Transformative Justice and the Trayvon Martin Case: A Consideration

The fantastic Project Nia in Chicago recently organized a panel that considered radical alternative responses to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin that do not rely on prisons and policing.  We’ve embedded the audio from the panel above and the description of the panel is below.  Beth Richie, panelist and co-founder of INCITE!, references the 2001 INCITE!/Critical Resistance Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex as an important tool for imagining and developing organizing strategies to address violence.  For more info about that statement, visit this webpage.

Transformative Justice and the Trayvon Martin Case: A Consideration:

After the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year old Trayvon Martin, some are asking what “justice” would look like for Trayvon. The conversation about whether the criminal legal system is the ‘best’ way to seek accountability for harm has been ongoing for several years. It continues in the wake of this trial. Some outstanding questions include:
1. What would transformative justice look like in this case?
2. How do prison abolitionists respond to the George Zimmerman trial?

Panelists include Erica Meiners, Beth Richie, Traci Schlesinger, and was moderated by Mariame Kaba.  More about the panelists here.

INCITE! supports the call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!

INCITE! SUPPORTS THE CALL TO FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!

  • Because we support black women’s right to self defense and support the call for freedom of Patreese Johnson, the last incarcerated member of the New Jersey 7, and CeCe McDonald in Minneapolis, MN,
  • and because we condemn the FBI’s continued and escalated pursuit of Assata Shakur,
  • and because collaboration programs between ICE and local police, such as Secure Communities (S-COMM), endanger the lives of undocumented immigrant survivors of violence,
  • and because law enforcement agencies routinely fail to respond to violence against Native women, allowing others to violate them with impunity,
  • and because organizers had to sue Louisiana to remove black women and LGBT people charged with prostitution from the state’s sex offender registry,
  • and because stop-and-frisk against women of color, including trans women of color, is state-enforced sexual harassment,
  • and because doctors pressure and coerce inmates in California women’s prisons to get sterilized as a cost-cutting measure,
  • and because the US is a prison nation that not only cages the most people in the world, but extends punishment and surveillance into the daily lives of low income women of color and our communities in the US and abroad,
  • and because we mourn the horrific murder of Trayvon Martin and send love, strength, and solidarity to his family and community,
  • and because we honor all of the women, queer, and trans people of color who have been attacked, brutalized, or murdered and who have been given no opportunity for redress or public recognition,
  • and because we call on our communities to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence and develop transformative community-based responses to violence so we aren’t forced to rely on an abusive criminal punishment system for safety and accountability…

Because of all of these reasons, INCITE! endorses the call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER from prison immediately.  Marissa Alexander is a black mother of three and survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, FL.  In August 2010, she fired a warning shot in the wall to defend herself from a life-threatening beating from her estranged husband.  She had just given birth to a premature baby nine days before.  Despite the fact that Marissa Alexander caused no injuries and has no previous criminal record, and despite the fact that Florida’s self-defense law includes the right to “Stand Your Ground,” she was subsequently arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison.  She plans to appeal.  More details on her experience can be found here and this pdf download.  The treatment of Marissa Alexander is a consequence of the growing crisis of prisons and policing in the US as well as a product of anti-black racism and sexism which drives individuals and institutions to punish black women when they defend themselves from violence. Her case is one of many that shows us how black women and other marginalized people are especially likely to be blamed and criminalized while trying to navigate and survive the conditions of violence in their lives.  We call all members of anti-violence, reproductive justice, and anti-police/prison movements and our allies to also support the call to Free Marissa Alexander!

TAKE ACTION!


ORGANIZE
 to free Marissa Alexander!  Hold rallies, do a banner drop, have house parties, blog, write letters, organize workshops, make art, fundraise and donate, and sign this petition.  Visit http://freemarissanow.tumblr.com/action for more ideas.

Urge your campus, organization, faith community, collective, union, or business to ENDORSE the call to Free Marissa Alexander: tiny.cc/EndorseFreeMarissa

CONNECT with the global campaign to Free Marissa Now at freemarissanow.tumblr.com, facebook.com/FreeMarissaNow, and e-mail at FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com.

Thank you for all you do to create communities and movements based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity!

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FREE PATREESE JOHNSON!

A message from the Bay NJ4 Committee:

Dear friends and comrades,

Patreese Johnson of the New Jersey 4 is coming home in August after 7 years of incarceration by the State of New York. She will be released on parole with a felony charge on her record.

For those who may not remember the details of this case, On August 18, 2006, seven young African American lesbians traveled to New York City from their homes in Newark for a regular night out. When walking down the street, a man sexually propositioned one of the women. After refusing to take no for an answer, he assaulted them. The women tried to defend themselves, and a fight broke out. The women were charged with Gang Assault in the 2nd degree, a Class C Felony with a mandatory minimum of 3.5 years. Patreese Johnson was additionally charged with 1st Degree Assault. Three of the women accepted plea offers. On June 14th, 2007 Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20), and Renata Hill (24) received sentences ranging from 3 1⁄2 to 11 years in prison.

We in the Bay NJ4 Solidarity Committee need your help in spreading the word about her release and promoting various ways of helping throw down for her reentry and legal defense needs, as a civil suit is also still pending. Please repost links and information to your blogs, networks, listserves, tumblrs, etc.

Please do what you can to let folks know about a go fund me campaign online where everyone is encouraged to contribute. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/2xjwpg

Also, for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, the NJ4 solidarity committee is having a happy hour fundraiser at El Rio on June 14th from 4-6. The committee would love to reconnect with folks and hear about your work as well.

With Appreciation,
The NJ4 Solidarity Committee: Cynthia, Deeg, Eric, Io, Ralowe, Tory, Xan

More about the New Jersey 4 (also known as the New Jersey 7):
http://www.incite-national.org/media/docs/9908_toolkitrev-nj7.pdf

The Gendered Violence of Stop-and-Frisk

Though racist stop-and-frisk policies have been framed as primarily police violence against men of color (black and Latino men account for 40% of the stops from last year), women and transgender people are also subject to the violence of police frisks on the street.  The New York Times recently profiled several women who have experienced stop-and-frisk in order to “increase safety:”

Crystal Pope, 22, said she and two female friends were frisked by male officers last year in Harlem Heights. The officers said they were looking for a rapist. It was an early spring evening at about 6:30 p.m. The three women sat talking on a bench near Ms. Pope’s home on 143rd Street when the officers pulled up and asked for identification, she said.

“They tapped around the waistline of my jeans,” Ms. Pope said. “They tapped the back pockets of my jeans, around my buttock. It was kind of disrespectful and degrading. It was uncalled-for. It made no sense. How are you going to stop three females when you are supposedly looking for a male rapist?”

Wild Gender reports that LGBT people, specifically trans women of color, are targeted by police stop-and-frisk at very high rates:

“When (transgender people) are stopped and frisked, they usually suffer physical violence, verbal harassment, often times a groping of their genitals,” said Karina Claudio, an organizer with Make the Road New York, to NY1.

“They just like, ‘are you man or woman?’” said Nicole Teyuca, who spoke out against the  policy. “And I’m like ‘what do you want me to be?’ In that moment, they just got out of the car, put me against the wall and they tell me you are under arrest.”

In the NYT article, Andrea Ritchie, co-coordinator of Streetwise and Safe and member of INCITE!, highlighted how stop-and-frisk is a form of state-enforced sexual violence:

“Every training we go to, we hear complaints about stop-and-frisk, and we hear women talk about sexual harassment,” Ms. Ritchie said. “They say, ‘Isn’t it right that a male officer can’t frisk you?’ ”

Ms. Ritchie said she believed the confusion spoke to the type of police stops unfolding daily on the streets, especially in cases where officers might have violated constitutional boundaries.

If a woman believes there is no legal basis for the frisk, Ms. Ritchie said, then she may feel that she is being groped simply for the officer’s sexual gratification. “That’s how women have described it to me,” Ms. Ritchie added.

Check out this fact sheet from Think Progress to learn more about stop-and-frisk practices.  Here is audio testimony from Nicole Teyuca about her experience of being profiled, stopped, frisked,and harassed by police, and a discussion about organizing strategies from Make the Road New York and their partners.  (More info can be found at a news article at OutFM.)  And here’s a news article with a slide show of the June 17th silent protest against stop-and-frisk in NYC, which drew thousands. *Updated to add this great article, “From Stonewall to Stop and Frisk,” by Chris Bilal, a youth leader at Streetwise and Safe.

For more information and resources about ongoing law enforcement violence against women of color and trans people of color, check out the Stop Law Enforcement Violence Toolkit.  It includes info about about military and ICE violence, policing gender and sexuality, police violence in schools, against people in the sex industry, and in the context of colonial violence, domestic and sexual violence, so-called neighborhood “improvement,” and environmental disaster.  There are also helpful organizing resources developed by grassroots groups included in the toolkit.

Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation

Black feminist anti-violence activist, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and INCITE! co-founder, Beth E. Richie, released a powerful new book entitled Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.

Girl Talk will host a discussion with Beth on Thursday, June 21st from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m at Depaul University Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave, Room 324, Chicago, IL.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Beth at Salon.com about  the relationship between dominant anti-domestic/sexual violence efforts and the “prison nation.”

You describe the U.S. as a “prison nation.” What do you mean by that?

The prison nation, which is a broader concept than the prison industrial complex, for me represents the combination of both incarceration in the literal sense – an influx of people into the criminal legal system in all of its apparatus: jails, prisons, detention centers, etc. … [It is an] increase in arrest and removal of people from their communities into facilities, but it also represents the ideological shift and policy changes that use criminalization and punishment as a response to a whole range of social problems. Not just crime, but also things like policing people who are on welfare, using the child protective services system to control families, the ways that schools have become militarized. So it’s a broad notion of using the arm of the law to control people, especially people who are disadvantaged and come from disadvantaged communities.

