sexual assault in activist communities

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sexual assault in activist communities



***Warning- graphic stuff here. If you’re a survivor in a bad state, don’t torture yourself. Use your judgement, and if you know it’s going to trigger you badly, call a friend instead, ok? [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img] ***

A copy of a recent issue of the U of Guelph student publication The Peak fell into my hands today- the topic was sexual assault in activist communities. I clipped some bits for discussion, but obviously they’re just bits, so please don’t be mislead into thinking my clips represent the whole thing. Also, there’s all this preamble in the actual issue about genders of pronouns- I’ll just say we all know that all kinds of genders rape/sexually assault and are raped/sexually assaulted.

A woman who was raped by her lover in Seattle on the third day of WTO protests-


[b]Rape is not radical[/b] by Cessie Dare

My lover and I sat in silence at the lecture hall of the University while speakers presented their talks. I was having some issues with what had just happened and how dissociated I was from my body. I felt as though I was one big, gaping, oozing, putrid cunt, and the rest of me had been destroyed

I hadn’t conciously thought of what happened at the WTO as being a rape/sexual assault until six months later(...) I realized that I knew that I had been raped, it had happened at the University during the WTO. It was after the conversation that the veil of denial was lifted and I acknowledged that I had said ‘No’ to my lover before he penetrated me that night in the brightly illuminated stairwell.

I had said ‘No.’ He had fucked me anyway because he had wanted to and could. And to think that all those months were spent blaming myself for his violation of me! And to think this person who raped me is a so-called radical activist!


[b]Real Feminists Don’t Get Raped and Other Fairy Tales[/b] by T-bone Kneegrabber

Sexual assault within progressive communities needs to be dealt with, swiftly and productively. You can easily round up 500 black-clad anarchists to f- s- up at a frat house where rapists live, but someone points a finger at a ‘progressive’ man and all of a sudden there’s a ‘process’; all of a sudden she’s being divisive; all of a sudden she is COINTELPRO.

Survivors of sexual assault within the progressive community are afraid to come forward with their stories and their needs. They have the same fear, shame, guilt as ‘mainstream’ survivors(...) So now there are women being victimized by men they thought they could trust, men who are supposed to be anti-sexist, men who they organize with. Survivors hear again and again about how ‘strong women’ are. Thus echoing through their head is the sentiment of ‘I am a feminist woman, I should have known better. I must be a bad feminist to LET something like this happen to me!’. And then after they work up the nerve to finally come forward, the people who should be supporting them are supporting these men, or remaining eternally ‘neutral’.

Formulaic, because it’s written for ARA, but good basic issues covered that can be used in any group...


[b]ARA’s Outline for a Workshop on Dealing with Sexual Abuse in an Activist Group[/b]

When someone comes forward...You offer them support, telling them you believe them. Encourage them to talk about it with people they trust, and to get counselling (ie rape crisis centres).(...) Tell them that you will respect their decision ([i]on anonymity[/i]), and will try to protect their confidentiality if that’s important to them. Tell people in the group that they are initiating a process to have the abuser held accountable. They ([i]the survivor[/i]) may not want to be involved in the process at all, or they may want to have lots of say in what happens. The group has to deal with the issue in any case. (...)

Dealing with the abuser- ostracism. Our position is that if you rape or sexually abuse someone, you’re out of ARA, bottom-line. Inform them that they are not welcome at events/meetings while things are being figured out. You may be able to have the abuser banned from certain events or places too. (...)If he wasn’t excluded, the survivor would have been effectively excluded.

([i]Telling other groups[/i]) is important, in case the abuser skips town and tries to get involved elsewhere.


[b]First Steps[/b] by Macho America

"One ‘defense’ I keep hearing from perpetrators of sexual assault, usually voiced by their friends, is, ‘That wasn’t rape. If that’s what you call rape, then I’ve raped/been raped dozens of times.’(...) Why is it so hard for us to believe that we could rape or have been raped?

