No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech

Originally posted at AfroLez®femcentric, reposted with permission.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed ~ August 6, 2011 SlutWalk Philadelphia Speech
by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”

—- Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider —-

Aishah speaks at SlutWalk Rally in Philadelphia

Black. Lesbian. Feminist. Mother. Warrior. Poet. Audre Lorde’s written words taught me that my silence will not protect me, and that silence is not golden.  I am a Black feminist lesbian who is a survivor of incest and rape.  When I was ten, my paternal (step)grandfather molested me over a period of two years; and when I was 12 the eldest son of a family friend fondled me. My rape happened when I was a soon to be 20 year old sophomore in college.  I was on a study abroad program and broke all of the university-enforced rules to go out, very late at night, with the man who would become my rapist. In spite of my having second thoughts about going out with this new acquaintance, I was both afraid to articulate them and to turn around because my friends were covering for me.  In the hotel room, for which I paid, I told my rapist “I don’t want to do this. Please stop.”  I didn’t “violently” fight back. I didn’t scream or yell to the top of my lungs” because I was afraid. I didn’t want to make a “scene.” I blamed myself for saying, “Yes”…for breaking the rules…for paying for the hotel room.

The morning following my rape, I went back to where the school housed us and lied to my friends. I didn’t tell them that I was forced to have sex against my will. In an effort to both deny what happened on the night of my rape and to be in control of my body, I had consensual sex with another man that evening.  When it was time to return home to the United States, I was pregnant and didn’t know which of the two men was the biological father. I was fortunate to have a safe and legal abortion at the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women in Philadelphia, PA.

And, before I continue, I want to be explicitly and unequivocally clear that I am NOT a lesbian because I was molested and raped. I am a lesbian because I’m attracted to and love women.  So, please do not walk away making the homophobic and heterosexist comment “Oh, that’s why Aishah is a lesbian. It’s because she was molested and raped.”


If molestation and rape made women and girls lesbians, then most of the girls and women in the world would be lesbians. Just check the global statistics on molestation and rape.

I share what some of you might view as personal, private—and perhaps—seemingly unnecessary because the personal is directly related not only to the political but also the professional in my life.

Now, I admit when Executive Organizer Hannah Altman invited me to be a speaker at SlutWalk Philadelphia, I was very, very apprehensive.  However, after quite a bit of thought and deliberation; and in spite of my many conflicting feelings as a Black feminist lesbian whose contemporary reality and ancestral lineage has been rooted in the legalized name calling/marginalizing/denigration of mind/body/spirit for centuries without too much recourse, I accepted the invitation to be a speaker.

I am here today because I want to see an end to the victim-blaming in my lifetime, and I’m 42-years old. No, victim-blaming is not going to stop because we are all here participating in SlutWalk Philadelphia. If only it were that easy. However, I believe it is important that the faces, voices, and perspectives of women of color (inclusive of all sexualities) and trans people of color are seen and heard. Documented herstory and contemporary reality has shown us that more often than not, it is our bodies that catch the most hell not only by the State but also by people in and out of our communities (however we define them). It is our bodies that have a demonstrated track record of being on the frontlines of the movements to end all forms of oppression.

I believe words are very, very powerful. At the same time, I really struggle with many who are hostile to the “SlutWalks” because they say it gives the wrong message. What is the right message? I think about Take Back the Night, which was founded in the early ’70s, when I was a toddler.  As strange as it may seem today, especially now that Take Back the Night has become an “acceptable” movement throughout this country and globally, I know there was resistance. I’m sure some, if not many people took the position, ‘What do you mean take back the night? You shouldn’t be out at night!’

Personally, I do not embrace the word Slut at all… And, at the same time, I will not say or subscribe to the patriarchal and misogynistic thinking that “we can’t do this or that type of behavior; or wear this or that type of clothing and not expect to get harassed, fondled, and/or raped.

There are some places in the world that would say that presently, I’m not properly covered in what I view as very modest attire (by most US standards). There are many in the United States; and throughout the world who believe I should be raped, assaulted, and/or harassed for the mere fact that I’m an unapologetically OUT Feminist Lesbian.

Where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be rape, assaulted, harassed, and/or called vicious and vitriolic names? Why are we okay with RAPE being the penalty for ANY type of behavior (including heterosexual women having multiple sexual partners) or for wearing ANY type of attire of clothing (including thongs and bustier? ). This line of thinking is inhumane, egregious, wretched, and should be unacceptable.

Sexual violence is one of the only crimes where the victim behavior’s determines if a crime happened or not. I could be in a drug-infested neighborhood with a lot of money on my person and even bragging about my money and showing it off. If someone steals my money, they are a thief, plain and simple. Yes, one could say “Aishah, what were you doing with all that money in that neighborhood. Are you crazy?” And yet, at the same time, it would be clear that I was robbed.  If I left my macbook pro in Starbucks and someone stole it, we may think I was dumb for leaving it there, but that doesn’t take away the fact that someone stole my macbook pro.

How can we have more empathy for the loss of money or even the loss of a computer than the (hopefully, temporary) loss of one’s body for a few seconds, moments, hours, or even days? Why do we tend to be clear about the impact of the loss of material possessions in ways that we don’t want to be clear about the impact of the loss of the right to ones own body. For too many, rape has become a word, almost devoid of the horrifying experience from which too many of us never ever fully recover.

There is something very disturbing and painful that there is this widespread (as in global) notion that material possessions are worth more than a woman’s body… There is something wrong that too many of us believe that a woman doesn’t have the right to show or flaunt her body, if she desires… That a woman doesn’t have a right to agree to one form of sexual activity and not agree to another form of sexual activity. That she doesn’t have the right to say “yes,” and then have the courage or even the audacity to change her mind and say “no.”  Whose body is it anyway? Contrary to global belief, it’s not the perpetrators body. And yet, too many of us defend the perpetrators RIGHT to violate the body of another.

When will we stop treating boys and men as if they are wild beastly animals or innocent toddlers (not sure which one) who can’t control their words and/or actions? When will we put the blame on the perpetrators? When will we stop saying “Well, women have to take some responsibility?”  Take responsibility for what, men and boys being unable to control themselves resulting in them violating a woman or girl’s body because of what she said, wore, and/or did?


Again, I ask where do we draw the lines of who can and can’t be assaulted, harassed, and/or raped? As long as there is any group of people including but not limited to adolescent and teenage “fast” girls, women, trans people, queer people, and sex workers who are marginalized, then all of us are vulnerable both because it’s all subjective; and the lines of the margins shift all of the time. Who’s acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.

We must stop subscribing to this notion that rape is the justifiable penalty for ANY type of behavior or attire of clothing that we may not like or even disapprove of.

We must centralize the margins of the margins of the margins of society so that ALL of us are free from assault, harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed. NO ONE IS FREE WHILE OTHERS ARE OPPRESSED.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the producer/writer/director of NO! The Rape Documentary, the internationally acclaimed, award-winning feature length film, which examines the international atrocity of rape and other forms of sexual violence through the first person testimonies, scholarship, activism, and cultural work of African-Americans. You can follow her on twitter, connect with her on Facebook, and/or read her AfroLez®femcentric blog.

Strauss-Kahn, Domestic Immigrants and Money, Power, Respect

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was recently accused of sexual assault by a black immigrant woman who worked as a maid in a New York hotel.  Since then, the media, Strauss-Kahn’s defense team, and others have attempted to violently attack the character and credibility of his accuser.  This attack has led to calls for dismissal of the case against Strauss-Kahn.

There is a movement to fight back.  Strauss-Kahn’s accuser is suing the New York Post for libel.  Activists are mobilizing and speaking out in the face of escalated attacks against her.  There is also a petition “demanding the New York Post retract and apologize for victim-blaming coverage.”