How does this affect violence against black women?

It’s kind of an interesting parallel and a convolution of things. Anti-violence work has been going on in this country for years and years, and many people see the early 1990s as the time when there were big shifts in public consciousness about the problem of violence against women, as well as changes in policies that really took the crime of violence against women – domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, etc. – more seriously. So there were new laws, there were more sanctions, police were trained, domestic violence courts were opened up – there were a lot of policy changes that made the problem of violence against women a crime. And a lot of that harsh sanctioning of violence against women really grew out of, not feminist organizing to end the problem of violence against women, but a parallel criminalization of everything. The Violence Against Women Act really lined up right against the other crime bills that were passed primarily in the mid-1990s. So on the one hand, this is good news for anti-violence activists, in terms of criminalizing violence against women. But on the other hand, these crimes disproportionately impacted black communities, and so it was kind of a mixed result for African-American people. It created a schism, especially for African-American women, but also I think for African-American families and communities more generally, because we were taking position against mass incarceration at the same time that mass incarceration was being used as a tool to respond to the crime of violence against women.

This is an interesting development given the “everywoman” emphasis of the ’60s feminist anti-violence movement — which argued that all women, regardless of race and class, were vulnerable to domestic violence. 

Yes. We began doing training to try to raise public consciousness and make public the private care of domestic and sexual violence, in particular, by saying: This is not an isolated problem, it can happen to any women; it’s not just an issue for poor families or families of color. So — regardless of your religion, your race or ethnicity, your income, what region of the country you live in, what age you were … it didn’t matter what you wore, it didn’t matter if you didn’t cook well – there was nothing demographically or behaviorally that would protect women from male violence. We used that as a kind of anchor to our analysis: It can happen to any woman. And I think we were successful, at least initially, in making sure that it wasn’t another stigmatizing problem that was associated with other social problems of poverty and racism, etc. And people heard us. There was an increase in general public consciousness, and in particular, there was an increase in attention to the problem of violence against women by power elites – by executive decision-makers at corporations, elected officials, presidents of universities.

And when power elites started paying attention to it, they took seriously what could happen to women in their social context and started designing services for and passing laws that would protect women in their social context. So it became ultimately paradoxically kind of a narrowing of an understanding of the problem. That white middle-class or wealthy heterosexual married women or women on elite college campuses were at risk of violence against women and the attention, the resources, the analysis, went toward protecting those women at the expense of women who didn’t fall into those more normative categories. So it became hard to understand how a prostitute could be raped, for example. Or how a woman who is a substance abuser could be battered in her household. It became a sense of victimization tied to a sympathetic image of who could be hurt and how terrible it was that those women were hurt, as opposed to the real everywoman that we were trying to argue for.

You can find the full interview here.

June 2nd, San Francisco: Gender/Queer Justice Book Launch Party at Modern Times!

Art by Cristy C. Road

Gender/Queer Justice Book Launch Party at Modern Times!
Please join us in celebrating the survival and re-launch of Modern Times with the 2011 arrival of four long-awaited, beloved books reflecting queer and trans visions of liberation from violence and the prison-industrial complex!

DATE & TIME: Thursday, June 2 from 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
LOCATION: Modern Times Bookstore, 2919 24th St., San Francisco, CA (between Alabama and Florida, please note new location!)
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible space and bathroom. We’re reserving seats for folks who need to sit due to disability and chronic illness, and for chair users to be comfortably present.  Please come fragrance-free (more info below)!

Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, edited by Nat Smith and Eric Stanley – FORTHCOMING from AK Press, AUGUST 2011

Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, by Dean Spade – FORTHCOMING from South End Press, September 2011

Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, by Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, Kay Whitlock – NOW AVAILABLE from Beacon
Press

The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities, edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-
Samarasinha – NOW AVAILABLE from South End Press

Featuring readings, snacks, Q and A discussion and book signings with:
● Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha Revolution Starts At Home co-editor
● Dean Spade, author Normal Life and contributor to Captive Genders
● Eric Stanley, co-editor of Captive Genders
● Andrea Ritchie and Joey Mogul, co-authors of Queer (In)Justice
● Morgan Bassichis (CUAV), contributor to Captive Genders and Revolution Starts at Home and featured in Queer (In)Justice!
● Vanessa Huang, contributor to Captive Genders and Revolution Starts at Home
● and Revolution Starts at Home contributors Gina de Vries, Shannon Perez-Darby, Isaac Ontiveros (STOP, Critical Resistance – also featured in Queer (In)Justice!), and Mimi Kim (INCITE, Creative Interventions – also featured in Queer (In)Justice!)

FRAGRANCE FREE IS HELLA LOVE! So that beloved community members including some editors and contributors can be present without throwing up or having to leave, please come to this event fragrance free! This means no cologne, perfume, essential oil and also switching to unscented products. We know folks have a learning curve around this, but if you can ditch the scented (yup, even with ‘natural’ scents) detergent and fabric softener, it’ll go a long way. Awesome scent-free list here: http://eastbaymeditation.org/accessibility/scentfree.html

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We want to acknowledge that this event is taking place on stolen Indigenous land and that it is at Indigenous people’s expense that we occupy this land. Community accountability is work that Indigenous communities have been doing outside of and in resistance to systems of state power since before the arrival of colonial settlers and continue to do. We thank the Miwok and Ohlone Nations for letting us be on their land.

About Captive Genders:
This collection represents years of struggle in the transgender, gender variant, queer liberation movements, and the movement for the abolition of the prison industrial complex. It is the first of its kind—not simply a bridge, but a space for discourse about the linkages between these struggles. A vital new look at how gender and sexuality are lived under the crushing weight of corporal captivity!

About Normal Life
Normal Life is the highly anticipated full-length book debut by Dean Spade, heralded as a deeply influential voice on trans and queer liberation struggles. Setting forth a politic that goes beyond the quest for mere legal inclusion, Spade illustrates how and why we must seek nothing less than the radical transformations justice and liberation require.

About Queer (In)Justice
Turning a “queer eye” on the criminal legal system, and drawing on years of research, activism, and legal advocacy, Queer (In)Justice is a searing examination of queer experiences –as criminal defendants, prisoners, and survivors of violent crimes. The authors unpack queer criminal archetypes– like “gleeful gay killers,” “lethal lesbians,” and “disease spreaders”– tracing stories from the streets to the bench, behind prison bars, and beyond, proving that the policing of sex and gender both bolsters and reinforces racial and gender inequalities. For more information: http://www.queerinjustice.com

About Revolution Starts At Home:
Based on the popular zine that had reviewers and fans alike demanding more, The
Revolution Starts at Home finally breaks the dangerous silence surrounding the “open secret” of intimate violence—by and toward caretakers, in romantic partnerships, and in friendships—within social justice movements. This watershed collection compiles stories and strategies from survivors and their allies, documenting a decade of community accountability work and delving into the nitty-gritty of creating safety from abuse without relying on the prison industrial complex. Fearless, tough-minded, and ultimately loving, The Revolution Starts at Home offers life-saving alternatives for ensuring survivor safety while building a road toward a revolution where no one is left behind.
For more information:
http://southendpress.org/2010/items/87941
http://revolutionathome.tumblr.com/
revathome@gmail.com

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No Simple Solutions: State Violence and the Sex Trades

A response posted by an INCITE! affiliate and collective of radical women  of color, queer people of color, and Indigenous people who identify as people in the sex trades.

As a collective of radical women and queer people of color and Indigenous people who identify as sex workers, people in the sex trades, people doing what we have to do to survive, and people who have been trafficked into sex work and other forms of labor, we wanted to respond to Rinku Sen’s recent Colorlines blog post The Complexities of Sex Trafficking, and Some Simple Solutions because, for us, there are no simple solutions to the complex circumstances that inform our lives. Simplified responses do not do justice to our lived realities, or to the systemic conditions that inform them. While we appreciate Sen’s distinction between trade and trafficking, unfortunately this distinction is not made within the laws currently being promoted to respond to harms experienced by people in the sex trades. In fact we believe that in all too many cases these laws increase harm to the very people they  intend to help.

As young people and adults with experience in the sex trades who are directly impacted by current responses to prostitution and trafficking, we recently came together as an affiliate of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence to think more deeply about how to respond to the wave of legislation, funding, and conversation about sex work and trafficking in a way that represents our truths and realities. We are deeply rooted in INCITE!’s analysis of state violence as integrally connected to interpersonal violence, and its commitment to community-based solutions to violence that do not rely on law enforcement, which is in and of itself a source of systemic and widespread violence against women and transgender people of color. Indeed, a ground-breaking youth-led participatory research project conducted by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, to which Sen refers in a comment addressing responses to her piece, found police and social services to be the primary sources of harm experienced by young people with experience in the sex trades.

Like Sen, we oppose and resist any and all forms of violence, including but not limited to: coercion, extortion, violence by police and other law enforcement agents, structural economic, gender- and sexuality-based violence, and racial violence against all people, including people in the sex trades. Such violence also includes the denial of affordable housing, health care, and access to living wage employment. We also challenge those in both the anti-trafficking and sex workers’ rights movements who claim to speak on our behalf, and those who use our lives and experiences to advance their own agendas without recognizing our leadership.

We know that each of our experiences of the sex trades are unique, and there are no one-size fits all solutions. We are members of families and communities struggling to survive and make the best possible choices given the options available to us. For many of us, the truth about the sex trade is somewhere between a completely empowered experience of the sex trade, which requires only decriminalization to eliminate harms, and a completely harmful experience of the sex trade which negatively presumes all of us to be victims in need of “rescue.”

