Attrition: Yet another dispatch on rape culture

None of these thoughts are original.
They are mine, but they are not new.
After so long, the shocks are common currency.
Every response, been done, before I made the scene.
These thoughts are not new, but they are mine.
[do I have to add a trigger warning? it fucking says it’s about rape culture in the title.]

In a resistance movement I have been working with, a man I never met attacked somebody else I never met.
I don’t know the details, rape is sexual assault, so is groping, etc.
But the survivor (preferred pronouns they/theirs) wanted it widely known that this man did attack them.

Somewhere else, someone I was close to once, now has several women saying he attempted to rape them. I believe them. But there is not much I can do. They will not say these things publicly, and I can’t come forward for them without doing more harm. I am just glad for the hundreds of miles between me and him.

Here now, the survivor told a group of women that this man I don’t know assaulted them. Some of the other women, through relationships or in political work, had also been abused or harassed by him. Together they decided on terms they wanted him to follow- staying out of certain spaces, disclosing information to certain people, etc. When he broke these terms, at the survivor’s request, the group publicized an open letter explaining what had happened, keeping out the survivor’s name.
Later, the survivor chose to reveal their own name.

Well, fuck, what do we do now? asked the organizers I’m working with.
At a regional meeting, with people from several states in town for a few days to make decisions about all kinds of things, we set aside a couple hours to talk about this, and wound up talking about it for much longer.

Thinking about what we discussed and decided.
Some people wanted to do things that seemed like retaliation against the women who publicized the letter, but that didn’t wind up happening. The man was banned from everything these people are organizing- for at least the next six months- with a group of us, self included, stepping up to work out what to do if he tries coming back after that. We’re discussing future steps with the survivor, agreeing that he won’t be allowed back if they don’t want him to be.
Some conditions under which he would be allowed into things we organize, would only be set up if we and the survivor all agreed on them, and several of us (self included) would rather have him not be around at all.

[Non-linear processing]

I was relieved that the public letter was sent out.
Too often, people do and say nothing for fear of retaliation- or take some kind of action/statement out of the urge to “DO SOMETHING” but don’t center the confidentiality/wishes of the survivor.

This person was willing to come out publicly. If they hadn’t been, I wonder what could have been done. We can’t publicize these things if people don’t want us to, but that makes things more dangerous for other people who could become targets in the future. (How much refusal to openly accuse rapists comes out of fear of being ignored, shut out, accused of lying, or given only pathetic token responses?)

This gets talked about as “how to handle gender violence in the activist community / the radical community.” This framework is kind of a problem for me – more on that later.

It also can’t be talked about as “resolving conflict.” Resolving conflict is not always an option, sometimes you just have to take a side. Also, it seems obscene to me to call it “conflict,” when it has nothing to do with two people mistreating each other. There is simply one person, trying to take part in a movement against (something that hurts and displaces people,) and another person deciding to physically attack them.

This is another thing- The simple, real brutality of what happened, bodily harm, gets buried under endless talk, the reality replaced with the symbols of words, words, debates around “process.” But of course this is something that people need time to talk about, it’s heavy shit to deal with. And yes, I see the limits of shouting, “THIS IS REAL!” when, at a certain point of staring into the awfulness, I too begin to shut down and hear everything as flat abstraction.

The truth is that this man assaulted a person, because he could.
The truth is that other people are going to show up, to join in a movement against exploitative industries, and become possible targets of the same violence if he is around.

A dual nature to all oppressions?
Gender: Institutionally, women are excluded more frequently from positions of power / interpersonally, they’re subject to violence and discrimination from men.
Racial constructs: African-americans inheriting the dispossession of slavery and being denied loans, credit, education that poor Europeans could access / then there’s the white racism enabled by fewer penalties for white-on-black violence.
“Sanity”: The risk of lock-ups, forced drugging, little social mobility / the socially-sanctioned bigotry from the non-diagnosed.

Back trying to think through the “radical community” framework. What does it mean?
It’s a framework within which we can “do something.” Someone is a rapist? This is a space we can exclude him from- creates a sense of accomplishment. If someone we knew through social movements were raped by someone we didn’t know or work with, then, there wouldn’t be much we could do.

And if someone who we knew through political work attacked someone who had nothing to do with us? Here we hit the dangers of retreating from the larger world into a smaller world we imagine to be separate/different.

