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Responding to Sexual Assaults as Mass Mobilizations

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For organizers, step by step guide to creating a SA response infrastructure

IntroEdit

With a clear outline of actions and structures, mass demos can be made more welcoming to survivors of assault and even event organizers who have no experience doing support work, can create spaces that challenge patriarchy and truly value the participation of survivors. We believe that sexual assault support should be and can be incorporated into mass mobilization organizing, the same way that medical, legal, and housing logistics are now taken into account. Below we present an outline of possibilities for organizers of mass mobilizations. The following suggestions should give any group of activists who take on the organizing role for a large-scale protest or other mass event the tools they need to find experienced survivor advocates, set up a structure for them to work within, and offer resources to support survivors of sexual assault.

We have tried to come up with a broad menu of suggestions that organizers can use, change, or ignore as best fits their particular context. Successful support structures need not include everything listed below. Invariably, many people will have different ideas and disagree with some of ours. Diversity and discussion should be embraced. If you have something you would like to add to this ever-changing, growing document, please let us know.

In solidarity,

The Pittsburgh G20 Resistance Project Ad-hoc Sexual Assault Response Working Group


November 2009

Why We Must Respond to Sexual Assault at Mass DemosEdit

Some survivors of sexual assault avoid mass demos because perpetrators and abusers participate in themEdit

When our communities refuse to stand in solidarity with survivors, we welcome perpetrators into them. Because abusive people face no real accountability for their actions in most activist spaces, they feel entitled to those spaces. Survivors are left on their own to decide how and if they want to navigate that scene. Some of us work really hard to know in advance the movements of people who have abused us so that we can avoid seeing them, or at least so we can steel ourselves for whatever further abuse or trauma an interaction with that person may bring up. Even if survivors are choosing not to allow a perpetrator’s presence to deter us from our participation in mass demos, that person’s presence can still mess with our ability to devote all our energy to our goals. We might need to secure different housing; we might stay up all night or have to deal with latent trauma that that person triggers (instead of taking care of the trauma of battling the cops all day); we might freeze up in the middle of an action when we realize that that person is there beside us.

Some people avoid mass demos altogether because they feel the culture of summit protests encourages patriarchal domination and sexual assault. Militant protest is not the domain of some macho boy’s club. But when we don’t organize our protests in solidarity with survivors, we force those who face sexualized oppression to divide their tough, capable efforts between the goals of the demo and their own survival. We are alienating our comrades. Our movements are losing their creativity, anger, and strength. In exchange for what?

Sexual assault happens at mass mobilizationsEdit

The transient and chaotic nature of protests makes them an especially likely time for assaults to happen. Perpetrators of assault may feel less accountable for their actions when they are outside of their usual communities. Abusers can take advantage of the instability of things like housing and travel, as well as heightened levels of emotional trauma, and the sudden bonds of comradeship that come from facing a common adversary. At the same time, protesters often temporarily suspend the usual mechanisms they employ to ensure their safety while they focus on demo actions and goals. Solidarity is an assumed and necessary part of shared struggle—and abusive people have time and again shat on our trust.

Meanwhile, the state uses sexual assault as a weapon of torture against dissent. Police repression is often racialized, gendered and sexualized. Many of our friends who are abused by the police or imprisoned will be further targeted because of their percieved race or gender, gender presentation or identity, and sexuality. Queer, trans, and gender-variant activists and activists of color may be particularly singled out, as the state imposes white supremacist ideology and patriarchal binaries onto the bodies of those who reject them. It is essential that we are ready to support our comrades through police abuse and repression, affirm and celebrate each others' right to self-identity, and offer loving care for the long haul.

Who are we in solidarity with anyhow?Edit

We are resisting global hegemonic trade agreements and imperialist war because these monoliths operate without consent from or accountability to the people they fuck over. Make the connection: the US interrogation chambers at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo use sexual assault as a weapon of torture to further racist, neoliberal imperialism. The prison industrial complex cultivates a rape culture in US prisons to maintain control of inmates and punish anyone who doesn’t fit rigid gender binaries. The long history of rape and lynching of African Americans and other people of color in the US used sexual assault and sexualized brutality to uphold white supremacy. Sexual assault is one of the most intimate weapons of the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. While experienced on the deepest personal level, the impacts of sexual assault go far beyond any individual violations. Every time we disrespect consent or dismiss the needs of a survivor, we are perpetuating and actively contributing to these oppressions, targeting and silencing resistance against them.