The Safe Harbor Act, along with initiatives like it that Lloyd and others are promoting across the country, are NOT simple or solutions for most of us. First, they don’t stop arrests of young people for prostitution-related offenses, or the police abuses of young people in the sex trades that, including police trading sex in exchange for promises of dropping charges. They also don’t stop arrests of young people in the sex trades that involve “charging up,” i.e. charging young people with weapons or drug-related offenses which may be easier to prove. Second, while they may stop criminal prosecutions of young people for prostitution-related offenses, these laws do not eliminate detention and punishment of young people involved in the sex trades, they just shift young people from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts to family court systems, where they can remain entangled until the age of 21. And, in the end, only a very narrow group of people can benefit from these laws.

For example, in order for the Safe Harbor Act to benefit a young person, they must be under 16 and arrested for the first time and must never have been in family court before.  Young people between the ages of 16-18 continue to be charged in adult court. Even those under 16 who can meet the Act’s criteria must still convince a judge that they are a “victim” of a “severe form of trafficking” – a hurdle that both Sen and Lloyd acknowledge is almost impossible for young girls of color.  This is also a problem because most young people’s stories do not fit into a neat box.  A National Institutes of Justice funded study by researchers at John Jay College in New York City found that only 8% of young people involved in the sex trades in New York City had been forced into prostitution by a “pimp,” and only 10% currently worked with one. The same study found that 16% of girls and 6% of boys trading sex were coerced, but the vast majority of girls (84%) engaged in the sex trades in New York City had never come into contact with a “pimp.” When young people can’t respond to police and prosecutors’ pressure to give up a “pimp” they never had  they get punished  by law enforcement and service providers alike, and find themselves back on the delinquency and detention track.  Even when the Safe Harbor Act (and other laws like it) is found to apply to a young person, they must still follow the rules a family court judge sees fit, which can involve attending a court-mandated program like GEMS, many of which enforce Christianity on participants. Additionally, for young people for whom no such services are available, including LGBTQQ young people and young men in the sex trades, such legislation offers little or no relief whatsoever.

In fact, current ways of thinking about trafficking and the sex trade make LGBTQ youth invisible. The 2007 study Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness found that, of the estimated 1.6 million homeless young people in the United States, between 20 and 40%, or approximately half a million, identify as LGB or T.  Research also reveals that LGBTQ teens are more likely to remain homeless because they also experience homophobia and transphobia in foster care, shelters, and from service providers. A recent study, Hidden Injustice documented the systemic homophobia and transphobia LGBTQ youth experience in family and juvenile courts and in service provision, and the increased rates and lengths of detention they experience as a result. For these reasons, many LGBTQ homeless youth stay on the streets because they feel safer there.  Once homeless, LGBTQ youth, and particularly LGBTQ youth of color are also at increased risk of profiling and police abuse in the context of “qualify of life” enforcement. They are also likely to become involved in the sex trades and street economies as a means of survival. Yet young men and transgender women, including those who are coerced into the sex trades,  are denied access to programs such as GEMS, remain invisible as “victims” in the eyes of law enforcement, judges, and service providers.   Additionally demands for increased penalties for prostitution-related offenses expose young people, including LGBTQ youth, who work in non-exploitative peer networks, to significant jail time for sharing resources and engaging in practices aimed at increasing safety and survival.  They also drive the entire industry further underground, and the young people we reach further away from help.

As we work to develop a comprehensive statement that centers the voices of Indigenous people, people in the sex trades, and radical women and queer people of color, we call on movements for racial justice, civil rights, reproductive justice, LGBTQQ rights, immigrant justice, and those struggling against racial profiling, police brutality and abuse, criminalization and mass incarceration to develop responses that reflect the complexities of our lives and experiences. Most importantly, there are no simple answers.

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Grassroots group challenges discriminatory Crime Against Nature law

Grassroots group challenges discriminatory Crime Against Nature law

by Rosana Cruz, VOTE

Originally posted at Bridge the Gulf, reposted with permission

This week the local organization Women With a Vision (WWAV) is celebrating a huge step forward in their fight on behalf of low income women and lgbt people of color in New Orleans. For almost four years WWAV has been campaigning against the discriminatory Solicitation of Crime Against Nature statute.  As a result of these efforts, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit Tuesday calling the law unconstitutional.

This 206-year-old Louisiana state law makes it a felony to solicit oral and anal sex and requires those convicted to register as sex offenders.  In contrast, a conviction under Louisiana’s prostitution statute is a misdemeanor and does not carry such severe penalties.

The law has disproportionately impacted women of color, primarily low income African American women. Ninety-seven percent of women registered as a sex offender must do so as a result of a Crime Against Nature conviction. And 80% of people on the registry due to a Crime Against Nature conviction are African American. Women With A Vision has partnered with local and national groups to bring attention to this issue and support the women, and some men, who are targeted by this injustice.

On Tuesday, attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of nine anonymous plaintiffs convicted under Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature law and forced to register as sex offenders as a result. The attorneys, WWAV, and allied organizations held a press conference at the New Orleans federal courthouse, and a telephone press briefing Wednesday morning.

Watch: Tatiana speaks out

A member of the youth lgbt project Breakout, “Tatiana” (not her real name) describes her unjust arrest for Solicitation of Crime Against Nature.

Excerpts from the press conference:

At the press conference, Executive Director Deon Haywood shared these important words on behalf of the dozens of people who have turned to Women With A Vision for help with this issue:

“I work with the people directly affected by this statute every day: the toll it takes is devastating. WWAV has been standing with the women of New Orleans, no questions asked. We’ve been let into worlds that few others see, and trusted with stories that few others hear. This issue first came to our attention in 2007 when a woman first came into our office and showed us her driver’s license with the big orange SEX OFFENDER on it. Since then we’ve heard dozens stories from women who are on the registry because of this charge.

“The women we serve are no threat to anyone. They are grandmothers, mothers and daughters. All of them have struggled with poverty and many have struggled with addiction. They did what they had to do to survive, put food on the table, but because they are poor, because they are Black, because they are street-based, because they struggled with addiction, they were singled out for this charge.  Mothers who picked up this charge 20 years ago now can’t get their children into daycare because they have sex offender on their id.

“Women who have struggled with addiction, violence, trauma, and poverty all of their lives and haven’t been able to get the services they need are now even more shut out.  No DV shelters, drug treatment programs or homeless shelters will take them.    These women are no danger to anyone, yet they are treated as predators of the worst kind – all for just offering certain kinds of sex for money. In virtually all the cases we have heard of, that is all they did – they never even performed any sexual act before they were arrested. Now they are being forced to pay a terrible price. They have served their time, but now they have to serve an additional sentence, in many cases a life sentence.”

Shana griffin, Research & Advocacy Director of the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative discussed the dimensions of that terrible price:

“I applaud the courageous steps being taken by the plaintiffs of this lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Statute.  The disproportional harm caused by Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature charge disrupts lives and families, often resulting in:

  • Intensified experiences of sexual violence and harassment at the hands of law enforcement officers
  • Displacement from family and friends
  • Restrictive and unsafe housing and employment options
  • Increased social vulnerability to HIV & AIDS
  • Untreated addictions and risks of homelessness
  • Limited access to healthcare and preventative services, and
  • Broken dreams

“The public demonization and the complete disregard of the health and safety of women of color impacted by this statue entraps them in a dangerous cycle of violence, poverty, and criminalization. The sex registry mandate condemns them to a vicious cycle of excessive fees and restricted access to jobs due to discrimination, which leads to the possible need to engage in high-risk choices, thereby exposing themselves to daily violence just to comply with the law. The challenges faced by women of color, who are maliciously marked as ‘sex offenders’ by the state because of their sexual behavior, profoundly affects their health and safety and severely limit their access to resources, thus regulating them to a lifetime of shame and fear.”

Andrea Ritchie, a private police misconduct attorney and co-author of Queer (In)justice, who is co-counsel on the lawsuit, highlighted the specific groups most hurt by the discriminatory charges of the statute:

“In New Orleans and across the country, women of color and transgender women are routinely profiled as being involved in prostitution, and often report that they can’t walk down the street without being picked up for loitering for the purposes of prostitution. That’s bad enough when it’s a misdemeanor. In Louisiana, on a second offense it’s a felony, and requires registration as a sex offender for 15 years to life.

“Not only are the individuals we are talking about today survivors of rape and domestic violence, they are also survivors of police violence, including sexual harassment, physical abusive, improper strip searches, and rape by law enforcement officers. As one of our clients told us: “I was raped and used many times myself, and I never hurt anyone – why am I on the registry as a sex offender?”

Rosana Cruz, board member of Women With a Vision and Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender), spoke about the dual stigma faced by formerly incarcerated people who are registered sex offenders:

“Every day dozens of New Orleanians come home from extended periods of time in jail or prison. They face obstacles that make it nearly impossible to find jobs, rent apartments or to access sorely needed resources like educational loans or housing subsidies.  We know that many of them also face discrimination because of their records.

“But the brave women and men who have stepped forward today face an even more insidious roadblock. In addition to having the social stigma of having been in the criminal justice system, they also have to contend with a modern day scarlet letter, a sex offender charge emblazoned across their id cards. For years after their release, those red letters continue to close doors in their faces. Instead we should help them to clear a path for their success, as they struggle to make a new and better life for themselves and their children.”

Staggering consequences

The plaintiffs in the case chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.  They all must carry a state driver’s license or non-driver’s identification document emblazoned with the words SEX OFFENDER in bright orange capital letters.  They must disclose the fact that they are registered as a sex offender to neighbors, landlords, employers, schools, parks, community centers, and churches. Their names, addresses, and photographs appear on the internet.  They are required to mail postcards notifying every person in their neighborhood.

