Gabrielle Union, who plays a silent rape victim in Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation,” has written an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times about her own experiences as a 19-year-old rape victim and her struggle to deal with the allegations over Parker’s case.
“Rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals,” the actress wrote. “And for some of us the throbbing gets too loud. Post traumatic stress syndrome is very real and chips away at the soul and sanity of so many of us who have survived sexual violence.”
The actress was raped at gunpoint at age 19 while working at a shoe store, which led to her to become an advocate for sexual-assault victims.
Parker was accused and acquitted of rape in 1999. Variety reported on Aug. 16 that his accuser committed suicide four years ago.
“Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion,” Union wrote. “I cannot take these allegations lightly. On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said ‘no,’ silence certainly does not equal ‘yes.’”
“Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a ‘no’ as a ‘yes’ is problematic at least, criminal at worst,” she added. “That’s why education on this issue is so vital.”
“Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don’t actually know,” Union admitted. “Nor does anyone who was not in that room.”
Union also said she took the part in “Birth of a Nation” to give voice to rape victims.
“In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated,” Union said. “Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.”
Union, who is married to NBA player Dwyane Wade, also stressed the importance of parents educating their children.
“As a black woman raising brilliant, handsome, talented young black men, I am cognizant of my responsibility to them and their future,” she wrote. “My husband and I stress the importance of their having to walk an even straighter line than their white counterparts. A lesson that is heartbreaking and infuriating, but mandatory in the world we live in.”
“We have spent countless hours focused on manners, education, the perils of drugs. We teach them about stranger-danger and making good choices. But recently I’ve become aware that we must speak to our children about boundaries between the sexes. And what it means to not be a danger to someone else.”
Variety reached out to Union for comment after the op-ed was published. A rep for the actress confirmed she would be at the Toronto International Film Festival next week (she’s attending the press conference alongside Nate Parker) but said Union would not comment on the op-ed further, adding, “That’s her comment.”