Salvage began as a way to make sense of the disgruntling feeling in the pit of my stomach. In my early twenties I was involved in an abusive relationship in which I identified as a punk and feminist activist to the outside world but at home I lived in a regime of control and fear. I managed to end the relationship when I was 23.
Since then I went on to work in a domestic violence charity, complete a PhD about DIY queer feminist music cultures in the UK, and move to the North East and become a researcher in gendered violence. I am currently a Lecturer in Criminology & Social Policy at The Open University.
I have heard the secret stories of survivors in radical and activist spaces who have lived with and experienced violence and abuse from those trusted as friends, partners, allies and comrades. I have also heard the public stories of violence and abuse perpetrated by high-profile activists like Julian Assange and Comrade Delta and the abuse and intrusion of women activists by undercover police. Alongside this I was developing my understanding of the complexities of violence and abuse in everyday lives within a feminist research project on community-based domestic violence projects in the UK.
The dominant options available to survivors (e.g. police, social services, refuges and prison) tend to individualise the problem of gendered violence, perpetuate systemic violence and harm against marginal groups (see the Prison Industrial Complex) and do not necessarily leave survivors with a sense of justice. The prevalence of gendered violence and abuse remain high and the conviction rates remain low. However ‘the question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why we have given survivors no other option but to call the police’ (Smith cited in Ching-In, Dulani & Piepzna-Samarasinha 2011, p. xvi).
It was by reading the fanzine The Revolution Starts at Home that I became aware of community accountability strategies and transformative justice principles that had been used, debated and developed in North America largely by women of colour, aboriginal and LGBTQ communities. I gathered more information about safer space policies, anti-oppressive frameworks, consent, reading groups, active listening and community accountability projects.
Survivors of violence and abuse are far more likely to talk about what is happening to them to their friends. The creation of communities that are more aware of the dynamics of violence and abuse, committed to listening, believing and supporting the survivor and brave enough to hold perpetrators to account would be a massive step forward.
Since starting to talk about this stuff in public a lot of people are really interested in me telling them what the solution is. What kind of framework or policy could they use to solve the problem of violence and abuse in their activist group? To hear some stories of community accountability processes in a range of situations please visit the STOP stories page. Each situation is different. Right now I am interested in co-constructing knowledge about the lived experiences of violence and abuse in activist communities and lives in the UK. It is only by getting a better understanding of what violence and abuse looks and feels like that we can move together to effectively challenge it.
It is my inkling that the particularities of victim-blaming, collusion, silence and rape apologism are more insidious in social justice movements and radical activist spaces. As spaces that once promised liberation and freedom become harmful we risk losing women, queers and transfolks from our movements. This has a negative impact on the progressive character of our social justice movements as ‘the transformative potential of a movement is only as present as the strength or voice of the most marginalised’ (Emi Kane cited in Bhattacharjya et al 2013, p. 287).
I created this blog to bring together those of us who are interested in sharing experiences, resources and taking action.
written by Julia, November 2014