See the original blog post, "PLP Defends Rapists" for the announcement and call to action regarding PLP's defense of admitted rapist Seth Miller.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Everything in this blog is a frank discussion of sexual violence and rape.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

If You Can't Beat 'Em

An excerpt from "Betrayal: A critical analysis of rape culture in anarchist subcircles"

As alluded to earlier, these repressive measures can actually split the ranks of the more moderate rape apologists, undermining the common front against the survivor. At the same time, repressive measures are deemed necessary at the very least when the usual process of normalization is broken. This points to one of the biggest contradictions within Rape Culture: that the very violence it relies on to reproduce itself also reveals its true nature for all to see. This contradiction is resolved by recuperative  forces within radical communities which seek to co-opt support for survivors and redirect it against them. Many will claim to support a survivor while actually undermining their autonomy. This is usually done by limiting the possible scope of a survivor’s response to exclude anything that might further upset the social peace. These false supporters work to uphold the image of a supportive community, and in the process prevent any truly critical engagement with community. Their tools are the language and organizing frameworks which were forged by survivors and their  supporters, appropriated for the purpose of disempowerment and twisted to usurp the survivors’ struggle.

Initially, the creation of words and new frameworks to use them was necessary, as the language for survivors to even talk about their experiences did not exist. Unfortunately, words are easily recuperated, and we can now see the inevitable limitations of relying on them so heavily. Once upon a time, radicals championed the use of the word “perpetrator” as an attempt to sidestep the stigma of harsher words. The once prevalent framework of Restorative Justice emphasised a person‘s ability to change.  “Rapist” or “abuser” hardly underlined these values, and many felt it kept the rapists and abusers locked in those roles, just as referring to survivors as “victims” potentially kept them locked in a moment of subjugation rather than underlying their strength and perseverance. Of course now we are faced with a new wave of anti-violence activists, who lament the stigmatized nature of the word perpetrator, and now advocate the even more watered down term “person who causes harm”. Perhaps it’s time to realize that if a perpetrators capacity to change is not broadly recognized, that is a result of their own actions more so than the words we use to describe them. This is not to say that we should not choose our words strategically, or that we should not use them with strong intention, but only that our apparent obsession with language has serious drawbacks. At best, it leaves us caught in a never ending loop to find the right words rather than addressing our more meaningful shortcomings. At worst, it preserves the power dynamics of Rape Culture by attributing fault to survivors and their supporters rather than perpetrators and their apologists.

This bizarre reversal, where a perpetrators refusal of  accountability is viewed at least partially as a result of flaws in a survivor’s response, is a common pattern seized upon by the recuperative forces of Rape Culture.  Zines and pamphlets list strategies towards accountability which seek to avoid making a perpetrator defensive, which are perhaps better understood as strategies towards accountability which seek to accommodate a perpetrators defensiveness. The only thing such an approach avoids is a
recognition that being defensive is not something forced on a person by others, but a reactionary response which must be realized and worked through for any genuine accountability to be possible. Many will use the term defensive without ever asking, “in defence of what?”

Of course many survivors who anticipate defensiveness and the repressive apparatus activated by it have made good use of such strategies in the short term to initiate dialogue, or else to make demands concerning immediate safety without the goal of transforming a perpetrator. We have no interest in questioning the choices survivors make or discouraging the dissemination of potentially useful strategies (because, of course, how useful any given approach might be can only be decided by survivors themselves). Our concern is when the accommodation of defensiveness or the strategies implied by it become a tool of false supporters to limit the possible choices available to survivors, or to criticize those choices they disapprove of after a survivor has made them. Discussions of how to call out a perpetrator rarely centre on the survivor’s needs. “Avoiding defensiveness” provides the pretense to shift the discussion back to the needs of the perpetrator. Once a perpetrator has been called out, a similar framework is used to undermine support for a survivor. The false supporters endlessly reassure us that they are not angry that a perpetrator was called out, it’s only the way they were called out. The fact that a survivor would speak openly about their experiences is seemingly taken as more violent and controversial than the violence of those experiences themselves, which warrant very little discussion by comparison. How a survivor’s public response might reflect their needs does not seem to occur to the false supporters as they are so preoccupied with their need to preserve an artificial social peace. Again we see liberal tendencies rearing their head, as the false supporters’ insistence on denouncing the resistance of survivors, on claiming to also despise the Culture of Rape while simultaneously diminishing any fight against it, is reminiscent of liberals who claim to agree with the grievances of protesters and yet condemn any actions they might take to address them. The liberal complains that intensity and ferocity sabotages the struggle, but of course the anarchist knows the real problem is that we haven’t gone far enough.