Any fascist can fight the cops. When we are building our movements of resistance, who we are standing in solidarity with matters. We propose that our movement stand with survivors. What follows are some concrete suggestions of how to do that.


[More on sexual assault as a tool of oppression, and much of the inspiration for this peice, in the anthology The Color of Violence by the Incite! Women of Color Against Violence collective.]

Creating a Response to Sexual Assault Edit

Below is an outline of what we feel is a complete—and perhaps excessive—list of elements that organizers could incorporate into a sexual assault prevention and response structure at a mass mobilization. We don’t intend for this to be a definitive guide to how or what should be included at every demo, but more a broad menu of suggestions that organizers can choose from according to their particular resources, abilities, and needs. We have tried to include justifications and reflections based on personal experience as well as clear how-to’s for each of our ideas. There is no single “correct” way to deal with issues of abuse in our communities. What follows are our much debated conclusions; organizers should expect to think about and justify their own decisions based on context, philosophy, and available resources.

Policies for Activist Spaces: Consent and No Perpetrators PoliciesEdit

Consent PolicyEdit

A consent policy is a well-publicized statement against sexualized violence in activist spaces that explains and defines the importance of consent in physical, sexual, and/or all interpersonal relationships.

This policy should be posted on the web, e-mailed to listserves, and put up as a poster version in mass housing and demo convergence spaces.

Posting a consent policy serves several purposes:

  • It helps set the culture of the event by bringing sexual assault prevention to the foreground and outlining clear expectations of relationships
  • It can educate about consent
  • It provides space for logistics and a clear basis for further action, such as providing support to survivors, mediation, or removing or banning perpetrators from spaces

No Perpetrators Policy & EnforcementEdit

We recommend also making a statement along the lines of “perpetrators of sexual violence, assault, and harassment who have not participated fully in a community accountability process (as defined by the affected survivor(s) and community) are not welcome in any protest organizational spaces.” This policy should be posted along with the consent policy.

This statement can be enforced by various methods, like:

  • Contacting known perpetrators (for example, after survivors contact organizers to tell them about someone who they know is coming), and demanding that they not come to the event
  • Working with accountability groups, if there is one, to enforce the demand
  • Working with space security to remove banned people and anyone who refuses to respect consent guidelines during the event

To encourage and respect those former perpetrators who have chosen to undergo a community-based, survivor-centered accountability process, these guidelines should not apply to those who have completed such a process and whose community and survivor(s) feel like they have dealt with their consent issues.

We feel it’s important to state upfront that perpetrators who refuse to be accountable for their actions are not welcome in activist spaces because:

  • This creates a culture that values survivor participation—both in the specific instances where a survivor let’s you know ahead of time that some perpetrator’s presence is preventing them from coming, and in the general sense that the space will be made to feel a little bit safer, since it’s up front that the organizers will have survivors’ backs
  • A clear policy might give survivors the encouragement needed to come forward and act on their discomfort, where otherwise they may feel silenced
  • This provides a basis to enforce consent policies during the event
  • This provides a clear incentive for perpetrators to engage with accountability processes within their community—perpetrators often ignore these processes because they face no real consequences for doing so



See also: Example Consent and Safer Space Policies

On the Ground Support StructureEdit

The real work of sexual assault survivor support at a mass demo is based on a small crew (3-10 people) of volunteers who are willing to act as advocates and support people to survivors. This crew, of varying experience and training, are there to help survivors access resources and, perhaps most importantly, to listen. Below we list resources and roles this crew can take on.

Peer Counseling and SupportEdit

This is the most important work that advocates can do. We can provide a safe, quiet place and a clearly identified and easily accessible person who is willing to listen. We can listen to a survivor’s experiences, validate their emotional reactions, and assure the survivor that it was not their fault. We can give them time to collect their thoughts, figure out what happened, and what they want to do for next steps. We can let survivors know about all the resources they have access to, and assure them that whatever they choose to do, we support it, and we will help if we feel we can.

