Sexual violence and slavery

"Escapes during the night without shoes or stockings"

The impact of slavery on the collective imagination must never be underestimated, both in terms of intergenerational trauma among the descendants of slaves, and the persistence of misperceptions and violent representations in mass culture.

The imagery associated with enslaved Black women is unequivocal with regards to their sexual subjection: they had to acquiesce to their master’s and his family’s sexual desires. Many children and several male slaves were also victims of this abuse.

The subjection of black women and the eroticization of their bodies

Caption: « Comme il vous plaira. Vierges noires de Djibouti », couverture du magazine Voilà, 16 janvier 1932. © Sexe, race et colonies

Even today, the erotization of Black bodies, especially those of young women such as Bell, often presented in postures of submission and with shackles reminiscent of slavery, continue to impinge on society, and pornography in particular.

The connections made between Black bodies and exoticism, their staging in settings and with motifs depicting nature and African culture, complete this stereotyped tableau. Modern mass culture is still influenced by this trope.

Intersectionality of grounds of discrimination

Bell's situation exposes well the notion of intersectionality of the grounds of discrimination: she is young (age), female (gender), Black (colour) and without property (social condition).

An intersectional approach is useful in the field of human rights because it illustrates the specific situation of vulnerability created when several grounds for discrimination co-exist.