Below, Tamura A. Lomax, writer and editor at The Feminist Wire, offers a lucid political analysis of the events to date.  This post was originally published at The Feminist Wire and is re-posted here with permission.  - Editors

Strauss-Kahn, Domestic Immigrants and Money, Power, Respect
by Tamura A. Lomax, The Feminist Wire

See I believe in money, power and respect.  First you get the money.  Then you get the motherf–kin’ power.  And after you get the f–kin’ power.  You get the f–kin’ ni–az to respect you. It’s the key to life.  ~Lil’ Kim

In 1998 when Lil’ Kim penned these lyrics in the Hip Hop anthem, “Money, Power, Respect,” she was likely drawing upon her early years as a struggling teen on the streets of Brooklyn with limited resources and no real place to call home.  In my naivety, I assumed that Lil’ Kim was talking about something she in fact had, not what she and countless others like her would spend a lifetime longing for.  Today, these lyrics continue to ring true for women and men alike.  For black diasporic women and girls, they are particularly profound.  However, for immigrant domestic workers, Lil’ Kim’s lyrics are prophetic.  Money, power and respect is exactly what former IMF Managing Director (and front-runner for the 2012 French presidential election) Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, has, and what the unnamed 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper, who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in a Manhattan hotel in May, needs to be taken seriously and to win her case against him.

According to the woman’s initial testimony, she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at approximately 1 p.m. believing it was unoccupied.  As the housekeeper cleaned the foyer, Strauss-Kahn “came out of the bathroom, fully naked, and attempted to sexually assault her.”  As she fought him, he “locked the door to the suite,” “grabbed her and pulled her into the bedroom and onto the bed.” After which, “he…dragged her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaulted her a second time.”  After fleeing, the woman reported the incident to hotel personnel who called 911.  Upon boarding Air France Flight 23, Strauss-Kahn was apprehended and taken into custody, throwing the French political world, U.S. media and life of the 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper into utter mayhem.

Just last week The New York Times reported that Strauss-Kahn prosecution was “near collapse.”  “Major holes” were found in the credibility of the Guinean housekeeper, although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between the two, and despite evidence of force (i.e. torn clothing, bruising, etc.).  According to the prosecution, the accuser has repeatedly lied since her initial allegation on May 14.

Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.

Ultimately, the accuser falls short of the Victorian ideal.  Like the rest of us, she is neither perfect nor without blemish (nor can she pay to appear as such).  Thus, the circumstances surrounding the encounter on May 14, notwithstanding forensic and physical evidence, and personal testimony (of the victim and others alike), must be called into question.  Moreover, Strauss-Kahn, who has already fallen from political grace and been replaced (perhaps conveniently), must now be exonerated (maybe, just in time to announce his candidacy for the French presidency).  According to The New York Times he was released July 2.  The case is now moving toward dismissal.

Some will undoubtedly see the most recent turn of events as just.  However, others, myself included, are eerily reminded of Lil’ Kim’s verse in “Money, Power, Respect.”  While there are admittedly several unanswered questions surrounding this case, few things are clear: violent sex happened in Strauss-Kahn’s Manhattan hotel suite on May 14, respect for black female life is largely improbable without money and power, especially for immigrant domestic workers and others, and those with money and power can pretty much do what they damn well please.  This is not a projection.  It is a reality.

The 32-year-old housekeeper isn’t the first to complain about Strauss-Kahn.  The married father of four has a history of allegations against him, strangely earning him the nickname “the great seducer.”  However, contrary to belief there is nothing seductive about rape.  And, just because one has never been tried doesn’t mean they are innocent.  Also, while we are at it, just because the accuser waited to tell her story, didn’t have a perfect life, was less than forthcoming about her experience, or, as in this case, was perhaps even downright untruthful about some of the details, does not mean violence, to which Strauss-Kahn should be held accountable, did not occur.

History reveals a ritualistic raping (and the threat of rape) of black diasporic women in general and black female domestic workers in particular by white men who use  social capital and economic prowess to not only silence their prey, but to reconfigure them altogether.  While we should not rush to judgment, we also cannot afford to ignore the growing archive.  The defense made it clear that they would make the credibility of the woman a focus of their case.  Of course this is a common rape strategy across the board. Rape trials are rarely solely about sexual violence, and often (over) emphasize the victims personal life.  Sadly, the burden of “proof” lies there–in one’s ability to avoid reasonable doubt–through the unquestionable presentation of a “perfect” life (something most often bought by those with money, power and respect, if not already privileged by race, class and gender).

So, the question is, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when one is already stigmatized due to race, ethnicity and class, and when violence against one is so familiar and normative that suffering is unfathomable?  Further, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when rape is historically a normative mode of sexuality, the black female body is made the originary locus of liability, coercion is confused with consent, class and social structures imagine the black female body to be both will-less and always-willing simultaneously, and white culpability has a history of displacement, particularly as white sexual violence is perpetuated under the rubric of seduction, paternalism and hierarchy (within which violence is a legitimate form of engagement)?  Moreover, how does one avoid reasonable doubt when she is not seen as a person with innate dignity and worth in the first place?

Apparently, the accuser lied about being raped before.  That is, she recanted her story after giving it.  However, anyone who has been on the underside of sexual violence knows that there are many possible reasons for this.  Recanting doesn’t necessarily mean that rape did not happen.  Living under a symbolic rape cloud is burdensome on many levels.  Nevertheless, lying about it can be equally death-dealing.  To this end, one might say that doubt is reasonable.  However, if sexual violence occurred on May 14, and I believe it did, what bearing does the accusers previous lie have on what happened in Strauss-Kahn’s suite that Saturday afternoon?  While it may sway how we read into the case (in the same way that Strauss-Kahn’s history of sexual inappropriateness does), DNA results confirm sexual contact and other evidence corroborate violence.  That is the issue at hand.  Let’s be clear, a woman was assaulted.

The defense will likely posit that contact was consensual, or as The New York Post suggests, that the defendant was a “hooker,” “doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests.” One might reason, if true then presumably violence was warranted.  Not!  Not only is this stereotype as trite as they come, sexual violence is neither earned nor justifiable, not even for those with money and power.

A woman was assaulted.  According to her testimony, violence came unrequested.  And as far as I know, the prosecution has yet to find any “holes” there.  Sure, it is her word against his, not to mention there are enough stereotypes on both ends to make our heads spin!  On one hand we have the rich white Jewish womanizer.  On the other hand we have the poor Guinean Muslim immigrant widow (possibly HIV positive with a potential criminal history).  To be sure, this case is ripe for multiple “bold imaginings.”  And yes, there is also a taped phone call between the accuser and an incarcerated acquaintance that highlights talk about the benefits of such a case.  While the context and particulars of that conversation are unknown, it certainly adds to such fantasying.  However, does such behavior, whatever you may think about it, mean the housekeeper was not violated on May 14?  Is it possible that she was in fact violated and wishes to financially benefit?  She is an immigrant seeking asylum, in search of the “American Dream.”  To this end, the accuser is no different than most other American’s who make capital gains off of misdeeds against them.  This is in fact “the American way.”

A woman was assaulted, but apparently that’s neither here nor there.  She stands on the wrong side of history and power and thus her past outweighs that of the defendant.  Let us also be mindful that French elections are underway.  Perhaps the 32-year-old Guinean housekeeper was always a “non…factor.”  It’s clear that Strauss-Kahn found her to be “rape-able.”  However, one can’t help but to wonder if the woman was exploited by French political powers wanting to put Strauss-Kahn out of office and then subsequently discarded altogether by those hoping to put his name back in the presidential hat.  What cannot be ignored as Patricia Williams at The Nation points out, is that Strauss-Kahn was not only on his way to becoming France’s next president, if successful he would have been the first Jewish president.  In addition,

As head of the IMF, he led that institution in a distinctly progressive manner. He sharply critiqued corrupt American bankers and banking practices and, early on, predicted the collapse of the mortgage market. As a center-left Socialist party member, he was close to negotiating a European Union bailout for Greece. And his elimination from the election empowers the candidacy of Marine LePen, head of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic National Front party, whose popularity, alarmingly enough, currently polls higher than that of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Nevertheless, with the recent turn of events, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned later that this case was ultimately deployed by Strauss-Kahn’s supporters as a form of political peroxide.  As the case moves toward dismissal, he is slowly but surely becoming the honorable victim.  Money, power and the right pigmentation can do that for you.  Yet, what most brown and black women know is that a woman was likely assaulted on May 14.  And while her surrounding narrative may raise reasonable doubt, her story about the violence that occurred on that day has not waivered.  Again, it is of course her word against his. Unfortunately, she lacks the money, power and respect for many of us to really hear her (entire) story.  Somehow, I believe there is much more to this narrative than what meets the eye, and there are details that we will never know.  To be sure, this case is about as complicated as they come.  One thing is for sure, it serves as a definitive reminder of who actually “runs the world,” and unfortunately it’s not us girls…

“Man Down” – Rihanna Uncovers the Anguish of Rape Victims and Calls the Community to Accountability

Rihanna recently released a powerful video, “Man Down,” which portrays sexual violence and a lethal response.  Many writers have reflected on the politics of sexual violence against black women in the context of this video including Akiba Solomon at ColorlinesCrunk Feminist Collective, Mark Anthony Neal, and this interview with black lesbian feminist filmmaker, Aishah Shahidah Simmons.

