GRIEF, LOSS and SEXUAL ASSAULT: The Agony of An Untold Story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

—Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on the Road, 1969

Sexual assault survivors are among the most disenfranchised populations, coping with narratives of multiple losses, uncertainty, and grief that frequently go unacknowledged. An alleged perpetrator gleefully walks across the stage at a college graduation, cheered on by an audience, some of whom, aware of the assault, applaud nonetheless. Meanwhile, the assault survivor, disoriented and betrayed by a system and society designed to protect offenders, struggles with grief that is suffocated by a system filled with penalties  and oppressive stigma stemming from the assault. The survivor is left to contend with losses of trust and physical and emotional safety. She faces the agony of knowing that despite the perpetrator’s actions, he will experience the freedom to participate in a life of possibilities and protections with few or no social, educational, or legal sanctions—a luxury that, in an instant, was violently seized from the survivor.

Grief, loss, and social injustice are vital elements in the distinct yet intersecting stories of sexual assault and post-assault survivorship. Yet survivors must frequently cope in isolation or in programs and therapeutic settings that do not consistently account for grief and loss as central to their experiences.  These factors, related to disenfranchisement and suffocated grief among young adult females, further complicate grief and mourning processes.

Losses commonly associated with sexual assault and issues of disenfranchisement and suffocated grief that serve to further complicate coping processes for survivors are numerous, cumulative, and multilayered.

The primary loss is the pre-assault life and worldview. There are also a multitude of secondary or accompanying losses that may be both visible (e.g., friendship loss) and invisible (e.g., loss of trust).

Secondary losses in sexual assault include, but are not limited to loss of trust in self and others, as well as:

  • beliefs about the goodness of others
  • loss of self-identity, freedom, and independence
  • loss of control and autonomy, such as in the timing of reporting
  • loss of a sense of safety and security
  • loss of positive self-concept or self-esteem
  • loss of finances and job
  • loss of social capital such as friends and social networks or intimate partnerships and
  • loss of sexual interest and other sex-related losses.

In interchanges with the legal system, there may be multiple losses. There may be a loss of ability to present one’s case in court. Among cases that make it to trial, survivors may lose the ability to tell the assault narrative in a coherent and meaningful way because stories of survivors are often dismantled in court, and survivors are instead expected to respond mainly to yes or no questions[closed questions].

Additionally, there are losses of privacy and time in legal proceedings; court trials often continue for months or even years with no clear ending or resolution, which may prolong or delay grief. The grief process may be further complicated in cases where there is no conviction. Survivors are possibly re-victimized when the verdict is experienced as unjust.

Unfortunately, the losses are not finite, as there can be a continuous presence of loss that is often hidden, invisible, and ongoing in nature which may be exacerbated because the circumstances surrounding the loss result in recurrent pain, grief, or intense distress involving, for example, shame, self-consciousness, or social isolation.

With an understanding of sexual assault as a type of bereavement, offering fitting interventions that enfranchise grief become apparent, and the notion of growth through loss is problematic. It imposes a timeline upon the survivor as to the grieving process- oppressive and greatly unfair. Survivors need time to process the fact that they have been violated and to establish new norms in their ‘post-assault’ life.

Support for any and all feelings of loss is and should be a basic right, should be acknowledged as we consider it an “unearned entitlement” of survivors of sexual assault. Supports can be emotional, concrete, physical, but it is more necessary that supports are comprehensive.

As we deliver supports to sexual assault survivors, we need them to be collaborative, free from stigma or re-victimization, and environments need to be intentionally supportive. By design, it is to be expected that all settings support emotional and physical safety and ultimately, total well-being.

Fragmented services have prevailed for far too long, and this contributes to the isolation, disenfranchisement, and vulnerability often experienced by survivors. The many untold stories need to be told, heard, and prevented from becoming insurmountable barriers to restoring or attaining total wellness of survivors.