Patriarchal culture violates survivors of sexual assault in every step of its aftermath. It begins by silencing those who want to put words to their experiences. We can empower survivors and help dismantle patriarchy by simply listening. Listen to the jumbled thoughts, the doubts, the anger, the fear. We can take it a step further by reinforcing a survivor’s autonomy. Much of the trauma of sexualized violence comes from someone stripping someone else of their agency. As support people, we can remind survivors of their own power at every moment, by ensuring that they are able to make all decisions about their own lives and healing process.

It is not for us to judge how “bad” an experience was, or what an appropriate reaction is. Sexualized violence is about more than any physical wounds it may leave. Just because patriarchal culture teaches us to define violence by visible scars and bruises does not mean that our bodies or psyches will conform to that definition. On top of that, trauma is cumulative. Living in patriarchal culture means we all learn about and may experience gendered and sexual violence every day. It is impossible to predict what straw will break the proverbial camel’s back. Finally, trauma manifests in different ways, and some survivors are as likely to laugh or go numb as to cry. Meet survivors where they are. Listen.

There are more resources on active listening in the “Practical Suggestions for Peer Counseling and Support” section below.

See also Active Listening Skills (for sexual assault survivor support).

Local Resources: Rape Crisis Centers, Shelters, HotlinesEdit

It’s worthwhile to investigate local survivor support resources and know what services they provide. If organizers have limited resources to devote to support, then the local hotline and shelter can offer what you cannot. They can also serve as backup if any of your support structure falls through, like safe housing, counseling, etc. Finally, rape crisis centers can give survivors access to legal and law enforcement resources, including rape kits, if they choose to pursue them, while still maintaining separation between police and activist spaces.

Contact local rape crisis centers, shelters, etc. to find out:

  • What services they provide and how to access them
  • How they deal with transgender folks and people from out of town, out of state, or out of the country
  • Suggestions of which ER is the best to take survivors
  • Tell them about your support system


Consider publicizing the local hotline number to medics, legal, and activists at large.

Safe housingEdit

Alternative, safe housing is a useful and often-used resource organizers can offer survivors. For many people, mass housing situations are scarier and more dangerous then what they may face on the street. Giving them the option of alternative housing would allow them to focus on their real goals for the demo, instead of worrying about safety where they sleep.

  • Offer a smaller, quieter alternative to mass housing for those who request it
  • Offer safer space housing: queer safer space, or trans and women safer space, or whatever best fits people’s needs and comfort levels


Additionally, organizers can provide a secret safe house for emergency housing switches that may need to happen at any time day or night. This would be for any person who has experienced a sexual assault or does not feel safe in their current housing situation. Ideally, a safe house is safe because identification of the person whose house it is and its location are kept as secret as possible to protect the person who felt unsafe in different housing. The number and location may only be known to those bottom-lining support because it is safer for the survivor and safer for the host. The host is generously opening their home to strangers in crisis—if possible, the host should have experience with sexual assault advocacy. They need not be expected to engage in counseling.

TransportationEdit

Someone on the support crew should have access to a car and a cell phone, and be available 24/7 to transport a survivor and advocate to a rape crisis center, the ED, a safe house, the clinic, pharmacy, etc.

Emergency Phone NumberEdit

A central phone number makes it easier for people to access the support team. This can take the form of one of the advocate’s personal cell number being passed around to other support people and clinic and convergence staff—in this case, be sure to post the number at intake tables and announce the support team at every meetings, large and small. Or, perhaps a pre-paid cell phone, that can be available to the activist public, posted on flyers, texted, e-mailed, website, good old word of mouth, etc.

Legal and SecurityEdit

Identify legal resources available to survivors both within and outside the activist community. Have a legal contact, exchange numbers. Find out local laws regarding time to report an assault and timing of rape kits & DFSA kits (drug facilitated sexual assault kits).

Pre-arrange how to remove an identified perpetrator if needed.