If there isn’t consent, that means it’s rape, and it should be called rape. No one wants to think that rape is something they’re capable of, no one wants to think of themselves as rapist, but pretending isn’t going to make this go away.(...)

Another defense friends of perpetrators come up with is, ‘I know him really well and I can’t believe he would do that.’ We really need to get it through our heads that everyone is capable of sexual assault.

[ September 26, 2002: Message edited by: adlib ]

writer writer's picture

In 1999 I was assaulted by an anarchist known to that community here in Toronto. My partner and I were very public (we sent out 200+ e-mails within a few days). I've written a couple of articles about it. I dedicated a reading from my creepy book to the assailant, by name, at that year's Scream in High Park.

The level of denial from the anarchist community's men was pretty bracing. We did receive a lot of support from many women in those circles, and both men and women associated with but not self-identified as anarchists.

We are now in a very slow-moving process with the assailant. I'm trying to figure out a way to deal with what I've come to think of a hate crime *outside* of the criminal justice system.

All of which is a long-winded preamble to my reaction to the ARA statement. I don't really see ostracism and ostracism alone as a productive or progressive way to respond to sexual assault. The attacker will just move on to new territory.


I wonder whether that could be used against a woman, going public with her accusations. Not that I think it's a bad thing to do - it's a great idea. But I wonder if the assaulter could turn it around on you and sue you for slander or something, especially considering how hard it is to "prove" sexual assault.

I guess that's a part of the thing that keeps women silent when assaulted, huh? The idea that she won't be believed and then get in crap from the community around her for speaking up.

writer writer's picture

Absolutely, Michelle. The specific set of circumstances in my case made that outcome less likely. I had an "upstanding" reputation, my partner had walked into the assault, so there was a witness. A number of people were around to see the fallout of that confrontation. Still, there were whispers and rumours and accusations that Mark and I were making it up.

And many people (mostly men) came down hard on us for the way we responded. One guy even said Mark was complicit with the assaulter because he didn't beat the guy up.


[ September 26, 2002: Message edited by: writer ]


Actually writer, I agree with you about ostracism. But I don't think the survivor should have to ever deal with the assailant again if s/he doesn't want to. Ideally the friends of the attaker will deal with him personally, with the backing of the community's anti-sexist men. But sometimes the friends are defending the rapist, the rapist refuses to face anything, and there is little/no community support. The survivor should have the choice of whether s/he feels like s/he will feel safe with the rapist still kicking around, and if it looks like the community at large is unwilling to take him to task in any useful way, I think it's ok to ostracise the attacker. It's possible to try to keep track of the attacker, and forwarn other groups.

AT any rate, there are no guarantees that the attacker won't split even if they got tons of support, just to avoid having to deal.

I think it's most important to be about the survivor's wishes and autonomy. Harm-reduction is sometimes all you can do. Ideally the attacker has a lot of support and challenge from men in the community to deal with it, but that's just not always the case.

BTW, thanks for sharing your story.

writer writer's picture

I'm actually hoping to set up a more - how do I put it? - formal process. Leaving everything up to a bunch of people who might not be prepared to deal with the heavy shit that comes out from an assault doesn't necessarily help the woman (or man) who's been assaulted.

Having some kind of culturally agreed-to process, with people available who know how to deal, that the community knows it can turn to. And yes, that responds to the needs of the person who's been traumatized. I absolutely agree - s/he isn't obliged to meet with the assaulter, and shouldn't be forced to choose between going to events and seeing him or staying home and feeling a bit safer.

Information about support would ideally be posted in any kind of progressive/anarchist venue, so folks are familiar with what to do. So, when something bad goes down, people aren't stuck trying to invent the wheel, again and again.

I think it would help so much if we could just *talk* about this stuff, rather than be shamed and silenced, or have everyone's old, unprocessed baggage fall out with the latest trauma, as happens so often.

