Femcells South would like to release a statement regarding the creation of safer spaces, the prevention of abuse in activist circles (and beyond), and the processes put in place for where such abuse has occurred.
Firstly, we believe the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are not themselves unclear or in any way confusing. Whilst circumstance and context inevitably have their role to play it is disingenuous and mimics wider patriarchal mores to pretend that you ‘didn’t realize’, or ‘got mixed signals’. If you aren’t sure whether your behaviour crosses a line, err on the side of caution jackass, or expect to face consequences. The fact is that within the activist movement we continue to experience the objectification of women, the silencing of their voices, the dismissal of their contribution, and the marginalization of their worth as comrades. Unwanted physical contact, rape, bullying, persistent and aggressive sexual overtures and inappropriate or insulting comments are the result of an activist movement which has allowed wider societal hatred of women to combine with a faux-libertarian permissiveness – the idea that one can do as one pleases here on the margins. We challenge violent misogyny ‘out there’ but we can’t stand to look closer to home where our friends, comrades and allies are perpetrating or apologizing for precisely the same violations.
Secondly, we acknowledge and applaud the fact that recently groups have been talking about this issue. That women have been coming together and comparing their experiences. It is clear that many of us, the majority of us in fact, have survived some form of abuse where we might have expected to be most protected. These discussions have resulted in a number of processes being put in place where specific perpetrators have been challenged, their victims given voice, and their actions let known to the wider community. These are delicate and embryonic attempts and will necessarily need some moderation but we reject the recent contentions that exclusion from events and social gatherings has no value, that wide communication on these cases is in itself a danger, or that in attempting to bring about accountability we run the risk of being ‘anarchist police’ or ‘judge jury and executioner’.
The fact is to exclude those who attack or abuse those near to them (or are suspected of such) is not a punitive measure, and it does have a rational basis. It is not mere punishment when it goes hand in hand with a process set up to detangle and open up the events to wider scrutiny. If we are to address the issue of abuse in our communities then we must, we absolutely must, ensure that those survivors who come forward are protected and that further harm cannot be perpetrated in the interim period between an accusation and the conclusion of an accountability process. Broad warnings, and formal exclusion from groups and actions go some way to achieving this. It is not a perfect tool, but it is far better than the damage we risk by embracing the alternative and doing nothing.
There has also been complaints that these accusations ‘go viral’, that ‘mud sticks’ and that rumour, whispers and misinformation place the accused at risk of protracted and unfair alienation or even physical violence. We believe it is vital that formal information in these cases be spread to protect everyone involved. We all know of individuals who move from group to group committing exactly the same kind of violations again and again, and it seems that for a formal statement of accusation to be disseminated is the only way of ensuring this cycle cannot continue. With regards to the potential damage to the reputation of the perpetrator, the sooner we as a community get into a habit of carrying out these investigations the sooner we can scotch dangerous and unfair rumours by making them null and void in the face of a formal investigation. If you don’t want the twitterati to be bleating on about your supposed abuses then what better way to address it then by turning to the wider (hopefully more level headed) community to look upon the issue? Only sunlight can disinfect what sores misinformation inflicts.
Similarly there has been some concern that the language used in these processes risks turning the individual concerned into a ‘type’, and so distorts the nuances of the situation. We say that the language of the process is important. The terms perpetrator, survivor etc if used within an open process actually go some way to ensuring a protective and rational critique takes place – one that challenges the insidious patriarchal assumptions we are clearly fighting against. It also aims to prevent pejorative mud-slinging on both sides.
On the question of rehabilitation of perpetrators it is clear that this should be encouraged but not at the expense of the survivor or the wider community of potential victims. Engaging with your misogyny as a problem to be fixed will not absolve nor grant immunity from the consequences of your actions. It is as clear as that. Go address it, then prove your rehabilitation by first of all respecting the new boundaries set out in light of your behaviour, then work towards reestablishing trust by actively demonstrating the change. This should be the only way to reenter our spaces. Not via a social network, or the intervention of your friends, by shouting the loudest, demonstrating the highest level of privilege or through geographic relocation.
Finally we would like to address the issue of counter-attacks upon the survivors, or upon those acting on their behalf. This has been very apparent in some recent cases where considered (if flawed) processes have been met with genuine hate campaigns. Groups enforcing the exclusion of a potential perpetrator and supporting the accountability process have been smeared, a blog has been set up to attack a specific individual involved, and there have been threats to disrupt accountability processes. If we are to develop a strategy for dealing with abuse and misogyny in our communities friends of those so accused must realize that such a reaction does nothing to help anyone – it is not an effective way to engage with the problem and at the worst seems to have encouraged victim blaming and comes out of a culture which seeks to excuse a pattern of behaviour by any means necessary.
The fact is if violations occur you cannot absolve it nor prevent the consequences which may follow by throwing a spanner in the works. You can call it finessing the process, you can wrap it up in obfuscating language, you can try to gain ground with a disingenuous indignation, but this will not go away. Women in activism have had enough of their comrades turning a blind eye or actively inflicting harm with their abuse and apologetics. Expect more to follow, and Femcells welcome the discussions ahead.