Said one plaintiff, “When you mail those cards it’s so humiliating, people kill you for that. I fear for my safety.”

Said a mother of three who was convicted under the statute in the 90’s, “Because my picture and address are up on the internet with my charge, a guy once came by my house looking for sex.”

Attorneys on the case include Bill Quigley and Alexis Agathocleus from the Center for Constitutional Rights, private police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., co-author of the recently released book Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, and Davida Finger of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

———-

Rosana Cruz

Rosana Cruz is Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender). Previously Rosana worked with Safe Streets/Strong Communities and the National Immigration Law Center. Prior to joining NILC, she worked with SEIU1991 in Miami, after having been displaced from New Orleans by Katrina. Before the storm, Rosana worked for a diverse range of community organizations, including the Latin American Library, Hispanic Apostolate, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans, and People’s Youth Freedom School. Rosana came to New Orleans through her work with the Southern Regional Office of Amnesty International in Atlanta.

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Street Harassment of Women and Girls in New York City

The following post is testimony given by Alison Roh Park to the Committee on Women’s Issues Hearing on the issue of street harassment of women and girls in New York City.  The testimony was given on October 28, 2010.

Rally Against Street Harassment, INCITE! DC & community partners

My name is Alison Roh Park. I currently work in media relations at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal and education organization that was founded during the Civil Rights movement. I am a poet, cultural worker and activist, and I also teach as an adjunct professor at New York University as part of a graduate program there.

I would like to thank you for creating the time and space to hear stories about street sexual harassment in our city. Every young woman and girl I know has experienced street harassment in some way, shape or form, with national statistics saying that up to 70 percent of women will have experienced it by the time they are 41 years old. And though so prevalent, this is a rare opportunity to speak to the issue safely in a public space and engage in conversations about creating the change needed to shift the paradigm of sexual harassment. I am here as a New Yorker who has experienced street harassment daily for nearly the past two decades. I have experienced street sexual harassment up to three times while walking down one city block, often first thing in the morning when I step outside my apartment building. I have heard similar stories daily; a friend once told me she was sexually harassed 23 three times during a single commute between Jersey City and Manhattan.

I am a lifelong resident of Queens and attended New York City public schools throughout my life until I enrolled at Fordham University. Over the years I’ve spent a great deal of time all over New York City, Manhattan and the Bronx in particular. I am fortunate to have always been a part of multiracial, multiethnic, immigrant and mixed-class neighborhoods with visible gay, lesbian and transgender (1) communities.

The first time I recognized sexual harassment, I was 11 years old. My sister, who would have been 14 at the time and I’m sure already familiar with sexual harassment, and I often made the 14 block walk between home and our church and parish center that had a swimming pool and basketball court. Men would leer at us; block our path on the sidewalk, sometimes even preventing us from walking forward; come extremely close to us; hiss, whistle or make kissing sounds; make other obscene gestures; or follow us.

As a young girl at a critical developmental age in learning how to have healthy relationships with boys and men, these experiences left me powerless. I was too young to define sex or sexuality, or sexism and sexual violence to understand what exactly was happening to me, but the daily experience of street sexual harassment profoundly inhibited my self-esteem. The advice and comments I received from the women and men around me then and now have been to: “toughen up,” “ignore them,” “don’t let it get to you,” “what were you wearing,” “then don’t walk down that street,” “that’s just how guys are,” “you’re too thin-skinned” or “there’s nothing you can do about it.” When I tried to confront my harassers, I was met with curses and insults, derisive laughter or the situation escalated to violence or the threat of physical violence. As is common during public sexual assault or rape, passersbys were always silent or completely ignored the situation.

During those years as a victim or observer of sexual harassment, as a women of color and an Asian American woman, it was made clear that harassment is often compounded by racist slurs or sexual stereotypes. I also learned that, for women and girls, the New York City public transportation system is often as unsafe a space as its streets. I was fourteen the first time I saw a man masturbating across from me on the subway. I have been followed off the train to close to my home and nearly sexually assaulted within view of an MTA agent in a token booth. I have been stared at for the duration of an entire commute by a man who was known in my community to follow Asian women. I commonly witness sexual harassment by police officers who use warrantless stops to intimidate women who do not respond to their flirtation and sexual advances, abusing their power to demand phone numbers and home addresses. I know a woman who was propositioned for sex by a police officer in his patrol car when she was 14 years old, and another who experienced sexual assault by a police officer under the guise of a stop-and-frisk.

I cannot find the words to accurately convey the cumulative psychological and emotional effect that these daily stressors and experiences of violence—all because of my gender—have had on my life and personal development.

A group that works to fight street harassment by empowering residents to speak out against gender based harassment, called Holla Back DC!, defines public sexual harassment or street harassment as an something that:

“occurs in a public space when one or more individuals (male or female) accost another individual—based on the victim’s gender—as they go about their daily life. This can include vulgar remarks, heckling, insults, innuendo, stalking, leering, fondling, indecent exposure and other forms of public humiliation. Public sexual harassment occurs on a continuum starting with words, stalking and unwanted touching, which can lead to more violent crimes like rape, assault and murder.”

It is important to note that my experiences of street sexual harassment only represent my specific experience as a cisgender woman. Cisgender can be used to describe the other end of the gender spectrum as opposed to transgender, and describes someone who is comfortable being the gender they were assigned at birth. Also important to consider that while it is possible for a small fraction of men to be sexually harassed by women—and that some women do not consider to be harassment what I and many others here may consider to be harassment—because of underlying male supremacy, machismo and the persistent threat of rape, it is essential to center discussions of sexual harassment around the experiences of women and people of other historically endangered gender groups.

Street sexual harassment is about reinforcing gender roles and expectations, placing limitations on what women can or cannot do and where they may or may not go. In that way, street sexual harassment regularly results in violence against gay, lesbian, queer, genderqueer (2) and transgender New Yorkers. Sexual harassment both reinforces and nourishes the cultural and systemic limitations, dehumanization, objectification and sexualization of women and violence against historically marginalized or forgotten communities—every day and all the time.

Everywhere I go, I can find images and media that values women as commodities, a persistent reminder that women and girls are worthy only as consumers; objects used to sell products from cars to technology to shampoo; and sexualized objects. And, this is all in a country with a shameful level of access to sex education and the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections in the western hemisphere. (3)

Young girls and boys today have unprecedented access to violent sexual images and entertainment that exploit women’s bodies and the limited choices of women within the entertainment industry. Furthermore, as Jamia Wilson of the Women’s Media Center notes, “With six media conglomerates controlling the vast majority of media content, we’re seeing a dramatic decrease in alternative and positive representations of girls in entertainment and news media. As technology becomes advanced, the viral promotion of these images and messages becomes increasingly problematic. The media tells girls that they have all kinds of options, but starts really young offering them a limited set of choices. Studies show that the more TV a little girl watches the fewer options she believes she has in life.” (4)

It is no coincidence that violence against women is increasing at an alarming rate.  Between 2006 and 2008, for example, a government report showed a 42 percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25 percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault. (5) It is important to note that some U.S. studies have found that up to 46 percent of domestic violence survivors do not contact the police. (6)

And yet, presented with this information, views on street sexual harassment remain much like those towards domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, welfare, abortion and sex work: though hundreds of thousands of women collectively share these experiences, there still exists this notion of “personal responsibility” and a judgment of whether a person deserves or “asks for it,” as in mistreatment and even violent punishment for perceived infractions against expected roles, such as style of dress, body language or behavior.

Though I am most familiar with street sexual harassment as it occurs in my own community, I have been harassed by men of many races and ethnicities in different neighborhoods throughout New York City. Because of the racism that is so deeply embedded in all aspects of our society, and men of color are stereotyped as violent sexual predators, it is critical to recognize that while sexual harassment and violence against women has many different expressions in different cultural, racial and class contexts, it is an underlying male supremacy and existing gender roles that create and perpetuate street sexual harassment and a lack of safety for women in public spaces.

To rely solely on the legal or judicial system as a quick fix to street sexual harassment will only result in the criminalization of people of color and guarantees unequal access to or enforcement of any such policies. My organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, released an expert report this week on the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk practice — and the findings clearly illustrate that a dramatic majority of stops are made on the basis of race and not crime. This is a clear example of how laws and policies are manipulated by institutions and their agents to the detriment of communities of color.

Similarly, relying on legal or criminal remedies will only make some communities more unsafe. Take Secure Communities for example, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that blurs the line between local law enforcement and federal civil immigration enforcement. This program is an example of how our own government agencies can put communities in jeopardy, such as an undocumented immigrant survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault who will not call the police for fear of detention and deportation.

By not actively working to eradicate sexual and street harassment, we all will essentially be perpetuating the existence of an underclass of New Yorkers with less access to public space; protection under the rule of law; self-esteem; physical and emotional safety; and freedom of movement—what many would describe as fundamental human and civil rights.

The solution must be crafted by the communities whose realities are often ignored in the privileged circles that are empowered to make change on an institutional level. Namely, solutions must definitively include women of color; poor and homeless women; differently abled women; immigrant women; and our youth. And, it is essential that men are part of the solution and do the work needed to shift the attitudes of other men and young boys towards women.

Any remedy should be similarly representative in its benefit, changing the day-to-day quality of life for all women and New Yorkers, and be reflected in the kinds of relationships girls and boys; boys and boys; girls and girls; and women and men share with each other—and with themselves and their bodies—with a genuine openness and respect for every person’s right to express their gender as they choose. In the way that masculinity, sexism and self-worth are learned constructs of our society, they can be unlearned if we work together for equal access to public space for all New Yorkers.

