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Meet Our Teams

This week, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we highlight the amazing work of our teams at ZCenter. Each team plays a crucial role in supporting survivors and ending sexual violence.


Counseling 

Saira Kahn, Clinical Supervisor 

ZCenter’s mission is to validate, believe and empower all survivors of sexual violence. We believe healing from sexual trauma is possible. Our trained counselors create a safe space for our clients, where they can share their experience, build resiliency, and regain control over their lives. ZCenter offers free counseling in Lake County and Northern Cook County.

 

 

 


Outreach & Advocacy

Every single day, every 73 seconds, an American is subjected to sexual violence. Part of our mission is to work with those that have been violated, but the role of the Outreach and Advocacy Team is to promote awareness and educate the community around sexual health, safety, and rights. Through prevention education, professional development, volunteerism, and social justice 

Christine Berry, Director of Services

activism, the Outreach Team reaches thousands of people annually to spread information and awareness. During this difficult time, ZCenter’s community outreach has evolved to include a broad digital presence, beginning a podcast (73 Seconds) and a blog, showcasing how important it is to end sexual violence and dismantle the systems responsible for sustaining it. 

 

 


Development

Development means different things in various industries. For ZCenter, it means fundraising. But more than that it means bringing awareness to all of the needs at 

Anna Lehner, Director of Development

ZCenter, to ensure we have the financial resources available to keep our services strong, necessary supplies, and support for our growing Outreach Programs. Fundraising comes from corporate donations, individual contributions, monthly giving (check out our Superhero Campaign!), and foundations through grant applications. 

 

 

 


Administration

Hi, my name is JoEllen and I am part of the Amazing Administration Team at ZCenter! Our team plays an important behind the scenes role in contributing to the comprehensive services provided to survivors of sexual violence by the ZCenter Staff, Interns and Volunteers.

JoEllen Erdman, Compliance Manager

Office management, budget and finance, data entry and stats management, government reporting and compliance, payroll and record keeping are all successfully orchestrated by the team of Helen Williamson-Administrative Specialist, Jessica Gonzalez-Financial & Facilities Assistant, JoEllen Erdman-Compliance Manager, and our fearless leader, Cindy Harris-Director of Administration. We take great pride in making sure that the office runs smoothly and the employees get paid so they can put all of their energies into providing the best trauma-informed care to the survivors we work with every day!

 


All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

Staff Picks: Books and Films

 Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.

-Ceridwen Dovey

Can Reading Make You Happier? 

 

With titles that support survivors like Maximize Your Super Powers, Nothing Is Louder than Silence, Living for Today, and Find Your Voice, it’s hard to believe that reading is anything but empowering. Why are books critical for survivors? What do they bring to those seeking a secret formula about how and why we’re feeling the way we do? 

Books allow us to see ourselves in stories, normalize our feelings, and not feel alone. We resonate with characters and appreciate the stories that show hope and healing. We receive insight into moving forward or hearing that being stuck right where we are is okay. Books can be a portal to connection with others, sharing their suffering as well as joys. These stories and poems help us experience multiple realities and give language to thoughts and feelings some of us cannot put into words. Books like Grief Day by Day can expand our understanding; it can feel as though someone is walking hand in hand with us as the book taps into the hidden places where we may not want to look.

Reading makes us laugh, get angry, or cry. It is a personal and visceral experience and it can be incredibly uncomfortable to see yourself in black and white, for everyone to see. At the same time, books dare us to grow and help guide and solidify the goals we have around healing and who we want to be. Books remind us that words like transcending, allies, and courage need to be part of our lexicon; these are powerful terms that we aspire to have and to emulate. Reading also can reduce stress, be soothing, and cause one’s mind to shift gears to a positive or more open state. Let’s be patient with ourselves as we move through pages and remember the books were not written about us but for us. Soak it all in and remember wherever you are on your journey; you deserve this healing process, however that may look for you.

