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Sunday, December 21 2014 @ 09:55 AM CST

Accounting for Ourselves: Breaking the Impasse Around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes

Anarchist Movement

Sexual assault and abuse continue to plague anarchist circles and spaces. In response, we’ve developed processes to hold each other accountable outside of the state. But why can’t we seem to get them right? This essay examines the context in which these community accountability models emerged and analyzes the pitfalls we’ve encountered in trying to apply them. To move beyond the impasse around sexual violence within our scenes, we need to challenge the idea of community itself and take our resistance in new directions.

Accounting for Ourselves

Breaking the Impasse Around Assault and Abuse in Anarchist Scenes

by CrimethInc


“I don’t believe in accountability anymore… my anger and hopelessness about the current model are proportional to how invested I’ve been in the past. Accountability feels like a bitter ex-lover to me… the past ten years I really tried to make the relationship work, but you know what?”
-Angustia Celeste, “Safety is an Illusion: Reflections on Accountability” Getting Started: Origins and Purpose

Sexual assault and abuse tear us apart. They fracture our communities, ruin individual lives, sabotage projects and organizing, reveal nasty contradictions between our supposed ideals and our actual practices, and maintain a climate of fear and oppression, especially for women. Sexual assault is political; it is a function of patriarchy, not just an individual harm done by individual people (usually men) to others (most often women). Sexual assault and abuse, partner violence, child abuse, and sexual harassment are primary ways that men physically impose domination over women. Sexualized violence helps to maintain patriarchy, heterosexism, trans oppression, ageism and oppression of youth, racist colonialism, and genocide. The struggle against sexual assault and abuse is essential for revolutionary transformation.

The accountability process model has been one of the primary tools used by anarchists to address assault and abuse in recent years. This essay analyzes this model in hopes of provoking honest, self-critical discussion about how we respond to assault and abuse within anarchist scenes, and imagining directions to move forward.

This article is NOT intended to serve as an accessible introduction to community accountability processes; it assumes that you have some knowledge of what they are and how they work (or don’t work). It draws specifically on North American anarchist, punk, and radical activist subcultures and presumes that the reader understands their context and language. If you don’t, try reading some of the sources cited below before this one. If you’re an anarchist and you’ve had some experience with efforts to respond to assault and abuse within your scene under the label of “accountability,” this is intended for you.

Gender Frameworks

Gender is complicated; some folks we might perceive as male or female don’t identify that way, and some don’t identify as either. In referring to “men” or “women,” we mean folks who identify that way, whether cisgender or transgender. Throughout this essay, both survivors and people who’ve assaulted or abused others are referred to in general using “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun. Assault and abuse can be committed by anyone against anyone, across gender lines; sometimes cis women, trans men and women, and genderqueer folk assault, and often cis men are survivors as well. But this acknowledgment should not erase the fact that the vast majority of folks who abuse and assault are cis men, and the majority of folks they abuse and assault are women.

Sexual assault and abuse are neither gender-specific (i.e., they can only happen by or to people of a certain gender) nor gender-neutral (i.e., the gender of a person who assaults or is assaulted is irrelevant to the conversation). We must understand the gendered patterns of assault and abuse as an expression of patriarchal domination, without making invisible experiences that fall outside of that gendered framework.

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