STAR® recognizes that the intersection of sexual violence and racism is embedded in history. Centuries of sexual abuse against Black bodies are glossed over, omitted, or muted. Survivors who were brave enough to speak out were silenced by society, rarely receiving justice. Black women and men who stepped up to speak their truth with faith that their cries would be heard and supported experienced brutal physical punishment, social ridicule, separation from loved ones, and death. A long history of sexual trauma has been passed down from generation to generation. Even today, Black bodies are still dehumanized and hypersexualized.
Last year, STAR® launched an internal Person of Color Network, which was established for people of color by people of color, providing a space for emotional support and professional development in this work. One way we’d like to help cultivate more understanding about how racial oppression and sexual violence are linked is to create a messaging campaign, which we named #LiftEVERYVoice.
By Laneceya Russ, Advocacy Director in Baton Rouge
Sara Baartman was born in 1789 at the Gamtoos River which is now known as Eastern Cape. Sarah was sold into slavery to a trader named Pieter Willem Cezar when she was around 16 years old. She became a domestic servant to Cezar’s brother in Cape Town. On October 28, 1810 Sara allegedly signed a contract with an English ship surgeon named William Dunlop (a friend of Cezar and his brother) that she would travel with them to work as a domestic servant and be showcased for entertainment purposes.
Sara Baartman’s body including her large buttocks and unusual skin color made her an object of fascination by the Europeans. Eventually, Dunlop wanted Sara to travel to London where she was displayed in a building where Englishmen and women paid to see Sara’s half-naked body displayed in a cage. After 4 years in London, Sarah was sold to a man named Reaux who showcased animals. He exhibited her around Paris and made money off of Sara’s body. Reaux showcased Sara in a cage alongside a baby rhinoceros. Her “trainer” would order her to sit and stand. At times, Sara was displayed almost completely naked wearing little more than tan cloth over her genitals.
Sara caught the attention of George Cuvier who asked Reaux if Sara could be studied as a science specimen and he said yes. Beginning in March 1815, Sara was studied by French anatomists, zoologists, and physiologists. Cuvier concluded that she was a link between animals and humans and she was used to emphasize the stereotype that Africans were oversexed and an inferior race. Sara died at the age of 26 in 1816.
This Week’s Letter: Sara Baartman
#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression. We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.