As a follow-up to the all-campus email that went out in response to recent YikYak posts, I wanted to share some of my own personal thoughts, to add to the conversation.
I have worked in the field of sexual violence prevention and advocacy for over a decade now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I came to this work, as a survivor. I stayed in this work for my love of facilitating, and to imagine a world where sexual violence doesn’t exist. In meeting and learning from the survivors I have connected with, they’ve challenged me to explore ways of integrating restorative and transformative practices into my work (and the systems I’m connected to). To that end, there’s a couple ways I’m reflecting on restorative and transformative practices being deeply valuable, if not required, for engaging in equitable sexual violence prevention and advocacy.
First, restorative/transformative practices are a form of prevention work in and of themselves. Investing in the work of community accountability, to present a pathway back to returning to community after expectations of care and relation have been violated, is prevention work. Our punitive systems structured on shutting someone out, shaming them, and excluding them from community does not present an opportunity for them to understand why what they did was harmful, and how they can not do it again. It also disempowers survivors for having a say in what healing feels like for them. I think there is value in shifting accountability to be about apologizing and seeking to repair harm that is done, not apologizing and feeling ashamed for who we are.
Second, sexual violence is a community problem and requires community-based and involved solutions. Cultures of white supremacy, rape culture, classism, ableism, and other systems of oppression are integral to the ways we have been socialized to be in the world. It is “the water we are swimming in.” The scripts we have been socialized into regarding sex, intimacy, and relationships are also inherently violent. We all have work to unlearn how to not reproduce that violence. If we’re not taking into consideration the dynamics of communities we are a part of, and these systems that influence us, we’re not authentically addressing the issues at hand. An individual may experience harm; and that individual is also a part of a community, a culture, a family, a profession, and many other identities. Honoring survivors’ wholeness and engaging in prevention work requires community-based responses offered through transformative and restorative practices.
Third, engaging in survivor-informed work is required for developing effective prevention programs, awareness campaigns, and activism. Balancing the intent of an event or workshop, with the impact, is a key piece to realizing survivor-informed practices. A question that can be helpful in reflecting on this is “What will be the impact of the response you’re hoping for?”
In exploring this question further, here is one organizing idea as an example: In specifically naming and shaming alleged perpetrators in an event or conversation, the intent may be to defend survivors and call out harmful behavior. The impact, however, may be that a survivor/survivors feel disempowered, because they did not want “harm” to be done to the person who caused them harm. Other impacts or thoughts could be:
- Many survivors want the people whom have harmed them to learn from their mistakes, so that they don’t hurt someone else, rather than publicly shame them.
- If a survivor is also in a relationship with someone who sexually assaulted them, they may still deeply care about this person and not want to harm them
- For LGBTQIA+ folks, they may not what their perpetrator identified, because it could also subsequently “out them.”
- Seeing names/faces of perpetrators, whom are not their own, may be re-activating for survivors and not something they want to be confronted with every day when walking to and from class, the dining hall, or otherwise around campus.
- Cancel culture impacts different folks, differently – power and privilege impact who has access to cancelling someone, and who doesn’t. Survivors of color may experience unique barriers in wanting to report their experiences of harm, for not wanting to contribute to carceral systems of punishment (which disproportionately harm people of color).
- It may also not be safe for the survivor to share their experience – they may be confidentially working with an advocate to safety-plan care resources, instead of publicly reporting their experience.
- Having the wider community talking about their experience can be disempowering – feeling like they are out of control of their narrative, can be retraumatizing for survivors.
Survivors as a community are also not a monolith—what one person needs and wants will most likely be different from others; a collective mindset for supporting as many folks as possible is important. Being mindful to how trauma uniquely affects our brains and bodies overall as well, can be a valuable starting point to framing an event/conversation.
This is messy. It is hard. It is not an “easy” fix or response to violence. And yet, it feels as though centering restorative and transformative, practices in violence prevention work feels like the most equitable pathway to realizing the world I am imagining where gender-based violence doesn’t exist. To imagine that world, we have to reimagine what tools, techniques, and processes we’re using in responding to violence in our community…some of them haven’t even been created yet. In sitting with the tension of healing/harm/community accountability and current cancel culture norms, visioning exercises like vent diagrams can be helpful tools to stretch our minds and hearts.
We’ve got a long way to go. We are always evolving; we all can do better and continue learning, reflecting, unpacking, healing, and shifting. In the words of Nathan Sara, in Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement
“…Transformative is a high standard. It means investing in everyone’s transformation over time which rarely aligns as neatly between parties as our theory and dreams would suggest.” So here’s to aiming for a higher standard and leaning into our dreams towards imagining a world without sexual violence.
With this in mind, my ideas are informed by the work of others whom have been doing this work for decades and beyond. Here are some additional resources for further reading and learning, that have informed my thinking:
- TransformHarm.org – “a resource hub for ending violence” created by Mariame Kaba and designed by LuDesign Studios
- “Punishing ‘Predators’ Will Not Save Us” by Kelly Hayes, TransformHarm.org
- “Transformative Justice: A Brief Description” by Mia Mingus, TransformHarm.org
- Barnard Center for Research on Women “Building Accountable Communities” Video Series
I welcome any thoughts or feedback y’all may have. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or concerns.