Grim Sleeper : gender, violence, and reproductive justice in Los Angeles




Grigsby, Julie Renee

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Discussions of South Los Angeles often reflect dystopic conditions of black communities as supine beneficiaries of endless social welfare living in seemingly malignant spaces where poverty and disease darken corners of an otherwise ideal city. This dissertation contributes to literature on urban violence, public health, and nonprofit studies through a feminist ethnography of black women’s community organizing. The Grim Sleeper murders spanned a 25-year period, marking two decades of violence against black women’s bodies in South Los Angeles. Slow moving police investigations began in 1984, were colored by depictions of murdered black “prostitutes,” which spurred a community response by women activists, yet the suspect was not arrested till 2010. Just a year before, in 2009, public health research for Los Angeles County, revealed staggering disparities in black women’s reproductive health, including: a maternal mortality rate nearly four times all other racial groups and rising STI’s among adolescents and women between the ages of 14 - 25. Again, with little comment or action this time in public health, the lives and bodies of black women continued to be in precarious positions. In national and popular debates of reproductive rights discussion surrounds abortion legislation, failing to address a range social inequalities that cut into reproductive lives of black women. I explore, the Grim Sleeper as not just a named serial killer but as characteristic of latent state responses to reproductive health challenges experienced by black women. Activist’s response to this parallel and cyclical lived experience of gendered violence against black bodies is at the center of my research. I argue that blackness, neither marginal nor invisible, is principal to understanding how race and social inequalities effect lived geographies. I closely examine; (1) the nature of reproductive justice within a community organization and (2) the ways California’s economic downturn affects approaches to social transformation through nonprofit and advocacy work. (3) A murderer’s twenty-five year history of targeting black women and the silence that surrounded it as reflective of state approaches to the lives of black women. Utilizing public health, policy, archival, oral history and ethnographic data my dissertation proposes the advancement of a reproductive justice standpoint by situating black women’s agency as a starting point for well-being and community health agendas.



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