Printed ResourcesEdit

Gather or prepare printed resources, like zines and pamphlets, on consent and support to have available for everyone who is interested. These can be placed at the convergence spaces, mass housing, the clinic, etc. A good resource for zines: www.phillyspissed.net

OutreachEdit

To let people know about the resources they can access:

  • Post flyers explaining available resources and how to access them at any and all relevant locations
  • During any and all meeting of activists, make the sexual assault support team known.
    • Include why it’s needed, what it can do, and how to access it
  • Make your role as a sexual assault support person known. People may remember your face as connected with support
  • Work to connect sexual assault advocacy and crisis support in general to the medic and wellness community

Coordinating Sexual Assault Response with Medical and Legal SupportEdit

It’s important to connect with the legal team and street medics at demos because they have a lot of resources to offer survivors, and because as front-line support people, they are likely to be approached by someone who has experienced sexualized violence.

Medics, the Clinic, and Wellness SpaceEdit

Medic response at mass demos varies from a few trained street medics showing up the day of, to months-long coordination to create a tight network of medics in the street and to secure spaces for clinics and a wellness center (for things like counseling and bodywork). Street medics are on the front lines of protests, responding to injuries, chemical weapons, and emotional trauma. Their visible and caring role makes them likely to be approached by survivors who need support.

The clinic and especially the wellness space may be well equipped to deal with emotional trauma, making them good bases for the support crew to work in. Because these spaces are likely to be well advertised, it would be easy to direct survivors there to find support.

In the past, many support volunteers were also medics and filled these dual roles at protests. Because of this, it might make sense to incorporate survivor support into the medic structure, if medic organizers have the ability to take on this responsibility. Survivor support and emotional trauma care are important skills for street medics to learn. Medics and support people will usually work closely together.

Resources that medics might have on hand that they can offer a support crew and survivors:

  • Safe and quiet space
  • Herbs
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Massage
  • Reiki
  • Allopathic care

Resources that the support crew can offer medics:

  • Advocates to whom medics can direct survivors. These support volunteers should identify themselves to clinic staff and at medic meetings
  • Handouts with basic info on available resources and how to be supportive
  • Workshops and trainings on survivor support and emotional trauma care

See also: Street Medic Protocol for Sexual Assault Disclosures

Legal Support TeamEdit

Legal teams at demos often include lawyers, on-the-street legal observers, jail support with hugs and rides for those getting released, and a few dedicated behind the scenes people who staff the legal hotline, figure out just what has happened to all of our friends, and help comrades through long-term court cases.

Because state repression is often gendered and sexualized, legal observers may witness, hear about, and document sexualized police violence. Gender variant and queer activists may be particularly targeted. Verbal abuse, sexual assault, and being forced into the "men" or "women" jail cells of a gender with which they don't identify are all possible types of repression activists may experience. It’s important that legal and jail support be reminded to affirm the choices of gender variant folks to identify themselves to the cops as however they feel safest—and that this decision does not affect the reality of their identity.

We recommend that the support crew outreach to the legal team and prepare to work with them. Survivors may come on their own to the legal team needing support or documentation of abuse, in which case the legal observers should know how to direct the survivor to the advocates. They could also be provided a handout that explains basic support (see example in appendix). The support crew might accompany a survivor to speak with legal observers, or bring a survivor's request that they document police repression. If possible, it would be good to have an advocate doing jail support. If so, that person should try to be visible and identify themself to other jail support.

Other Needs: Crisis Support During ActionsEdit

Once sexual assault crisis support is known and available, the support crew may be called on to deal with crisis counseling and peer counseling in general. There is a clear need for this resource at mass actions.

Advocates and Support VolunteersEdit

You can structure the support crew however makes sense based on people’s different levels of experience, training, and boundaries. Roles can be divided up amongst more people or consolidated.

Bottomliner or main advocatesEdit

We recommend having only one or two people bottomline the support crew, with access to all resources. Other support volunteers could go through the bottomlining person/people to access these. This minimizes the number of people who know about safe houses, assaults, etc. Security culture around assault is important! Sometimes the easiest way is to simply minimize the number of people who know about it.

This could be problematic—giving any one or two people a lot of knowledge that other people don’t have access to can set up a bad power dynamic. It could shift responsibility to deal with assault from the community to one “expert.”