We’re excited to republish the blog post below written by Stephanie M. Crumpton which was posted originally at her blog, Empowering Voices, Cultivating Transformation.  Reposted with permission.  -Editors

“Man Down” – Rihanna Uncovers the Anguish of Rape Victims and Calls the Community to Accountability
Stephanie M. Crumpton

My initial reaction to Rihanna’s “Man Down” video was to ask if there was some kind of connection between it and her personal experiences with violence that we were all made aware of in the 2009 coverage of her assault by a man she was dating (Chris Brown). It seems that since that experience, issues of dominance and relationship violence have become more common in her lyrics and visual representations. Consider her work on Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” a song depicting a volatile cycle of passion and pain in a violent relationship between a man and a woman who batter each other but won’t separate.

When I watched “Man Down” and then read some of the posts, especially the negative press, I wondered about whether or not some of her personal experiences AND what she observes in the lives of other women has impacted how seriously she takes her work as an artist.
I may not be far off on this one… Just days after the video was released, Rihanna called in to BET’s 106th and Park show to talk about the video.

The 23 year old artist said, “Rape is, unfortunately, happening all over the world and in our own homes, and we continue to cover it up and pretend it doesn’t happen…”
She explained, “Boys and girls feel compelled to be embarrassed about it and hide it from everyone, including their teachers, their parents and their friends. That only continues to empower the abusers.”

In several cultures, the work of the artist serves as the moral barometer of the community. In this sense, the work isn’t as much about their personal experience as it is about what’s happening on a spiritual level that shows up in our dealings with one another in the wider communal and cultural context.

I must admit that I was indeed shocked when I saw the video (the blood spilling from the back of the man’s head).

That shock was matched by sorrow and sadness over the amount of people (girls, boys, women and men) who are sexually assaulted and who spend days of their lives in anguish because there is no justice really when it comes to the trauma and pain of rape and assault – especially in a culture where people blame the victim when the concern really should be the perpetrators’ use of force.

I thought of the women who are in jail right now because they killed people they were involved with in an act of self defense after years of having been abused. Is there justice in being put in jail because you were defending your life? Do we need to take a serious look at what we mean when we use that word, “justice?”

I also thought of the story in Texas about the eleven year old who was gang raped in a trailer by 18 boys and men. When the news hit, this was the response from a woman in her community, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” The “this” she was likely referring to are the criminal charges (and perhaps the guilt?) of their alleged offense.

I shook my head…

What about what the girl will have to live with for the rest of her life – the mental anguish and physical scars of gang rape. How is it that the perpetrators’ needs came to outweigh the suffering of an eleven year old victim? Furthermore, what happens when girls can’t even count on adult women to side with them as they face the aftermath of gender-based violence?

So, all of this prompted me to consider Rihanna’s “Man Down” from the perspective of people who need to know that there are women who use their art to raise awareness about the reality of women’s anguish over rape, but who will also use their art and public platform to call the community to accountability over rape as a communal offense that impacts EVERYONE.

I think that’s just what Rihanna is doing, using her artistry to: 1) Unsettle the conscious and unconscious ways that society has largely accepted violence against women as a norm; 2) Flat footedly reject the idea that responsible, mature women handle their pain and rage quietly and privately. It’s as if society wants the victim to handle their pain in secret, just to protect the community from being embarrassed by what’s happening. Shame on that!

Rihanna isn’t alone. Actress Gabrielle Union took the opportunity to engage rape as a public concern, and the rage she felt when she tried to kill her rapist.

To be clear, I do not suggest that those of us who have been hurt take to the streets to shoot everyone who has hurt us. But, what I do recognize is that her video shows us what can (and does) happen when people weigh their pain against society’s acceptance of violent acts that enforce dominance: They feel the overwhelming weight of the community’s non-commitment to justice, and take matters into hands that pull triggers.

I appreciate Rihanna’s willingness to use her media presence as a medium for consciousness raising. I’m interested in her next step as an artist: I would like to see her participate in the opportunity for dialogue about rape’s rage and change in our communities that her video creates.

Stephanie M. Crumpton

Stephanie M. Crumpton is a public intellectual who writes because she knows that words matter and believes in their ability to empower voices and cultivate transformation.

thinking through “infowar”

brownfemipower of flip flopping joy is back with two guest posts on Wikileaks, state sexual violence, & infowars.  The first installment is below. Originally posted here.

So, in perhaps the most ignored declaration of the year–a war has begun.

And I’ve been trying to think through thoughts on it, but like I said, it’s been largely ignored. Which is a little disturbing to me, seeing as well, pretty much everybody connected to the internet (readers, writers, etc) should have some sort of vested interested in a war being declared on our own turf.

I can’t get my thoughts organized–but I am noticing a lot of patterns. And maybe just putting them out there will help.

* Davy D wrote a bit ago about Homeland Security and ICE shut down a big group of hip/hop websites:

Understand this.. the seizure of websites without due process, corporate interests lobbying and then writing laws that allow them to be the police and t personally enforce, the battle over net neutrality is all about concentrating power in the hands of a few. This is about controlling the flow of information and being a gate keeper in the communications arena. Its the first step in moving a democracy toward a dictatorship. The next step is getting a population to endure fianacial upheavels and hardships.

* The Guardian (who is actually reporting on the cables) is reporting that the US asked Uganda to tell the US when Uganda planned on committing war crimes–but did nothing to stop the war crimes themselves. Oh, and Uganda just so happens to have a finger in the crap going on in the Congo:

During the past two years the Ugandan army has deployed 4,000 troops in Operation Lightning Thunder to chase the LRA out of Uganda into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and now into the Central African Republic where, 800 miles from its original area of operation, the rebel group is thought to have fewer than 300 followers. Several of the LRA’s senior commanders have been killed or captured but Kony is believed to remain alive.

Yeah–the same Congo that has been dealing with astronomical sexual violence. Oh, and Hillary Clinton demanded arrests be made against those committing sexual violence.

* And then there’s the cables about the parties in Afghanistan that had a Texas company pimping out little boys for sexual use by men–and that US diplomats helped to cover up:

But according to the leaked document, Atmar, the Afghani interior minister, was terrified this story would catch a reporter’s ear. He urged the US State Department to shut down a reporter he heard was snooping around, and was horrified that a rumored videotape of the party might surface. He predicted that any story about the party would “endanger lives.” He said that his government had arrested two Afghan police and nine Afghan civilians on charges of “purchasing a service from a child” in connection with the party, but that he was worried about the image of their “foreign mentors,” by which he apparently meant DynCorp. American diplomats told him to chill. They apparently had a better handle on our media than Atmar, because when a report of the party finally did emerge, it was neutered to the point of near-falsehood.

* And in probably the most surprising non-surprising releases, it turns out the Vatican put pressure on the Irish government to basically look the other way on the priest sex abuse in Ireland. Oh, and somehow the US has a finger in that too:

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See also condemned the leaks and said in a statement that the Vatican and America cooperate in promoting universal values.

