About three months ago, I received an e-mail from someone who was furious at me. Apparently, she read a post that I wrote about the reaction of a rape survivor to her assault. She railed at me for being “dangerous,” and for re-victimizing rape survivors by “expecting” them to “forgive” their rapists. She called me naive and wrong. She ended by suggesting that I get some “help.”
I didn’t respond to her e-mail. I honestly don’t think that she wanted or would have welcomed a response from me. I don’t feel the need to explain myself though I do want to clearly state that I NEVER suggest that survivors of any type of violence must “forgive” their perpetrators. While it is true that I write often about forgiveness on this blog, I always do so from the perspective of my own personal healing journey. I believe that no one is entitled to your forgiveness. It is your choice as a survivor whether to bestow that grace. We all do what we need to do to survive and that is at it should be. The harmed party should never be asked to give away her power to the person who did the harm.
I have also written about my thoughts regarding sexual violence, restorative justice and community accountability. I won’t rehash those ideas again. You can read them here if you are interested.
One more thing about the e-mail. It came from someone who described herself as being a rape crisis counselor. At this point, I want to share a few words about my exile from the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movements. I got involved in anti-rape organizing when I was in college. I tried to become involved earlier while in high school but I was turned away (and that is a story for another day). After graduating from college, I continued to first volunteer and then work at rape crisis centers and in domestic violence organizations. I have over 20 years of experience in this work.
By the time, I started my anti-rape activism in the late 80s, the anti-violence against women and girls movement was already on its way to becoming a professionalized field. We were far removed from the origins of the contemporary movement of the early 70s. Today, the field is replete with well-meaning therapists, social workers, and others who have come to this work with a social service orientation. Additionally, the field has, in part, enabled and strengthened the current carceral state.
I am now an exile of the anti-rape and the anti-domestic violence movements. From my position of exile, I am committed to reclaiming a model for addressing harm that does not rely on the punishing state as the first resort to mete out “justice.”
It is important to remember that the anti-rape movement of the early 70s emerged out of the radical women’s movement which was suspicious of relying too heavily on the apparatus of the state to address its concerns. Early grassroots rape crisis centers explicitly operated outside of the social service paradigm and did not rely on law enforcement and the courts. They worried that accepting money from the state would make the movement beholden.
Early on though, the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movements were riddled with internal tensions between those who worried that the movements would be co-opted by the state and those who deeply believed that the state needed to be responsive to the demands of penal punishment. The latter group won the day as the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movements have been incredibly successful at passing laws and at creating new categories of “crimes.” The focus on getting the police to become more responsive to these instances of violence has led to a symbiotic relationship between anti-violence advocates and law enforcement. I believe that there has been nothing more destructive than the collaboration between these movements and the police for the safety of survivors of violence. I cannot tell you how many survivors of violence tell me regularly that they DO NOT want to involve the police or the courts in their business. They just want the violence to end.
Current anti-rape and anti-domestic violence organizations are unrecognizable to the pioneers and veterans of these movements. The good news is that we have models from our past that can be revived in the present. Organizations like the Bay Area Women Against Rape relied on community accountability models for addressing harm in the early 70s. We can rely on their examples to build a model that can work for us in the 21st century. The current model is bankrupt and dying. Funding cuts are leading to the closing of domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers across the country. It is unfortunate that it will be outside forces that will lead to the revolutionary change that is needed to truly address harm. But we have an opportunity in this historical moment. I hope that we can seize it.