First they said that there were widespread rapes of women, girls and even babies, as well as looting, murder and mayhem in the SuperDome, the Convention Center, and elsewhere in New Orleans.
Then they said that nothing of the kind happened, that there were only a few or no rapes.
The truth has been a long time in coming. But rapes did occur in New Orleans during the civil breakdown after the levee flooding of the city.
National Public Radio had the story during its Morning Edition. And it wasn’t just Charmaine Neville.
Anastasia is a petite, 25-year-old hairdresser who asked that her last name be omitted. She contacted the New Orleans police in October and filed a report that she was beaten with a bat and raped on Sept. 6th in broad daylight next to a flooded McDonald’s at Gentilly Boulevard and Elysian Fields, near her father’s house.
Anastasia says thugs were still wandering the streets of her neighborhood more than a week after the flood. “I didn’t see any police officers — I could have gotten away with murder,” she says. “It was that terrible. So I can assume what the criminals were thinking, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The National National Sexual Violence Resource Center has created a national database to track sexual assaults that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In six weeks since the Web site was inaugurated, with little or no publicity, it has received 42 reports of sexual assaults. And the number is steadily growing.
The cases reveal high percentages of gang rapes and stranger rapes. Disturbingly, they include assaults that occurred in and outside the city and in homes and buildings designated as places of safety during emergency situations.
Witness Justice, a Maryland-based non-profit organization, claims to have received 156 reports of post-Katrina violent crimes with a third (or 51 women and girls) involving sexual assaults.
Another victim was a Ms. Lewis, a health care worker, who took refuge with others in an apartment complex for elderly residents. It was Indian summer hot in the city, and she slept in a darkened hallway, hoping to catch a cooling draft of air.
It was there, she says, that an unknown man with a handgun sexually assaulted her. She insists other women were raped in the same apartment building over the next four nights, but her claim could not be checked out.
“Some bad things happened, you know. There was nobody there to protect you,” Lewis says.
Recalling her attack, she sobs, “They just left us to die. Nobody cared.”
After her rape, Lewis says, there were no clinics open, so she washed herself with bleach. “All I could do was pray, pray for rescue, pray that I didn’t have any type of transmitted disease,” she says.
She said that she tried to report the rape when and after National Guardsmen arrived and cleared out the complex by gunpoint. Throughout her journey to safety, no authorities stepped up to hear her story, to offer support, or to take her name down.
“The police was stressed out themselves,” Lewis says. “They didn’t have no food. They didn’t have water. They didn’t have communication. They didn’t have ammunition. The National Guards didn’t want to hear it.”
Experts say it was the perfect environment to commit a crime, and the worst environment to report a crime. The police department — reeling from desertions, flooding and the immensity of the disaster — was in a survival mode itself. Civil order had completely broken down.
I’d like to add yet another, probably controversial piece to this analysis. Not only were there rape victims, but these women were also predominantly rape victims of color, because more than 68% of residents were black or people of color in New Orleans. Multiply these stories by the fifties, by the hundreds. Many times rape victims of color are not readily believed or even thought to suffer from the effects of rape. Even black women are still viewed with suspicion if they say that they have been raped or molested, as if they cannot be raped. The pain and shame of their experience and the lack of resources and support cause many rape victims to clam up and internalize what occurred.
Moreover, black on black crime is not considered as important as say, black on white crime. The notorious ex-Panther Eldridge Cleaver himself, in a segment in his book, Soul on Ice, claimed that he began his career as a rapist by raping black women first and then gradually went further afield to his ultimate revenge target, white women. Of course, it was also more likely that his black women victims would not report such an act. White women victims, especially if they were middle-class, were under fewer restraints.
Ms. Lewis’ story suggests that she was probably not the only victim of this rapist in the corridors of this apartment building, and that he was probably accompanied by other males who invariably used weapons of coercion: knives, bats, sticks or guns. Charmaine Neville, in coming forward on behalf of the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (1-800-656-HOPE), is encouraging other rape victims to seek treatment and help in a public service announcement for national airplay, because the same thing happened to her:
Neville says she was sexually assaulted [at knifepoint] early the morning of Aug. 31st, while she was sleeping on the roof of Drew Elementary School in the Bywater Neighborhood, where she and others had taken refuge. She made a report to a local sheriff’s office; [but] it has not yet passed the report on to the New Orleans police.
It just goes to show that even female entertainers and the daughters of entertainers (Charles Neville is her father) can be low-rated regarding such a heinous act.
Charmaine Neville added that the perpetrator(s) also may have raped the other women on the roof as well.
Poor Ms. Lewis, however, has not reported her rape to the police and has no future plans to do so. Since she believes the authorities abandoned her after the storm, she has no confidence or faith that they truly care about her now.
You can listen to the report on Windows Media and Real Player.