Book thoughts

What Set Me Off

I had a lot of feels while reading What Set Me Free by Brian Banks, as a black woman hearing a case of a black man being imprisoned for rape may feel

I started reading the book, as I do often when I pick out books to read, without very much context of what the book is actually about. What can I say, I liked to be surprised and kept on my toes? I knew the book was going to be about a black man who was wrongly accused of something and spent a while in prison, but I had no idea what the crime was. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that it was for rape. 

I know in the past I have alluded to what I do for my 9 to 5, but I haven’t come out and said it. I work as a sexual assault advocate and interpersonal violence prevention person. Talking about rape, how to prevent it and how to support survivors is my life. I see firsthand the damage sexual assault and rape can do to a person. I hear all the time in my presentations unsupportive sentiments and one guy even said in one of my sessions that he thinks 80 percent of reports are false. I had to pause to figure out how to drag this boy professionally.

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The student was a black boy and, in my experience, black boys and men have a lot to say when it comes to blaming women (and men) for the violence they have experience. Black men, you are not the only people experiencing oppression and racism isn’t the only oppression black women face.

My guard was up for about half the book. I felt for Brian and the hardship he faced being in prison. There is so much wrong with our system and how it’s designed to house people, keep them in the undercaste system they were in before, and not rehabilitate them. But, by instinct, my first reaction is to believe the survivor/victim over the person yelling that they are being falsely accused. It took me a bit to believe him.

The way he talked about the girl, Tatiana (which is the pseudonym he gave her), was deplorable. She went through the evidence collection process which made me believe that she couldn’t have possibly made this up. Those were two points against Brian.

And before you think I’m some man-hating feminist (you’re only half right…sometimes), I want you to think about my position. If someone said they robbed, your first instinct is to believe them, right? You don’t need to see a police report to “prove” they were robbed. Most people wouldn’t lie about being robbed.

So, just like being robbed, people don’t often lie about being raped (2-8%, same as any other crime). Survivors are much more likely to not make a report at all than to falsely report. Most people don’t get justice for their case, so you think they get money or something for lying?

And maybe the 2-8% wouldn’t have to lie if the sexual standards for women weren’t so impossible.

What Brian went through was terrible and I wish he didn’t have to waste his life like that. Tatiana was a butthole and I think people who lie about assault are trash humans. I can think people going to jail for crimes they didn’t commit is awful and I can still default to believing survivors. The two feelings are not mutually exclusive. 

I could talk about the intersection of racism and sexism all day; it’s my life. I thought it was just important to make the point that just because this one trash human lied and put an innocent black man in prison, doesn’t mean there is an epidemic of false accusations. I feel like the book only touched on that for 5 seconds and that wasn’t satisfying to me.

Let’s believe survivors and work to change the criminal justice system together.

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