred and a distorted sense of identity among the exploited, leading to the acute need to numb and escape (i.e. alcoholism) which is intertwined with violence projected outward and acted out at home, resulting in the victimization of the next generation, which grows up damned by both the exploitative economic base and a demoralizing family environment.

This exploitative economic base and internalized oppression again sets in motion a cycle that repeats itself with individualized symptoms that are reflective of the same disease.

The political economy of rape Part II. The abused

The disempowerment of women is both economic and psychological and transcends national borders.  Rape has a specific economic, not geographic, terrain. Not unique to the U.S., the dominant economic model—patriarchal capitalism—produces dependency.

Because housework is not compensated, the mother figure finds herself trapped.

Deprived of an empowering education, self-esteem and social and economic rights, many oppressed women cannot see beyond their immediate environs. The coterminous forces of women’s oppression feed off one another, trapping women and children within the male-dominated, misogynist household.

Testimony

The testimonies and writing of organic intellectuals struggling against patriarchy and capitalism highlight the fact that the political economy of rape traverses national boundaries.

A scene from Germinal, Émile Zola’s epic novel, captures the power dynamics within the miner’s home.  Half-starved and still sullen from the coal mines, the protagonist, Maheu arrived from the bowels of the earth demanding his dinner and sex.  Showing total disregard for his wife, Maneude’s humanity, he bends her over, raping her in front of the children, as they prepare to bathe in a basin.  This scene from a French mining family’s home was a snapshot of the twin evils of capitalism and patriarchy that have acted upon women for centuries.

In Don’t Be Afraid Gringo, Elvira Alvarado described the typical social existence of the Honduran campesina (peasant woman).  In her testimony, Elvira provides poignant snapshots of the cruel social terrain where patriarchy and economic disempowerment produce violence against women and children. Like the French miner a century before, the banana plantation worker existed to produce surplus value for transnational business.  The housewife in the plantation worker family produced the conditions necessary for the exploitation of the wage laborer.  She was doubly exploited.  For both the boss and the sub-oppressor, for 365 days a year, it was open season on women like Elvira Alvarado.

Describing her everyday routine, Alvarado explained that she worked the land and attended to her husband and eight children: “Even when we go to sleep, we don’t get to rest. If the babies wake up crying, we have to go take care of them—give them the breast if they’re still breast-feeding, give them medicine if they’re sick. And if our husbands want to make love, if they get the urge, then it’s back to work again. The next morning, we’re up before the sun, while our husbands are still sleeping” (p. 52).  Robbed of autonomy in both spheres of her life, Alvarado existed to produce for the oppressor and sub-oppressor.

Enraged by his powerlessness, Elivira’s husband subconsciously recreated his exploitation lower down on the social hierarchy where his violence had no repercussions.  The state’s monopoly of violence ensured that his humiliation had no positive, externalized revolutionary social outlet.  Meanwhile, he was socially sanctioned to drink himself into oblivion and lash out at home.  Family was the private domain where the exploiteds’ pent-up anger crystalized.  Having learned well from his boss, he recreated the violence onto his wife and children, the only social figures disempowered enough to tolerate the wanton abuse.

What the husband considered sex or “his marital right,” constitutes rape for many women like Elvira Alvarado.  Her words deliver the point home: “I’ve heard that there are men and women who make love in all different ways, but we campesinos don’t know anything about these different positions. We do it the same all the time—the man gets on the woman and goes up and down, up and down and that’s it.  Sometimes the woman feels pleasure and sometimes she doesn’t.  We don’t have any privacy either, because our houses are usually one big room so we have to wait until everyone is asleep and then do it very quietly.  We just push down our underpants and pull them back up again” (47).  For the Honduran housewife, sex, like cooking and cleaning, was a chore or an obligation. Stripped of her self-determination, both the home and the wider society were a forcing house of male domination.

‘Stay in your place’

Employing the same literary genre as Elvira Alvarado, the Bolivian mining activist, Domitila Barrios de Chúngara, wrote Let me Speak! The Testimony of Domitila A Woman of the Bolivian Mines.[13]

Her autobiography deepens our understanding of patriarchy as a weapon to divide the miners.  The misnamed “barzolas” were working class women employed by the mining bosses as reactionary shock troops to attack and humiliate the miners’ wives.[14]  When the Housewife Committee refused to stay quiet and confined in their homes and came into the streets to protest, the “barzola” shock troops threw tomatoes at them, accused them of sleeping around and physically attacked them.

Domitila: "Our principle enemy is fear."

Domitila: “Our principle enemy is fear.”

The disempowerment of the Housewives’ Committee was the disempowerment of the working class.  Preoccupied with secondary contradictions, the exploited protagonists—the miners—lost sight of the primary contradiction between labor and capital. Blind before the oppressor’s strategy to keep them in their confinement, they prevented the fruition of class unity.  The divide and conquer strategy sought to confine women to the home, “shame” them and stunt their ability to make world-historic change.