Thank you.
Submitted on October 28, 2010
Contact: (212) 614-6480
apark@ccrjustice.org

Footnotes

1 Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s “assigned sex” (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex). “Transgender” does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation. (Wikipedia)

2 Genderqueer (GQ) and intergender are catch-all terms for gender identities other than man and woman.  People who identify as genderqueer may think of themselves as being both man and woman, as being neither man nor woman, or as falling completely outside the gender binary. (Wikipedia)

3 Keynote address, SPARK Summit: Pushing Back Against the Sexualization of Girls (October 2010), Hunter College, New York, NY

4 “Ypulse Interview: Jamia Wilson, Women’s Media Center” (October 2010) Ypulse.com

5 “US: Soaring Rates of Rape and Violence Against Women: More Accurate Methodology Shows Urgent Need for Preventive Action” (December 2008) Human Rights Watch Press Release

6 “Domestic Violence Report” (2008) Minnesota Crime Victims Survey

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Language & Action

Language & Action is a new weekend feature where we spotlight some of the fantastic analysis, news, & performance from around the blogosphere that shine a light on critical ideas and action addressing violence against women of color.  The title is borrowed from Audre Lorde’s brilliant 1977 talk, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”

If you have suggestions for things to include, please send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com or float it in the comment section!

***

YWEP gathering info about Bad Encounters:

Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP) is collecting important info from youth in Chicago who have had crappy encounters with social services, hospitals, police, shelters, etc:

Are you having a bad experience getting help from a social service, police, hospital, shelter or some where else? Do you think this is because you are involved in the sex trade, homeless or Lesbian Gay Bisexual or Transgender or another reason- like using drugs or being involved in the street economy?

If you want to report this bad experience and help other youth in your community
CLICK HERE

Spread the word!!!

For more information about this project, check out this page.

***

Juarez-inspired makeup?

Companies use Juarez as inspiration for makeup:

Julianne Hing at Colorlines has a great write-up on MAC and Rodarte’s new cosmetic line that was inspired by the makeup designers’ trip to Juarez, Mexico, a town that has seen thousands of women murdered or disappeared.  She writes:

It seems the designers took a recent trip to the border, checking out towns from El Paso to Marfa, Texas. They came back with a fascination with Juarez in particular, and with life in the post-NAFTA maquilas that were set up to help the city become a free-trade zone. When designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy unveiled their ready-to-wear F/W 2010 in February, they said that they had been inspired by the lines of women workers who’d make their way to factory jobs in the middle of the night. Romantic, huh?

Of course, real life in Juarez, which has the distinction of being the world’s deadliest city, is much less so. By the end of July, Juarez is set to log 6,000 murders this year alone. The city is home to hundreds of factories owned by multinational corporations, and has become a bloody warzone where Mexico’s drug wars are being fought. For the last few years the violence has resulted in so many thousands of unsolved deaths, many of those killed have been women workers who were traveling to and from their jobs in Juarez’s factories.

The story includes the companies’ apologies and Hing follows up with an interview with beauty bloggers who broke this story.

***

African women and children denied housing rights and brutally attacked by police in Paris:

After watching this horrific video of African immigrant women and children being brutally attacked by police in Paris because they were negotiating for housing rights, La Macha at VivirLatino discusses the level of violence the state is willing to inflict on immigrant women and children in order to protect its borders.  She writes:

Are the protection of borders worth this? And please don’t tell me that this was the mother’s fault. I know that all the anti-immigrant people will be here soon to tell me that it’s their fault, and I can handle that. But if any supposed “ally” says “what were they thinking?” I have a few suggestions. First, sit for a moment and open yourself up to the humanity of these women and the humanity of their children. Know what it feels like to feel terror and confusion and a fear you can’t breathe through. Then take a moment to consider that even when the government offers you something, you, a black immigrant mother that may or may not be legal, may actually have considerable reason to not trust that government.

***

Intersectional analysis of Israeli “rape by deception” case:

brownfemipower at Flip Flopping Joy analyzes the recent Israeli case in which a Palestinian man was accused and found guilty of “rape by deception” after having sex with a Jewish woman who thought he was also Jewish.  She asks, “What vested interest does an apartheid regime have in criminalizing sex between classes?” and writes:

When we don’t understand that a woman’s body under such a system is *contested* and even often looked at as a *resource* for the nation/state, we stand a very good chance of grossly misunderstanding what particular situations mean.

***

Frida Kahlo: “The broken column (self-portrait)”

Recognizing each other as queer disabled women of color:

In tribute to Frida Kahlo, Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence reflects on the power of recognition among queer disabled women of color.  She writes:

And even when we are visible as disabled queer women of color, sometimes we don’t even recognize each other.  We don’t recognize each other because we’re not taught how to do it; because we’re taught how to be afraid of each other.  Because we are taught how to not recognize each other more readily than we are taught how to find each other.  Where are we? How do we find each other? And how do we do the work to recognize each other and to be recognizable to each other?  Sometimes, as is so often the case with queerness (and disability), I see you, but I don’t know if you see me.  I feel this acutely with adoptees.  We share space together, but often times we don’t know how to recognize each other.  We look right through one another, or avoid each other as if we were taught some kind of secret script.

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Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements


Originally published in make/shift magazine

Some people may have seen this article already, which has been making its rounds on Facebook and the blogosphere, but INCITE! blog editors loved it so much that we wanted to share it here. The piece was originally published in make/shift magazine’s Spring/Summer 2010 issue and written by Courtney Desiree Morris.

In January 2009, activists in Austin, Texas, learned that one of their own, a white activist named Brandon Darby, had infiltrated groups protesting the Republican National Convention (RNC) as an FBI informant. Darby later admitted to wearing recording devices at planning meetings and during the convention. He testified on behalf of the government in the February 2009 trial of two Texas activists who were arrested at the RNC on charges of making and possessing Molotov cocktails, after Darby encouraged them to do so. The two young men, David McKay and Bradley Crowder, each faced up to fifteen years in prison. Crowder accepted a plea bargain to serve three years in a federal prison; under pressure from federal prosecutors, McKay also pled guilty to being in possession of “unregistered Molotov cocktails” and was sentenced to four years in prison. Information gathered by Darby may also have contributed to the case against the RNC 8, activists from around the country charged with “conspiracy to riot and conspiracy to damage property in the furtherance of terrorism.” Austin activists were particularly stunned by the revelation that Darby had served as an informant because he had been a part of various leftist projects and was a leader at Common Ground Relief, a New Orleans–based organization committed to meeting the short-term needs of community members displaced by natural disasters in the Gulf Coast region and dedicated to rebuilding the region and ensuring Katrina evacuees’ right to return.

I was surprised but not shocked by this news. I had learned as an undergrad at the University of Texas that the campus police department routinely placed plainclothes police officers in the meetings of radical student groups—you know, just to keep an eye on them. That was in fall 2001. We saw the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, watched a cowboy president wage war on terror, and, in the middle of it all, tried to figure out what we could do to challenge the fascist state transformations taking place before our eyes. At the time, however, it seemed silly that there were cops in our meetings—we weren’t the Panthers or the Brown Berets or even some of the rowdier direct-action anti-globalization activists on campus (although we admired them all); we were just young people who didn’t believe war was the best response to the 9/11 attacks. But it wasn’t silly; the FBI does not dismiss political work. Any organization, be it large or small, can provoke the scrutiny of the state. Perhaps your organization poses a large threat, or maybe you’re small now but one day you’ll grow up and be too big to rein in. The state usually opts to kill the movement before it grows.

And informants and provocateurs are the state’s hired gunmen. Government agencies pick people that no one will notice. Often it’s impossible to prove that they’re informants because they appear to be completely dedicated to social justice. They establish intimate relationships with activists, becoming friends and lovers, often serving in leadership roles in organizations. A cursory reading of the literature on social movements and organizations in the 1960s and 1970s reveals this fact. The leadership of the American Indian Movement was rife with informants; it is suspected that informants were also largely responsible for the downfall of the Black Panther Party, and the same can be surmised about the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Not surprisingly, these movements that were toppled by informants and provocateurs were also sites where women and queer activists often experienced intense gender violence, as the autobiographies of activists such as Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz demonstrate.

Maybe it isn’t that informants are difficult to spot but rather that we have collectively ignored the signs that give them away. To save our movements, we need to come to terms with the connections between gender violence, male privilege, and the strategies that informants (and people who just act like them) use to destabilize radical movements. Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence [1] as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).

The Makings of an Informant: Brandon Darby and Common Ground

On Democracy Now! Malik Rahim, former Black Panther and cofounder of Common Ground in New Orleans, spoke about how devastated he was by Darby’s revelation that he was an FBI informant. Several times he stated that his heart had been broken. He especially lamented all of the “young ladies” who left Common Ground as a result of Darby’s domineering, aggressive style of organizing. And when those “young ladies” complained? Well, their concerns likely fell on sympathetic but ultimately unresponsive ears—everything may have been true, and after the fact everyone admits how disruptive Darby was, quick to suggest violent, ill-conceived direct-action schemes that endangered everyone he worked with. There were even claims of Darby sexually assaulting female organizers at Common Ground and in general being dismissive of women working in the organization. [2] Darby created conflict in all of the organizations he worked with, yet people were hesitant to hold him accountable because of his history and reputation as an organizer and his “dedication” to “the work.” People continued to defend him until he outed himself as an FBI informant. Even Rahim, for all of his guilt and angst, chose to leave Darby in charge of Common Ground although every time there was conflict in the organization it seemed to involve Darby.