The thing I couldn’t stop thinking as I typed all the above info in was how above and beyond Julian Assange–it is the US government that seems to have perfected the role of patriarchal duality that we have all assigned to Assange. The advocate for the dispossessed rolled into a messy soup with dirty slimy scum bag that beats his girlfriend on the side.

It is the US government that is both rapist and activist. It is the US government that we all pretend not see hear the beating on the other side of the wall–because it’s doing such good for the community!

Just as we have to wonder why it makes sense to tell soldiers or policemen that it’s ok to kill when they have a certain uniform on, but not when they’re wearing clothes bought at Target–we have to wonder why it makes sense to condemn men who rape and abuse in private, while willfully and continuously ignoring the private rape and assaults of our government in the name of the “good” it does in public.

And that’s not to say that we let the man off scott free–but rather instead to question: if our goal is to stop rapes before they happen–how do we negotiate the dissonance of the “model” of public advocate/private rapist the US reinforces continuously with the idea of “anti-gender violence citizen”?

Specifically: how will gendered violence ever end when gendered violence remains, at the core, a esteemed value of the US government that we all live under?

Other thoughts:

* what is the connection between Homeland Security’s attack on hip/hop sites and it’s gendered violence against immigrant women?

* not many people are talking about how many rape survivors have used the bureaucracy to report the violence perpetrated against them (think: the blackwater woman who was raped and then held and imprisoned by blackwater, the woman soldier who reported a rape and wound up dead “by suicide” and many others)

* what does it mean that the actions of a sexist misogynistic community that has attacked the feminist community previous is the only community that has had a response to the declaration of war?

* In almost all the above cases, women have been up front advocates in speaking out against the sexual violence being committed against various communities. think: the women in the Congo and Sinead O’Conner. What does it mean that as these women are speaking out and attempting to organize–the US government is directly involved in working against them–again, *even as it claims to be working *with* them*? (and on a side note, I hope every single person in the US hangs their head in shame over what they did to Sinead O’Conner)

* What does this treatment mean for other women who have spoken out against war, sexual violence, genocide, etc over the years? Think: the Dixie Chicks, Angela Davis, Joan Baez, and thousands of unknown women etc.

* What does it mean when citizenship and nationalism is expressly based on silencing and even eliminating the people who SPEAK?

* What does it mean that the US government is so expressly and intimately connected to covering up and perpetrating sexual violence–and 99% of feminist bloggers remain focused on the debate of Julian Assange: hero or rapist?

* What does it mean that bloggers that are NOT corporate backed are being targeted by Homeland Security and ICE in the name of corporate enforcement of copyright violations? What does it mean that corporate backing is an effective way to “decriminalize” your writing in the eyes of the government? What does it mean that corporate backed newspapers are getting a free pass in the wake of wikileaks, whereas wikileaks and Julian Assange are subject to murder threats, harassment by various governments, imprisonment, etc?

* What does it mean that so many feminist bloggers are not talking about this targeting? And does it make a difference that so many feminist bloggers are corporate backed (i.e. paid for their production of thought [full transparency: I have been paid for essays I've written] or writing for a corporate owned blog)?

* What does it mean to be a “professional feminist” in light of the current atmosphere?

* What does it mean that Homeland Security and ICE have the ability to shut down blogs/communities with little to no oversight at all–for those of us who blog about immigration? And sexual violence perpetrated by ICE?

* And finally–what does it mean that consistently, the biggest intervention against sexual violence by those of us who have experienced it is to SPEAK!–and consistently, *F*eminists tell us who have experienced that violence that the most powerful force against SPEAKing is a viable tool in our liberation?

This is just some of the shit I”m thinking through–other thoughts include how incredibly terrifying Joe Lieberman has become, how so much of this crap going on right now (right down to the shutting off of funding) has been practiced and perfected and justified as necessary on Arabs and Muslims in the US, what my role is in all this as somebody who has done plenty of my own freelance work, what a queer/LGBT analysis of a lot of this same information looks like, and much more.

But I guess I’ll stop there.
I’d be interested in hearing what your thoughts are…

**Oh, and one last thing–why, exactly, does the nation/state get to define what rape is? Is there no amount of irony and just–mind blowing dissonance that even feminists are arguing in all seriousness that rape in the US is different than rape in Sweden? Really? Does a woman in Sweden feel less raped than a woman in the US when she is raped? Or vise-versa? Would we all agree that the man who is raping and beating his wife gets to define what rape is in the greater community? Why do we then unquestionably accept the nation/state telling us what sexual violence is?

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re: wikileaks

brownfemipower of flip flopping joy is back with two guest posts on Wikileaks, state sexual violence, & infowars.  The second installment is above. Originally posted here.

the fact that there has been no thoughtful *F*eminist analysis of wikileaks that does NOT focus on Julian Assange (i.e. the point/method of wikileaks rather than Assange’s rape charges) says to me that *F*eminists have no vested interest in the concepts that wikileaks is dealing with.

A simple “I support wikileaks” or “I don’t support wikileaks” would be interesting–but what I’m looking for more is a detailed analysis in the *stakes* gendered human beings have in the nation/state’s interactions with transparency or the lack thereof. Why should we *care* about what wikileaks is doing? More importantly and more to the point–why should we care about what the nation/state is doing right now to *deal* with the “threat” of transparency? Including: using corporations as a tool against it’s own citizens (a tactic we all supported when used against “the terrorists” if you will remember), shutting down mail routes, imprisoning and threatening whistle blowers and silencing dissent through loss of employment?

Why should people who care about a gender care about the “info war”? Or about the fact that 4chan has inserted itself into the middle of it all?

The fact that the Feminist Movement can’t seem to form any opinion on any of these things and, in fact, seems as heavily invested in the idea of Assange as a singular charismatic leader rather than the issues springing up in the *wake* of what *wikileaks* has done (or: Assange is what is at stake here rather than the “threat” of transparency) speaks to the terrible singular hyper focus the *F*eminist agenda has on “liberal reform.”

I care that we all understand that Assange can actually be a rapist and an amazing organizer all at the same time. I have long held Ana Mae Aquash’s story to my heart–I know the all too terrible reality of how women are used in a fight between men.

But as Zuky said earlier today, Assange is a side note. He’s almost not even important anymore. What’s important is what actions are being taken–not even so much against Assange–but against wikileaks. Against supporters of wikileaks. Even against those who have no idea who the fuck wikileaks is or what it’s done.

Because indeed–those of us who care about gender liberation must, absolutely MUST, be aware of and understand that the nation/state that *F*eminists have entrusted to mete out “justice” for violated women–is using “justice” to criminalize all of us. It is up to us to understand that this isn’t a simple case of did he do it or didn’t he or “stand in solidarity with rape victims.” This is a case of our own tools being used against us. Not against Julian Assange. Against us. Because all of us who have been there understand on some gut level–how likely is it that these women will actually receive justice? What horrific price will they have to pay (in testifying, getting their names dragged through the mud, etc) to “get justice”? At the same time, how many of our lives will be dramatically affected by the “threat” we all now present to the nation/state? Even those who aren’t like me, a firm disbeliever in the nation/state, will be expected to pay the consequences–and in fact, already are in the form of guilty until proven innocent full body checks at the airport.

“Justice” has never been about justice, it’s *always* been about how *punishment* can service the needs of the nation/state. And right now, punishment is servicing the needs of the nation/state by infringing upon the rights of and silencing the voices of anybody who disagrees with the nation/state. It is solidifying alliances between the nation/state and corporations. And anybody who thinks that will not have repercussions for every single one of us is sitting on a cloud of privilege.

Do we all remember what happened to the woman in Durham who accused the lacrosse team of rape? Do you all know that after all this time, I *still* get emails/comments/links from *F*eminists saying that she “cried rape”?

