Anarchist responses to sexual violence

 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

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6 Responses to Anarchist responses to sexual violence

  1. anarchafem says:

    this article is also posted at anarchist news

  2. dashoflime says:

    This is my critical response: which I’ve also posted to anarchist black cat and anarchist news:

    This article, written by the London Anarcha Feminst Kolectiv, appeared recently in Freedom

    They basically advocate that the anarchist scene provide a process of “transformative support” for both the victim and the rapist. They seem to be suggesting such a process as an alternative to the police or courts.

    I have extreme scepticism on this point. I do not think that such “support” as can be provided by the anarchist scene will cause any rapist to “transform.” There are projects in mainstream society that aim to rehabilitate rapists. They are run by trained psychologists. They also tend to be underfunded and few in number. In my view, calling for better availability of these services would be a legitimate feminist demand. Calling on the anarchist scene to attempt to replicate is just unrealistic and dangerous.

    To me, it seems like a variation on a fairly common anarchist mistake of assuming that because we are politically developed and right on, we must be capable of providing a better solution within the confines of our scene than mainstream society would be able to manage.I would go one further and argue that it is a function of lifestyleism to think this way. As if our responsibility is to create a self sufficient scene in which we can handle everything right (even effecting psychological change in perpetrators of rape)rather than working to improve society at large.

    In reality, the anarchist scene does not provide a better solution. I know this because I was a victim of sexual assault in an “anarchist space” and the response was completely dire (the general attitude being denial, disbelief, minimisation and blaming the victim. The chatter around that incident is the only example i’ve ever seen of a rumour getting downplayed with repeated telling!). I bring this up, not to have a retrospective winge but to demonstrate where we actually stand. Which is to say as bad as, or slightly worse than the rest of society. Just so you know, there was no detectable difference in response between people who considered themselves feminists and those that did not.

    To talk about the anarchist scene being capable of “transformative support” is just a bad joke in the circumstances. We’d do better learning some basics and challenging some common myths (although to be fair the article does suggest this as well.) The fact that the author of the Freedom article can’t think of a better term for a rapist than “the other person” does not fill me with confidence!

    The anarcha feminist article suggest a couple of US zines on the subject which i’ve tracked down and linked to

    Click to access IntViolzine.pdf

    To be fair the first one at least, is more reasonable and thought through than the London Anarcha Feminist offering, although it does seem more focused towards physical violence in relationships.

    I’d be interested in what other people make of this subject: particularly anyone involved in any attempts at “transformative support” within an anarchist community. Perhaps the reality is more nuanced and reasonable than the Freedom article suggests.

  3. Nick Morrell says:

    The article from London Anarcha-Feminist Kolektiv about responses to sexual violence (Freedom Vol 71 No 16) raises some interesting points. However, I would argue that sexual violence and relationship violence are not simply feminist or women’s issues.

    A recent survey by the charity The Havens, who run specialist centres in London for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted, suggested that one in five adults had been in a situation where they were made to have sex when they did not want to. This had happened to 23% of women and 20% of men. Similarly, data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey show that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09.

    Sexual violence and relationship violence is something that needs to be addressed by men and women at the broadest level. To have a productive debate and begin to challenge behaviour, we must recognise and acknowledge the complexity of the issue.

  4. greengiant says:

    Feminists want to replace a patriarchy with a matriarchy, but anarchism is about the deconstruction of all “archisms” so where does Feminism fit in with Anarchism?

  5. greengiant says:

    Concerning prostitution, in the UK male prostitution is permitted but female prostitutes are punished by law, which means that female prostitutes are made vulnerable to rape and murder whereas male prostitutes are not. The dictum of the New Morality that has replaced Christian Morality in the UK is that sex for love with the exception of pedaphilia is acceptable but sex for money where women are concerned is not acceptable.

  6. greengiant says:

    I remember when in 1956 narrow barge transportation ceased upon canals in the UK. The canals became befouled, but at a later date bands of people got together, drained the canals, and removed all rubbish, voluntarily in the best of anarchist non-authoritarian revolutionary socialist fasion. I have seen spontaeous anarchism in action and it works, the canals were cleaned up and made ready for use by pleasure boats and refurbished narrow barges. The authoritarian socialists of the Labour Party nationalised narrow barge transportation then killed it off. Let’s face it, authoritarian socialism can at times do more harm that good. The British Labour Party itself is a non-revolutionary alliance between naves and fools, take slum clearance for example, the tower blocks that replaced the working class terraced houses are worse, we now have slums in the sky, the fools in the Labour Party allowed it to happen, and the knaves in the Labour Party made millions out of construction contacts. Remember Poulson?

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