A Solidarity Statement on Sexual Violence and the Left

The organized left, both socialist and anarchist, has been faced with the problems of rape and other forms of interpersonal violence in our movements in a particularly intense way in the past few months. Over 120 members have publicly resigned from the British Socialist Workers Party following repeated actions taken by the Central Committee to demean and silence survivors and their allies while failing to hold aggressors accountable. In the aftermath of Occupy, traumatic events that occurred within encampments and in related social and political scenes are now being widely discussed and debated. The topic of rape has momentarily broken out of the wall of silence in broader society as well, with widespread public discussion around cases such as the gang rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in December and the Steubenville, Ohio “rape crew.”

This heightened discussion of and attention to the topic of rape is a good thing for the left if we take this opportunity not only to call out the problem of gendered violence in the world, but to get our own houses in order. A case which came to our attention in December, involving an anarchist activist who was raped by a longtime friend and fellow organizer who was a member of the Progressive Labor Party, exposes a disturbing level of resistance to acknowledging and confronting issues of sexual violence. We highlight this case here in response to a call for support from the survivor and her close allies; we think it is important for the socialist left to take a stand.

With the support of allies, the survivor brought this case to the PLP and demanded that the aggressor be held accountable. After an initial meeting with the survivor and her allies, the PLP stalled on follow-up with the survivor and her allies for months, never providing support for the survivor, clarity as to whether they were taking her report seriously, transparency around their process, or agreeing to meaningful, concrete accountability for the aggressor, at times demanding “conclusive proof” of rape from the survivor, at times admitting the aggressor’s culpability.

The survivor and her allies, frustrated by the stonewalling, eventually released a public statement about this matter. The PLP responded by accusing the survivor and her allies of behaving as “informant-provocateurs” while claiming to fight “sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny in every aspect.” This letter did not include any reflection on what had gone so wrong with their own process that a survivor would feel the need to take the difficult step of releasing a public statement.

We do not criticize the PLP’s process here from a position of superiority, but from the standpoint that the question of sexual violence needs to be addressed by the left urgently and seriously. When we engage in victim-blaming, silence survivors, and ignore or dismiss charges of sexual violence, we are feeding the rape culture within our organizations and movements. When we shield an aggressor from accountability processes that might be uncomfortable or disruptive and instead facilitate an aggressor's return to a “normal life” as quickly as possible, we send the message that the comfort of aggressors is more important than the safety and healing of survivors. These tendencies, far too common on the left, create an oppressive environment for survivors and for groups of people who are regularly exposed to sexual violence, including women and LGBTQ people.

Our commitments to fighting sexism and patriarchy demand that we dedicate time and resources to combating rape culture, supporting and listening to survivors, finding ways to hold aggressors accountable for the trauma they have inflicted upon others, and educating each other on consensual sexual relations, not only in the world but in our own intimate relationships and movement spaces. We do not see any possibility of building genuinely socialist, radical, or revolutionary movements if these movements refuse to address fully and respond to accusations of sexual violence, do not actively oppose gender and sexual oppression, or push to the margins women, LGBTQ people, and survivors of sexual violence.

Reflecting on the PLP case, the SWP case, and others has led us to begin a process of reflecting on our own organizational practices for dealing with rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and other forms of interpersonal violence. These instances occupy our attention for good reason – if poorly handled or ignored, they bring out all of the worst features of an organization’s functioning, and groups can easily degenerate under the weight of our own failure to confront matters in a forthright, healthy manner. At the same time, rape culture and gendered violence constitute a pervasive, all too “normal” everyday cultural and organizational backdrop that we need to undo if we are to create organizationally healthy, feminist spaces that reflect the kind of liberation and justice we want to see in the world. We hope others on the left will take up these questions as well.

Background on this case:

pleased to see a statement

Im glad the committee came out with a statement on this issue. I also agree with Cassandra that this statement does not go far enough. While Solidarity is not a DC organization and cannot forbid members form collaborating with individualis or groups it has problems with, I think it would have been wise for the committee to ALERT the branch in New York more formally (Im a member and I know about this but through the "grapevine" so to speak) and to publically recommend that Solidarity members not work with this fool both as a statement of support and a safety measure for possibly unwitting solidarity members.

