A rape survivor since age 19, Aishah Shahidah Simmons made it her mission to let the world know, and most importantly other survivors, that no means no, it’s never the victim’s fault and break the cycle of silence surrounding the subject.
A rape survivor since age 19, Aishah Shahidah Simmons made it her mission to let the world know, and most importantly other survivors, that no means no, it’s never the victim’s fault and break the cycle of silence surrounding the subject. She set out to document on video the stories of many survivors, excluding her own, to share with the world and heighten the awareness. A Philadelphia native and current artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago, Simmons was raped by a native while she was studying abroad in Mexico during her sophomore year. “I was interested in breaking the silence in our community around sexual violence because I’m very concerned that we aren’t talking about it enough as a community,” Simmons told the Defender. One out of three women in the United States will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The majority of sexual violence against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to the police. Only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. In 1994, she started working on “NO!,” a then 30-minute documentary featuring testimonials from African-American female rape survivors who defy victimization that evolved into a 94-minute film that was completed three years ago, “a long journey,” she said. During that time and listening to the stories, Simmons came to the conclusion that slavery was at the root of sexual abuse and assault. “You have to talk about what happened during slavery, in terms of interracial rape, and the silence of Black men being lynched at the turn of the century, many for allegedly making advances towards white women. All of this plays a role in the silence in our community,” she said. In her quest to do the film, Simmons hit two major unexpected road blocks in seeing the documentary to completion –– financing and the lack of interest. “Many people weren’t interested in funding a documentary that looked at sexual violence in the African-American community. Major cable networks said, ‘Let’s face it, most people don’t care about the rape of Black women and girls. Not that it’s not an important project but that our people just wouldn’t be interested,’” Simmons said, who did not divulge which networks turned her down. But she didn’t let that deter her.
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