Aishah Shahidah Simmons was molested by a relative when she was 10 years old, by a friend of the family when she was 12 years old and was raped when she was 20.
Fifteen years later, Simmons has boldly stepped forward with her feature length documentary titled “No!” that consists of narratives from community activists, religious leaders, acclaimed scholars, psychologists and testimonies from rape survivors.
Tucked behind an assembly of large pine trees at the United Church of Tallahassee, Simmons, along with sexual violence survivors in the Tallahassee community, congregated Friday to speak out.
The event, which contained the screening of “No!”, was part of a sexual violence awareness program sponsored by the Refuge House, Florida State University’s Woman’s Center and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, among others.
Priscilla Barnes, director of the sexual violence program, said she coordinated the event to educate the community about sexual violence. Barnes said support is lacking because of misconceptions about rape.
“Survivors are often re-victimized because we tend to blame them for the assault,” she said.
Barnes said society’s tendency to stigmatize rape survivors has forced many women to retreat into seclusion and remain silent.
Debra Horton carried the burden of silence for 26 years. She had been raped when she was five years old and bottled the pain until she was about 30.
Horton was raised by her great-grandmother, who was born in 1885, and implanted the slave mentality of mute submission into three subsequent generations.
“In her household, anything sexual was taboo,” Horton said. “When I tried to tell her what happened, I didn’t have the words.”
Communication was one of many issues the documentary addressed.
Simmons, who spent four years researching for “No!” and started working on it in 1994, said the most important aspect of the healing process is talking to someone who will listen.
The film takes a critical look through a cultural lens at the collective silence regarding the intra-racial rape of black women. However, the documentary also examines the residual effects of sexual violence dating back to slavery.
“We cannot talk about rape without looking at it historically,” she said.
Simmons said the abusive nature of the slave masters have damaged the psyche of many black women. She also said the mentality has transcended generations.
Although spirited applause followed the film, the contrast of sorrow and celebration made the event bittersweet.
Following the documentary, there was a “Survivor Speak Out” where women shared stories of recovery and personal triumphs. A candlelight vigil followed and the teary-eyed attendees remembered rape victims.
Simmons said she hopes the film will spark dialogue about sexual violence.
“I want people to look at rape with the same intensity that they look at police brutality,” she said. “I want the documentary to be used as a tool to start the conversation.”
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