Women hold up half the sky” but when they are held back, the entire working class is confined to a social inferno. Capitalism and patriarchy have a codependent relationship; they feed off one another. The crushing of one hierarchical system necessitates the overthrow of its twin.

Women’s liberation is humanity’s liberation.

The role of class

Centuries of state-sanctioned and state-enforced rape established a legacy that continues to play out today.

Angela Davis’ Women, Race and Class looks at the triple burden Black women confronted the span of American history.[15]   Davis examined the rampant sexual abuse committed by white male employers within the home against Black women forced by poverty into domestic labor.  How many bosses, supervisors, sex tourists and other men in high positions still believe they have unfettered access to Black and Brown women’s bodies?

There is also sexual abuse in other layers of class society. Daughters and sons of rich families have survived sexual trauma. The widespread occurrence across class divides illustrates the omnipotence of sexism under capitalism. A rich woman may also find herself psychologically stuck. In contrast to a working-class woman, she may possess the economic resources to flee but may face the judgement of her family who will threaten to “cut her off” if she dares to forge her own independence. Raised to be pretty and thin, some upper class women may not possess the skills to move on.  Patriarchy is pervasive and even privileged women—who from an outside perspective appear to have it all—struggle within their gilded cages.

A culture of impunity

In addition to raising the rapist, capitalism offers the rapist free reign.

The story of the anonymous young woman who was drugged and raped behind a dumpster at Standford is chilling. Although her rapist, Brock Turner was caught and found guilty by a jury, a judge only gave him six months in jail because “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”[16]

Turner’s light sentence is not the exception. Factoring in unreported rapes, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail; 15 out of 16 will walk free.[17]  Every 107 seconds a woman is raped in the U.S.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, twenty million women in the United States have been raped. The study asserts that the number could be three times as high because only 1/3 of sexual assaults are reported.[18] There is no accountability.  There are no popular reprisals. In too many cases, no one dares confront the perpetrator.  Often, the sadist moves from one generation to the next.

In my own abuse case, when I was 16, I contacted the Plymouth county District Attorney’s office in 1997 to file a report.  It was four years after the abuse.  The DA said he had 73 similar complaints against the basketball coach, Jim Taveres.  After hearing my statement, the public official concluded, for at least the 74th time, that he “did not have conclusive proof” to put Jim Tavares back away in jail.

Capitalist society, from the U.S. to Brazil is, in essence, a school of unchecked patriarchy and pedophilia.

On May 21st on this year, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl was gang-raped by 33 men, some of whom then went on social media to boast about their acts.  It is tragic that it took such a heinous case to re-highlight the rape culture that threatens every Brazilian woman.

In Brazil, the statistics are even more deplorable than in the U.S. According to the Brazilian women’s organization, Rio de Paz, every 72 hours, 420 women are raped in Brazil.[19]

The liberal observer remains shocked at the harrowing rape statistics while failing to realize the very cause of the horror; a depraved system can only produce depravity.  Incest and rape are not natural or inevitable phenomena, but rather symptomatic of the current economic and social order. Token efforts to raise awareness among children about their rights and to facilitate violence prevention workshops are important in the short run but will do little to erase the overall problem. An end to the suffering requires a systematic overhaul of existing class relations.

Denial is complicity

There is another rung in the social inferno that is oppression to which we must descend in order to more fully understand the plight of the survivor.

There are other social actors who become complicit in the crimes spawned by a criminal system.  Many mothers—too traumatized to stare the truth in its eyes—became indirect apologists for the offender, giving cover to the crimes with their silence.  Feeling powerless before the crime of the century, too many times they have internalized and projected their own subconscious guilt and self-hatred onto the victims.  Instead of appearing on the historical stage as the ultimate defenders of their daughters, how many mothers have appeared as collaborators of the crime?

Silence, reproduced between generations, extends the lease life of the pain. Silence within the family is collusion.  Denial is collusion.  Covering up is collusion.

Sapphire’s novel Push, brought to the cinema in the 2009 film Precious, graphically documented the complex relationships that resulted from incest.[20]  Sixteen year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones is pregnant with her father’s second child.  The heartbreaking novel examined how Precious’ mother, Mary, instead of protecting and defending her daughter from her rapist husband, Carl, turned the blame on her daughter.  Precious was the object of her mother’s scorn.  Stripped of a childhood and her parents’ affection, Precious had to learn to navigate society on her own.

The mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles who looked the other way were knee-deep in the swamp of insidiousness.  Patriarchy pervaded their lives; more concerned with protecting the reputation of the family before the good town-folks, they sacrificed their children’s health and happiness–their childhoods–so they could keep smiling at church on Sundays.  They too were deeply affected by patriarchy and rape culture.  Converted into silent bystanders, enablers and perpetuators of the insidiousness, they ignored the truth and blamed the victim.  They too were broken; the illusion of an “American dream” was worth more to them than truth and redemption.