Some people who have experienced sexual assault and abuse have found ways to collect their memories and compile these soul-searching experiences, so others can benefit from their strength and courage. They’re willing to allow others to actually see their story in black and white. We appreciate them and their courage. Although we can highlight some of those books here, maybe it’s not only about the books themselves, but the importance they play as life preservers, an escape from where we are, and finding the truth, your truth.  – Wendy Ivy, Associate Executive Director

 

Staff Picks

  • Christine Berry, Director of Services, suggests Mean by Myriam Gurba. The reason this book is so important is because it highlights how intersectionality plays a role in trauma. In addition, it really shows how added trauma negatively impacts those who are already marginalized. 
  • Anna Lehner, Director of Development, recommends watching Allen v. Farrow, on HBO. This documentary highlights some of the systems, wealth, Hollywood culture, and misogyny, that often protect perpetrators and influence the public views on sexual violence. 
  • Kristin Jones, our Outreach Supervisor, urges viewers to watch the documentary Rewind, directed by Sasha Neulinger. Viewers learn about how a survivor of childhood sexual abuse continues to move forward in the healing journey and how he started a Child Advocacy Center that sparked a movement of more centers like it opening nationwide.
  • Sarah Brennan, our Activism and Volunteer Coordinator, suggests reading Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. Chanel shares her journey to healing and uses her voice to take back ownership of her body and of the narrative. Readers learn more about the process of medical advocacy, the legal process, and what survivors can expect emotionally when going through similar situations. 
  • Haley Olson, a ZCenter BSW Intern, recommends the documentary The Hunting Ground, directed by Kirby Dick. Viewers of this documentary learn about the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses by following survivors’ stories and recoveries as they chase justice. The film also deep dives into the academic bureaucracy that seems to prioritize protecting institutions over working towards justice.

 


 

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email info@zcenter.org.

Legislation and Sexual Assault

Legislation can be a heavy topic and one that is often difficult to understand. If we take a look into the etymology of the word, we can get a better idea of what the purpose of legislation really is. One of the original meanings of the word law comes from Old Norse and means “things layed out or fixed.” With this meaning, we see that one of the purposes of legislation is to provide guidelines or rules, ones that are fixed and layed out for us to better understand and refer to when needed. In the U.S., we have the power to take part in determining those guidelines and rules through our representatives and senators. We can encourage them to make the changes that are most important to us. To start off Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we take a look at three examples of proposed legislation that will protect and expand the basic rights of sexual assault survivors.  We also explore ways that you can take action and make sure these rights are put into practice.

Upcoming bills and their importance 

HB 3265: This bill would guarantee confidentiality to any survivor seeking services at a rape crisis center. This confidentiality would be guaranteed, regardless of whether the center provides only sexual assault services or also provides services like domestic violence as well.

This bill may seem like legislators are splitting hairs; however, in 2020, a defendant argued that a survivor was not protected by confidentiality because the center where she received services provided both sexual assault and domestic violence services. He argued that the definition of a rape crisis center states that its “sole purpose is to provide sexual assault services” and because the center where the survivor sought services also provided domestic violence services, she did not qualify for confidentiality. Survivors should always feel comfortable and safe seeking services for their healing and be guaranteed confidentiality, regardless of the scope of services that an organization offers. 

HB 63: This bill proposes that the Department of Public Health develop specialized clinics throughout the state to provide affordable healthcare services to women. Some of these services would include annual examinations, postnatal care, and services for STIs. 

We know that many survivors of sexual assault are women. It is crucial and a basic human right  for them not only to be able to have services available, but services that are also affordable. The impact of sexual assault goes beyond a single act of violence; it lasts a lifetime. Because of this, there is a need for health services throughout the entire life of the survivor. 

HB 1736: The Reach Act is a current bill that would enhance education prevention programs throughout Illinois. You might be familiar with Erin’s Law, a law that Illinois passed in 2011. This law mandates that students from preschool through high school receive relevant curricula that would help with the prevention of sexual abuse.

The passing of Erin’s Law has been an incredible start to prioritizing this type of education for students. However, The Reach Act expands on Erin’s Law, improving the AIDS training section of School Code, adding more inclusion of diverse gender identities, and prohibiting the use of gender stereotypes, just to name some of the amendments. 

 

Looking for ways to take action?

As advocates, we always support survivors as best we can; but without creating change in our laws and policies, we cannot give them the justice that they truly need. We know that it takes time for change to happen and that results do not often come quickly. This is why it is important that more people join the fight for survivors’ rights. The more people that support these bills, the more representation there will be, and the sooner we will see the results that bring even more hope for survivors.

If you are interested in contacting your local senators or representatives to support any of the new legislation listed above, please use this link to find your local representative, their contact information and district, and the state district map. 

