“A moment can create a movement. This is our moment. This is our movement. #MeToo” –Alyssa Milano 10/16/17
Yesterday, I found myself under the global gravity of rape culture as I read through my friends’ statuses on Facebook, who were “coming out” as survivors of sexual violence. The majority of them were from the U.S. but still, many from outside the U.S. were joining the digital domino effect of sharing testimonies in response to actress and activist Alyssa Milano’s call for visibilizing the magnitutde of sexual violence. Here it is important to note that the #MeToo movement began ten years ago:
It was actually started about a decade ago by our next guest, the activist Tarana Burke. She says she began “Me Too” as a grassroots movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities, where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going. Tarana Burke is now a program director at Girls for Gender Equity. In Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Soraya Chemaly, who’s a journalist who covers the intersection of gender and politics, director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project. Democracy Now interviewed her today 10/17/17
Posts ranged in content from a concise “#MeToo,” to an explanation of what the hashtag was for, to citing an incident, or listing multiple ones. Some disclosed their ages, commonly cited the perpetrators as someone they knew and trusted, amongst other situational details. Some problematized the trending hashtag, critiquing that people shouldn’t have to visibilize these (re) traumatizing events, i.e. “come out” for the consumption or education of a voyeuristic public. Others noted that visibilzing survival of sexual violence is not an accessible act of empowerment for everyone and over-emphasizing responsibility on survivor’s to divulge stories perpetuates a distorted dynamic in which survivors disproportionately bear the labor to educate others on their own oppression and trauma. Over emphasizing people’s bravery for coming out may have an oppressive impact of legitimizing/validating experience based on a pressured visibility. Many asserted no one owes anyone a survivor story to generate empathy from oppressors, stakeholders in rape culture and misogyny. Some folks pointed out that visibilizing stories of survival won’t change the behavior of perpetrators. It is not the responsibility of survivors to take on the emotional labor to educate others and compel them to refrain from enacting violence.
While the #MeToo digital mass mobilization is open to interpretation and debate on what it culturally reveals or fogs- it is an opportunity build momentum, and escalate conversations on colonial violence, decolonization, and accountability. Rape and sexual violence have been used systemically for centuries to perpetually constitute a social (dis)order that places rapists at the top of a hierarchy. Those who participated in #MeToo exercised agency at a moment in hxstory in which a proud, open rapist has entered his tenth month of presidency. Consider this a moment in hxstory in which daily reality under 45 is perpetual gaslighting for survivors. Consider the #MeToo testimonies a subversive act that reverses the colonial gaze, exposing the severe normalization of rape culture- holding EVERYONE accountable to do better-immediately. Consider the #MeToo testimonies the visibilization of total CRISIS that thrives off of silence and erasure of survivors’ narratives. Already, on the third day of the #MeToo mobilizations, I’m seeing an increasing amount of digital testimonies of people confessing #ItWasMe in participating in rape culture.
Consider the #MeToo testimonies as a mass mobilization for building community and practicing intersectional and transnational solidarity with each other: people of all genders, ages, across borders are letting each other know that they are not alone in this experience. We are united by something that inevitably marks us and we are creating spaces for sharing so that we are not consumed by an imposed privatized burden. We are accountable to each other. This spike in visibility is destined to be life saving in unforeseen ways. As we bear witness to the magnitude of sexual violence, we awaken to the harsh reality that we have a collective responsibility to break cycles- to decolonize by subverting normalization and invisibilization of rape culture. The very taboo nature or shame that has historically and strategically been inscribed to “coming out” as a survivor is the cultural weapon used to obstruct a revolution that’s been bubbling for centuries. Survivors are systemically, by design disempowered in seeking justice or retribution for their injuries. Speaking openly of surviving sexual violence is still a taboo, is still stigmatized, and leaves survivors vulnerable to being victim-blamed and socially exiled. How many of us have internalized guild and shame to the extent that we cringe at the thought of uttering, “Me too,” ? How many of us have reframed our experiences so that we wouldn’t have to say, “Me too,” ? We have yet to advance in acknowledging the extent that repression of surviving sexual violence has on our development, our behaviors, our relationships, our health, our responses to stress, our self esteem, our ability to focus, or ability to speak, our rates of suicidality, etc.
When I say #MeToo advances decolonization, I say it with the hxstorical perspective that sexual violence is the oldest tool of conquest. We are in a moment of peaked collective consciousness and recently, I’ve arrived at the following diagnosis: As a demilitarization (anti-war) organizer and abolitionist, I understand the military industrial complex and prison industrial complex in the context of colonialism. The United States became a globally hegemonic military empire because there was never enforced accountability for the ongoing genocide, enslavement, and rape of indigenous and Africa descended peoples. Previously embedded forms of rape culture would not compare to the globalization of rape culture that unfolded in the wake of Western colonialism. Territories and people around the world increasingly became economically implicated in a system of hijacking and abducting led by invading European terrorists, who exploited and extracted the the nectar of life force from countless beings to build the foundations of the modern world (dis)order as we know it. Rape was one of many strategies used for normalizing colonial culture and hierarchal order. It was used to steal dignity from the colonized and to demoralize. Impunity for colonialism has enabled a model of social organization dependent on constant extractive behavior, or rape culture. Is that not what rape and sexual violence are, extractive behavior, at its most violent?