Just as Ana Mae Aquash is in my heart and will be until the day I die–that woman in Durham will be as well. And the actions that came out of the murder of Ana and violence against the woman in Durham will always be an inspiration to me, and guide me in everything I do. Native feminists and black feminists created a critique of how women were used, destroyed, by forces claiming “justice,” but were in fact, invested in punishment and the reinforcement of classism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and even nationalism. They learned from the incredibly tragic situations that those of us who care about how gender is shoved down the throats of particularly feminine people and particularly colored people and particularly poor people–That “justice” itself must be a site of contention and analysis. That “justice” must come in different forms. In ending rape to begin with, rather than punishing after the fact. In supporting women in their choices, no matter what those choices are. In creating community accountability. In asking the woman what she wants first and foremost. In understanding the multiple and spider web like ways that power plays out. In sucking the blood out of the nation/state so that it dies up and withers away, rather than supporting and reinforcing it. Rather than *depending* on it.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that so many *F*eminists can point with confidence at the history of radical men being abusive and violent towards women in their private lives. It surprises me even less that so few of those same *F*eminists are talking now about the work that the same groups of women that were abused and violated by radical men are doing and have done in *response* to the violence. And all I can do is shake my head at the fact that in *F*eminist circles, this is quickly turning into an argument over what the menz are saying–rather than a detailed critical conversation about what *F*eminists can do to both support the women who are claiming assault AND make sure that our “justice” is not and can not be used against us.

If we all know this is a chronic problem, why aren’t we talking about it? When it’s affecting the internet community that we are all part, don’t we have a stake in what this all means? What can the internet community that cares about gender justice do when “justice” is being used against us?

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

Duanna Johnson

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day of reflecting on the epidemic rates of violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color, and mourning our beloved family, friends, and community members who have been taken from us. Colorlines reflects on the statistics:

At least 22 people were killed in 2009 because of their perceived sexual orientation, four out of five of whom were people of color.  Half of the victims were transgender women and most of the other half, according to the Anti-Violence Project, were men who were either dressed in typically feminine clothes at the time of their murder or were generally gender non-conforming. Not one of these murders made national headlines.

For Duanna Johnson, who was beaten by police in Memphis in 2008, and then found murdered after pursuing a lawsuit against the Memphis police department, for Roy Antonio Jones III, who at 16 months old was killed by his mother’s boyfriend who said he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” for victims and survivors of transphobic violence and oppression, and for the hope and work of safety and liberation for all women of color and all trans people of color, we join everyone working for gender justice on this day of remembrance and continue to organize for an end to state and interpersonal violence.

See the International Transgender Day of Remembrance Page for a list of events worldwide:

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Sex Work, Migration and Anti-Trafficking: Interviews with Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee

We are excited to share this interview of Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee by Robyn Maynard on sex work, migration, and their critical analysis of the recent push for anti-trafficking legislation.

Maynard interviewed Sharma and Yee in February 2010 for No One Is Illegal Radio’s edition “Sex Work, Migration, and Anti-Trafficking” in February 2010.  Edited excerpts of that interview were published in Upping the Anti #10, then reprinted on the Briarpatch Magazine blog, and we are re-publishing those excerpts with permission. – Editors

Sex Work, Migration and Anti-Trafficking: Interviews with Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee

By Robyn Maynard
Briarpatch Magazine
July/August 2010

Nandita Sharma is an activist, scholar, and the author of Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of ‘Migrant Workers’ in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2006), and “Anti-Trafficking Rhetoric and the Making of a Global Apartheid” (NWSA #17, 2005). In this interview, she addresses the effects of anti-trafficking on migrant women doing sex work. She critiques the notion of “trafficking” in the context of the increasing necessity of global migration and the tightening of borders in the global North. According to Sharma, border restrictions, rather than “trafficking,” are the biggest impediment to the self-determination of (im)migrant women in Canada.

Jessica Yee is the director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. In this interview, she describes the conditions of ongoing and under-reported exploitation of Indigenous women in Canada, critiques the conflation of “trafficking” and sex work, and explains the oppressive effects of the anti-trafficking movement on Indigenous women’s self-determination.

Robyn Maynard interviewed Sharma and Yee in February 2010 for No One Is Illegal Radio’s edition “Sex Work, Migration, and Anti-Trafficking.”

Nandita Sharma

"If we want to end the exploitation of women, we need to challenge capitalism, which is the basis for all our exploitation. . . We don't give more power to the state to criminalize workers, we give more power to workers to end their exploitation."

How do the government and media use the idea of “sex slavery” to create moral panic? What are the consequences for migrant women doing sex work?

Without a doubt, the moral panic against sex work is fuelling the push for anti-trafficking legislation. Most people who are pushing the anti-trafficking legislation also want to eliminate the option for women to enter into sex work. And they want to do that by further criminalizing sex work activity, especially by criminalizing the entry of migrant women into the sex industry.

For example, in Canada the migration of women into sex work is increasingly scrutinized by the state. Not only are there police who continuously raid sex work establishments like strip clubs and massage parlours under the guise of “protecting public morality” or public health; we also have immigration police who are raiding sex work establishments looking for so-called “victims of trafficking.”

Of course, the vast majority of women who migrate do not enter into sex work. But for those women who do, one of the greatest vulnerabilities they face is their status in the country. The lack of legal or permanent status makes migrant women involved in sex work more vulnerable. Many women who are migrants in the sex industry are employed on temporary work visas in the entertainment industry – the visas given to sex workers were recently squashed by the government – or they are forced to work illegally. It is impossible to legally get into Canada as a sex worker and enter as a permanent resident. You don’t get “points” for being in the sex industry, even though there is high demand. The anti-trafficking legislation is another way to attack women’s ability to work in the sex industry, and it does so in a way that further legitimizes (and relies on) the idea that no woman should ever be engaged in sex work. Ultimately, the moral panic against sex work makes migrant women more vulnerable in the sex industry.

What does anti-trafficking legislation fail to address in terms of women’s rights and agency? What are the root causes of what gets called “trafficking”?

The key issue is to understand why, over the last decade, national governments around the world have been pushed to pass anti-trafficking legislation. There is increased migration in the world today, largely resulting from practices of dispossession and displacement through political and economic crises and war. And yet, alongside increased migration, most states – especially in the so-called “First World” – have implemented restrictive policies that prevent more and more people from entering these states legally. The result is that most people who enter these states are considered to have “illegal” status.

Anti-trafficking legislation is used to target so-called “illegal migration.” Instead of placing the blame for migrants’ vulnerability on the restrictive immigration policies of national states that force people into a condition of illegality, it blames those who are actually facilitating their movement across borders. In today’s world, where it is increasingly difficult to enter First World states legally, it is also next to impossible to enter without someone’s help. It’s impossible to simply get on a plane, get on a boat, get into a car, or walk across the border, without some kind of official identity papers. It’s very difficult to get forged visas or forged passports, and to cross without someone helping you across that border. For many of the world’s migrants, the urgent need is assistance with their movement. Anti-trafficking legislation criminalizes people who facilitate migrants’ entry into national states. I think this is the underlying agenda behind anti-trafficking legislation. It offers ideological cover to target both the migrants themselves and the people who facilitate their movement. In this way, anti-trafficking legislation strengthens border policing.

How can we fight the exploitation of women that takes place in sex work without resorting to anti-feminist hysteria and characterizing women engaged in sex work as victims of trafficking?

I think that we need to take our cue from sex workers themselves. Sex worker organizations are very clear on the steps needed to ensure safe, dignified, decent working conditions for women in the sex industry. At the top of the list is decriminalization. The anti-trafficking agenda moves in exactly the opposite direction. It actually further criminalizes sex work by targeting those people, especially in the case of migrants, who are facilitating women’s entry into sex work. Basically, there is a fundamental disagreement between those who want to end sex work and those who want to make sex work safer for women. The fundamental disagreement is whether or not women have the right to engage in sex work. Most people in the anti-trafficking camp believe that there is no way that women can ever engage in sex work without being fundamentally exploited. I disagree with that, as do most sex workers’ organizations. Most of them point out that sex work can be made safer, can be made more dignified – and the way to do that is to stop demonizing those who are engaged in it. Along with decriminalizing sex work, we can support union organizing within the sex industry. This is exactly what some sex workers’ organizations in India, Bangladesh, San Francisco, and elsewhere have attempted. We need to understand sex work as one of the options available to women in a capitalist economy. We need to work, and sex work is a viable option for many women.

