The image has become disturbingly common. Another missing Black woman’s face shared online as her family waits and prays for her safe return.
Last week, that woman was 21-year-old Clark Atlanta student Alexis Crawford. As her killers await their day in court, the nation can only speculate as details emerge about what exactly happened to Alexis.
What we do know is that her body was found in a park off Columbia Drive in Dekalb County, Georgia just miles from campus. Now her roommate, Jordyn Jones along with her roommate’s boyfriend, Barron Brantley, are in custody and charged with her murder.
Details of Crawford’s last moments and the events leading up to that are still emerging. The Fulton County Superior Court confirmed this week that Crawford’s cause of death was asphyxiation and Brantly has confessed to carrying out the fatal act.
On Oct. 27 Just days before her death, Crawford filed a report with the Atlanta police stating she endured “unwanted kissing and touching” at the hands of Baron Brantly, the young man who would later be accused of taking her life.
Alexis’s story is not dissimilar from what so many women across the US have experienced when their cries for help land on deaf ears.
A Georgetown University study found the perception of Black girls has a profound effect on the support they receive from teachers and law enforcement. This ignorance and bias has limited our ability to receive care, bear healthy babies safely and feel secure in our homes.
Scott Berkowitz is the President and Founder of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
RAINN also operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline which partners with local service providers to help victims across the country.
Scott spoke with me about what filing a sexual assault report looks like for victims in the U.S. today and why so many fall through the cracks.
“It sounds like she did the right thing in calling the police,” Scott said when I asked what Alexis could have done differently. “That would definitely be the first thing we’d advise people to do.”
Berkowitz also stated calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline can connect victims to resources and support intended to prepare them for the daunting law enforcement process.
The fact that Alexis mustered enough courage to even step foot into a police station and file a complaint speaks volumes to the urgency of her situation.
The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community described the state of Black women and sexual assault in a 2018 report, “For every Black woman who reports rape, at least 15 Black women do not report” states the document, quoting U.S. Department of Justice findings from 2003.
Scott says the issue very often is that the police stations may not be equipped to handle our needs. “The urgency [sexual assault complaints are] treated with can vary so much and often law enforcement don’t treat it as urgently as they should or as the victim would reasonably expect.”
Instead of urgency, Crawford’s plea for help was filed and apparently remained unaddressed until her mother reported her missing days later.
The responsibility does not, however, fall solely on the shoulders of law enforcement. Campus life should be a safe space where reporting assault is protected, and establishing that culture is dictated by our own institutions
Among the matter of access and education, Madkins also mentioned the stigma existing around reporting Black men on HBCU campuses:
“It tells these black women to remain silent because the education of their perpetrator is essentially more important than their education, and that [they] can’t be another person who sends a black man to jail.”
This highlights an issue more specifically with campus culture and the need to create safe environments for women in college.
If we want to see change happen, the effort has to come not just from the powers that decide our fate, but also from the Black institutions who educate us
The matter of student safety is one that has surely been on the minds and hearts of Clark Atlanta students and families since the school year began.
This past August video surfaced of a shooter spraying bullets into a crowd of party-goers celebrating the end of new student orientations.
After the shooting, promises were made to beef up security and safety measures and hopefully, the tragedy of Crawford’s death will shine more light on sexual assault violence and efforts to protect young women and not just gun violence.
Until then, options for Black women experiencing sexual assault are still dismal when the first line of defense is the police.
According to Berkowitz, RAINN encourages law enforcement agencies to train their officers on trauma-informed interviewing techniques. “So, when a victim of sexual assault calls 9-1-1, they’re interviewed by an officer who knows how to deal with a victim of a sex crime, and knows how to draw out the story and learn the details of what happened.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police offers trauma-informed training for law enforcement and states that between 2014 and 2019 they trained 2100 participants.
Of course with over 600,000 active police officers, a few thousand is just a drop in the bucket and as a community, we are left to ponder the crucial question - if I call the police, will they bother to help?