Silent No Longer: Confronting Sexual Violence in the Left [reblog]

Image by Suzy X.

Image by Suzy X.

Content Warning: Experiences of sexual violence and victim blaming.

Content Warning: Experiences of sexual violence and victim blaming.

In 2012, a member of the UK Socialist Workers Party (SWP) came forward saying she had been raped and sexually harassed by the former National Secretary of the organisation, Martin Smith. The internal ‘investigation’ which followed demonstrated a number of common ways in which sexual violence is ignored and those who experience it are demonised. Some of the members of the Disputes Committee chosen to investigate the claim were close friends of Smith. The woman who had come forward was questioned about her sexual history and alcohol use. She was made to feel that members of the Disputes Committee thought she was “a slut who asked for it”. The Disputes Committee concluded that the accusation that Smith had raped and harassed her was “not proven.” Four members of the SWP who discussed their misgivings about the Committee’s decision on Facebook were expelled from the group. The woman who had accused Smith was not allowed to attend the SWP’s conference to contest the Disputes Committee’s decision. The SWP’s response to this case resulted in hundreds of members resigning. Meanwhile, Solidarity (an Australian affiliate of the SWP) labelled the SWP’s investigation of the rape claim “scrupulously fair”.

While there was a significant outcry amongst people in left-wing circles about the way members of the SWP responded to sexual violence within their group, there was little reflection on the fact that many other left-wing organisations respond in a similarly toxic way. The lack of internal democracy within the SWP certainly hindered the efforts of those seeking change within the organisation, but informal social processes influenced by misogynist ideas about sexual violence can be just as destructive to the lives of sexual violence survivors.

Gendered violence is a key way in which women’s oppression is maintained in our patriarchal society. In Australia, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men over the age of 15 have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years (1). Violence perpetrated by men is the leading cause of preventable death, disability and illness in women aged 15-44 (2). Aboriginal women, poor women, women of differing abilities, and sex and gender diverse people are significantly more likely to experience sexual violence.

All too often, survivors of sexual violence are greeted with disbelief, anger, and defensiveness when they should be believed and supported. This happens in left-wing groups, our social movements, our friendship circles, our workplaces, and countless other places in society. While most left-wing groups and movements share a stated opposition to sexism, this does not make them immune to the misogynist assumptions which underlie victim blaming and which often come up when people are confronted by sexual violence committed by their friends or political comrades.

I was raped by someone who was involved in the Melbourne anarchist milieu in 2010. It was a horrible, frightening experience, made worse by the fact that it was someone who I had trusted as a friend and a political comrade. I was lucky, though. The friends, family members and people in the anarchist milieu I told about my experience believed me and the person who assaulted me is no longer welcome in many of Melbourne’s political spaces. I know too many people who have had similar experiences, but who have been called liars, ignored, lost friends and comrades, or been forced to remain silent. I can’t imagine how much harder it is for people who’ve survived sexual violence, and then been treated like this by those they thought they could trust, to keep on going…….



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