[ September 26, 2002: Message edited by: writer ]


I guess I posted this info because I was tired of the dangerous idea that sexism and sexual assault are less common in activist communities than elsewhere.

I keep hearing the same misconceptions coming from activist men about how so-and-so is a "strong woman", but women who aren't considered "strong" are spoken of with disrespect.

Also. the focus on self-defense courses for women bothers me. I think it's great for people to learn to defend themselves, but I disagree with the idea that it is women's "weakness", or the way they walk that makes us "targets". It also occurs to me that if you are less liekely to be targeted for attack, the potential attacker will simply choose someone else. And at the end of the day, if someone has decided to attack you, no matter how hard you may "fight back", they might still continue. In fact, they may prefer it.

Added to that is that the focus on self-defense courses ignores the reality that women are being assaulted most often by their partners and friends, not strangers.

In my experience one of the hardest things was dealing with the feeling that "real feminists can't be raped". We have to destroy that idea. It's dangerous, damaging, not to mention false.

writer- I really like your ideas for a process and again, thanks. Do you think you could possibly post more info on the process when it is finalized? It would be really helpful I think to women in places where assaults are going on silently.

BLAKE 3:16

adlib -

I'm glad you started this thread, especially with the warnings about the content. The Seattle story is heartbreaking. How's that woman to feel about how great the Seattle demonstrations were? The anti-globalization folks don't seem to have really taken the issue to heart. It's a bit hard to believe - putting hundreds of people together in all sorts of weird places to sleep and not expecting their to be abuse and assaults. Trish Salah wrote about this in Xtra! in Toronto following the Quebec city anti-FTAA demonstrations, but I've seen very little else.

When I was sexually assaulted as a an adult, I went into a lot of denial - for various reasons, but one of them was that I'd be considered homophobic, or I'd be perpetuating homophobia, or and on and on and on. Some of the anarchist or hippy/punk milieus are perfect for predators - no last names, no fixed addresses, vulnerible young people hoping for a better world often without a clear sense of how social change happens.

And this is easier said than done, when folks call someone on their abusive behaviour and are called "divisive", it needs to be made clear that it is the person(s) who commited the assault and people complicit with it, who are the "divisive" ones.

trasie trasie's picture

I think it's time that activist communities addressed this head-on. When they were talking about having a camp for the G8 in Kananaskis, one of the reasons I (and other women) hesitated to endorse it was because it seemed like the perfect opportunity for rapists. When we brought up these concerns, there was surprise from other activists. We even looked at the logistics of having a women's tent (we would have had to provide our own tent, as the others were spoken for by more important concerns) with on-site counsellors; how we could/would get someone to the hospital for a rape kit; if we could arrange a wommin's only area; etc. All things no one else would discuss.

I am constantly amazed at every community that claims rape/wife abuse/etc. does not happen in their community. It happens everywhere, to everyone.




Some of the anarchist or hippy/punk milieus are perfect for predators - no last names, no fixed addresses, vulnerible young people hoping for a better world often without a clear sense of how social change happens.

It's true. I think we need to change that. We need to train ourselves to automatically think of setting up support for assault survivors at every large "sleepover" event, we need to share ideas as to how to deal with this on a regular basis.

I think the more survivors dialogue about this, the more we destroy the silence that makes for a perfect breeding ground for sexual assault. We have to talk about relationships and respect. How long will it take for some people to start getting that personal/political thing?


And this is easier said than done, when folks call someone on their abusive behaviour and are called "divisive", it needs to be made clear that it is the person(s) who commited the assault and people complicit with it, who are the "divisive" ones.

That's such a classic silencing tactic- shoot the messenger, etc. The problem is the shit, not the shit-disturber.


We even looked at the logistics of having a women's tent (we would have had to provide our own tent, as the others were spoken for by more important concerns) with on-site counsellors; how we could/would get someone to the hospital for a rape kit; if we could arrange a wommin's only area; etc.

