Notes and musings
In the PreventConnect web conference today on Cultivating Community Driven Social Change one of the questions I was asked was, "What do you do when a community chooses a strategy you don't agree with?" Perhaps the strategy seems victim blaming or perhaps it is too radical for your organization to undertake. My response was, "To let go of your ego, to get out of the way."
One thing I have learned since engaging in sv prevention as my vocation is that my best skill and greatest asset lies in an ability to facilitate and appreciate a process that encourages community leadership.
that can be
messy and convoluted or filled nuance
that can be slow and halting or move with lightening speed
that can be
radical and profound or the utmost in simplicity.
Grant Stancliff summarized my comment by saying, "Prevention is Buddhism," which(in Oprah speak) was an "aha moment" for me. Perhaps the basic premise in engaging community in the prevention of sexual and domestic violence lies in letting go of ego(our professional sense that we know the right answers, strategies, programs) and choosing to connect with community to develop a new consciousness regarding violence against women.
A colleague recently asked me what I thought about the increasing popularity of behavioral approaches to the prevention of violence against women and the tension between anti-oppression/feminist work and those approaches.
These are my thoughts.
When I think of behavioral approaches, including but not limited to the Green Dot campaign, I see community based approaches that leverage the influence of peers. Approaches that engage members of a community in creating new behaviors that challenge the violence around them and therefore create a new social norm. When I think of anti-oppression and/or feminist work in the anti-rape movement, I see an intellectual and/or political analysis, challenging people to acknowledge oppression (in themselves, others and institutions) and encouraging people to engage in activities which dismantle the institutions and norms which support and contribute to the oppression.
Behavioral = END
Anti- Oppression/Feminism = MEANS
So the question becomes are the two compatible. I have always been clear in my work that anti-oppression/feminist analysis is my theoretical home. I evaluate frameworks such as public health to see if they fit into my personal paradigm of how and why I do the work. I keep what works for me, acknowledge the dissonance and move on. I am at heart a pragmatist. I see VAW as a quixotic quest and value the notion, but do not expect any one else to do so. Currently, my favorite quote in describing why I do the work is from the Impossible Dream from the Man of LaMancha “One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this.” I think in order to do SV prevention work you either have to believe prevention is possible or at the very least to be up for a quixotic quest.
So back to the question, are they compatible?
Should we as a movement do VAW prevention work without the benefit of (express) feminist analysis?
I think so. Let me tell you why. I think it boils down to being comprehensive; of having a variety of complementary and hopefully synergistic approaches. It is about using a hammer for a nail and a screwdriver for a screw. Not everyone wants needs or is even interested in a socio-political analysis. A behavioral approach might be entirely appropriate for those folks. The challenge is not to forget that the means matter. A we incorporate new strategies we must “check for fit.” We must engage in debate and discussion to remain true to anti-rape work being a movement in addition to a sexual violence service delivery system. I may become an anachronism the longer I remain in this work. I am committed to the idea of an-anti rape movement to create social change. Expedience validates the pragmatist in me. My personal challenge is to balance the pragmatist with the feminist in order to become visionary.
I am always surprised at how life as well as this work seems to go full circle at time. The idea of cultural relevant sexual assault services has been an on-going theme throughout my work and core SA training was one of my first tasks in doing anti-rape work. I started my career at Seattle Rape Relief, which was one of the first rape crisis centers in the country as part of the education team in 1992, My fundamental values about the anti-rape movement and sexual assault service delivery system were formulated in that time. I had the dubious distinction of being the last programmatic staff member when the SR closed its doors. My current project is developing and facilitating sexual assault advocate training for Consejo in Seattle, a couple of miles from where the old SRR office was located. They have a federal grant to develop a culturally specific SA program.
In the early 1990’s the Education Department at Seattle Rape Relief (SRR) consisted of the Education director, community specific advocates (Black, Hispanic, API and People w/Disabilities) and a teen/youth advocate . We divided “general” request between us. The structure acknowledged the need for specificity even within a mainstream agency. We were not marginalized because everyone served a specific population with the idea that we were all assimilated enough to handle general requests.
It worked well or perhaps “well enough” until funding cuts required the elimination of one position, Specific grants paid for the teen and people with disabilities (project action) advocates but general education funding was being used for the community of color advocates. The decision was made to adopt a general approach with two out of the three advocates and to lose the one advocate-one community approach. Logistically that meant three people had to compete for two jobs in addition to the philosophical shift. I was the teen advocate so my position was secure but it was almost unbearable to watch. I do not think the team morale actually recovered from the process.
SRR was hybrid between a modified hierarchy and a collective and decisions regarding power, structure and philosophy were always difficult, usually involving tears, long meetings and struggle. This decision was true to form. What I learned was that community specificity is important in a comprehensive sexual assault service delivery that it can be hard to fund and that finding the right structure can be difficult. I look forward to training Consejo staff, in the hope that they will create a sustainable model. My hope is that federal, state and local funders will commit to funding these endeavors on a long-term basis.