The position of radicalized people trying to create beautiful things together:
On the one hand, we face the unique problem of trying to live as communal people in capitalist society. On the other hand, we face the same problem that all people face.

*We, like everyone, face problems of: being drained by work to sustain a life, being isolated, being processed through money-based institutions we can’t control, being caught up in violence and power-games.
*We, uniquely, face the problem of trying to build relationships that invert all of this.
So, there’s a difference for us- but it’s not everything.

I’m not mostly-interested in stopping violence in the “radical community,” but in stopping gender violence in the world. How to reflect this in practice?

Not mostly organizing around gender-violence within movements-around [wages/  housing rights/ other issues,] but centering the autonomous organization of women’s liberation for its own sake.

I have this idea: staying grounded in mass-based feminist organizing so that my work against gender violence isn’t JUST about making [a movement about something else] into a safe space. But then… Many mainstream feminist organizations offer me nothing for my own liberation. Class struggle divorced from gender liberation is wrong-headed, but feminism divorced from class war is equally so. I can’t just go out, find feminists, and say, “me and other commies should build more solidarity w/ you” if their goals are still pretty status-quo.

I’m inspired by the revolutionary feminism of people like INCITE! and GenerationFive. They remind me that the point of radicalism is not to identify common interests with other radicalized people, but to mobilize common interests w/ whole castes/classes against exploitation.

An overall goal, that includes stopping rape:
Figuring out ways to support people who use channels beyond the courts to handle/stop all kinds of danger/violence.
Still support anyone choosing to press formal charges against violent abusers. But maybe they find that’s not enough, or maybe they decide not to do it at all.

I want- practices that can be extended to the many spaces where people come together to find meaning in this alienating world. Ways of responding that can help people whose family networks silence them when they come forward about child abuse / can confront sexual assault in church communities, in groups of people who get together to dance or garden or whatever, in BDSM scenes, in colleges, everywhere.

People have their own lives. The fact that those lives intersect with ours in a resistance movement, a subculture, doesn’t give us the ability to “transform” those people. I value working on transformative processes, but it’s ultimately vital to our safety to recognize that we can’t make people change. Sometimes all we can do is protect others from them.

Protecting others within political circles can involve banning violent people from those circles. And it does matter that having a consistent policy of this can mean that people who are newly stepping in to create something beautiful aren’t put at a higher risk of rape because of it.

But those people will still endanger others in the larger world, if not in our smaller world. The biggest danger I can see: when our judgement of someone, for harming a stranger in the outside world, becomes much less than our reaction if they harmed someone in “our” world.

Though the way a few people wanted to retaliate against the letter-writer didn’t happen- there seemed to be a lot more policing-type reaction around that generally- Why did you release it when you did / Write it the way you did / Show it to the people you showed it to?

Which might show a tendancy to want gatekeepers to control the flow of information to the group- but also wanting to control how information about a former-insider’s violence was shown to the outer world. Which may be the basic essence of sectarianism– wanting a sheltered group of trusted people, and treating what happens in that group as more real than what happens in people’s lives outside. This makes people decide it’s more important to control what information gets to the Outside- so as to protect the inner circle- than it is to expose patterns of violence so that as many people as possible can make informed decisions on how to protect themselves.

(Which is NOT to say that these people are a sect, a cult, etc- but rather, that this is a tendency that can emerge everywhere people turn to each other for company and camaraderie and want to, naturally, have a controlled environment for this.)

All policing of how-publicly people can announce that someone else has abused them, and all sheltering news of violence so the outside world doesn’t find out, is diametrically opposed to the world I want to create.

But- it’s difficult for me to even think about how much this did or didn’t happen in this case. Again, the numbing effects of staring into the awfulness for too long tends to make things collapse into incoherence. And the group psychological dynamics that played out are triggering too much of the associated despair of past abusive situations that demanded enforced-positivity from their victims, on threat of further retaliation against anyone who displayed pain. The purpose of those past dynamics- not to stop us from voicing our opinions, but to shame us out of fully-forming our opinions at all. And, fuck, it’s working.

So instead of writing more, I sleep, because I’m not a target. This time. And I’m basically safe. For now. That’s all I really have.


About armillaria

running on shoestrings
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