Our article for Freedom (Volume 71 no.16)
Anarchist responses to sexual violence
Calling yourself a “feminist” is great, but doesn’t tell us what you’re doing to dismantle patriarchy (and white supremacy/ other hierarchies) at the same time as capitalism.
The Women’s Liberation Movement taught us that “the personal is political”. Consciousness-raising led to many making radical changes in their personal lives. We can all individually change: we can question our own assumptions, alter our expectations and the ways we relate to each other, and maybe even rid our most intimate relationships of oppressive behaviour.
But in terms of collective action, what are we as anarchists doing about “feminist issues” (for example the prevalence of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and abusive relationships, both within our scenes and within society at large)? There are other feminists whose reaction is to campaign for more policing and increased sentences, but how can we trust the cops and the prison system to end violence when they perpetrate so much of it?
When you talk to people about an anarchist utopia, without a Government, without police, without prisons, their first question is often “what about the rapists and murderers?” These are a very small minority of the prison population, but let’s have an answer ready. Rape is way more common than murder, and if prison isn’t a solution then what is?
We can only convince ourselves, never mind anyone else, that anarchism works, if we see that it does. Alongside simply imagining alternative ways of doing things, some of us need to acquire practical skills and create sustainable models, so we have knowledge worth sharing when the inevitable revolution/ economic crash/ apocalypse/ ecological crisis/ smooth transition [depending on your beliefs] occurs.
The problem of sexual violence isn’t restricted to mainstream society, our “communities” are not immune, and so many of us will actually have to deal with this kind of situation at some point. What happens when you know the people involved – maybe you’re all involved in the same radical group? (and please don’t tell us that anarchists/ activists wouldn’t do that sort of thing, cos we know damn well that they do). Do we leave it to the State to arbitrate? Or do a much better job ourselves than the criminal justice system ever could?
There are groups who have written about their experiences of doing this, sharing their ideas and strategies for some kind of community-based process.
These tend to involve working with both parties – providing support for both the survivor – as they heal and recover – and the other person – as they take responsibility for their actions. This “transformative support” is most effective when it’s done by those the offender respects (If all your mates tell you that your behaviour is truly fucked up, you’re more likely to listen and do something about it than if it comes from people you don’t care about).
These methods only “work” when there is a real community of people prepared to collectively go through what may well be an arduous, long, emotionally exhausting, and possibly-divisive process. It really helps if folk are already “on the same page” in terms of basic information about sexual assault and abuse (not just the crappy stereotypes and myths fed us by mainstream media) and how to support survivors.
Let’s commit ourselves to working towards a society free of rape, sexual assault and oppression, and start having conversations about these issues now. Let’s create spaces where open, honest communication can take place.
Once we’ve learnt how patriarchy functions as a system of oppression, we can figure out how to dismantle it. We’re excited to hear of new groups – both men’s and mixed – starting up in other cities (like Bristol and Nottingham) with a specific focus of “confronting patriarchy”, and hope to report more on these in the future.
Also, check out some of the resources being published by the Radical Practical Feminist Self Defence group in London. These include practical leaflets such as ‘How to help your friend'; ‘What is Safer Sex?’ and ‘Creating Safer Spaces'; as well as reprints of texts on ‘Thoughts about Community Support around Intimate Violence'; ‘Taking Risks: Implementing Grass-roots Community Accountability Strategies'; ‘Taking the First Step: suggestions to people called out for abusive behaviour'; ‘Going to Places that Scare Me:reflections on challenging male supremacy'; ‘Consent is sexy’ and more. Contact them for copies. Currently writing a longer pamphlet on the subject of ‘Community Responses to Intimate Violence’. If you have a story (“success” or otherwise) to share, practical advice, tactics or tips for anyone in a similar situation, or anything else to contribute, please get in touch – in confidence – with firstname.lastname@example.org