The Gendered Violence of Stop-and-Frisk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Harassment of Women and Girls in New York City

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

Rally Against Street Harassment, INCITE! DC & community partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Take Action Against State Violence Against Immigrant Families

[tweetmeme source= ‘yourtwittername’ only_single=false]Michelle Chen at Colorlines reports on recent “child welfare intervention” policies in which states terminate the parental rights of undocumented immigrants and take away their children.  Chen quotes a paper by Prof. Marcia Anne Yablon-Zug of the University of South Carolina School of Law:

Increasingly, states are removing the children of undocumented immigrant parents and then terminating their parental rights. Such terminations represent a significant, but largely unnoticed, change in the law. There is no Supreme Court case or Congressional Act heralding this development. This is an unofficial change that comes directly from the child welfare agencies and family courts and their shifting conception of what justifies the termination of parental rights.

The article also points to a case in which a child was taken from his Guatemalan mother by a US judge and placed with a richer American family who the judge claimed were more “fit” parents.

Meanwhile, Alto Arizona reports on a delegation of children from Arizona and throughout the country who, on July 15, 2010, and along with mothers, aunts, and women’s advocates, testified before Congress about the police/ICE violence their families have endured.  Here are some excerpts:

It was five or six thirty in the morning when my sister jumps on the bed crying saying that she overheard my dad talking to the babysitter.  We decided to talk to my dad and he  told us what was going on.  He promised us that she would be back the next day, but she wasn’t.  So my sisters and brothers were really upset.  They started crying because they wanted their mother.  But it was really painful to tell them, oh she’ll be there the next day, and keep on lying to them until she came home.  It was really heartbreaking because we saw her with a broken jaw.
– young person giving testimony

Children are being terrorized and traumatized by these programs that are taking effect in Arizona.  They are being torn apart by ski mask officers that take their moms away.
– Sylvia Herrera, Puente Arizona

I live in Maryland and I’m from El Salvador.  I have a daughter that is 1.5 years old.  One day I called the police because of a domestic violence issue.  I thought they would help me, but instead they began harassing me because they thought I was selling illegal phone cards.  I was detained for 5 days.  I thought I would never see my daughter and husband again.  They released me, but with a tracking device.  Now I have an order for deportation.
– woman giving testimony

Here’s the full video:

The relationship between gender violence and immigration violence is profound.  Anti-immigrant racism and violence is destructive to immigrant families and puts immigrant women and queer/trans folks at more risk for domestic & sexual violence, economic exploitation, police brutality, and reproductive assaults.

The National Women’s Caucus Against ICE and Police Collaboration has written a letter asking President Obama to stop ICE and local police collaboration programs, such as 287(g) and “Secure Communities,” which opened the door to the passage of Arizona’s SB1070.  Here’s an excerpt:

We, supporters of women’s and children’s rights, urge you to address the growing human rights threat against women and children in the United States as a result of failed immigration enforcement programs. In the last two years, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau has expanded programs that enlist local law enforcement to help enforce federal immigration law with particularly disastrous consequences for women and children. Programs like 287(g) and the “Secure Communities” initiatives undermine family safety, deter women survivors of violence from seeking protection or help, facilitate workplace harassment and employer abuse, and create tremendous suffering and psychological trauma for separated mothers and children.

Please sign on to this letter here.

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

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The Boarding School Healing Project Needs Your Help!

[tweetmeme source= ‘yourtwittername’ only_single=false]

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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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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