Maybe if organizers made collective accountability around gender violence a central part of our practices we could neutralize people who are working on behalf of the state to undermine our struggles. I’m not talking about witch hunts; I’m talking about organizing in such a way that we nip a potential Brandon Darby in the bud before he can hurt more people. Informants are hard to spot, but my guess is that where there is smoke there is fire, and someone who creates chaos wherever he goes is either an informant or an irresponsible, unaccountable time bomb who can be unintentionally as effective at undermining social-justice organizing as an informant. Ultimately they both do the work of the state and need to be held accountable.
A Brief Historical Reflection on Gender Violence in Radical Movements

Reflecting on the radical organizations and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s provides an important historical context for this discussion. Memoirs by women who were actively involved in these struggles reveal the pervasiveness of tolerance (and in some cases advocacy) of gender violence. Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Elaine Brown, each at different points in their experiences organizing with the Black Panther Party (BPP), cited sexism and the exploitation of women (and their organizing labor) in the BPP as one of their primary reasons for either leaving the group (in the cases of Brown and Shakur) or refusing to ever formally join (in Davis’s case). Although women were often expected to make significant personal sacrifices to support the movement, when women found themselves victimized by male comrades there was no support for them or channels to seek redress. Whether it was BPP organizers ignoring the fact that Eldridge Cleaver beat his wife, noted activist Kathleen Cleaver, men coercing women into sex, or just men treating women organizers as subordinated sexual playthings, the BPP and similar organizations tended not to take seriously the corrosive effects of gender violence on liberation struggle. In many ways, Elaine Brown’s autobiography, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, has gone the furthest in laying bare the ugly realities of misogyny in the movement and the various ways in which both men and women reproduced and reinforced male privilege and gender violence in these organizations. Her experience as the only woman to ever lead the BPP did not exempt her from the brutal misogyny of the organization. She recounts being assaulted by various male comrades (including Huey Newton) as well as being beaten and terrorized by Eldridge Cleaver, who threatened to “bury her in Algeria” during a delegation to China. Her biography demonstrates more explicitly than either Davis’s or Shakur’s how the masculinist posturing of the BPP (and by extension many radical organizations at the time) created a culture of violence and misogyny that ultimately proved to be the organization’s undoing.

These narratives demystify the legacy of gender violence of the very organizations that many of us look up to. They demonstrate how misogyny was normalized in these spaces, dismissed as “personal” or not as important as the more serious struggles against racism or class inequality. Gender violence has historically been deeply entrenched in the political practices of the Left and constituted one of the greatest (if largely unacknowledged) threats to the survival of these organizations. However, if we pay attention to the work of Davis, Shakur, Brown, and others, we can avoid the mistakes of the past and create different kinds of political community.
The Racial Politics of Gender Violence

Race further complicates the ways in which gender violence unfolds in our communities. In “Looking for Common Ground: Relief Work in Post-Katrina New Orleans as an American Parable of Race and Gender Violence,” Rachel Luft explores the disturbing pattern of sexual assault against white female volunteers by white male volunteers doing rebuilding work in the Upper Ninth Ward in 2006. She points out how Common Ground failed to address white men’s assaults on their co-organizers and instead shifted the blame to the surrounding Black community, warning white women activists that they needed to be careful because New Orleans was a dangerous place. Ultimately it proved easier to criminalize Black men from the neighborhood than to acknowledge that white women and transgender organizers were most likely to be assaulted by white men they worked with. In one case, a white male volunteer was turned over to the police only after he sexually assaulted at least three women in one week. The privilege that white men enjoyed in Common Ground, an organization ostensibly committed to racial justice, meant that they could be violent toward women and queer activists, enact destructive behaviors that undermined the organization’s work, and know that the movement would not hold them accountable in the same way that it did Black men in the community where they worked.

Of course, male privilege is not uniform—white men and men of color are unequal participants in and beneficiaries of patriarchy although they both can and do reproduce gender violence. This disparity in the distribution of patriarchy’s benefits is not lost on women and queer organizers when we attempt to confront men of color who enact gender violence in our communities. We often worry about reproducing particular kinds of racist violence that disproportionately target men of color. We are understandably loath to call the police, involve the state in any way, or place men of color at the mercy of a historically racist criminal (in)justice system; yet our communities (political and otherwise) often do not step up to demand justice on our behalf. We don’t feel comfortable talking to therapists who just reaffirm stereotypes about how fucked-up and exceptionally violent our home communities are. The Left often offers even less support. Our victimization is unfortunate, problematic, but ultimately less important to “the work” than the men of all races who reproduce gender violence in our communities.

Encountering Misogyny on the Left: A Personal Reflection

In the first community group I was actively involved in, I encountered a level of misogyny that I would never have imagined existed in what was supposed to be a radical-people-of-color organization. I was sexually/romantically involved with an older Chicano activist in the group. I was nineteen, an inexperienced young Black activist; he was thirty. He asked me to keep our relationship a secret, and I reluctantly agreed. Later, after he ended the relationship and I was reeling from depression, I discovered that he had been sleeping with at least two other women while we were together. One of them was a friend of mine, another young woman we organized with. Unaware of the nature of our relationship, which he had failed to disclose to her, she slept with him until he disappeared, refusing to answer her calls or explain the abrupt end of their relationship. She and I, after sharing our experiences, began to trade stories with other women who knew and had organized with this man.

We heard of the women who had left a Chicana/o student group and never came back after his lies and secrets blew up while the group was participating in a Zapatista action in Mexico City. The queer, radical, white organizer who left Austin to get away from his abuse. Another white woman, a social worker who thought they might get married only to come to his apartment one evening and find me there. And then there were the ones that came after me. I always wondered if they knew who he really was. The women he dated were amazing, beautiful, kick-ass, radical women that he used as shields to get himself into places he knew would never be open to such a misogynist. I mean, if that cool woman who worked in Chiapas, spoke Spanish, and worked with undocumented immigrants was dating him, he must be down, right? Wrong.

But his misogyny didn’t end there; it was also reflected in his style of organizing. In meetings he always spoke the loudest and longest, using academic jargon that made any discussion excruciatingly more complex than necessary. The academic-speak intimidated people less educated than him because he seemed to know more about radical politics than anyone else. He would talk down to other men in the group, especially those he perceived to be less intelligent than him, which was basically everybody. Then he’d switch gears, apologize for dominating the space, and acknowledge his need to check his male privilege. Ironically, when people did attempt to call him out on his shit, he would feign ignorance—what could they mean, saying that his behavior was masculinist and sexist? He’d complain of being infantilized, refusing to see how he infantilized people all the time. The fact that he was a man of color who could talk a good game about racism and racial-justice struggles masked his abusive behaviors in both radical organizations and his personal relationships. As one of his former partners shared with me, “His radical race analysis allowed people (mostly men but occasionally women as well) to forgive him for being dominating and abusive in his relationships. Womyn had to check their critique of his behavior at the door, lest we lose a man of color in the movement.” One of the reasons it is so difficult to hold men of color accountable for reproducing gender violence is that women of color and white activists continue to be invested in the idea that men of color have it harder than anyone else. How do you hold someone accountable when you believe he is target number one for the state?

Unfortunately he wasn’t the only man like this I encountered in radical spaces—just one of the smarter ones. Reviewing old e-mails, I am shocked at the number of e-mails from men I organized with that were abusive in tone and content, how easily they would talk down to others for minor mistakes. I am more surprised at my meek, diplomatic responses—like an abuse survivor—as I attempted to placate compañeros who saw nothing wrong with yelling at their partners, friends, and other organizers. There were men like this in various organizations I worked with. The one who called his girlfriend a bitch in front of a group of youth of color during a summer encuentro we were hosting. The one who sexually harassed a queer Chicana couple during a trip to México, trying to pressure them into a threesome. The guys who said they would complete a task, didn’t do it, brushed off their compañeras’ demands for accountability, let those women take over the task, and when it was finished took all the credit for someone else’s hard work. The graduate student who hit his partner—and everyone knew he’d done it, but whenever anyone asked, people would just look ashamed and embarrassed and mumble, “It’s complicated.” The ones who constantly demeaned queer folks, even people they organized with. Especially the one who thought it would be a revolutionary act to “kill all these faggots, these niggas on the down low, who are fucking up our children, fucking up our homes, fucking up our world, and fucking up our lives!” The one who would shout you down in a meeting or tell you that you couldn’t be a feminist because you were too pretty. Or the one who thought homosexuality was a disease from Europe.

Yeah, that guy.

Most of those guys probably weren’t informants. Which is a pity because it means they are not getting paid a dime for all the destructive work they do. We might think of these misogynists as inadvertent agents of the state. Regardless of whether they are actually informants or not, the work that they do supports the state’s ongoing campaign of terror against social movements and the people who create them. When queer organizers are humiliated and their political struggles sidelined, that is part of an ongoing state project of violence against radicals. When women are knowingly given STIs, physically abused, dismissed in meetings, pushed aside, and forced out of radical organizing spaces while our allies defend known misogynists, organizers collude in the state’s efforts to destroy us.

The state has already understood a fact that the Left has struggled to accept: misogynists make great informants. Before or regardless of whether they are ever recruited by the state to disrupt a movement or destabilize an organization, they’ve likely become well versed in practices of disruptive behavior. They require almost no training and can start the work immediately. What’s more paralyzing to our work than when women and/or queer folks leave our movements because they have been repeatedly lied to, humiliated, physically/verbally/emotionally/sexually abused? Or when you have to postpone conversations about the work so that you can devote group meetings to addressing an individual member’s most recent offense? Or when that person spreads misinformation, creating confusion and friction among radical groups? Nothing slows down movement building like a misogynist.