“Wellness is a positive state of being brought about by the simultaneous, balanced and synergistic satisfaction of personal, relational, and collective needs…. Wellness cannot flourish in the absence of justice, and justice is devoid of meaning in the absence of wellness.…” (Prilleltensky, Dokecki, Frieden, & Wang, 2007)

Attention to cultural frameworks must be employed in practices designed to understand disenfranchisement and complications to the grief process for survivors. It is all too often the case that unacknowledged or disenfranchised grief is related to lack of assault disclosure[the untold story] among individuals from more marginalized social locations (e.g., African American, female).

Female assault victims are at an increased risk for self-harm or harm to others, and deemed less costly than the effort required to counteract long-standing oppressive patriarchal systems. Punishment for working against privilege and the supported systems is often swift and severe.

For example, a female assault survivor on a college campus who pursues charges against a star football player, seemingly one individual, would actually be working against multiple systems of oppression (e.g., athletic system, legal system). In pursuing her basic right of recognition and justice, she may be publicly maligned and faced with a case in which the perpetrator, supported by multiple systems that reflect and reinforce male privilege and oppression of women, is not convicted.

Nuff said?!!! No. There are still too many untold stories. If you have a story to tell, speak now or later, but tell your story and own your power and your right to heal and be well.

To be continued…


The Mystique of Black Hair!


The American cultural female beauty ideal remains decidedly narrow and relatively white. Physical manifestations of beauty exhibited in Black women have been debated and contested in American culture for over a century. Black women’s bodies were routinely regarded as vile, inhuman, and at the very least unattractive, while simultaneously Black women were utilized as objects for the sexual favors of some powerful white men. The broad noses, brown skin, full lips, large buttocks and wiry hair of Black women have been seen as abhorrent over the course of United States history. Images of the Black woman as a mammy figure with headscarf, shaven head or tight short braids was a primary visual representation of Black women in the minds of many Americans until recently.

more hair

In the modern era images of Black women as legitimate and rival beauties to white women and other women of color is evidenced by their increased representation in the media and popular press. While these images of Black beauty are more present, Black women continue to be objectified, often dismembered and portrayed as animal, alien or unnatural. We have had a first Lady of the United States who is African American. Many Black women grace the pages of premier fashion magazines and a popular network television series (Scandal) features a Black woman as the US President mistress and sincere love interest.

straight do

While the media celebrates portrayal of Black women who successfully achieve a white beauty ideal (narrow noses, straightened hair, lighter brown skin), successful, upper middle class and highly educated young Black women are subverting the white beauty paradigm and increasingly accepting themselves and presenting themselves to the world in their natural beauty state. This may address how in the face of social and cultural degradation and diminished access to resources of higher education and economic advancement Black women consistently rate high on measures of self-esteem. For women and girls across cultures, hair is an enduring symbol of female beauty.


What does ‘hair’ mean for the African-American community? That question alone brings up a multitude of perspectives and a host of different questions to follow. The first response to that question would sound a little flippant, but hair is an important, and also complex physical attribute for everyone, bar none. Is it vanity? Is it about vitality, youthfulness?  Hair, for black people, is as varied as skin tone and complexions are-they run the gamut. From pale, the lightest hues to rich tans and the deepest browns, can be an outermost, easily recognizable feature. Many of us are surrounded by black people whom you would not have an idea of their ancestry or lineage, by skin tone alone. Contrasting skin with hair color, texture, length, or style, black hair is about as individually unique as fingerprints.

short do

What is most associated with black hair is tight, curly, or ‘kinky’, yet black hair texture spans from straight to loose curls, to tight curls, wavy and to the natural afro style. While some women of color prefer long, flowing locks, you can never be too certain whether it is naturally grown or store bought. Either way, don’t get it twisted; it IS her hair. Before this conversation becomes esoteric, never, and I mean never, ask a black woman whether she is wearing a wig, weave, or whether it is her ‘own’ hair that is so beautifully and intricately styled. Believe me, you will be sadly embarrassed and you may never receive the truth. Last time, it IS HER hair, and that is the truth.

