“You’ve been telling the story of who I was, not who I am becoming.”
For more than 40 years, survivors, advocates and community members have been working to end domestic violence and sexual assault. What began as a grass roots, volunteer driven movement is now an industry. We have built rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and created laws and penalties to hold perpetrators accountable. The Violence Against Women Act created a steady funding stream to do this work. We professionalized. We made ourselves visible and empowered some survivors to use their voices for justice.
For many survivors, this approach worked. It’s what they needed because their circumstances, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, mental health status and abilities fit the system that was created. However, this approach created additional barriers for black, brown, poor, queer, mentally ill, substance addicted, survivors and others. We excluded victims who didn’t fit the model we created. Communities of color pleaded with “the system” to recognize the adverse impact this was having on their communities. In response, we used boiler plate language about serving all victims of violence, created culturally specific programs, and emphasized the importance of having diverse staff. However, we didn’t change our approach. As our culturally specific programs and advocates of color provided advocacy to fit the needs of survivors, we forced them to do it in seclusion, because it didn’t fit the standards our movement created. We continued to invest in the criminal legal and child welfare systems, furthering the destruction of marginalized, forgotten communities.
So, what now? As advocates and leaders, we have a responsibility to center those we left behind and explore how intersecting oppressions impact victims of violence. How, as a movement, we must focus on one’s entire life experience and the barriers impacting health and safety. These include but are not limited to racial justice, immigration status, the impact of poverty, class, LGBTQ rights, voter rights, mass incarceration, over reliance on the criminal legal system, disproportionate impact of mandatory minimum sentences, the school to prison pipeline and state sponsored violence.
Now is the time to transform our movement. If we work to lift up, support and empower the most vulnerable of us, together we can meet everyone’s needs.
Last year our team created an action and accountability plan. We created a five-year plan with all of this in mind. We created an ever-evolving document that includes big and small changes. We had many meaningful and complex and often hard conversations about our guiding principles, mission and vision. This document has become the compass that guides our day-to-day decisions and overall organizational direction. This document is what keeps us grounded in what matters and helps us not lose ourselves in the onslaught of bad news from the state legislature, impending funding cuts and overall politics of existing and trying to rebuild and redesign our future, by making tiny little shifts today.