What the FBI gets is that when there are people in activist spaces who are committed to taking power and who understand power as domination, our movements will never realize their potential to remake this world. If our energies are absorbed recuperating from the messes that informants (and people who just act like them) create, we will never be able to focus on the real work of getting free and building the kinds of life-affirming, people-centered communities that we want to live in. To paraphrase bell hooks, where there is a will to dominate there can be no justice, because we will inevitably continue reproducing the same kinds of injustice we claim to be struggling against. It is time for our movements to undergo a radical change from the inside out.

Looking Forward: Creating Gender Justice in our Movements

Radical movements cannot afford the destruction that gender violence creates. If we underestimate the political implications of patriarchal behaviors in our communities, the work will not survive.

Lately I’ve been turning to the work of queers/feminists of color to think through how to challenge these behaviors in our movements. I’ve been reading the autobiographies of women who lived through the chaos of social movements debilitated by machismo. I’m revisiting the work of bell hooks, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Gioconda Belli, Margaret Randall, Elaine Brown, Pearl Cleage, Ntozake Shange, and Gloria Anzaldúa to see how other women negotiated gender violence in these spaces and to problematize neat or easy answers about how violence is reproduced in our communities. Newer work by radical feminists of color has also been incredibly helpful, especially the zine Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities, edited by Ching-In Chen, Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

But there are many resources for confronting this dilemma beyond books. The simple act of speaking and sharing our truths is one of the most powerful tools we have. I’ve been speaking to my elders, older women of color in struggle who have experienced the things I’m struggling against, and swapping survival stories with other women. In summer 2008 I began doing workshops on ending misogyny and building collective forms of accountability with Cristina Tzintzún, an Austin-based labor organizer and author of the essay “Killing Misogyny: A Personal Story of Love, Violence, and Strategies for Survival.” We have also begun the even more liberating practice of naming our experiences publicly and calling on our communities to address what we and so many others have experienced.

Dismantling misogyny cannot be work that only women do. We all must do the work because the survival of our movements depends on it. Until we make radical feminist and queer political ethics that directly challenge heteropatriarchal forms of organizing central to our political practice, radical movements will continue to be devastated by the antics of Brandon Darbys (and folks who aren’t informants but just act like them). A queer, radical, feminist ethic of accountability would challenge us to recognize how gender violence is reproduced in our communities, relationships, and organizing practices. Although there are many ways to do this, I want to suggest that there are three key steps that we can take to begin. First, we must support women and queer people in our movements who have experienced interpersonal violence and engage in a collective process of healing. Second, we must initiate a collective dialogue about how we want our communities to look and how to make them safe for everyone. Third, we must develop a model for collective accountability that truly treats the personal as political and helps us to begin practicing justice in our communities. When we allow women/queer organizers to leave activist spaces and protect people whose violence provoked their departure, we are saying we value these de facto state agents who disrupt the work more than we value people whose labor builds and sustains movements.

As angry as gender violence on the Left makes me, I am hopeful. I believe we have the capacity to change and create more justice in our movements. We don’t have to start witch hunts to reveal misogynists and informants. They out themselves every time they refuse to apologize, take ownership of their actions, start conflicts and refuse to work them out through consensus, mistreat their compañer@s. We don’t have to look for them, but when we are presented with their destructive behaviors we have to hold them accountable. Our strategies don’t have to be punitive; people are entitled to their mistakes. But we should expect that people will own those actions and not allow them to become a pattern.

We have a right to be angry when the communities we build that are supposed to be the model for a better, more just world harbor the same kinds of antiqueer, antiwoman, racist violence that pervades society. As radical organizers we must hold each other accountable and not enable misogynists to assert so much power in these spaces. Not allow them to be the faces, voices, and leaders of these movements. Not allow them to rape a compañera and then be on the fucking five o’ clock news. In Brandon Darby’s case, even if no one suspected he was an informant, his domineering and macho behavior should have been all that was needed to call his leadership into question. By not allowing misogyny to take root in our communities and movements, we not only protect ourselves from the efforts of the state to destroy our work but also create stronger movements that cannot be destroyed from within.

[1] I use the term gender violence to refer to the ways in which homophobia and misogyny are rooted in heteronormative understandings of gender identity and gender roles. Heterosexism not only polices non-normative sexualities but also reproduces normative gender roles and identities that reinforce the logic of patriarchy and male privilege.

[2] I learned this from informal conversations with women who had organized with Darby in Austin and New Orleans while participating in the Austin Informants Working Group, which was formed by people who had worked with Darby and were stunned by his revelation that he was an FBI informant.

Article published courtesy of make/shift magazine and Courtney Desiree Morris. For more of the author’s work visit: http://creolemaroon.blogspot.com/.

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Converging in Detroit, Ending Police Violence

Thousands of organizers, artists, healers, writers, and more are converging in Detroit beginning this week for the expansive and exciting movement building events, the Allied Media Conference and the US Social Forum.  It promises to be a generative time for all of us to dream, plan, and organize projects & strategies to end corporate- and state-sanctioned violence and violence within our communities that target us, and to build loving, accountable, creative, and connected relationships, networks, and lives that will help sustain us.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones

As we converge in Detroit with the purpose of organizing for an end to violence against women, trans, and queer people of color, we also honor the life of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a little girl who was shot and killed by a police officer in a police raid on May 16th in Detroit.  We recognize that police violence against girls of color, especially children and teens who identify as queer or who do not conform to gender expectations, is not unusual, but is always devastating.

Here is a series of articles that explore several important and difficult issues related to the tragic loss of Aiyana and the surrounding circumstances:

Akiba Solomon at ColorLines discusses the tension between calling attention to Aiyana’s death and the reason the police were at her home — to investigate the murder of a 17 year old young man, Je’Rean Blake — raising the question, how do we organize responses to police violence if we rely on police to address violence within our communities, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and gang violence?  She writes,

Cargill’s conflicted reaction is gut wrenching. “I’m sorry what happened to the 7-year-old child, you know my sympathy [goes] out for 7-year-old. But they knew the guy killed my son [Je'Rean Blake],” Cargill charges about the Jones family’s relationship with Owens. “Everything got started because that guy killed my son. That girl would have been living right now and my son would have been living too. … They don’t think about my son. They talk all about the 7-year-old girl. What about my son?”

This situation is too much, too sad, too unfair, too senseless to intellectualize about the moral equivalency this grieving mother is expressing. Too much, too sad, too unfair, too senseless to harp on how excessive police force—not her child’s murder by a civilian—led to the death of Aiyana. Who am I to question her anger at the lack of public focus on Je’Rean? After all, his killing should be just as aberrant as Aiyana’s—not just business as usual in the poor, Black neighborhood both children called home.

The blog, The New Black Woman, also highlights this tension in a piece that calls attention to the danger of “no-knock warrants” and to the urgent need to both stop police violence and develop accountability strategies to address violence within our communities.  She asks,

When are we going to decide that our children have the right to live in safe neighborhoods? When are we going to decide that our children do not deserve to be subjected to police raids and gunfire? When are we going to decide to take back our streets, our homes and our livelihood?

Latoya Peterson at Racialicious analyzes the media response to the tragedy and to state violence  in communities of color in general.  She writes,

For Aiyana Stanley-Jones, her senseless death should have sparked a much better conversation than the rumination of reality television crews. While that area is ripe for exploration (and I would personally be interested to know if producers on cop reality shows use the same manipulative tactics as they do on regular competition shows), that should not be the only angle taken in the realm of the news. Look at the excerpts above. Police violence, state sanctioned violence, the militarization of police forces in the aftermath of 9/11, cycles of violence – there are many different angles to discuss with this story, but it appears that there is no interest in looking at those who are marked as “others.”

brownfemipower at Flip Flopping Joy also sends feedback to those activists aiming to “rescue” Detroit.  She writes,

When all the cameras you bring start filing their reports–and FOX news uncovers something horrible and proceeds to paint all of Detroit and grieving devastated human beings as god knows what (I still have the comments re: the Duke rape case where the survivor was called “cum catcher” “N*gger whore” etc etc etc)–will you be there to pick up the pieces? To protect grieving relatives that only want to feel her alive baby body in their arms one more time?

Will you be there to remind everybody that the relentless depictions of Detroit as Murder Capital USA are at least partially inaccurate, because police are doing the murdering too? Will you be there with money and resources when state and federal aid are decreased *again*—because Detroit should just be left to die?

Will you admit that police brutality is something women experience too?

We need all of our strength, wisdom, and passion to pursue these critical questions and create realities in which the lives of women, girls,  trans, & queer people of color are valued.  Visit this page for more info on the INCITE!/To Tell You The Truth workshop track at AMC.  For more info on work happening at the USSF, visit a list of their workshop tracks or the program.  To download the INCITE! toolkit to Stop Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color, visit this website.

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May 23rd, NYC: Rise Up For Safety

Join the Safe Outside the System Collective at Rise Up For Safety!
Sunday, May 23rd 1:00-4:00pm
Common Grounds
376 Tompkins Ave between Putnam and Jefferson, New York City
C to Kingston-Throop, B52 to Tompkins, B26 to Tompkins, B43 to Jefferson

Rise up for safety will be a chance for community members to join our training team of people interested in helping to train Safe Spaces for our Safe Neighborhood Campaign. It will also be a chance for people to learn about our new and current safe spaces, learn tools to be Safe OUTside the System, and get involved in the Campaign.

Register here!

Safe Outside the System Collective - Rise Up For Safety!

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Confrontando la ciudadanía en el asalto sexual

Gracias a brownfemipower para escribir este artículo y a yuri rojas para traducir. Versión en Inglés está aquí. English version is here.

Alerta: Si ha tenido malas experiencias con violencia sexual o la ciudadanía, este articulo puede desenterrar esas emocione.

¿Qué significa ser ciudadan@?  ¿Qué significa para ti ser ciudadan@ de cualquier país en que nasiste?