The myth about black women and swimming pools! Believe it! Carefully coiffed hair must never meet with water unless it is inside of a salon. That’s bad news! But, not everyone can say that, because of modern science and perms, it is possible to get wet, but not very likely that she will take that chance. What! Ruin the hair that she spent hours in the salon to achieve “hair perfection”!

long hair

The hair and wig industry will forever be profitable, everywhere that there are women, and black women in particular.  Braids? No longer limited to black women, and since Bo Derek[ in the movie, “10”], many more white women are wearing some variation of cornbraids. Does the name Kardashian sound familiar? Cultural misappropriation, indeed, but hair is beauty, and the quest for beauty and a beautiful hairdo is universal-not limited to black women.


Did You Know?
Here are some other interesting facts, myths and legends, many of them from Emma Tarlo’s exhaustive look at the global trade in human hair, “Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair.”
–Hair labeled Brazilian and Malaysian comes from Brazil and Malaysia. False. It usually comes from China and India and is chemically processed mainly in Chinese factories.
–The hair on the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s comes from dead bodies. False. This is an urban legend. A spokeswoman assured me it came from living — at the time, at least — donors.
–Only bald men wear wigs and toupees. False. During the wig craze of the late 1960s and early 1970s, G.I.s reporting for weekend duty wore short hair wigs to hide long hair.
–Human hair is inedible. False. Short hair clippings, like those from men’s heads, are boiled down into L-cysteine amino acids, which have been used in food like pizza dough and bagels and add elasticity. (Using it in food is now banned in most places, though it is still used in face creams.)
–No one would want horsehair. False. There was a rash of horsetail and mane thefts in the U.S. not long ago.  It was believed they were sold as extensions for show horses. The most valuable horse hair on the market is white.
Annie Correal

Street Lights and Sunday With My Girlfriend at Kmart

I am always amazed whenever I see youngsters out in the streets after 10 pm, especially on school nights. At first, it seemed as though there were only boys who were out ‘roaming’ the streets at what I feel are inappropriate times. But, girls are out there, too. The average age of these children is about 14-16 years. That’s too young to be out at night and wandering aimlessly, it seems.

They are adolescents who think that they are mature enough to be out alone after dark, and/or they need no real supervision, because, ” I’m almost an adult!”, or “All of my other friends will be going!” The surprising part of such scenarios is that parents either let their children go out on school nights at all, or any night at their ages unaccompanied, or their authority has been undermined due to years of slowly losing that parental grasp that parents possess.

First of all, I do realize and acknowledge the myriad of life tasks that many parents must perform or navigate in addition to parenting duties. Work schedules, single parent households, younger children, and many other challenges, including personal, can interfere with parenting duties and responsibilities. Some children have siblings who fall under their daily care due to economical reasons, such as lack of affordable childcare options. I understand all of the hats parents and their children may wear.

However, parents were adolescents too, and we remember when we thought we knew all that we needed to engage the world. In fact, I remember when, as a child, I had to be in the house before the ‘street lights came on’ or else. What happened to that type of structure and parental expectations? I have sneaked our of the house, too. But, this is a different day and time, and we have been there. We know the types of trouble that can find amazing ways to test a child’s capacity to safely escape harm.

I was fortunate in that I grew up in a safe and largely middle class community. The operative term when I was growing up is-community. What is sadly missing from society for the large part, is the sense of community and the ownership that adults take for what happens in their community, and what happens with the children in their community. I had neighbors who cared. They informed parents about the random sightings of a neighbor’s child, especially if the times of sighting was during regular school hours,  after dark, and too late for children to be away from the safety of the home.

The ‘neighborhood watch’, were adults, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. They were usually the women of the community, because at that time, women were not compelled to work outside of the home. Many did, but many did not-they were at home or close to home.