Internalized blame 

When we paint the entire sorry portrait, we see the convergence of the different social-emotional factors acting on the survivors.  Overwhelmed by the insidiousness, the matriarch escapes into booze or god.  The primary witnesses often subconsciously rewrite history.  Denial buries the dagger deeper into the chest of the abused.  Searching for acceptance and validation, they find blame and hatred.

Unable to externalize their anger; the pain consumes the survivor, resulting in the cyclization of the insidiousness i.e. heroin, addiction, cutting, anorexia, morbid obesity, alcohol etc. Every form of self-injurious behavior is an agonized cry for help.

Heroin, bulimia and other self-loathing behaviors are a giant middle finger to America; no one ever cared about me, so why should I care about myself?  Heroin and bulimia are rebellions devoid of direction and grit, a quest without a compass.

Robbed of support from the patriarchal society, the survivor slips into self-torment. Nince Inch Nails’ lyrics, famously covered by Johnny Cash, capture the “Hurt:”

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything.

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end.
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.

The Somali writer, Warsan Shire writes: “Not everyone is okay with living like an open wound. But the thing about open wounds is that, well, you aren’t ignoring it. You’re healing; the fresh air can get to it. It’s honest. You aren’t hiding who you are. You aren’t rotting.”

The suppression of pain is ineffective because pain will only find other outlets. We, survivors, can run and escape all the way to the grave but until we cough up all of the pain, there can be no thorough-going healing. Silence is not an option. Some form of therapy is necessary to help survivors understand the roots of their self-harm and to find meaning in an alienating society.

Ronald Savage and other survivors of abuse are heroes.  Protectors of future generations, the survivors fought to overcome “the shame” patriarchy imposed on them and tell their stories.

Digging up and speaking the pain is the first step but it cannot happen without outside support. Because class society seeks to atomize and isolate the survivor, there must be an effort to collectivize our pain in a supportive, conscious community setting. There are 12 step programs and support groups called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and Incest Survivors Anonymous. 2There are also research-validated treatments such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that are effective for assisting those whose trauma has led to severely self-harming or suicidal behavior. These methods help the survivor see things differently and not blame themselves. Healing occurs when the survivor recognizes that they are good and beautiful and let’s go of the poisonous negative thoughts and low self-esteem that the abuser and patriarchy have instilled within them.

As I argued in an article on trauma, addiction and capitalism, a survivor who is able to theoretically grasp the hell-hole they were born into, begins to empower themselves to turn on the class system, the source of their trauma.  A revolutionary’s work is to provide a political orientation towards trauma.  If overcoming fear and denial is the individualized part of healing, revolutionary organizing against the monster, responsible for the crimes of the century, is the collective part of healing.

Therapy, support groups and the party, working together, all play their role in helping the survivor rise up on the society that violated them.

Our responsibility

Afrika Bambaataa was a pioneering hip hop voice who resisted injustice and capitalism, but this did not mean that he was beyond all of its insidiousness—patriarchy, white supremacy and homophobia.

On June 1st, 2016, Julien Terrell, cofounder of The Renaissance Zulu Chapter 64, issued the following statement condemning the covering up of Bambaataa’s sexual violence against teenage boys and announcing the chapter’s separation from the traditional Zulu Nation: “Many have said that Bambaataa’s accomplishments in hip hop should not be included in the critique of his so called personal life. I say that any so called political and cultural commitment that does not transfer to your personal actions is NOT a commitment at all. It’s nothing but talk and the time for putting ego aside has come. He [Bambaataa] is still lying but there is space for humility and compassion that the victims have offered despite the pain he caused. I hope those that are close to him support him in stepping to the allegations with integrity.  That is what this culture is supposed to represent.”

As revolutionaries and community leaders, we all carry the social baggage of the old world and must hold one another accountable for our actions. As Terrell explains, we have a responsibility to uproot and go to war with all of the contradictions, less they chaotically spill out and hurt others.

Socialism is healing

Experiments in rehabilitation in the U.S. are limited today because of the “lock them up and throw away the key” strategy of the state. In a transformed society, the abuser would undergo isolation, therapy, rehabilitation and slow reintegration.  Reconciliation would involve the recounting of their own childhoods and the social crimes they went on to commit.  There is no healing in denial. Anything short of a full, public admission and acceptance falls short of justice.

In a socialist society, inherited with all of social baggage of capitalism it will take generations to do away with all of the wicked inheritance—white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, individualism, consumerism etc.  As the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and other socialist societies can attest, in a new world born of the old—with all of the birth marks of wickedness and depravity—there will be no shortage of challenges for nations reborn.

