Trigger Up: Yes WE Can: Communities, Sexual Assault, and Accountability


*TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault and accountability in communities

Friday night I was talking with some friends about the prevalence of rapists/people who commit various types of sexual assault (groping, etc) in our various communities (punk scene, activist circle, anarchist milieu, blues/fusion dance community, etc). What I really want people to remember is this: SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT. People who commit sexual assault typically know that their actions are unwanted and/or not consented to—they just don’t care. And they do it over and over again***.

Stranger rape is not a myth, but it is astonishingly uncommon. Most survivors know the person who sexually assaulted them—and all too often, we know others who have been sexually assaulted by the same person. So what can we do, as people with common interests, including stopping sexual assault? The most effective thing I have seen is stopping shady interactions and calling out specific behaviors PUBLICLY. Is this going to stop rape? I don’t think so. I think that there are certain people who grow up believing that their desires are more important than another individual’s consent. I believe that these people are disproportionately white, straight, cisgender, ablebodied, and often of a certain class privilege, as well, because the media and other institutions constantly tell us* that their desires are the most important. They are taught entitlement, not just to people’s bodies, but to land, to wealth, to what we might define as autonomy. But of course, people from all demographics perpetuate sexual assault, the real key is undermining their entitlement to the bodies of others—unfortunately many people are taught this kind of entitlement via constant exposure to rape culture. We have many societal institutions that keep rape culture intact (prisons, colonization, socioeconomic inequalities, sexism, racism, etc).

How do we undermine rape culture and the rapist’s sense of entitlement? By fighting for the self-determination of all people. It’s a big task, no doubt. But you can start by questioning the entitlement of the people around you, especially when some dudebro starts cornering the drunk new kid in town at a party, who has that look like they don’t wanna be there. You can start by calling out people who habitually and knowingly cross the boundaries of others. You can tell them what it looks like when their inappropriate behavior occurs, and tell them that it will not be tolerated any longer. You can work to abolish prisons, where people are routinely disenfranchised and treated as slaves, and experience high rates of sexual assault at the hands of the overseers. You can start by being accountable for your actions if somebody tells you they have crossed your boundaries. You can start by connecting the dots between large coercive institutions and individual coercive actions.

You can also start by providing support to people WHENEVER they confide in you that they have been sexually assaulted. ALWAYS trust the survivor, first and foremost. They might not have as much social capital as the person who assaulted them (a popular community leader, a teacher, a sibling, a musician, etc), and so this is where the spiral of isolation following sexual assault can begin in communities. DON’T let this happen. DO support the survivor in getting the support they need, and ASK what that means to them, whether it means creating a safer space policy (ie. so and so who has a history of inappropriate/rapey behavior is not allowed here, such and such specific behaviors are not allowed here, etc), or just letting them talk through their feelings at a given moment of crisis, or helping them find safe, affordable crisis support resources such as counseling or a crisis line.

And remember: it is not okay to expect survivors to just “get over it” after a certain period of time. Speaking from my own experiences, the memories of the sexual assaults that I have survived will be with me for a lifetime, and they intrude at very inopportune times, in nightmares when I’m stressed out about school, etc, or even worse, when I’m trying to be sexually intimate with somebody I care about or, hell, just want to have fun with! So don’t ever ask: “aren’t you over that now?” Some people have that ability, but many of us don’t.

This is just a start. How do we move forward? That’s for us to decide, as communities.

*us: I am speaking as a survivor and a light-skinned privilege experiencing latinx, a queer/transmasculine neuroatypical person with chronic pain who is ablebodied, living long-term in the violently occupied territories known as the United States. I have experience providing survivor support and holding aggressors accountable.

***Go read this if you don’t believe me:…/meet-the-predators/


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