Quick story: I started driving very young, and allowed to drive my grandparents’ cars long before I  was eligible for a driver’s license or permit. So, on Sundays, I was allowed to drive the Cadillac to church, and on occasion the truck. Mind you, both were new cars, and that made trust an especially important part of the deal. OK! So, about 13 years old, I had the truck one Sunday, but instead of driving to Sunday school and then church, I picked up my girlfriend to take her to a store-a Kmart. I don’t recall whether I had money, though I always did, but, we went into this store looking at cosmetics, makeup.

She wanted some Eyeshadow. She nudged me to just take something and put it in my purse without paying for it. Terrified of getting caught, knowing it was wrong, I left the store. My girlfriend came behind me. We made our way back to the car.  I didn’t know that she had taken that eye shadow[ worth about $2.00]despite my insistence that we do not take anything. I was horrified, and felt just as guilty as if I had stolen it myself. Here we are, two teenaged girls, who had just stolen from a Kmart.  A Kmart??? All the way home, I was so very paranoid, just waiting to be apprehended by the police. It was the longest drive in my life, at that point.

How could I explain this if my grandparents found out! I was supposed to be in church, and wasn’t, and the heaviest part was that I was never allowed to shop in a Kmart, ever.And, I was with a girl considered by many adults as ‘fast’, if you know what that means. I was certain that my life was over. And, worse than that, too, my grandmother owned her own neighborhood store. The stores she frequented were literally the very best in the city, and she would kill me when she found out that it was a $2.00 item from a Kmart. I was surely dead, a criminal, and would never be given any car again.

Besides being fearful of the police slapping handcuffs on me and carting me off to prison, I was also afraid that someone would see me and tell where I was spotted, and that meant more trouble. That day, God smiled and Jesus Christ probably said to him/her, ” Forgive them for they know not what they do!”

My mom always said to me that God watches over babies and fools!” I was a fool, and still pretty much a baby. I vowed to be a fool no more. Life is funny! In today’s world, my girlfriend and I would probably have been followed around that store upon entry, even though it was a Kmart, and although we may not have fit the ‘profile’. But, that’s a story for a different day.

Parents, remember where your children are, where you were at their age, and then be clear in judgment: Get them indoors before the ‘street lights come on’!

Didn’t You Know That Hyphenated-Americans ARE Immigrants Too?

The New York Times newspaper publishes a series of articles called, “Race/Related”, and the latest article from the series discusses the hyphenated American.  It is so appropriate and timely that I, just yesterday, posted an image of recent protests underscored by a comment  that referenced hyphenated Americans in this nation of immigrants.

The latest policy of the new Trump administration is currently demanding the deportation of illegal immigrants. Specifically, the executive order calls for the immediate removal of Mexicans who are in this country without the proper documentation. By the way, aren’t they still Americans if they have lived and worked in this country for many years? Sidebar-I wonder whether, if this were 1620, would those pilgrim immigrants bring in Africans to help build the country’s infrastructure!

Before he became our President, Trump campaigned under that platform, along with building this GIANT WALL.  An inappropriate response to the narrowly perceived global political climate is the banning of immigration by  Arab/Muslim ex-pats, refugees, and individuals from Mexico for fear of allowing those damned terrorists, rapists and drug dealers to cross our borders.

Terrorists? Most acts of ‘terrorism’ committed on our soil are at the hands of home-grown, hyphenated Americans.

Rape and drug dealing? Are they exclusively Mexican crimes?[rhetorical]

I don’t want to sound absurd, but this country has become more and more ‘brown’ and people of color are increasing becoming the majority. Hence, the term minority in a few years, will be irrelevant. And who gets to decide which groups are majority or ‘dominant’ culture and minority?

