Open Letter to Radical Communities on Sexual Assault

by Philly's Pissed

The following is a letter drafted by Philly?s Pissed & Philly Stands Up, two groups formed in response to sexual assaults occurring within the radical/punk communities in Philadelphia. They are included in order to provide alternative viewpoint on how to address sexual assault within communities.     
We are a two groups working together to combat sexual abuse. While rape and sexual assault are prevalent issues within our communities, we have noticed that when a survivor publicizes their story within said community, a few common reactions occur: Friends of the assaulter often respond with, ?X would never do that.? 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. People demand specifics, some sort of ?proof? that an assault occurred. Folks claim to be allies, but do so in a way that undermines the validity of other 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 band mate 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 explore the insidious nature of patriarchy, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and privilege that we like to think our radical community is immune to. When zinester Rich Mackin spoke with his friends about his actions after being called out publicly as a perpetrator, they told him they had always found his behavior to be overtly and at times offensively sexual. Before survivors came out, NO ONE THOUGHT TO TELL HIM THAT HIS ACTIONS WERE NOT ACCEPTABLE.
We demand that members of our community listen to all survivors with an open mind and with an eye to the intersecting nature of patriarchy, class, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and privilege that allows such behavior to occur without reprise. We further demand that our community 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.

And the subtler, but no less harmful-
c) People demand specifics, some sort of ?proof? that an assault occurred.

The sentiment expressed is one that contributes to the climate where survivors are fearful to come forward with their stories. It creates the air that they will be disbelieved and questioned (as they so often are). It is for the survivor to decide and to expect the support from the people around them, even in the face of that miniscule percentage of false accusations. These situations are rarely clear. We know enough to not think that rape is only when some stranger jumps out of a dark alley and puts a knife to your throat. It must be at the forefront that statistically false accusations are minimal and that condemning someone of falsely accusing is the usually the first defense of an actual assaulter.

A community working on sexual assault cannot be one that puts a person who comes forward as being sexually assaulted on trial to find facts. If we are perceived as a community that does not unconditionally support survivors, it compromises the entire community. This does not allow for a safety net to deal with false accusations, but waiting until absolute truth can be established before acting on these situations would kill any movement forward we would try and make. And once again that would involve putting a survivor on trial to make them prove themselves before support is offered.
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 other survivors? experiences.
This follows along with the above responses, oftentimes validating the demands of a particular survivor but questioning another?s. This further plays into multiple power dynamics:
1) an individual or community having the ability to ?choose? whether to believe someone or not, based on often arbitrary variables,
2) the re-traumatization of a survivor having to deal with their assault in a public manner,
3) the initial power the perpetrator had over the survivor and continues to have, as it is much simpler to call someone a liar than to publicly ?prove? that assault occurred.
Coming forward with an assault is something that will result in a survivor?s loss of personal power more than one time and as ALLIES we do whatever we can to NOT contribute to that process.
Additionally, true allies are not concerned with publicly supporting survivors as a way to make yourself 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 community submerge 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 our community?s need for transformation into a place where sexual assault is not acceptable.

We submit these demands based on our individual and group experience working with survivors of sexual assault. We submit these demands based on the hurt and trauma that our community members have suffered at the hands of malicious and malingering responses to their experiences of sexual assault. We submit these demands based on our faith that we, as a community, 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 UpContact us at phillyspissed (at) safe-mail.net or phillymen (at) riseup.net