Decide as a group if you need specific bottomliners. Decide if this person’s role should be made public, or kept within the group. We recommend that bottomliners be people with more experience dealing with sexual assault and, more importantly, people who have more emotional energy and time to devote to being available to deal with it. Since assaults are fairly infrequent, not everyone needs to make SA response their top priority at a demo, but at all times someone should.

The bottomliner’s roles may include:

  • Be visible and available; announce self at meetings, etc.
  • Support and active listening or counseling
    • Refer survivors to clinic and wellness resources
    • Refer to doctor, pharmacy, or whatever’s appropriate for pain, STI and pregnancy concerns
    • Refer to long-term local counseling: 1-800-656-HOPE or http://rainn.org/get-help
  • Emergency housing coordination
  • Getting backup to oust perpetrators
  • Transportation
  • Accompaniment to hospital or rape crisis center
  • Answering the emergency phone number
  • Support and education/advice for other support volunteers
  • Selfcare

The bottomliner(s) would ideally be trained and experienced Rape Crisis Advocates or similar experience.

Other support volunteersEdit

Most of the work the support crew will do is simply listening. That role should be spread out so people are available wherever survivors may be.

Basic support crew roles include:

  • Be visible and available
    • Announce self at meetings
    • Positioned at mass housing, convergence spaces, wellness center, and clinic
    • Maybe wear a symbol, color, or nametags that identify support crew
  • Support and active listening
    • Call the bottomliner for:
      • Medical needs: STIs, pregnancy concerns, pain
      • Legal needs: rape exam, filing charges
      • Housing needs: safe housing
      • The perpetrator is identified and needs to be removed
      • You feel overwhelmed or very concerned about the person’s mental health (especially: suicidal threats, fear of repeated abuse)
      • Selfcare


Having a support crew with diverse gender & sexual identities, racial/ethnic, language and cultural backgrounds would help make support more accessible to a greater number of people.

Support people don’t necessarily need any prior experience or training as long as they can get access to some educational materials (see appendix) and experienced advocates with whom to share experiences.

Practical Suggestions for Peer Counseling and SupportEdit

Prepping for Peer CounselingEdit

Materials:

  • Tissues: When people experience a disempowering event, it may stir up long-buried and painful memories, unresolved issues from the past, current stressful concerns, and generally many very painful and difficult emotional experiences. Tissues help.
  • Water
  • Tea brewed for occasion
  • Small snacks
  • Notebook & pen: This can help people to re-organize themselves and their priorities, and help them feel less jumbled. Making a mind map, lists, or other visual aides to sort things out may be helpful.
  • Whatever useful stuff: At mass mobilizations, most people do not have the comforts of home—especially if they have been arrested and separated from their phone, car, friends, and/or other personal items like their backpack containing everything they need for their time away from home. People may also be separated from their support network, if they have one, or concerned for members of their support network who may be in jail or M.I.A.


Preparation: Take care of yourself first. Make sure you've eaten. Pour yourself some water or tea (cautiously, you could end up spending upwards of an hour with them and you don't want to have to run to the bathroom in the middle of providing much needed support). Use the bathroom. Make sure you are not stressed or overburdened with your own issues. If you are, cope with them or put them aside as you see fit. Be responsible—if you aren't able to provide someone with 100% support, don't do it. Ask someone else to. Not attending to your own mental/emotional needs can cause catastrophe for someone who expects you to be there for them. NEVER unload your emotional baggage on someone who has come to you for help.

During a sessionEdit

Listening is most important.

Silence is okay. Don't feel the need to fill in space by talking.

Don't draw conclusions. Only attempt to verify what the person is trying to tell you.

What are they most concerned about? For example, safety of themselves & their friends, what to do next, how to get their stuff back if they were arrested, injuries they may have sustained, how to get home, how to explain what happened to family, friends, boss, teachers. Offer gentle suggestions, but think through what you're going to say VERY carefully before you say it. Practical suggestions play a very important role right now—you should be in touch with lawyers, people with medical expertise, etc., because before mental/emotional needs can be met, physical and more immediate needs must be dealt with.

Be prepared to talk with people who have long-term emotional, mental, physical, social, and other issues to deal with, because disempowering experiences really bring to light many other times in someone's life where they have felt disempowered. People will come to you with a variety of concerns, which may not on face value seem related to recent events.