Recently,  ‘A Day Without Immigrants’, was a demonstration of solidarity in protest against this new policy and an illustration of how dependent certain industries are on an immigrant workforce in this country. Funny it is, that this country which was  founded by immigrants, once represented an open-door to opportunity for other immigrants who hailed from any place on the globe. Now that the latest waves of people coming into the country are identified as ‘undesirable’, of deeper and brown hues, and non-Christian worshippers, they are not welcome here.

This is like a group of kids who stole this tree-house, stole people to build upon and decorate it. The doors were always open to newcomers, but once they feel the house is just fine, and no more help is needed, they then want to put a wall around it and keep people out. Certain people!

Immigrants who may have been here for a few generations, none any longer than African-Americans, now assign labels to themselves. They become hyphenated Americans: Italian, Irish, etc…

The truly non-immigrant groups have been squeezed
into tiny pockets of a vast nation once their own alone, also happen to be ‘brown’ people of color. The minority became the majority, and it is being reversed- the meek shall inherit the earth.

Am I being paranoid, or does this speak to a much larger issue? Also, do we not know that the agricultural/food industry relies heavily on immigrant workers? Who is going to harvest the fruit-grapes for wine, lettuce for salads, oranges for juice, and so forth? Don’t we know that when we go out to eat, and order salads, that there would be a major shortage if there are no more ‘illegal’ immigrants working outside our view? Just ‘food for thought’!


In his 1903 book, “Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. Du Bois states that the problem of the 20th century is “the problem of the color line.” Seventeen years into the next century and after eight years of a black man serving as president of the United States, this insight is still relevant. The difference today is that the color line manifests itself in a variety of ways, often more insidious than those of Du Bois’s era.
At its best, the United States today resembles the global ideal of a multicultural, inclusive and equitable society. At its worst, it represents a hypocritical empire steeped in white supremacy.

Hyphen-Nation — the video, art and interactive project we published this week as part of our Race/Related collaboration with the documentary showcase POV — explores this duality.
[WATCH: Hyphen Nation: Exploring What it Means to be American]
We asked nine Americans of varied backgrounds a series of questions centered around the idea of when they have felt most and least American. What we ended up with are interviews and artwork (by Josh Cochran) that examines and scrutinizes what an American citizen looks like, where they come from, and who gets to determine who belongs. (A selection of them, with excerpts, are below.)

When it comes to many of our country’s greatest achievements and contributions to human progress, we see people of different races/ethnicities, religions, genders and cultural perspectives playing a role. Non-white people have contributed in large numbers to what has become the United States throughout its history, from serving in our military in every major war and conflict, to major contributions to science, art, and the overall cultural fabric of our society.

And yet, for so many people, American identity still seems intrinsically tied to the idea of “whiteness.” Americans who do not clearly fit that description often feel as though they are not embraced as fully American, simply because of what they look like.
We’ve seen a resurgence of this recently both explicitly and implicitly, through the presidential campaign and into the first few weeks of the Trump era. But Hyphen Nation aims to reveal the more personal side of what that means.

The people in these videos are all United States citizens, who grew up in areas as wide ranging as Denver, St. Petersburg, Fla., Atlanta, Nashville, and Washington. They discuss their experiences of feeling connected to their country and of feeling pushed away. Many of them discuss how their American identity is perceived outside of the U.S. as well.



“Our American society has forced the prefix…It has forced the hyphen in response to modern geopolitical borders and a concept of whiteness being the norm in America.”


 “The question I most often get is ‘where are you from?’ It’s never, ‘I’m curious.’ It’s ‘I demand to know, where are you from, because you most definitely are not from here.’ ”


“I don’t like the term Indian-American. I don’t like the hyphenations because I am American.”


“I think America was an idea sold to different groups of people and rebranded multiple times.”


 “Why would I want to be white, when my ancestors came through immeasurable fear and terror to be here. You tried everything to destroy them. And they didn’t. They didn’t. They couldn’t. You can’t crush them.”

What do you think  about this Hyphen-Nation? Leave your thoughts  here. It may be Race/Related!