The ruling class vilifies these human experiments in social re-organization in order to contain our dreams and ground our visions, less we conceive of emancipation from the current social disorder.  The unofficial religion of the U.S. today is anti-communism, for this very reason.

From the perspective of the extractors of surplus value, what has to be protected is not the right of a little girl to a childhood but their own unfettered access to profits.  The anonymous survivor of rape at Stanford, the 16-year-old Brazilian girl, Ronald Savage and all of the nameless survivors—caught in the crosshairs of patriarchy and exploitation—demonstrate the urgency to organize for the toppling of the capitalist system.1

Dr. Martin Luther King called for “a revolution in our nation’s priorities.”  A socialist society would immediately and decisively intervene to halt and reverse the monstrous patterns of incest and rape.

Towards a culture of women’s liberation

What would a world based on freedom—as opposed to necessity—look like? There is no way to predict the future but we can assert that it will not look anything like the degradation—what Engel’s called “pre-history”—that today’s oppressed communities and families confront.

In a healthy future, crystal meth, domestic abuse, and trauma itself will be remnants of a dark, distant past from which we will have emerged.

The goal then is to convert our current society into a school of women’s liberation.

Society’s superstructure must be torn up from the roots and reorganized to concretely confront the scourge of misogyny.  The advertising industry sexually objectifies women.  Viacom, General Electric and the entire mass media produce music and videos based on chauvinist caricatures of women as objects, shallow gossips, video vixens, hoes, thots and gold-diggers. Many actors in capitalist, consumer society are guilty in playing a role in the reproduction of rape culture. They cannot be let off the hook.

Socialist society will project empowering reference points through billboards, education, TV and social media.

In Cuba, where class relations are organized differently, the incidence of such crimes against women and children is far less common.  After 1959, Cuba outlawed the exploitation of women in advertising.  Housing, education, transportation, health care and a job were guaranteed social and economic rights.  A society that had ceased to be a patriarchal, dog-eat-dog world took the bite out of the dog.

Though we can only make conjectures about the future, we can be sure that it will look nothing like this hell-on-earth that exists today.

Only a new, socialist society can provide real healing and in the words of martyred Irish revolutionary, Bobby Sands: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” We fight so that no little child or adult ever again has to live with what Ronald Savage and all survivors live with—the pulsating scars of incest, abuse and rape buried beneath their skin.

Thank you to Emmanuella Odilis for the feedback, edits and support. As the tears and truths emerge, the words and strength stream fourth…

Sources:

[1] “Statistics about Sexual Violence.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 2015.

[2] Chemaly, Soraya. “50 Actual Facts about Rape.” Huffington Post. December 8th, 2014.

[3] 1993.

[4] National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence against Women Survey. 1998.

[5] It is not uncommon for cops to use their batons to violently penetrate their captives. This has nothing to do with homosexuality, but are rather acts of  aggression, power and contempt.

[6] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s well-known opera Marriage of Figaro is about precisely this, peasants and servants, in the early dawn of the revolutionary movement in France, conspiring and outsmarting a philandering count who sought to prey upon the young women of an Italian village.

[7] Page 136. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1935.

[8] New York: Penguin. 1987.

[9] DeGruy, Joy. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. Uptone Press, 2005.

[10] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: 1845.

[1] Frederick Douglas’ testimony conjured up images of what Haitian families endure today in exile in the Dominican Republic.  According to my research living and organizing within the Haitian communities of the D.R., the results are eerily similar with women and children twice victimized — by a system of anti-Haitianismo and by the alienated male sub-oppressors within the exploited Haitian community.

[12] There is a reactionary, “nationalist” trend that posits that Black men are damaged because they were not allowed to play a “traditional” patriarchal role. This chauvinist position submits that the solution is to allow the Black male to assume their “proper” place as patriarchal protectors. It should be stated that patriarchal “protection” in any class society, including pre-colonized Africa, has its own antithesis of rape and abuse.

[13] Originally published in Spanish as Si Me Permiten Hablar. New York: Monthly Review Press. 1978.

[14] This group expropriated the name of Maria Barzola, an Aymara activist assassinated in 1951 by the Bolivian government.

[15]On the plantation, Black women were at the same time domestic, breeder and field slave.  As she picked cotton, tobacco or sugar, she laid her baby down beside her just out of arm’s reach.  Still reeling from the pain of childbirth, she was forced to contribute to the productive process.  She was thrice enslaved.

[16] Fantz, Ashley. Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case. CNN. June 7, 2016.

[17] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) calculation based on US Department of Justice 2010 Statistics.

[18] “Raising Awareness about Sexual Abuse Facts and Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice.

[19] Bearak, Max. “Women’s Underwear Strewn on beach in Rio to protest Brazil’s rape culture.” The Washington Post. June 8th, 2016.

[20] Vintage. 1997.

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