ICASA (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault) works tirelessly to ensure bills are written, to advocate that laws are passed to support survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and to remove barriers to services. The ICASA website provides a comprehensive resource of these laws that protect and support survivors. An example of some of these laws are: 

  • Crime Victims’ Rights 
  • Statute of Limitations 
  • SASETA (Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act) rights involving emergency medical care and treatment at no cost
  • Civil No Contact Orders 
  • Crime Victim Compensation Program

ICASA’s website, found here, will also provide the most updated legislative initiatives each year so you can participate locally with your representatives on behalf of survivors. 

Join us all month as we participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) with weekly blog posts, daily posts on our social media, and two new podcast episodes. We can end sexual violence. You can help us.

Forgotten Voices in STEM: Rosalind Franklin

The month of March is Women’s History Month and so we are focusing on forgotten voices of women throughout history. This week, we’re highlighting the work of an incredibly influential woman who is only spoken of briefly in biology courses despite her huge accomplishments. Seventy years ago, a young Rosalind Franklin looked over an X-Ray photograph and discovered something that would go on to change how we understand life. This discovery eventually led to a university here in Lake County, IL being named after her. Unfortunately, even though her legacy lives on locally, she also got the very raw end of the deal when it comes to her own discovery.

Franklin was born in Notting Hill, London in 1920. At the beginning of her life, her family noticed how quickly she had picked up a love and understanding of maths and sciences, her intelligence even surpassing those subjects and eventually mastering the French, Italian, and German languages. It was only at the age of 16 that Franklin began to dedicate her time to science entirely. Majoring in physical chemistry at one of the only women’s colleges, Newnham College at Cambridge University, Franklin immediately went on to work as a research assistant with the British Coal Utilisation Research Association (BCURA) after her bachelor’s degree. At BCURA, she studied the absorption of coal and the research she did eventually led her into her dissertation for her doctorate degree in 1945.

After earning her doctorate, Franklin was accepted into a position at Paris’ Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l’Etat, where she worked on X-Ray imagery, leading her to her primal discovery just a short few years later in 1951. While studying DNA structure with assistant Raymond Gosling, Franklin discovered that DNA had a double helix structure in a photo now branded Photograph 51, serving as the evidence for the new understanding of DNA. Unfortunately, a colleague showed this photograph to James Watson, who took the evidence to further prove his and Francis Crick’s own research on the structure without Franklin’s permission. They went on to publish a paper on the structure of DNA with no credit given to Franklin, despite her photograph being a prominent factor of evidence.

Franklin continued on to new areas of research, publishing a number of papers on viruses in the five years after her discovery. The impact of her work helped build many foundations of understanding viral structure, which was incredibly important to physiological research. Still, Watson and Crick went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine years after Franklin’s death from ovarian cancer in 1958, giving no credit to Franklin.

Rosalind Franklin is only one account of women’s voices being lost within the larger influence of men, having not been acknowledged for this contribution until after her death, and while it may not be the last, there is power in recognizing those lost voices. This month we have highlighted multiple women that paved the way for so many others in history. Join ZCenter as we strive to keep these voices alive while raising up the voices of women today. 

 


 

Maisel, M., & Smart, L. (1997). Rosalind Elsie Franklin: Pioneer molecular biologist. Retrieved 

March 22, 2021, from https://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/franklin.html

Rosalind Franklin: A Crucial Contribution. (2014). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from 

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/rosalind-franklin-a-crucial-contribution-6538012/

Rosalind Franklin: Biographical Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from 

https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/spotlight/kr/feature/biographical

 

Stormé DeLarverie: Stonewall and Beyond

It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.

— Stormé DeLarverie

This Women’s History Month, we celebrate the life of Stormé DeLarverie, and although recounts of Stonewall are uncertain of whether Stormé threw the first punch, she was extremely influential in fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights throughout her life. Stormé was born in the 1920s; at the time, her mother was a Black servant in the home of her white father; the two eventually married and moved to California.

Stormé was the Master of Ceremonies for Jewel Box Revenue, a group of 25 men and Stormé which entailed a gender-bending performance where Stormé presented as a cisgender man in the first integrated drag show in the U.S. in the 1940s. Stormé was a butch lesbian who fought fiercely for the rights of all individuals. While living in New York City, Stormé became a motherly figure within the LGBTQIA+ community, being sure to handle any “ugly” she saw. She used the term ugly to define bullying, abuse, or intolerance of people within the LGBTQIA+ community. This fearlessness afforded Stormé the nickname of being the “Rosa Parks of the gay community” (Windy City Times, 2014). Throughout her life, Stormé was also a bouncer at Cubby Hole’s bar in New York, where she worked until she was 85. For Stormé, this was not a movement but fighting for a lifestyle where everyone could live their life freely as they wanted to.