As mentioned earlier, this is all part of a larger pattern to maintain the power dynamics that Rape Culture relies upon. There are countless other examples. The accountability process itself can be a double edged sword. Radical communities often divorce the accountability process from its place within the broader Restorative Justice framework, offering it as the sole response to intimate violence while simultaneously avoiding any further attempts at pre-empting violence before it happens. This false support places the needs of the survivor secondary to the question of how to deal  with a perpetrator, once again prioritizing the needs of the perpetrator and maintaining the pattern of domination. What little support is offered survivors often replicates this same dynamic. One of the most common models of support used, that of making demands of the perpetrator, once again leaves all agency in the perpetrator’s hands, especially when there is no contingency plan if the perpetrator should refuse. Survivors who become emotionally invested in such models as a path for healing are often  devastated when the demands yield nothing, or worse, when they incite a new barrage from the perpetrator and the repressive forces. In the anarchist milieu, where it is widely recognized that demands are mostly useless when not accompanied with the threat of force, it is quite revealing that such models prevail.

UAW Local 2865 "Academic Workers for a Democratic Union" caucus statement on PLP's support of rape

Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, a reform caucus in UAW Local 2865, stands in solidarity with our fellow union and caucus member who was raped by Seth Miller, a member of the Progressive Labor Party. In response, the Progressive Labor party sought to undermine the account of the survivor, attacking her and her allies, offering only a privately circulated self- evaluation and a slap on the wrist to her assailant as their pretense of accountability.

In their official response to the demand for accountability, the organization claims to fight “sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny in every aspect”, while virtually in the same breath slandering the survivor and her allies as “informant-provocateurs” acting in collusion with the fascist police state. The PLP has made clear that the oppression of women means nothing to them when it challenges the practices and the structure of their organization. They have gone to considerable lengths to make this go away, including slandering the survivor, rather than addressing the problem that they have a member who has committed sexual assault. The organization, in very practical terms, has made a decision here. The Progressive Labor Party are apologists for a rapist, and therefore have placed their commitment to male supremacy – and silencing anything that would get in the way of that – above other concerns. They could have lived up to their own rhetoric regarding opposition to all forms of sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny, or they could continue to privilege their cadre over the project of social justice. By continuing to take the latter course, the Progressive Labor Party has indicated that it is an impediment to the goal of the radical transformation of society.

With this statement of solidarity, we call out Seth Miller as a rapist and PLP as an organization that harbors rapists and perpetuates rape culture. The PLP is no longer welcome in any organizing spaces we are a part of. We will not contribute to a political project that boils down to rape apologism and victim-blaming. We will work to stand in solidarity with all those who experience gender-based discrimination, assaults, and other forms of violence both in the various activist circles that we are a part of and in the broader society. Our stance is that the work of class struggle must be combined with struggles against all forms of oppression without the attempt to reduce or simplify them into a hierarchy. We pledge to redouble our efforts of addressing patriarchal behavior throughout our union and all of our other communities. We will also continue to create structures to challenge patriarchal practices in our organization, in our local, and in our international, directly addressing the way that our dynamics contribute to the oppression of our comrades and to women everywhere.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Can Your IWW Branch Support Women And Fight Patriarchy?