Remember consent practices before you touch/hug/embrace or enter into anyone's personal space. Give them the power to make ALL decisions, even "little" decisions because they have probably experienced moments when they had no control over what happened to them, or no prediction of what could happen next.

People often behave in ways that they normally wouldn't when under stress or in unusually disempowering situations, so if someone brings that up with you, reassure them that they acted that way for a reason, even if it wasn't okay. But let them deal with it and acknowledge that they did something that hurt others. It is of paramount importance that people are assured that all of their feelings and emotions are valid; it is what they do with them that could hurt others.

How-to: A TimelineEdit

  • Month(s) before the demo
    • Send out “Call to Action” for survivor support people
      • Goal: 2-3 people to bottomline the Sexual Assault Response Working Group
    • Draft Sexual Assault Response policies
  • 2-3 weeks before the demo
    • Set up the local response structure:
      • Contact local rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, etc. Find out:
        • What services they provide and how to access them
        • How they deal with transgender folks and people from out of town, out of state or out of the country
        • Suggestions of which ED is the best to take survivors
        • Tell them about your support system
    • Set up emergency safe housing
    • Coordinate with mass housing and/or convergence space organizers to set up a way to oust perpetrators and deal with security issues
    • Figure out phone/hotline: Do you need to get a prepaid phone?
    • Figure out transportation: Does anyone on the support crew have a car? Can you borrow one from someone else?
    • Identify legal resources available to survivors both within and outside the activist community
      • Have a legal contact, exchange numbers
    • Pre-arrange how to remove an identified perpetrator if needed
    • Find out local laws regarding:
      • Time to report an assault
      • Timing of rape kits & DFSA kits (drug facilitated sexual assault kits)
      • Begin organizing support crew
    • Send out a 2nd Call to Action
      • Goal: 5-10 rad support volunteers with diverse gender, race, language, and other identities
    • Publicize Sexual Assault Response Policies far and wide (and incorporate into mass housing, medical, and other activist space policies)
      • Include description of support structure that will be available
    • Gather resources for support crew, handouts for medics and legal, zines to distro, etc.
  • 1 week to go!
    • Establish support crew roles
      • Via e-mail or phone, share experience, training, who wants to do what, who identifies with which genders, any boundaries or limits/special needs, who has what special resources or skills
      • Decide on main advocates, transportation, and any other big roles
      • Write out clear responsibilities for every role
    • Educate and prepare support crew!
    • Gather phone numbers and all crucial contact info (rape crisis hotline, local hospital address or whatever, whatever else you may need to access) and distro it to support peepz
    • Send a “What to do if a survivor of sexualized violence comes to you” handout to medics and legal support via e-mail
  • At the Demo
    • Face to face meeting early in the action to meet each other, disseminate phone numbers, and decide on any schedules or structures beforehand. This could include:
      • Go over all resources available and how to access each one
      • The central phone number and when to use it
      • Local rape crisis hotline and other local numbers
      • Coordinate shifts in activist spaces
      • Address the inevitable unexpected topic
    • Clinic or Wellness space
      • Try to have multiple genders rep’d as sexual assault advocates available in the clinic at all times
      • Scout out good, private places to talk with survivors
      • Make sexual assault support resources and support people known to clinic staff. Make sexual assault support one of the expected resources at a clinic just like medical, herbal, etc.
      • Self-identify in clinic staff meetings, with name tags, and on any sign-up boards
      • Work with clinic staff to determine resources available in the clinic specific to the anticipated needs of sexual assault survivors both physical and emotional. This could include:
        • Safe and quiet space
        • Herbs
        • Acupuncture and acupressure
        • Massage
        • Reiki
        • Allopathic care
    • Spread the word
      • Flyers explaining available resources and how to access them at any and all relevant locations
      • During any and all meeting of activists, make the sexual assault support team known
      • Include why it’s needed, what it can do, and how to access it.
      • Make your role as a sexual assault support person known. People may remember your face as connected with support.
      • Work to connect sexual assault advocacy and crisis support in general to the medic and wellness community.
    • Do good work!
  • After the demo, preferably face to face
    • Debrief
    • Selfcare ♥

Further ResourcesEdit

On this wiki:

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