In the New York Times obituary remembering Stormé, one of her legal guardians, Mrs. Cannistraci exclaimed, “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero; she was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.” We hope to emulate the same fierceness that Stormé had throughout her lifetime in our work supporting survivors and ending sexual violence against all individuals.

 


 

Brownworth, V. (2015). The Herstory Pride Archives: why recording our lesbian history is important. Curve (San Francisco, Calif.), 25(3), 16–.

HELLER, M. (2020). The “First Punch” at Stonewall: Counteridentification Butch Acts. In Queering Drag: Redefining the Discourse of Gender-Bending (pp. 115-151). Bloomington, Indiana, USA: Indiana University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvtv93wm.8

Iconic activist storme DeLaverie passes away. (2014, Jun 04). Windy City Times Retrieved from http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/iconic-activist-storme-delaverie-passes-away/docview/1538315297/se-2?accountid=12163

https://theriveter.co/voice/it-wasnt-no-damn-riot-celebrating-stonewall-uprising-activist-storme-delarverie/

 

Forgotten Voices: Elizabeth Peratrovich and Indigenous Rights

This month we are focusing on forgotten voices of women who have made great change and impacted society in a unique way, whose accomplishments have been overlooked. Elizabeth Peratrovich advocated for civil rights, particularly for the Indigenous population and played a huge role in creating the first anti-discrimination bill in the United States. 

Elizabeth was born a member of the Tlingit nation in 1911 in Alaska; at a young age she lost both her parents, was adopted by the Wanamakers, and given the name “Elizabeth Jean.”. Throughout her life there was blatant discrimination against the Tlingit nation in the territory. Indigenous people were limited on where they could receive medical care and go to school, even which dining establishments they could go to. There was also hatred shown towards Indigenous people from the white population in the area. From signs saying ‘No Natives allowed’, ‘No dogs, no Natives’, to ‘We cater to White trade only’, discrimination was inescapable. 

A few years after marrying Roy Peratrovich, also from the Tlingit nation, they moved to Juneau; this was where her fight for equal rights became regionally recognized. She wrote to the elected governor about the sign ‘No Natives allowed’ that she and her husband had stumbled across, expressing her outrage that it would exist after World War II. Elizabeth gained the support of Governor Gruening for an anti-discrimination law, but the first time they tried to pass the bill in Alaska in 1943, it did not pass the House. Elizabeth toured around Alaska working to gain support from fellow Indigenous people to ensure its passing the second time. In 1945, the anti-discrimination bill was re-introduced, and was the first of its kind to passed by the senate in an 11-5 vote. This bill called for entitlement to equal enjoyment of services and establishments. For example, restaurants, roller skating rinks, bathrooms, and transportation are just a few that were specifically listed in the bill. Elizabeth was a huge reason why this anti-discrimination bill was passed when she gave pivotal testimony stating, 

“”Have you eliminated larceny or murder by passing a law against it?” Peratrovich asked matter-of-factly. “No law will eliminate crimes, but, at least, you as legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.” (Bohi, 2009) 

This anti-discrimination bill created a invaluable guide on future bills to come in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. While Elizabeth did pass away in 1958, she was an inspiration that proudly raised her voice and acted against discrimination not only for herself, but other Indigenous people as well. In 1988, Alaska legislature deemed February 16, the “Annual Elizabeth Peratrovich Day” in honor of her fight against discrimination, and she is still recognized to this day. Elizabeth was brave to speak against discrimination in that time, and paved the way for many others to come. 

 

Washington.edu

 

 

References: 

Bohi, H. (2009). Below the radar: virtually unknown heroes of Alaska. Alaska Business Monthly, 25(4), 134–.

Hoffman, K. (2020). “Elizabeth Peratrovich- Leadership qualities”. Indigenous Leaders and Activists. Washington University. Retrieved from http://faculty.washington.edu/jlreid/wordpress/2020/03/05/elizabeth-peratrovich-leadership-qualities/ 

Weingroff, R. (Updated 2021). “Who Is Elizabeth Peratrovich? The story behind the country’s first anti-discrimination law”. Retrieved from https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/highwayhistory/peratrovich.cfm.  