A crisis area, and crisis team, should totally be as much a part of every conference/event that lasts more than a day as the child-care, housing, medics, and other necessities. Sexual assault is not the only thing that could happen at an event like the ones we're talking about. People get training as to what to do during arrest- when I give those trainings, I try to mention stuff like 'what will you do if someone starts to have flashbacks in the cop car of the last time she was in one: the night she was raped?' 'what do you do if a there is a trans person that has been arrested in order to try to minimize the danger for them?' 'how do you deal with someone having a panic attack in a crowd situation?' 'what do you do if your friend grabs your hand while you are all pinned together and tells you that someone is grabbing her body from behind?'. We need to prepare ourselves for the realities of dealing with large groups of people. Large groups means huge chances of people that are dealing with god-knows-what. How do we work to minimize potential for abuse/assault, and deal with all the effects of people's past experiences that are likely to come up in these situations?


All things no one else would discuss.
I am constantly amazed at every community that claims rape/wife abuse/etc. does not happen in their community. It happens everywhere, to everyone.

People don't want to talk about it because it's messy, because it's "personal", because it requires taking responsibility for crap in our communities. It's a very dangerous atmosphere for everyone when people think that "strong women" or "enlightened" men make sexual assault in our communities an impossibility. As you say, it's everywhere, and until we address it, it will continue.


bumping my own topic...

BLAKE 3:16

Thanks adlib for your comments and ideas -- I'm in 100% agreement wth what you're saying.

I think we need to to address these issues in our political organizing. One of the things I've been trying to do lately is to distribute material about date rapists and stalkers on campus. The women I am going to school with or work with are more concerned about being safe at night and trying to survive in a totally fucked up world, than the next summit hop or whatever the common parlance is. HOWEVER, in further agreement with you (I hope), we need to hold left, progressive, activist, or whatnot especially accountable -- rape by an anti-capitalist or whatever [I can't think of a good word for someone who embraces emancipatory politics and "activist" is overused] is a betrayal of those politics.

They are traitors.

On another note, I think it's also really important to work to expand services to men who've been abused or sexually assaulted. Trying to find support is very difficult -- in Toronto there are two groups, neither of which I'd be eligible for. What's a boy to do? The cycles have to stop. Now. ASAP. PDQ.

[ October 04, 2002: Message edited by: BLAKE 3:16 ]


Sure agree on both points, Blake. I lived with a torture survivor who was raped in prison in his country, and there are services for torture and massacre survivors - in Toronto CCVT - Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, in Montreal the RIVO - Rйseau des intervenant-e-s pour les survivantes (I think) de violences organisйes. But fewer such centres for men and boys who have been victims of such violence outside prisons or wars.

Gross and violent sexism, even when it isn't technically rape (including "date rape", conjugal rape and violent spousal abuse) should be no more acceptable on the left than racism is. I agree, as per another thread, that more affirmative steps must be taken against systemic racism, but the way women - or gay people - are still treated in many progressive, militant circles would never be accepted if it were bashing a person from a "non-white" group, or crossing a picket line and other treasonous behaviour.

However, I do hope to get in a bit of "summit hopping" next month. Depends on if they need me...


Blake- It is true that there are always more services needed for survivors of all genders. I have a close friend who is a trans man, and was abused as a child. Which group does he go to? The women's groups don't want him, because he looks like a man. He even tried explaining to them, but they kept calling him a her, and talking about "us girls". But try going into the men's group and telling them that a family member used to feel up your boobs....

At the same time, I understand the need for gender-segregated survivor groups to a degree. I would probably feel less comfortable if there were men in a group, and I think a lot of men feel pressure to be "manly" in mixed groups.

I don't know.

lagatta- The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Student Services has several groups. They have queer men's, queer women's, women's, and men's survivors of sexual assault groups, and women's and men's survivors of child sexual abuse groups, and an eating disorders group.