To appear in the March 2013 issue of the Industrial Worker

Gruesome examples of women’s oppression like the Delhi gang rape or the Steubenville football team get lots of headlines and head-shaking. Far more common are sexual assaults of women by men close to the victim. The culture that enables this violence is built on the everyday slights, power plays, and insults that women experience constantly. Activist circles are not immune, and activist groups often promote patriarchal structures, rape culture, and the silencing of victims. What can your branch do to promote a healthier culture, discourage patriarchal behavior, hold perpetrators accountable, and support our fellow workers? Here are a few approaches your branch can take:

1. The small stuff matters. Find ways to disrupt implicit social power structures. Practice active facilitation: encourage all to speak and participate, not just those who volunteer. Engage in skill sharing with new people. Be aware and skeptical of experienced men isolating and taking individual new women “under their wing.” Step back from leadership and let new people step up and make mistakes. Be organized—disorganization and informality allow informal power structures and privilege to take over. Reverse gender roles. Be productive in meetings. Value and recognize non-public, non-heroic work. Value and recognize facilitative, bureaucratic and emotional work. Encourage a culture of honest, caring criticism: give it and receive it well.

2. Fighting patriarchy is not women’s work. Everyone must take on the labor, social risk, and emotional burden of confronting patriarchal behavior, from dominating meetings to divisions of labor to sexual assault. Take the lead from the most oppressed people in the group, but take your own initiative. Don’t take someone else’s lack of action as an excuse to do nothing. There is nothing “more important” to do first. Even if you weren’t the target, patriarchal oppression in your community is your business. Often targets of patriarchy don’t want to be a victim twice; once from the original incident and again for having friends betray them by not listening, not taking them seriously, and not acting.

3. Take complaints of patriarchal oppression seriously, from small things like condescension in meetings to sexual harassment and assault. Don’t argue with someone else’s experiences. Activists do not have a “right” to participate in organizing spaces, and everyone has the right to feel safe. Immediately suspend those accused of serious offenses pending investigation. Temporary suspension is not a punishment, but it protects community safety and is a first step in taking the matter seriously. Ensure survivor safety. Promote survivors’ rights over perpetrators rights’.

Finally, patriarchy and sexual violence are not always perpetrated by men against women. Framing patriarchy and sexual violence as solely an act committed by men against women glosses over the amplified oppression of women of color, new activists, queer folk, trans folk, non-English speakers, etc. Patriarchy intersects with racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, classism, and many other forms of oppression, and special attention needs to be paid to fight these power structures simultaneously.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On Solidarity and Sexual Violence: An open letter to the Palestine Solidarity Movement

The explosion of media coverage of sexual assault and community response to gender violence, following the gang-rape and murder of a Delhi medical student, has sparked a lot of important discussion around the world. What is often missed in this discourse is the fact that the issue of sexual violence extends far beyond India and into our own communities, and that most people who experience it are assaulted by someone they know, and often trust. In activist spaces we tend to assume that we are safe, surrounded by like-minded people, however reports of harassment and sexual assault within hacker, Occupy, and other communities have proven that this is not always the case. Historically sexual violence has been tragically prevalent in revolutionary movements. There is a long and troubling history of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault being forced out of their organizations for reporting their attackers, or staying silent for the “sake of the movement”. At times leaders in various activist spaces have made this even worse by openly reinforcing patriarchy. Stokely Carmichael, storied leader of the Black Panthers and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), once infamously commented “The only position for women in SNCC is prone”. The hard work of women’s and LGBTQ rights activists may have improved the situation since then (not that those spaces are immune to sexual violence), but even in today’s social justice movements sexual assault is often closer than many would like to think. I hope that sharing my own story can help spark some discussion about how we want to deal with this issue, in both the wider Palestine solidarity movement, and in our local organizing spaces.

While living in Palestine several years ago I was sexually assaulted by a fellow activist. It happened after what seemed like a pretty normal night of blowing off steam with friends. Earlier that day I met a guy I’ll call “M” through some organizers who were hosting me. We knew a lot of the same people and he worked with a group I have a huge amount of respect for. After hanging out in the evening M and I hit it off and he kissed me, asking me to join him outside. Once we were alone he became very sexually forward, but when I made it clear I wasn’t interested in going further we went inside, and I thought that was the end of it.