Ultimately, if we want to end the exploitation of women, we need to challenge capitalism, which is the basis for all of our exploitation. Whether we’re working in the sex industry, a restaurant, or in a university, we’re being exploited by those who are benefiting from our labour. So, if we want to end exploitation, we don’t give more power to the state to criminalize workers, we give more power to workers to end their exploitation. Of course, being a university professor is not demonized like sex work is. So we also need a major attitude adjustment. Feminists have long been demanding freedom for women, including control over their own bodies and sexuality. Supporting women in the sex industry and recognizing them as part of the broader collective of workers is part of this struggle.

Those of us who are critical of anti-trafficking rhetoric and legislation are often accused of not caring about women. We’re accused of not caring about women who are kidnapped, women who are beaten up, women who are enslaved or not paid wages, women who have their passports and other documents withheld from them so that they’re rendered immobile. In response to these accusations, the important thing to remember is that all of those crimes are already addressed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to kidnap people, to beat them up, to rape them, to not pay them wages, to withhold their documents without their permission, etc. Why do people think new anti-trafficking legislation will make women safer when the police seem completely disinterested in enforcing Criminal Code measures that already exist to protect women? Instead of anti-trafficking legislation, we should be demanding that workers in the sex industry are protected under occupational health and safety regulations, as all workers should be. We should demand that illegalized workers have access to the same rights and entitlements as any other worker in the country, which would of course require that we eliminate the distinction between illegal and legal workers. There are many things we can do that do not rely upon further criminalizing people’s movement across borders. This is the challenge we must pose to people who tell us that the only way to protect women – especially in the sex industry – is to criminalize the people who facilitate their entry into it.

Restrictive immigration policies are causing much of the exploitation of “trafficked women.” How do we fight for migrant women’s safety?

Ultimately, the only way that migration is going to be safe for anyone is to decriminalize it. We need to ensure that people have the autonomous right to move whenever they decide it is in their own best interest. If women today could be assured that when they needed to move they could do so freely – without being criminalized, without needing forged papers, without having to get smuggled into the back of a boat or the underbelly of a car – then they would be much safer.

Let me give you two examples of how anti-trafficking legislation actually increases the vulnerability and exploitation that many women migrants face. First, anti-trafficking legislation targets people who are helping women cross borders. This raises the cost of moving across borders and, as a result, women have to go further into debt in order to do so. Second, by imposing these enormous penalties – which, in Canada, can include a life-sentence and in the United States can include a death sentence – those facilitating movement make migrants use routes that are less safe. People are being forced to cross borders in very vulnerable places like deserts and mountains, places where hundreds of migrant bodies are found dead every year. Anti-trafficking legislation is thus making migration less safe for women.

Jessica Yee

"The government and the media are using the ideas of the left – ideas of human rights and labour rights – to advance right-wing projects."

Please speak about the situation faced by Indigenous women in Canada in terms of forced labour and exploitation. What do you think about the use of the term “trafficking” given that “Canada” is actually Indigenous territory?

Indigenous women have faced forced labour and exploitation for 500 years. What is interesting is that this seems to be a revelation for the media right now; all of a sudden, people are aware of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and aware that young Aboriginal girls under the age of 18 are eight times more likely to experience sexual assault than other women in Canada. I find it interesting that suddenly this seems to be a priority for both mainstream and alternative media. If you were to ask any Indigenous person if it is new that women are being displaced from communities and beaten out of positions of power and political significance, they would tell you it’s not.

I think that the term “trafficking,” and the way that it’s used in Canada, doesn’t speak to the reality that Aboriginal women face in our own communities. I see a lot of ongoing internal oppression and lateral violence as an Aboriginal woman. Forced labour and exploitation is a reality for many Aboriginal women. It’s not new and it happens in many different forms. As an Aboriginal woman, I don’t think I’m less likely to be sexually assaulted working in an office than working on the street – I feel like there’s an equal chance that I’m going to be assaulted, maligned, and subjected to violence, and that there’s an equal chance that the government, the police, will not help me.

It is important to consider how women are valued on the basis of race in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society. Violence committed against Aboriginal women is normalized. Aboriginal women are deemed less important than non-Aboriginal women. This is something that we’ve internalized, and that is mirrored in society.

Women around the world, especially racialized women, shoulder the burden of labour that doesn’t get acknowledged or reported. Forced labour and exploitation are reported even less. When we’re talking about “trafficking,” people assume we’re talking only about sex work, and only about cross-border trafficking. We need to remind ourselves that sexual slavery and the forcing of sexual acts are not the only kinds of exploitation, even though they seem particularly salacious compared to other forms of forced labour. We also need to understand that “trafficking” takes place within nation states, and against Indigenous people.

Many people uncritically accept the conflation of trafficking and sex work. The same people who think it is taboo to talk about sex are the first to suggest that this is the number one issue of forced labour, but it’s not. And people who are actually being trafficked and moved against their will receive no attention because the state is so focused on raiding massage parlours and arresting women who are sex workers. This neglect occurs in the name of righteousness and “saving” women, yet it is merely the further colonization of women’s bodies, women’s spaces, and women’s choices.

Can you talk about how the anti-trafficking movement affects Indigenous women who do engage in sex work? What is your analysis of the government’s efforts to present anti-trafficking as support for “women’s rights”?

Recently, Saskatoon Conservative MP Brad Trost attempted to de-fund the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health and the international Planned Parenthood Fund because they perform abortions and support sex workers. In defence of de-funding, it was suggested that he really cares about women and is concerned with how men are attacking women, forcing them to use sex work as a means of employment, and thus have abortions. I think that this is important because it seems like the government and the media are using the ideas of the left – ideas of human rights and labour rights – to advance right-wing projects.

The common misconception that “trafficking” refers only to sex work reflects people’s ignorance of the realities of sex work. A lot of anti-trafficking campaigns aren’t organized by sex workers. The campaigns involve re-victimizing.

In Toronto, we’re really lucky. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network has partnered with Maggie’s (The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project) to form the first harm reduction pro-choice project – pro-choice means that we respect women’s choices to engage in sex work – called the Aboriginal Sex Worker Outreach and Education Project. It is the first project in Canada by and for Aboriginal women that isn’t exit-focused; it doesn’t solely tell women to get out of the trade. As someone who has engaged in sex work over the years, I know that exit-based programs are not working.

I think it’s dangerous that the government tries to present “anti-trafficking” campaigns as advocacy for women’s rights. And I think it’s really important for people to not only stand up against it, but also to challenge prevailing misconceptions of sex work. These misconceptions are affecting Indigenous women throughout the world. A crude example of these effects is MTV’s “MTV Exit” campaign, in which they team up with UNAIDS and go to countries where they think there is a lot of “sex trafficking” to try to rescue women. Indigenous women in these countries are then arrested on suspicion of being sex workers. Their human rights are under assault by this western imposition in the name of “anti-trafficking.” So, in addition to the impact on Indigenous women in Canada, we’re also responsible for stuff that’s happening throughout the world to other Indigenous countries and people.

If criminalizing sex work is not a solution, what is a more meaningful way to struggle for justice?

First, a meaningful way to struggle for justice is to actually work with sex workers. Take their lead, just like you would with any other ally-based movement. Second, we have to address people’s great unwillingness to talk about sex and sexuality more generally. Without these conversations people will have a difficult time coming to terms with real trafficking and real exploitation.

We need to have frank discussions about sex work, and about sex and sexuality more generally. These topics are particularly taboo in Indigenous communities. This is because colonization is such a real presence for us. And if you’re going to take away a people’s most powerful abilities, you’re also going to take away their sexuality, which is why I think we have members of our own communities who conflate “trafficking” with sex work and assume it is all “bad for women.” We’re in survival mode and trying to keep our communities together, trying to keep our communities free of violence, and ain’t nobody helpin’ us! And if nobody’s helping us, then we get left to our own terms and our own measures to deal with things.

