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Raising awareness on sexual assault

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Features


Professors Anita Hill (Heller) and Bernadette Brooten (NEJS) assembled a daylong conference in Levin Ballroom on March 19 to raise awareness of the issue that black women are considerably less likely than white women to report and seek justice when raped.

“Professor Hill came to Brandeis in 1998, and we met soon after that. Our actual collaboration on this topic began in the early 2000s,” Brooten said. “What excites me about the conference is the multiplicity of steps forward that people can take.”

Leaders of the convention discussed the reasons, implications and further steps that can be taken to change the societal problem. As part of their academic research, Hill and Brooten have studied for years the legal injustices that black rape victims face.

“All citizens can work to persuade government officials to hold hearings and conduct investigations into why black women who experience rape are less likely to report to the police, why prosecutors are less likely to prosecute, and why jurors are less likely to convict than if the rape complainant were white,” Brooten said. “Any citizen who serves on a jury can make certain that they are judging each case on the merits, rather than based on harmful racial-sexual stereotypes.”

The crowd then watched a dramatic theater arts production, performed by Vanessa Adams Harris, depicting a woman who was raped by a man for whom she worked. He proceeds to lock her in a room, threatening to kill her, but she manages to retaliate, ultimately killing her attacker in self defense.

Tragically, she is later found guilty of murder and given the death sentence. This presentation was then followed by two separate panels allowing for discussions and questions of topics encompassing the issue. The event catered to many different disciplinary fields by including speeches, panels, general discussion and the arts, bringing in scholars from both near and far.

Some of the panelists included Professor Gail Wyatt (Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, Biomedical Sciences) of University of California, Los Angeles, and Professor Adrienne Davis (Private Law, Feminist Legal Theory, Theories of Justice and Reparations) of Washington University. Panel discussion included talks of deep-seeded cultural issues as well as current event topics today.

The audience members were diverse as well, consisting of local community members and students as well as those as far away as from Ghana.

President Fred Lawrence, who attended law school with Hill, talked about the urgency of the issue in his speech and how imperative it is to take steps towards consciousness and making changes.

“It is critically important that as a society we grapple with these issues because the stakes could not be higher,” Lawrence said.