Hours later, after I’d gone to sleep, I woke up abruptly to find M standing over me. I was so startled that I gasped, and he told me to be quiet so as not to wake up our friends sleeping in the same room. He got into my bed, and started trying to kiss and grope me against my will. When I told him that I did not want this kind of contact, he ignored me. He became more aggressive when I physically resisted, only backing off after remembering that there were others in the room. When he finally got frustrated and left, I locked myself in the bathroom for a long time before returning to the bedroom and bolting the door.

The next morning I tried to tell a friend what had happened, but was too ashamed to say anything other than “M came in here last night...” I felt like it was somehow my fault for kissing him back earlier that night, and worried that my friends would not believe me, or would take his “side”. For a long time I refused to speak to anyone about what had happened, barely even admitting to myself that I had experienced a sexual assault.

In my head there were a lot of reasons to stay silent. Would people believe my story or think I was a traitor for accusing a popular fellow activist? I didn’t scream or alert others in the room, so did it really even “count” as a sexual assault? I also worried about how my identity would affect the situation if the authorities got involved. M is Palestinian and I’m an American with a huge amount of privilege in Israel and abroad. I doubted the Palestinian police would do much about it, but thought if Israeli authorities found out, my assault could be politicized in ways that I was not comfortable with. I also did not want to endanger the already imperiled institutions we were both associated with. After leaving Palestine and holding all of this in for nearly a year, I finally opened up to a close friend back home, who is also a solidarity activist. Talking with her helped me see my experience in a different light and come to terms with the fact that the assault was the fault of my attacker, and not my own.

I want to be clear; I do not think sexual violence is uniquely prevalent in the Palestine solidarity movement, or even in Palestine itself. I’ve heard too many accounts from too many friends about similar experiences at bars, on college campuses, at parties, and even in their own homes. I’m telling my story now because I consider this movement to be like my family, and unfortunately sexual assault can and does happen anywhere and everywhere, including our “safest” spaces. It is up to us to decide how we deal with it in our communities but I think the best way is to be proactive.

Many Palestine solidarity groups have gotten off to a good start with statements denouncing sexism along with other forms of prejudice, but we can and should do more. Promoting more discussion about how patriarchy and gender violence impact the occupation, our organizing, and our relationships with our fellow activists is a good starting point. How this dialogue is constructed will very from space to space, but some things should remain constant:

1) The onus should always remain on perpetrators not to commit assault, rather than on victims to prevent it from happening. Establishing clear and consistent guidelines about responding to incidents of sexual violence in our organizations, and identifying how best to support those who experience them, is key.

2) We must acknowledge sexual violence as a social problem. While addressing rape culture in our spaces is important, so is replacing it with something positive that affirms the value of all our fellow activists and allies. Addressing dynamics within our groups is a crucial part of this; the idea that some individuals are perceived as being more popular and thus more “valuable” than others can contribute to predatory behavior and the silencing of victims.

3) While it goes without saying that this is a sensitive topic and should be treated as such, we should always conduct these conversations with the knowledge that this issue may already be affecting people in our communities in ways that are not readily visible. It will not always be easy for everyone to hear or talk about. The way we initiate and sustain our conversations on sexual violence must be sensitive to this.

4) Finally, we should not limit our discussion to violence within our own circles, there is also a deafening silence about the sexual harassment and assault associated with military occupation and ethnic cleansing, which is enabled in part by the difficult and often taboo nature of the subject. Addressing this in our organizing will not only strengthen our solidarity with Palestinians, but also can create space for new and creative coalition building.

These are not easy discussions, but I believe they are necessary for creating a truly just and equitable movement. Those among us who experience sexual violence should not feel that we have to remain silent for the sake of solidarity, and should be able to know that we will find it if we choose to confide in our follow activists. The Palestine solidarity movement is not going to single-handedly solve the issue of sexual assault, but we can take action against it and refuse to be complicit in covering it up.