There also might be some groups attached to the YMCA, but I'm not sure.

I think a lot of people in radical circles see this kind of thing as [i]personal[/i], and don't get the whole "personal is political" thing.


BLAKE: [i]And this is easier said than done, when folks call someone on their abusive behaviour and are called "divisive", it needs to be made clear that it is the person(s) who commited the assault and people complicit with it, who are the "divisive" ones.[/i]

Oy! Funny you should say that, Blake. That psychological dynamic is the whole reason [i]this post[/i] is my [i]last[/i] one on BABBLE! (Check out the other thread!) I can't tolerate that whole gestalt too easily, since that has [i]always[/i] been the dominant pattern in my own life, too. (As Adlib said, I believe it is called "triggering"!)

Very good thread, Adlib. Thank you for bringing these things to our attention, as unpleasant as they are.

As we say here in the south, yall play nice. [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

[ October 06, 2002: Message edited by: SuperGimp ]

BLAKE 3:16

comments withdrawn

[ October 15, 2002: Message edited by: BLAKE 3:16 ]

this little girl

are there any people who originally posted on this thread or other folks who have experience dealing with this issue on a (activist) community level?

i am looking for some ideas on how to deal with a very complicated situation that i am involved with. please pm me if you are willing to discuss.

thank you.


Posting so the RSR's tirade won't be adjacent to this thread title on TAT. (It just bothers me.)

Edited: Whoops! Guess I didn't need to! [img]redface.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 16 February 2005: Message edited by: dokidoki ]

audra trower wi...

Bumping this for Cessie Dare.


Regarding the Self defense classes- I sort of think they're less about preventing attacks, and more about making women feel less afraid for their safety in certain situations, even ones as simple as walking alone after dark.

Ethical Redneck

Holy Shuckins! This is pretty unnerving. My oldest is starting to attend activist oriented events like some of those described here.

I hadn't even thought that she could be in any real danger. Now even here there is a real threat! Anarchists engaging in sexual assault and then denying it?! I guess this is an extreme example of people talking the talk without walking the walk.

I realize a lot of these types of events are very informal, and that's good in a way. But the ones my wife and I have been involved in organizing in the past always had First Aid, and self-policing included. I know this might not deal specifically with an assault or rape, but some sort of security and record keeping system might be wise.

As a parent, after reading this, I can't help but start to feel angry and a bit paranoid. Is absolutely nothing safe out there nowadays?


Well no, nothing is safe. Usually, I'd add that more often or not our fears are overblown.

But it seems to me I know far too many women in my life who have been sexually assaulted for me to believe that it's a situtation where media coverage exagerates and feeds our fears.

I have three daughters. I worry constantly. I also worry about my worry having a negative effect on them.

We worry about the stranger, when it seems to me it's the rapist you know that should be our greater concern. But who wants to look at your neighbor, your family, your friends in that light? So we usually don't.

It doesn't in the least surprise me that women active in leftist, left of center, or progressive politics or activism have been sexually assaulted by men in these groups.


worth the read


[url=]Activist Scenes are No Safe Space for Women: On Abuse of Activist Women by Activist Men [/url]
By Tamara K. Nopper

As a woman who has experienced physical and emotional abuse from men, some of whom I had long relationships with, it is always difficult to learn from other activist women that they are being abused by activist men.

The interrelated issues of sexism, misogyny and homophobia in activist circles is rampant, so it is unsurprising that women are abused physically and emotionally by activist men with whom they work with on various projects.

I am not speaking abstractedly here. Indeed, I know of various relationships between activist men and women in which the latter is being abused if not physically, emotionally. For example, a long time ago a friend of mine showed me bruises on her arm that she told me were from another male activist. This woman certainly struggles emotionally, which is somewhat expected given that she has experienced physical abuse. What was additionally heartbreaking to see is how the woman was shunned by activist circles when she tried to talk about her abuse or have it addressed. Some told her to get over it, or to focus on “real” male assholes such as prominent political figures. Others told her to not let her “personal problems” get in the way of “doing the work.”