There is a lot to discuss. I get many questions from people asking about youth and sexual exploitation, for example. Even within the sex worker movement, people do not agree that young people have the right to engage in sex work. I recommend that people check out the Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago, which is the only organization for young women engaged in sex work between the ages of 13 and 24. We work with them quite a bit in the United States. They just produced an amazing research report on your question: what’s a more meaningful way to struggle for justice? Their answer is that we should listen to to the people who are impacted, and shut up a little bit more! Respect the ways we decide to organize. People need to recognize that there are so many spaces that aren’t safe for us, as sex workers, to be real and frank about our lives and our struggle. In the meantime, correct people who are confused about what really constitutes trafficking and exploitation. More importantly, teach people about self-determination – not just over land, but over our own bodies.

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Women in India Use Media, Self Defense, & Direct Action To Organize Against Gender Violence

Sampat Pal Devi and members of the Gulabi Gang

The New York Times profiled three groups in India using community art, media, direct action, self-defense, and community-based responses to resist street violence against women.  Blank Noise is a community art project that was founded by Jasmeen Patheja, and uses Facebook, Twitter, and blogging to mobilize women against street violence.  Here’s an excerpt from the NYT article:

“Blank Noise started as an art project,” Ms. Patheja said recently. “I was experiencing street sexual violence every day, and if not every day it was the threat of it that kept me on guard, hyper and alert. Moreover, it wasn’t being taken seriously by those around me — ‘It happens,’ ‘There’s nothing you can do about it,’ ‘It’s only teasing.”’

According to their Facebook page, Blank Noise “creates events and interventions both on the internet and on the streets of cities in India.”  In 2006, Blank Noise organized a public demonstration of women to confront street sexual violence.

The NYT article also profiled the Pink Chaddi movement, started by Nisha Susan, which began as a response to women being attacked in pubs.

Last year, after Sri Ram Sene, a rightist Hindu party, attacked women in pubs, Ms. Susan began a Facebook group, and the Pink Chaddi movement was born.

Chaddi is slang for underwear, but also for rightist hard-liners. Ms. Susan invited women to send Pramod Muthalik, the head of Sri Ram Sene, pink underwear in protest of his party’s actions and its plans to hold rallies on Valentine’s Day, which it condemns as a foreign holiday that encourages men and women to express their affection in an openly “un-Indian” fashion.

Chaddis poured in from across the country, a deluge of underwear in fuchsia, mauve and rose that forced the hard-liners to cancel their rallies and stop the attacks on women.

Sampath Pal Devi began the Gulabi Gang, a group of women who organize collectively to end gender violence, law enforcement violence, to learn self-defense, and to organize for economic justice. From the article:

Gulabi means “pink” and refers to the color of the saris Ms. Sampath Pal and her band of women wear. The movement has grown from that tiny core of four concerned women to a movement that covers much of rural Uttar Pradesh, one of the most conservative states in India. The brooms have evolved into canes. The Gulabi Gang has thrashed recalcitrant officials and police officers who wouldn’t register cases of domestic violence. It also runs vocational centers that offer practical ways of employment and empowerment for women.

Here’s a video spotlighting the Gulabi Gang’s work:

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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 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

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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Call For Submissions: Dear Sister: Letters to Survivors of Sexual Violence

Below is a call for submissions from Lisa Factora-Borchers of  My Ecdysis:

“Survival is testament of someone’s strength.
Healing is testament of the community surrounding her.” –LFB

Call For Submissions: Dear Sister: Letters to Survivors of Sexual Violence

Dear Sisters

Dear Sister, edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers, is an anthology of letters and other works created for survivors of sexual violence from other survivors and allies.  It is a collection of hope and strength through words and art.

The pathway for a survivor of rape and sexual violence is an unlit road of pain, isolation, and doubt.  In the weeks, months, and oftentimes, years following, the healing process can be difficult to navigate without a community surrounding her. Imagine a compilation of literary arms bound together to offer words of understanding, solidarity, and love.   Dear Sister is an accessible and inclusive offering of hope, voice, and courage; seeking writers and artists who wish to light a piece of that road and lift up other women in her healing.

It is an impossible task to write a letter to every survivor of rape, to every woman who lives with an invisible scar.  Instead of thinking of the face of the person you are writing to, reflect on the image of an unlit path, a road with no clear footing. Your offering will be one light, among many, to make visible what was previously unseen, to illuminate what was hidden.  You are providing a few more steps for someone to walk steadily toward their own recovery.  Your words can be an anchor, a meditation, a prayer, a strong embrace or a gentle touch. The purpose of this anthology is not to retell stories of assault, but to help others regain a sense of balance and wholeness.

Mindfully move beyond what is commonly said and reflect upon radical companionship. Write what you wish for her to know and never forget.  And if you lose focus, look deep into a mirror and reflect: What would you want to be told if you were in the darkness?


Dear Sister primarily seeks letters but will accept poems, prose, essay, and drawn art that can be scanned for entry.  Maximum word count is 1000.

Deadline for submission is November 1, 2010.

Women and transpeople of any race, creed, background, citizenship or non-citizen, ability, and identity are encouraged to submit their words and work to uplift others in the healing stages of post trauma and violence.  Both English and Spanish are accepted. All questions can be directed to

Submission can be emailed as an attachment with “Dear Sister Entry” in the subject to

Hand written letters can addressed and mailed to

Dear Sister Anthology
P.O. Box 202468
Cleveland, Oh 44120

Note from the Editor

Rape and sexual violence thrive in the silence of our homes and communities. Outreach must be wide and intentional if we are seek to hear from those who are silenced. Please forward this to as many individuals, groups, organizations, listserves, websites, and agencies that come to mind.

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The Boarding School Healing Project Needs Your Help!

Boarding School Healing Project

The Boarding School Healing Project is requesting a hearing on boarding school abuses committed against Native peoples in the United States through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The BSHP needs as many organizations as possible to sign on to the request. Please let them  know if your organization would be willing to do so. They need organizations rather than individuals, unless the individuals can be identified as key leaders in prominent organizations. If you are willing to sign on, you can email the BSHP at

For more info on this action, please see:

Here is an excerpt of the request for a hearing:

The organizations and individuals listed below write pursuant to Article 64 of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request the Commission to schedule a general interest hearing…on the subject of the continuing effects of abuses of Native American children compelled by U.S. law to attend residential schools run or controlled by the state party, where they were subjected to physical, sexual, emotional, cultural and spiritual abuse.

The purpose of the hearing is to inform the Commission concerning the widespread and devastating continuing impacts of these human rights violations which directly resulted from the U.S. government’s de jure requirement that all Indigenous children attend such boarding schools, and its failure to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect Native children from abuses by state and religious officials acting as agents of the state.

Thank you so much for your help.

Trigger warning for the videos below…

Here is a video of BSHP member, Andrea Smith, discussing the history of boarding schools:

And here is a video of Lakota woman and boarding school survivor, Joanne Tall, describing her experience in a boarding school:

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Support Girls Preventing Sexual Assault

Aishah Simmons, creator of No! The Rape Documentary, a documentary on sexual assault against black women, asks for financial support of The Girl/Friends Summer Institute, a sexual assault prevention and sexual health education program for teen girls in Chicago.  The Girl/Friends Summer Institute is a project of A Long Walk Home, Inc, established by Salamishah Tillet and Scheherazade Tillet.

Last year’s pilot program was such a huge success that they doubled the number of applicants and will extend the program to three-weeks, train 15-girls, and offer them an increased stipend of $600.00.  They are working to raise $1800.  Help them get there!


Here is a slide show of the institute’s work from the summer of 2009:

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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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Confronting Citizenship in Sexual Assault

Update 5/12/10: Spanish translation of this post can be found here:

This is the INCITE! blog’s first (hopefully, of many) post from a guest writer.  The post is written by brownfemipower (bfp) who has been brilliantly writing about violence against women of color, among other topics, for years. She currently blogs at Flip Flopping Joy.

We encourage your comments, reflections, and questions.  Also, please support bfp’s fundraiser to get a reliable computer which will help her continue to write.


Trigger Warning

What does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean to you to be a citizen of whatever country you were born in?

As a citizen of the US, the Constitution states my rights. I have the right to vote, to have a gun, etc. But I also have the right to a driver’s license, and thus a job. I have the right to a social security number, and again, thus a job. I have the right to welfare, to disability and unemployment.

