Guest Columnist #82 - Philly's Pissed

An open letter to our communities about dealing with sexual assault:
    We are a two Philadelphia groups working together to combat sexual violence. Rape and sexual assault are prevalent issues within radical communities, and we have noticed that when a survivor makes their story public within their communities, a few common reactions occur:
a) Friends of the assaulter often respond with, “X would never do that.”
b) Some will accuse the survivor of being a liar, looking for attention, seeking vengeance or shirking responsibility for a consensual act that they later “changed their mind” about.
c) People demand specifics, some sort of “proof” that an assault occurred.
d) Folks claim to be allies, but do so in a way that undermines the validity of survivors’ experiences.
    None of these responses are acceptable and we demand that our communities, both in Philadelphia and across the  country, examine and challenge these responses.

a) Friends of the assaulter often respond with, “X would never do that.”
    Of course they do. No one wants to think that a friend, fellow activist or bandmate is capable of sexual violence. Making this even more difficult is that acknowledging that a friend may be capable of this involves a knowledge of, and willingness to critically examine, the pervasive nature of patriarchy, classism, sexism, racism, agism, ablism, homophobia, transphobia and abuse of privileges that we like to think our radical communities are immune to.
    We demand that members of our communities listen to all survivors with an open mind and with an eye to the complex intersecting nature of oppressions and privileges that allow such behavior to occur without reprise. We further demand that our communities call out behaviors that display  inappropriate and offensive sexual conduct.

b) Some will accuse the survivor of being a liar, looking for attention, seeking vengeance or shirking responsibility for a consensual act that they later “changed their mind” about.
Several facts to keep in mind:
-Statistically, false accusations of sexual assault are very rare.
-Assaulters almost ALWAYS claim they are being falsely accused.
-Why would anyone volunteer to be treated like survivors get treated in our communities?
We demand that members of our community express unconditional belief of survivors.

c) People demand specifics, some sort of “proof” that an assault occurred.
    These reactions contribute to the climate where survivors are fearful of coming forward with their stories. In a truly radical community, survivors would expect and receive unqualified support from the people around them.
    Our communities are not being supportive when survivors are doubted or when proof is demanded in order to respond to sexual assault. When this happens our communities are re-traumatizing the survivor, and are complicit in maintaining the power the perpetrator has over the survivor (it is much simpler to call someone a liar than to publicly “prove” that assault occurred.)
    We demand that members of our community unconditionally support survivors and work to ensure that survivors’ demands are followed  through.

d) Folks claim to be allies, but do so in a way that undermines the validity of survivors’ experiences.
    Coming forward about assault is something that frequently results in a survivor’s loss of personal power multiple times, and as ALLIES we do whatever we can to NOT contribute to that process.
    True allies are not concerned with publicly supporting survivors as a way to make themselves look good. No matter what your involvement is in combating sexual assault, it is not about your ego; it’s about making change.
    We demand that the members of our communities surrender the personal gain they stand to benefit from supporting survivors and instead provide their unconditional support to combating sexual assault. We demand that the focus be on the survivor’s needs and on the need for the transformation of our communities into a places where sexual assault is not acceptable.

    We submit these demands based on our individual and group experiences working with survivors of sexual assault. We submit these demands based on the hurt and trauma that members of our communities have suffered at the hands of malicious and indifferent responses to their experiences of sexual assault. We submit these demands based on our faith that as communities we are strong enough to autonomously deal with our problems, even those that are contributed to and shaped by outside forces. We submit these demands based on our hope that one day survivors will be able to safely name their perpetrators and receive the support they need.
    In Solidarity, Philly’s Pissed & Philly Stands Up
    Contact us at phillyspissed@safe-mail.net or phillymen@riseup.net
(contact info from 2005 -ed)