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:
- "Progressive Labor Party Defends Rapists"
- "How PLP Unwittingly Confesses to Misogyny and What We Can Do About It"
- "Revolutionary Heartbreak: Why Every Single Rapist Has to Go"
- "a short piece on sexual assault and activism in Southern California"
- "Macktivists, Brocialists, and Manarchists are We All: Exorcizing the Demons in Our Movement and Ourselves"
- Statement from reform caucus of UAW 2865, UC Student Workers' Union