Everyday Feminism

Stop Thinking Like a Perpetrator: 4 Ways to Better Support Survivors of Sexual Violence

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence and Rape Culture

It’s been heartening to see the ways that sexual violence is being discussed more comprehensively and holistically in public discourse these days. More than anything else, the credit for this development rests with the brave survivors who are choosing to speak out and tell their stories while pressuring colleges, universities, and all levels of government to be more responsive to the needs of survivors.

From Know Your IX and SurvJustice, to brave individuals like Zerlina Maxwell, Angie Epifano,Wagatwe Wanjuki, and the countless others who are stepping up to share their stories, we’re witnessing a movement.

This movement has transformed many universities’ approaches to sexual violence prevention and response, and it has even made it to the U.S. Congress and the White House, with Obama standing up for all survivors of rape in a way no other U.S. president has done:

Yet whenever a movement for justice makes strides forward, there is the inevitable backlash.

You’ve got the Todd Akins of the world trying to parcel out what’s “legitimate rape.” You’ve got the Glenn Becks (or at least his employees) mocking people whose experiences with sexual violence don’t match their narrow concept of rape.

More recently, resistance came in the form of a “logic puzzle” of sorts from the ever-infuriating, self-appointed spokesperson for all atheists, Richard Dawkins:

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Fortunately many people spoke out powerfully against Dawkins’ “example:”

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These conceptions of sexual violence attempt to lay people’s trauma on a spectrum with one end being “shut up, it’s not that bad” and the other end being “legitimate rape.”

All this ends up doing is denying the realities and pain of survivors.

Simply put, this is perpetrator logic. Perpetrator logic says that the person impacted doesn’t get to say whether something was traumatic. The only opinions that matter are those of the perpetrator and those who defend their actions by writing off some violence as “lesser” than others.

Perpetrator logic claims that rates of sexual violence are exaggerated by feminists who define the term too broadly. After all, defining “rape” so broadly might actually mean that I’m a perpetrator of violence, even if it didn’t look like what I picture a rapist to be.

The impact of perpetrator logic, then, is the silencing of survivors. When you know people won’t believe you or give you the public and private support you need to heal, you’re far less likely to share your experience, even with loved ones.

When you’ll be shamed and questioned, you are far less likely to speak out publicly about sexual violence.

And when you know you’ll be treated like you’re the one who did something wrong within the legal system, you are far less likely to report to the police. And some wonder why rates of reporting are so low!

Collectively, we need to move away from perpetrator logic. We need to move away from that logic which attempts to define for survivors what their experience was, and we need to empower more survivors to find the healing they need.

Here are four important things we need to do in order to abandon perpetrator logic:

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

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SVC volunteers and trainers from INCITE Minneapolis circle up before class.  Photo courtesy of SVC's Facebook

The Healing Power of Community

Every year, I struggle when the days get shorter, grayer, and colder.

I feel the sadness and inertia creep over me around the middle of November, and I grapple with it well into March or April. Never, though, has it been as intense as it’s been since moving to Minnesota (or Minnesnowta, as I like to call it).

In addition to the simple weight of the season, I’ve also been wrestling with some personal hurt and trauma, as well as the hurt and trauma of some people I love so very much.

As a result, even getting out of bed has been a struggle lately, and I’ve had to build extra structure into my schedule to make sure that I accomplish even the bare minimum of the hefty load on my plate.

So you can imagine my loving partner’s response when I told her that I would be spending the months of January and February in a 45-hour sexual assault survivor’s advocacy training through an amazing organization called the Sexual Violence Center.

“Jamie, is spending between seven and thirteen hours a week in a class that deals solely with sexual violence (not to mention the extra homework) the best thing for you right now?”

And honestly, I couldn’t give her a good answer.

The truth is that I was afraid that all of this talk of trauma and violence would only add to the weight that I’ve been carrying during this difficult time.

Yet, seemingly inexplicably, the class has helped tremendously.

I couldn’t explain why until a recent counseling session when my counselor asked about the class. I told her about my partner’s concern, and in my explanation, the words came to me.

“At first I was worried she was right, that the training program would make some of my other struggles worse. But when I’m sorting through the impact that sexual violence has had on my life and on the lives of those I love, what better place to be than with 25 other people who care deeply and passionately about eradicating sexual violence? It’s brilliant actually!”

A few days later, Daniela, one of the activist trainers from our program, tweeted something with the hashtag #communalcare.

That’s it! That hashtag named it.

As important as self-care can be, for many of us, communal care is equally as vital!

Holding Space

Obviously not all community or communal time is healthy and healing.

If you feel anxious in large groups, going out with friends to a concert (even of a band you really like) may not necessarily be healing or self-care for you. And even communal experiences that we enjoy may not be ones that help us to cope with or heal from the weight or trauma we carry in our lives.

But healing community is about holding space: holding space for love, care, reflection, laughter, crying, feeling what we’re feeling, dancing, screaming, sorting through, moving past, sitting with, or for whatever else we may need.

Healing community is not about putting our problems off on another person, but about holding space for us to set down the weight we’re carrying for a while, and sometimes it’s even about letting others hold and share our weight while we do the same for them.

In the words of one of the wonderful advocates in training from my class,“Everybody has issues, and [in this space], we’re all just healing with each other.”

SVC volunteers and trainers from INCITE Minneapolis circle up before class.  Photo courtesy of SVC's Facebook

SVC volunteers and trainers from INCITE Minneapolis circle up before class. Photo courtesy of SVC’s Facebook

I can tell you without a shred of doubt that spending time every week for two months talking about sexual violence with people who are not intentional activists and advocates would be quite the opposite of communal care.

But the space held within the advocates training program intentionally focuses on care, healing, and sensitivity, even when we’re talking about those things that make my chest tighten and my breath shorten.

As a result, when I feel that tightness in my chest, I know there are people whose chests are tightening with me, and I know there are people who are also ready and willing to hold space for me to talk through why my breath has shortened.

And more often than not, just knowing that space is being held is all it takes for me to breathe deeply and allow my chest to open, letting light into a dark space.

Communal Care for Introverts

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Community Heals

I’ve been thinking a lot about healing in the last week.  Last weekend I was at my Alma Mater, Earlham College, to speak at New Student Orientation, and I realized that many people are just beginning to move past grief and into healing after two students were lost to a tragic car accident this summer.

I’ve also been present with the sad anniversary that approaches for me, the 5-year anniversary of my close friend’s suicide and the healing that I have been able to do in my life as well as the healing that I must still do.

I also had the incredible fortune of speaking at the 3rd Annual Tennessee Rape Prevention and Education Institute this week, and it was great to take some time to focus on the healing survivors experience that we rarely see in the work of primary intervention, as most of the participants were police officers, advocates, shelter operators, and agency staff.

In the midst of hustle and bustle like in the new school year at Earlham, in my busy life, and in the midst of a focus on the hurt and pain that often comes with the work of those at the conference, Healing is Vital.

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