Como ciudadana del EE.UU., la constitución declara mis derechos.  Tengo el derecho a votar, tener un arma, etcetera.  Pero tambien tengo el derecho a una licencia de manejo, y por lo tanto un trabajo.  Tengo el derecho a un numero de seguro social, y por lo tanto, otra vez, un trabajo. Tengo derecho a servicios de bienestar (“welfare”), de desability y de desempleo.

Y aun más conmovedoramente, tengo el derecho a manejar, a rentar una casa, a llamar a la policía.

Estoy segura que todos podemos pensar en mas derechos—pero el punto de esto no es hacer una lista de cada privilegio que nos da la ciudadanía, si no, exponer o sacar a luz una identidad sobre cual es rara vez hablada: ciudadanía.

Leí, no con poco asco,  esta historia sobre una mujer joven que muy probable mente fue violada en una fiesta universitaria.  Aunque había mucha evidencia que indicaba que hubo una violación, no le realizaron un examen para victimas de violación y no le hicieron un examen apropiado para tratar los obvios signos de envenenamiento (sea por alcohol o por drogas para asalto sexual no importa) o los dolores del recto y piernas de cuales ella hablo.  El articulo correctamente nota del caso: “No eres victima de violación si no lo dice la policía que lo eres.”

No eres victima de violación si no lo dice la policía que lo eres.

Tomemos un minuto con las ramificaciones de esta oración.  Significa algo enorme para tod@s sobrevivientes de violación—pero significa algo especifico en terminos de la ciudadanía.  Si toma la nación/el estado para confirmar que sucedió una violación, ¿qué significa cuando requieren policía local verificar el estatus migratorio de cualquier persona quien parece “razonablemente” parece ser sospechoso de ser “ilegal”?

En una sociedad racista, heteropatriarcal, ¿quién “parece” ilegal? ¿Cuáles cuerpos son “ilegales” sólo por existir? ¿Y qué pasa cuando uno de esos cuerpos “ilegales” es violado?

La ciudadanía trae consigo muchas protecciones—no tenemos que preocuparnos de “parecer ilegal” en gran parte porque tenemos la protección de nuestras licencias de manejo.  Simultaneamente, con un poco de examinación,  es fácil ver cómo las “fronteras” de la ciudadanía son impermeables y flexibles.  También veremos que la falta de solidez trae consigo consequencias desastrosas igaualmente para inmigrantes y ciudadan@s.

Las preguntas son interminables:

¿Cuánt@s sobrevivientes de violencia sexual no reportan sus abusadores a la policia o van al hospital—no porque tengan verguensa de sobrevivientes, se sientan culpables y tengan miedo—pero porque la nación/el estado lo ha hecho ilegal para que proveedores de atención médica ayuden a gente sin chequear su estatus?  ¿Cuant@s sobrevivientes no están recibiendo ayuda porque saben que ir al gobierno significa no sólo la deportación—pero ser negad@ tratamiento (sólo ciudadan@s reciben eso) y/o ser violad@ de nuevo? ¿Cuánt@s sobrevivientes no están reportando violencia porque saben que reportarlo significa no sólo su encarcelamiento y deportación—pero también el encarcelamiento y deportación de sus seres queridos?

Violencia sexual es reportada a bajos niveles en comunidades  donde la ciudadania es un derecho de nacimeniento para la mayoría de la comunidad. ¿Qué es lo que se encuentra en comunidades donde la presión de mantenerser callad@ no solo es enorme, pero una condición necesaria para sobrevivir?

Hay tantas preguntas, pero tan pocas respuestas. Todos saben que las cosas estan mal, todos saben que solo ha estado enpeorando–y todos también saben que hablando con conductores de estudios, activistas o hasta con los vecinos puede traer la caida de redadas de ICE sobre sus comunidades. Apesar de que existen estatisticas y estudios sobre violencia en varias comunidades migrantes, de muchas maneras los estudios tienen fallas del principio. ¿Cuánta gente en verdad va a hablar? ¿Y cuáles recomendaciones pueden sugerir conductores de estudios que luego serían implementadas–cuando la violencia sexual en realidad no es violencia sexual para ciudadanos– a menos que lo diga la policía?

Ninguna de estas preguntas empiezan a abordar la cuestión de que si sí o no especifica ayuda cultural (por ejemplo: ¿Hay alguien con ella quien habla el idioma de la sobreviviente? ¿Hay alguien quien entienda las implicaciones culturales de hablarlo en público? ¿Hay materiales que le dan a ella dado en su idioma?) es disponible al sobreviviente.  Y además, apenas comienzan intentar explorar que es la violencia sexual.  ¿Es cuando una mujer pierde la custodia de su bebe por que fue llevada durante una redada en su trabajo? ¿Es cuando una mujer transsexual es alojada con homebres o en centros de detención segregados? ¿Es ser forzada a dar a luz en grilletes?

¿Que hacen mujeres inmigrantes cuando el “perpetrador” es la misma entidad que debe decidir si lo que han experienciado era violencia?

Yo se que he pintado una lamentosa imagen para sobrevivientes inmigrantes de asalto sexual en el EE.UU.*  Pero hay algo de esperanza.  Mucha, en realidad.  Organizaciones como la ACLU ( la Unión de Libertades Civiles de los Estados Unidos)  y Human Right’s Whatch (Vigilia de Derechos Humanos) han cido inmensamente importantes en ayudar sobrevivientes de asalto sexual recivir alivio. Y también están organizando.  Por ejemplo, como senaló Cara aqui, trabajadores domestic@s han sido particularmente exsitos@s en organizando para mejorar las condiciones del trabajo (i.e. un fin a la violencia sexual).

Pero la táctica que yo quería señalar, es la de l@s sobrevivietes dando testimonios.  Los testimonios son atestiguaciones que dan sobrevivientes de todos tipos de trauma como forma de politizar, documentar y testificar sus experiencias.  Quizas no tengan su día en corte, pero si pueden hablar.  Aunque testimonios han sido especificamente utilizados como un concepto por Latin@s, es algo que yo creo que todas culturas entienden y incluso hacen.  Un documental seguido es poco más que una forma de documentar un testimonio.

Para una mujer inmigrante, un testimonio es a menudo la unica justicia que ella vera.  Ella generalmente da su testimonio cuando una organización de confianca en la comunidad reune datos de vídeo de gente después de un trauma comunitaria como redadas en lugares de trabajo.  La mujer puede controlar lo que ella dice, como lo dice, y también como ella es representada en el vídeo.  Yo he visto testimonios donde mujeres nunca son vistas en la pantalla, donde parte de su cara esta oscurecida, y donde no hay nada oculto.

En los principales medios de comunicación, las historias de sobrevivientes son presentadas en formas de explotación–por ejemplo, nadie le dice a la mujer que los detalles íntimos de cuales habla seran accesibles permanentemente por la red/el internet.  Testimonios se diferencian en que son dirigidos por las necesidades del sobreviviente y son hechos dentro del contexto del movimiento.  En otras palabras, no hay sólo la imagen de una mujer llorando sobre  como la golpea su esposo y nada más.

La mujer da su historia de su propia manera en un intento para contestar la pregunta, “¿que se puede hacer?”  Ella testifica.  Explica como pasaron las cosas, lo que ella piensa que debería ver pasado, que le gustaría que pase, y que significa para ella ser alguien en este mundo quien la policía nunca estará de acuerdo que ha sido violada.

Tienes que buscar testimonios.  No son como estudios del gobierno o universidades que las toman por los medios de comunicación.  Generalmente, so colectadas por organizaciones activistas pro-inmigrante o por medios de comunicaciones independientes/ activistas para justicia de medios de comunicación.  Pero es importante buscarlos, y es esencial que sean vistos y compartidos. Los testimonios demuestran que tan terriblemente inadequada es la “solución” propuesta por organizaciones dominantes de pro-inmigrantes (la legalización) para tratar cosas como la violencia sexual.  Exigen que habran espacio para inmigrantes que no caben como parte de la narrativa del “buen inmigrante,” de la cual se han aferrado tantas dominantes organizaciones (especialmente las) Latin@s.

Pero más importante, los testimonios han dado voz a ell@s quien han sido abusad@s de algunas de las formas más horrorosa posibles y nos obligan rendir cuentas a esas voces.  Les dicen a otr@s sobrevivientes que sus palabras son importantes, que ell@s son importantes, y nosotr@s somos tan feliz y agradesid@s que han sobrevivido.

No hay respuestas faciles para sobrevivientes del asalto sexual en la comunidad inmigrante y no hay formas faciles para ayudar.  Sí, puedes “oprimir aquí para apoyar,” y sí que ayuda–pero la forma de ayuda que “arregla,” la  ayuda que “termina la violencia sexual,” no es tan facil.  Requerirá tomar un buen vistazo a lo que muchas feministas están invertidas profundamente: una respuesta por la nación/el estado a la violencia sexual. ¿O, esperamos para que la policía por fin diga que fue una violación?

Es tiempo para que nosotros con privilegios de ciudadania nos hagamos preguntas importanttes sobre nuestras propias políticas.  ¿Qué significaría para que por igual ambos ciudadan@ y no ciudadan@, si la policía no tuviera el poder de decidir quien es un sobreviviente?

Lo que sigue son ejemplos de testimonios.

Vídeo: varios testimonios dados después de una redada de trabajo en New Bedford Massachusetts.

Vídeo: un testimonio dado después de la misma redada.

* (debe ser notado que también hay condiciones parecidas para sobrevivientes inmigrantes de asalto sexual en otros paises, por ejemplo: En Canada, la agencia de servicios fronterizos de Canada intentaron arrestar a mujeres inmigrantes en un albergue para sobrevivientes de violencia domestica.)

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