 

Forgotten Voices: Women Writers throughout History

*We at ZCenter recognize and celebrate Women’s History Month, but we do offer all of our services to all individuals regardless of how they identify. We acknowledge the use of womxn as an inclusive term, but choose to maintain the use of women, as many do not feel included in the use of womxn. We believe transgender women are women, which is why choose to continue the use of women.

 

In honor of Women’s History Month, the March blogs will focus on forgotten voices of major women figures throughout history. This week, we highlight only a few women writers who too often go unnoticed in a literary world dominated by the cisgender white male voice. 

Enheduanna, two millennia before the Christian messiah, grasps the lapiz lazuli around her neck, takes in the night sky, and writes her soul into poetry as she honors the goddess Inanna. She gazes toward the Gate of Wonder as hymns to the Queen of Heaven and Earth flow onto her clay tablets (De Shong Meador, 2000). A woman, writing praise to a goddess, suspends her own place as one living under the shadow of her father Sargon. In an ancient world dominated by warring men, Enheduanna, the first known female poet and first known author by name, writes her own world.

She is Inanna

Bearer of Happiness

Whose strapping command

Hip-dagger in hand

Spreads radiance over the land

-excerpt from Lady of Largest Heart by Enheduanna (De Shong Meador, 2000)

 

As male Babylonian warriors siege Jerusalem, Sappho centers the 6th Century BCE Mediterranean world on Helen, Hera, Hermione, Hékate, and Aphrodite (Sappho, 2007). Sappho’s poems remind us that we can re-center the narrative; the story becomes what we choose.

But stand before me, if you are my friend, 

and spread the grace that’s in your eyes.

– (Sappho, 2007, p.34)

Hékate, the shining gold attendant of Aphrodite…

Like a child to her mother I have flown to you.

– (Sappho, 2007, p.41-42)

 

In 17th Century Mexico, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a prolific writer in her matricentric world, even referred to now as a protofeminist and ecofeminist (Yagar, 2014). Centering her poetry in the Nahua people’s cosmic worldview, Sor Juana challenged the gender inequalities of her time. Of particular interest is her poem Hombres Necios, in which she describes the hypocrisy of men who demand that unmarried women are virgins, when it is the same men who take that virginity.

Hombres necios que acusáis

a la mujer sin razón,

sin ver que sois la ocasión

de lo mismo que culpáis

 

Foolish men who accuse

women without reason,

without seeing that you’re to blame

for the very thing that you accuse

– excerpt from Hombres Necios (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1997)

 

As we work to end sexual violence, we carry a torch that was lit many millennia ago by brave, autonomous women like these three writers. In their poetry, may we find the inspiration to continue to fight oppression for all.

 

Works Referenced:

 

De Shong Meador, B. (2000). Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart. University of Texas Press.

Sappho. (2007). Poetry of Sappho (J. Powell, Trans.). Oxford University Press. http://www.projethomere.com/ressources/Sappho/Poetry-of-Sappho.pdf

Yugar, T.A. (2014). Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. (1997). Obras completas (México, D.F.: Porrúa, 1997), 109.

 

Rosa Parks: Women’s Rights Activist

Long revered as a civil rights icon, Rosa Parks is best known for sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks’s refusal to move on that iconic bus was more than an act of racial justice. She understood that women were unsafe in the back of a bus; she refused to move as an act of resistance, knowing that sexual violence against Black women was pervasive and accepted by the mainstream culture.

Twelve years earlier, Rosa Parks had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Upon joining the NAACP, she focused on advocacy efforts for the Black community in Alabama, including efforts to make sure Black sexual violence survivors received their rightful day in court. Escaping her own attempted sexual assault by a white neighbor, she was once quoted as saying,

“ I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.” 

Rosa Parks’s passion for justice in sexual violence cases brought her to Abbeville, Alabama in the fall of 1944. Recy Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped and assaulted by a group of men. When the NAACP learned of the incident, they sent Rosa Parks as an investigator. Segregation and white supremacy permeated every area of life in 1940’s Alabama, a milieu not unlike many other parts of our nation. When Rosa Parks found an unfriendly welcome in Abbeville, she drew on her own resilience and co-founded the Committee for Equal Justice for Ms. Recy Taylor. Rosa Parks played a large role in bringing national attention to the case, kindling the fire of civil rights around the nation. We can draw a direct line from Recy Taylor’s case to the Civil Rights Movement and then to the Me Too Movement. We owe a debt of gratitude to Rosa Parks in the role she played in both civil rights and justice for sexual violence survivors.

