Believe the survivors

A short note on the need of codes of conduct and ethical behaviour anyway:

One thing the #metoo (rightful) cabal makes clear is that sexual assault and misbehaviour takes place everywhere. From inappropriate touching (definitely also on #IEWarsaw2017, The ILGA Europe Warsaw Conference) to full blown assault.

Less attention gets the psychological violence people – again mostly (trans/cis/intersex) women – are subjected to. As feminists (of all genders, colours and classes) all over the world make clear: there is nothing new in this and it is *always* a power question. The perpetrator cannot get their way through consent and thus resorts to forms of violence.

There is also a lot of talk about responsibility. That reminds us directly of the “she gave reason” debates around dress, looks and puts the blame with the victim. It ties in with (cis) masculinist thought. Television talk shows doubt and debate the women, or even invite women who are “tired of the whole thing”. In the Dutch talk shows they were all white middle age cis women (also all or most straight). With a good career. White feminists – where white points at the target group more than skin colour per se. Who most probably have been targeted also, and maybe also were perpetrators on any level, as women are all but free from being abusers. 

The “lookism” element of “You must have asked for it by wearing a short skirt/biking alone in the night/not defending yourself” is blatant sexism and victim blaming. Plus it obfuscates the whole power element. Popular science author and columnist Asha ten Broeke wrote in her most recent column (https://www.volkskrant.nl/opinie/asha-ten-broeke-slachtoffers-van-misbruik-geloof-ik-dat-is-een-morele-kwestie~a4529748/) around the publicity that sexual assault finally gets, there is a problem with the reasoning the perpetrator is innocent until proven guilty. While being a good legal principle, the opinion that only a legal decision brings clarity and culpability is problemetic. Why this is problematic is twofold. First it is by definition a power question. Both the violence, the trespassing behaviour, and the legal process. Legal power should be equal for both parties but cuts to legal aid often weaken the position for women in court. Second there is the patriarchal culture in which we live that grants women or feminized persons less credibility.

Victims of sexual assault often don’t turn to the police. Out of shame, out of fear (the perpetrator often is not the man in the park in the dark). In the Weinstein case it now is known he went out of his way to convince the women not to do anything against him. The survivors are often scolded, treated with disbelief. Stigma is huge and support often limited, solidarity usually absent. Ten Broeke states in her column: believing the survivor is a moral obligation as legal proof in case of sexual assault and rape often is difficult, if the case gets to court at all. “The law is no substitute for morality”, Edward Snowden is quoted. Nor is moral indignation an alternative to legal procedures. On the contrary it calls for better laws and procedures to strengthen the victim’s position. And also here it is really important which thoughts think thoughts (Donna Haraway). Remember: law is never neutral. From which mindset do you approach reform? Why?What is your aim? The consequence of Believe the Victim is far stretching: it decentres the victor’s discourse, it lends credibility to the story of the assaulted, empowers them and thus corrects the power imbalance.

The law is no substitute for morality
(Edward Snowden)

In the beginning I referred to the recent annual ILGA Europe Conference. Because the queer community is not free of sexual or mental. Emotional abuse either. Many more are survivors than there are perpetrators, but given that abuse is about power and using extreme ways to get your way – be it emotional or physical – it happens there also. One person told they were touched on their chest in an appropriate way by an ILGA Europe (male) board member, and more extreme is what happened last year at ILGA World’s Conference in Bangkok. Thereit appeared neither the intersex community is free of this. An OII associated intersex man committed a full scale attack to a non-intersex female scholar and advocate and is still intent on destroying her advocacy work by spreading lies about her. And as a man, his story gets more credibility than hers. He has success, her work and credibility suffers from his hate campaign. I am sure similar phenomena also happen in trans organisations and movements.

Abuse is also a queer thing

As we stand for social justice, we need to realise this and put the interests of the victims before our friendships and loyalties. To be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the #ihave that also may be present as systems and structures work through people. And we need to #BelieveTheVictims (https://twitter.com/hashtag/BelieveTheVictims). That is a moral obligation. The more for queers who know self doubt and disbelief.