Can you please share some

Can you please share some specific ways in which you are addressing these issues, at least at present? We ask because "education, advocacy, and changing organizational practice" to eliminate rape and rape culture are extremely difficult and we would like to learn how to better do this.

What we're working on

We are planning to make this an important part of our summer school and convention this July. Our committee on sexual violence, which drafted this statement, is working on a set of policy, procedure, and best practice proposals to present to our organization for how to deal with cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and intimate partner violence that arise involving members of our group. It includes a statement of our principles in regards to sexual violence, sexual harassment, and intimate partner violence, a policy / procedure breakdown for how we would handle cases when they come up, an outline of some elements of an accountability process for those cases which we think could profitably be referred to that kind of process, an outline of the functioning of a national committee to deal with these cases that would provide resources to branches in some cases and possibly take the lead in investigations or accountability processes in others, and a statement on making sure our processes put the needs and healing of survivors at the center and talking about what that looks like. We're also developing an educational on consensual sexual activity that all current and new members would go through in order to ensure that the entire membership understands the meaning and importance of consent.

We're still in the early part of drafting those proposals and are working through our principles and a number of substantive political differences which, as you can imagine, are challenging and intense to work through even in a small committee. We're not yet ready to make a draft of those public (nor do we yet have a draft ready for Solidarity members). However, we're working on that right now, and should have something in the next couple of months.

I'd agree that this is extremely difficult, and we've been learning by engaging with a number of materials from other groups, including your blog. Thank you for maintaining it as a resource for our movements.

"rape is bad" is not enough

The statement from Solidarity regarding sexual violence in the organized Left is a welcome start, but it fails to go far enough in taking a meaningful stand on the issue. While we commend Solidarity for reflecting internally on how they can better deal with sexual violence, we call on the organization to deal with the Progressive Labor Party’s defense of rapists more seriously by publicly rejecting working with PLP. By doing so, Solidarity would be able to live up to their own statement, which claims that their “commitments to fighting sexism and patriarchy demand that [they] dedicate time and resources to combating rape culture [and] supporting and listening to survivors.” Thus far, they have failed to listen to the survivor in question here regarding the kind of support she has asked for.

In the initial public statement exposing Seth Miller as a rapist and castigating PLP for defending him, this blog issued a general call for PLP to be excluded from all activism and organizing spaces. This constitutes the bare minimum both of support for the person harmed by Seth and of the measures that must be taken to help prevent further harm. Refusing to work with PLP is not only a statement of solidarity against rape and rape culture, as well as a way to put pressure on PLP; it is also a practical safety issue, as the presence of an organization like PLP that harbors and defends rapists would make any organizing space unsafe for others.

The fact that Solidarity and PLP do not currently work together organizationally makes it a particularly low-risk issue for Solidarity to take a stand on. We understand that Solidarity is comprised of a diverse group of activists belonging to various traditions, who may not agree on all things but share some basic political principals. We therefore call on Solidarity to make refusal to work with organizations that actively harbor and defend rapists something that all Solidarity members can agree on.

Thank you for your response

Thank you for your response to our statement. We hear your frustration and regret that we have been unable to fully meet the survivor's requests. Please know that we support your struggle for accountability and healing. As a committee, we are at the beginning of a long term process to build a culture of consent within our own organization and on the left more broadly. We intend to follow the statement above with education, advocacy, changes in organizational practice, and other actions that will integrate our feminist principles more fully into our work.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <b> </b> <br> <br /> <a> </a> <em> </em> <strong> </strong> <cite> </cite> <code> </code> <ul> </ul> <ol> </ol> <li> </li> <dl> </dl> <dt> </dt> <dd> </dd> <div> </div> <img> <style> <font> </font> <blockquote> </blockquote> <hr>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.