Mrs. Parks dedicated her life to activism and other social justice causes. On October 25, 2005 Mrs. Parks Passed away at the age of 92. May we honor her memory with each act to end sexual violence and each act to end racial injustice. 

 

Sojourner Truth: Activist and Orator

Sojourner Truth lived as an enslaved Black woman for most of her young adult life until a New York statute declared in 1817 that all enslaved Black people would be free by July 4, 1827. Growing up as an enslaved Black girl, and in a rural town, Sojourner was never given the opportunity to attend missionary school to learn to read and write. It was not illegal to teach enslaved Black people during this time, although it was uncommon and typically occurred in more populated cities like New York City or Albany. Sojourner never did learn to read and write, but was a skilled orator who captivated audiences. Upon legally being granted her freedom, Sojourner was an avid abolitionist whose focus was on issues such as property rights, prison reform, capital punishment, and women’s suffrage. Sojourner teamed together with other activists to help add more power to the abolitionist movement including Frederick Douglass, even though they had differing ideas on how to help newly freed Black people during the time of Reconstruction. Partnerships like this one added even more power to the work of social justice as they continued to give speeches across the United States fighting for equal rights. 

Sojourner Truth gave her now-famous speech, Ain’t I a Woman, in 1851 at the Ohio Rights Convention. In 2021, 170 years later, we see the relevancy of her words as they echo down the streets where we see police violence towards Black bodies. Ain’t I a Woman, cries Breonna Taylor, Ain’t I a Woman, cries Sandra Bland. Ain’t I a Woman, cry the many Black women whose lives have been cut short in recent years.

 

Ain’t I a Woman?

 

“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

 

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

 

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

 

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

 

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it. The men better let them.

 

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

Sojourner Truth’s words speak to women of color today, too. This speech focuses not only on sexism but also racism within the feminist movement. All women should be treated equally to each other, and equally to men. The struggle of Black women finding their place as Black women within feminism and as feminist women within the Black community is an ongoing struggle, as we see in bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Sojourner Truth was a bold, brave woman who was not afraid to speak her mind against the injustices of the time. She overcame many obstacles in her life and made waves with her powerful words that battled patriarchy and racism.

Frances Thompson: Honoring Black Survivors Who Forged the Path Before Us

During the Memphis Riots in 1866, Frances Thompson and her roommate Lucy Smith were attacked in their home. At the time of the attack, Frances and Lucy were formerly enslaved Black women, now living freely working as seamstresses. Both of these women, along with four other Black women– Mary Walker, Mollie Davis, Ellen Brown, and Lucy Hunt– bravely testified before congress in the aftermath of the Memphis Riots for various reasons. Ms. Thompson’s testimony was thrown out ten years later as, after an arrest and medical examination, it was publicized that Ms. Thompson was a transgender woman in The Pulaski Citizen, the daily newspaper. Unable to pay the fine, Ms. Thompson was thrown in jail and sent out on the chain gang– when prisoners were chained together in order to complete physical tasks. In the testimony provided, Ms. Thompson describes having a cancer in her foot and being unable to walk without crutches. From then on, Ms. Thompson’s identity was used to discredit her testimony of what happened years earlier during the riots.  

Sexual assault survivors too often have their stories doubted. It is not easy for survivors to provide testimony against their perpetrators, still to this day. Survivors are not believed, and it is important to take into account their identities and how this affects their ability to heal, and be believed. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the feminist term, intersectionality, which references the way in which our identities (race, gender, class, sex, ability, sexuality, etc.) can affect one another and further discrimination or increase privilege. With Frances Thompson, there are many intersections of her identity that lead to further discrimination and we can see that in the wrongful and forced publication in regards to her transgender identity as well as her living with a disability. People no longer believed her and began to use incorrect pronouns among other forms of verbal and physical abuse. Frances Thompson was a brave woman who testified against her perpetrators in 1866, and we look toward her as a woman of strength in this fight against sexual assault. 

If you are interested in reading Ms. Thompson’s testimony, you can find it here on pages 196-197. To read the article clipping from The Pulaski Citizen, click here.

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