[url=]Read the rest... [/url]

[Message edited to add info on the below]


[url=]Born In Flames Conferenece[/url]


Two years ago, a new surge of community organizing in Portland rose to confront sexist behavior and issues surrounding sexual assault. Meetings, debates, actions,grass roots organizing, and collectives formed to create discussion about these sensitive topics, and support survivors of sexual assault while holding perpetrators accountable. The energy and work of dedicated people continues to create safer spaces for survivors and communities to comfortably and safely attend and participate in public events, shows and daily activities. Safer spaces are vital to survivors' lives and healthy intentional communities.

However, there is still a long way to go. A great need still exists in the entire progressive community for dialogue and action regarding issues of sexual assault. With all this energy culminating and visions forming for the road ahead a conference was born. We are a group of people from various left/radical/activist communities that are putting together a 3-day conference called Born In Flames.The Born in Flames Conference will provide a time and place to share ideas, experience and education, and to raise awareness through workshops, discussions and speakers. This conference aims to empower and emphasize the voices of survivors and their allies within a safer space. We need workshop coordinators, keynote speakers, your input, your ideas, donations, volunteers, and suggestions.


Our statement of purpose is as follows:
Born In Flames is a 3-day conference addressing sexual assault from a radical perspective and addressing the unique needs our communities have. We will focus on education, support and accountability. We would like people from all over to come and share their ideas and experiences. Also, we are looking for volunteers, workshop facilitators and donations.

The opening day will focus on community and personal education, with a goal of empowering participants with tools and knowledge that will useful for the remainder of the conference. Workshops with break down myths and develop a broad understanding of sexual assault, as well as how it can effect people in different ways.

The second day will focus on support. Workshops and discussions will be geared towards providing information, tools and resources for survivors to become public as well as where and how to find outside support. This day will also present skills to create a whole community more supportive of survivors.

The final day of workshops we hope to hash out a common understanding of accountability in our communities, and to develop an understanding around this idea but know there can never be one set definition. We will look at past examples and work toward new sustainable, creative solutions.

We need workshop coordinators, keynote speakers, your input, your ideas, donations, volunteers, and suggestions.
Please Register

[ 29 March 2005: Message edited by: Mick ]


It's all part of a continuum of sexual aggression. Here's a part of a post [url=]... my blog[url] about my own sexism:


Another case in point. Years ago, I was in the habit of hugging people a lot, friends, strangers whoever... At one anarchist gathering in Vancouver (1991 I think), I got pulled aside and told to cool it. Apparently I had scared a woman because she wasn't prepared for it. I got very defensive because (I thought to myself) I hadn't done anything wrong. Hugging is good, right? Human contact, all that stuff. Well, in a perfect world, yes... but the fact is that I was acting in a dominant way... pushing my wants and expectations of human behaviour onto other people. That woman pointed all this out to me. That although I was acting in what should be an acceptable manner, it wasn't actually acceptable in the space that we were in. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but it's one that I've tried to internalize. That even good intentions aren't enough, that as men we have to accept that even if we as individuals aren't completely to blame, we have to take responsibility. We have to not only do no harm, but try and make up for some of the harm already done.

Now what I did wasn't rape, but it's part of the same continuum. I am grateful to the woman who called me on my sexist bullshit, but the fact is that I had been acting that way for a couple of years, and who knows how many people I may have scared before I got called on it. Bearing in mind that at the time I was a 6'4" eighteen year old, I look back and think of how scary I could have been to some.

As I said, it's a continuum, but calling people on the little stuff is just as important in creating an atmosphere where woman will feel as if they can come forward, and where they know they will be suppported when the big stuff happens. And rape does happen in activist circles. It shouldn't.

writer writer's picture