And even more pointedly, I have the right to drive, to rent a house, to call the police.

I’m sure we can all think of more rights–but the point here is not so much to gather a list of every privilege citizenship grants us, but rather to expose or shine a spotlight on a rarely talked about identity: citizenship.

I read this story about a young woman who was more than likely raped at a university party with no small level of disgust. Although there was a lot of evidence that indicated that a rape probably happened, no rape kit was preformed for her and she didn’t even get a proper exam to deal with the obvious signs of poisoning (whether by alcohol or date rape drugs is beside the point) or the sore rectum and leg she spoke of. The article rightly notes about the case: “You’re not a rape victim unless the police say you are.”

You’re not a rape victim unless the police say you are.

Let’s take a minute to sit with the ramifications of this sentence. It means something huge for all rape survivors–but it means something very specific in terms of citizenship. If it takes the nation/state to confirm a rape happened–what does it mean when states require local police to check the immigration status of anybody who “reasonably” looks “illegal“?

In a racist, heteropatriarchal society, who “looks” illegal? What bodies are “illegal” just by existing? And what happens when one of those “illegal” bodies are violated?

Citizenship brings many protections with it–we do not have to worry about “looking illegal” for the most part because we have the protection of our drivers licenses. But at the same time, with a little examination, it’s easy to see how the ‘borders’ of citizenship are impermeable and flexible. And how the lack of solidity brings with it disastrous consequences for immigrants and citizens alike.

The questions are endless:

How many survivors of sexual violence don’t report their abuser to the police or go to the hospital–not because they dealing with survivor shame, guilt, and fear–but because the nation/state has made it illegal for even health care providers to help people without checking their status? How many survivors are not getting help because they know that to go to the government means not only deportation–but being refused treatment (only citizens get that) and/or being violated again? How many survivors are not reporting violence because they know to do so means not only their imprisonment and deportation–but the imprisonment and deportation of their loved ones?

Sexual violence is under reported in communities where citizenship is a solid birth right for the majority of the community. What is it in communities where the pressure to be silent is not only enormous, but a necessary condition for survival?

There are so many questions, but so few answers. Everybody knows things are bad, everybody knows that it’s only going to get worse–and everybody also knows that talking to researchers or activists or even to your neighbor can reign sweeping ICE raids down on your community. So although there are statistics and research on violence within various immigrant communities, in many ways that research is flawed from the start. How many people are really going to talk? And what recommendations can the researchers possibly suggest that would ever be implemented–when sexual violence isn’t really sexual violence for citizens–unless the police say it is?

None of these questions even begins to address the issue of whether or not culturally specific help (such as: Is there someone who speaks the language of the survivor with her? Is there someone who understands the cultural implications of her speaking out? Are there materials given to her in her own language?) is available to the survivor. And they only just barely attempts to explore what sexual violence is to begin with. Is it a woman losing custody of her baby because she was swept up in a work place raid? Is it a trans woman being housed in male or segregated detention centers? Is it being forced to give birth while shackled?

What do immigrant women do when the ‘perp’ is the same entity that is supposed to decide if what they experienced was violence?

I know I’ve painted a very grim picture for immigrant sexual assault survivors in the US.* But there is some hope. Lots of it, in fact. Legal organizations like the ACLU and Human Right’s Watch have been immensely important helping sexual assault survivors attain some sort of relief. And survivors themselves are also organizing. For example, as Cara noted here, domestic workers have been particularly successful in organizing for improved (i.e. an end to sexual violence) work place conditions.

The one organizing tactic I really wanted to point out though, was the one of survivors giving “testimonios.” Testimonios are ‘testimonies’ that survivors of all sorts of trauma give as a way to politicize, document, and testify their experiences. They may not get their day in court, but they do get to speak. Although testimonios have been specifically utilized as a concept by Latin@s, it is something I think all cultures understand and even do. A documentary is often little more than a way to document a testimonio.

For an immigrant woman, a testimonio is often the only justice she’ll ever see. She generally gives her testimonio when a trusted organization in the community collects video data of people after a community wide trauma like workplace raids. The woman can control what she says, how she says it, as well as how she is represented within the video. I’ve seen testimonios where women are never visible on screen, where a part of their face is blacked out, and where nothing is hidden at all.

In mainstream media, and even in activist media, often times the stories of survivors are presented in very exploitative ways–for example, nobody tells the woman that the intimate details that she speaks of will be available permanently on the internet. Testimonios are different in that they are driven by the needs of the survivor and are made within the context of a movement. In other words, there is no single shot of a woman crying about how much her husband beats her and that is that.

The woman tells her story in her own way in an attempt to answer the question, “What could be done?” She testifies. Explains why things happened. What she thought should’ve happened. What she’d like to see happen.

What it means to her to be one of the people in this world that no police will ever agree has been raped.

You have to look for testimonios. They aren’t like government or university research, that gets picked up by the media. They are generally collected by pro-immigrant activist organizations or indy media/media justice activists. But it’s important to look for them–and essential that they are viewed and passed around. They show how terribly inadequate the ’solution’ to immigration proposed by mainstream pro-immigration organizations (legalization) is for dealing with things like sexual violence. They demand space be opened up for those immigrants that don’t fit the “good immigrant” narrative so many mainstream (especially) Latin@ organizations have latched onto.

But most importantly, testimonios give voice to those who have been abused in some of the most horrific ways possible and they force us to be accountable to those voices. They tell other survivors that their words are important, they are important, and we are so happy, so thankful that they survived.

There are no easy answers for survivors of sexual assault in the immigrant community–and there are no easy ways to help. Yes, you can “click here to support,” and that surely does help–but the “fixing” kind of help, the “ending sexual violence” kind of help, is not that easy. It will require taking a good long hard look at what many feminists are deeply invested in: a nation/state response to sexual violence. Or, waiting for the police to finally decide, was it rape?

It’s time for those of us with citizenship privileges to ask ourselves important questions about our own politics. What would it mean for citizen and non-citizen alike, if the police no longer had the power to decide who is a survivor?

The following are examples of testimonios. I don’t have transcripts, but most of the first one has captions for translation, and the second one is completely translated.

VIDEO: several testimonios given after a work place raid in New Bedford Massachusetts.

VIDEO: a single testimonio given after the same work place raid.

*(it should be noted that there are similar conditions for immigrant sexual assault survivors in other countries as well for example: In Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency attempted to arrest an immigrant woman at a domestic violence shelter.)

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Reports Confirm Sexual Violence in Prisons Systematic & Largely Under-Reported

INCITE! anti-law enforcement violence project; art by Cristy C. Road

The Atlantic Wire notes that the New York Review of Books recently published a 2-part series on sexual violence within US prisons, including juvenile detention centers.  They write:

This problem, according to authors David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, is both systemic and widely under-reported. Drawing on an impressive breadth of studies, Kaiser and Stannow conclude that the vast majority of sexual violence is committed not by fellow inmates but by prison staff, and that a deeply entrenched culture of silence smothers victimized prisoners. They also offer a number of recommendations for increasing transparency and making it more difficult for such abuses to take place. [emphasis added]

Kaiser and Stannow investigated the current crisis of sexual violence in juvenile detention centers, in which incarcerated young people are targeted by prison staff without any recourse for safety.  They write:

Reporters in Texas, in 2007, discovered that more than 750 juvenile detainees across the state had alleged sexual abuse by staff over the previous six years. That number, however, was generally thought to under-represent the true extent of such abuse, because most children were too afraid to report it: staff commonly instructed their favorite inmates to beat up kids who complained. Even when the kids did file complaints, they knew it wouldn’t do them much good. Staff covered for each other, grievance processes were sabotaged and evidence was frequently destroyed. Officials in Austin ignored what they heard, and in the very rare instances when staff were fired and their cases referred to local prosecutors, those prosecutors usually refused to act. Not one employee of the Texas Youth Commission during that six-year period was sent to prison for raping the children in his or her care.

The articles from the NYRB series are available here:

For resources from INCITE! to organize against law enforcement violence against women of color and trans people of color, please visit our website.

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