Furthermore, impunity, lawlessness, and a defunct rule of law is mutually constitutive of rape-culture-societies. As the United States settler colonial project advanced within current U.S. borders, it also exported extractive rape culture in its conquests abroad, through overt war or through covert military aid, training, and allyship with dictatorships abroad, which continued to use rape as a method of violently enforcing (dis)order. Therefore, as we build our intersectional, transnational movement(s) for liberation from violence, it is necessary to collectively revisit the hxstorical forces and patterns that threaten to continue subjecting us to collective amnesia, alienation, gas lighting, and globalized rape culture. When we evoke accountability for sexual violence, we are also in search of accountability for colonialism in all its forms. This is an invitation to continue theorizing the intersections between colonialism, war, imperial expansion, global impunity, and grassroots movements for accountability and decolonization. #MeToo & #ItWasMe testimonies resist the normalization, alienation, and silencing survivors have experience for centuries. Its impact does not depend on every single survivor coming out but rather, all who participate in the conversation contribute to a multilayered unfolding of theory and practice in improvising transnational, intersectional, pluralistic decolonial cultures of accountability. This is a process of unprecedented digital community & movement building. We must continue theorizing and taking action to advance what just protection will be like for survivors and prevention for highly vulnerable populations- for example children, elders, people who have less physical mobility, sex workers, drug users, incarcerated people, people in war zones, migrants in transit, and more. #MeToo is a point of departure from which we build momentum and escalate our efforts to protect each other and throw wrenches in the factory machines of sexual violence, degradation, war, impunity, and global colonial exploitation. Update: I am now seeing people (predominantly men) come out with anecdotes and reflections with the hashtag #ItWasMe as they hold them selves accountable for perpetuating rape culture. This is a cultural awakening at work. This is what happens when we reverse the colonial male gaze. We are igniting a culture of accountability.
Why Testimony Matters: Lessons from Ixil Maya Womxn Resisting Genocide
I’d like to invite readers to situate the #MeToo & #ItWasMe digital movement in relation to the participation of Ixil Maya womxn in the trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt, a former dictator of Guatemala responsible for the genocide against the Ixil Maya and crimes against humanity. We can think of the 2013 trial and conviction of Ríos Montt as one of multiple points of departure when unearthing what transnational decolonial movements for accountability may look like.
The 2013 verdict was the first acknowledgement by the state that an act of genocide was committed. It was also the first time a former Latin American head of state was convicted of genocide by a court in his own country. The testimonies of the victims who recounted their memories of the atrocities in court, were crucial in this historic ruling. Dozens of Ixil Maya undertook long journeys to give evidence. The women’s reports of rape and sexual violence, in particular, captured a great deal of attention: after years of silence, they brought a taboo subject out into the open. (Galicia, 2014) 
Systemic rape of women and girls was documented as one of the human rights violations committed during the civil war in a Truth Commission report published in 1999, “Memoria del Silencio” (Memory of Silence). Impacted women who were raped during the genocide suffered from being shunned from the village community, had unwanted pregnancies, or became ill. To avoid being ostracized, many were pressured into remaining silent. Actoras de Cambio was one of the groups that led the campaign to address sexual violence during the genocide. Established in 2004, Actoras de Cambio was a group of women working to heal the wounds of war and uplift peace. They wanted to break the silence on the systemic sexual abuse of women during the war. They especially wanted to help survivors come to terms with their past.
Actoras de Cambio cooperated closely with female Mayan leaders, healing psychological wounds and helping victims to take their fate into their own hands once more. They used methods from the Mayan cosmovision and energetic psychotherapy as well as kinesiotherapy, art therapy and breathing exercises. The feminist approach helped women to see how they were alienated from their own sexuality by the appropriation of their body by others. Liduvina Méndez of Actoras de Cambio says, “Victims need to identify the reasons for the crime and understand that they are part of the shared history of their society – that their rape is not an isolated personal experience.” Actoras de Cambio finally succeeded in bringing the taboo subject into the public eye. Five years after the initiative’s foundation, the women ventured into the public spotlight for the first time. “Even if we are afraid, we are now ready to talk to society about this issue,” they said. An event was organized with government representatives in the capital and numerous regional festivals were staged under the banner “I am the voice of memory and the body of liberty”.
Although Guatemala’s Constitutional Court succumbed to political and economic elites by overturning the verdict within 10 days, it was a female attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, who initiated the conditions to carry out a genocide trial. Montt had been sentenced to 80 years in prison-50 years for genocide and 30 years for crimes against humanity. The three former judges of the Constitutional Court who overturned the conviction are now under investigation and on October 13th, 2017 a second trial began, which is being heard by Guatemala’s Supreme Court. The movement for public memory and legal accountability in Guatemaya is a model for transitional and post-conflict accountability because the trial centered the truth telling testimonies of indigenous survivors of a scorched earth campaign constituted the undeniable guilt of Montt. Successes for survivors include that he is now widely acknowledged as guilty; the topic of genocide has been integrated into popular discourse and more people now recognize “si hubo genocidio!” (Genocide did happen!” which is necessary for future prevention. The act of bearing witness to those who were injured is a commitment to resist collective historical amnesia. The movement for accountability and transitional justice in Guatemaya recognizes there is no peace without memory; it resists the burial of truth through public recognition that something unacceptable happened, and in doing so condemns atrocities from reoccurring.
I think the Ríos Montt trial was helpful because it really opened the eyes of many in urban areas who didn’t want to believe that this has been happening. But hearing testimonies, seeing these women, these people- seeing their struggle, it showed that there was this other Guatemala. That’s what’s motivating everyone right now. (Irma Alicia, 2017)
We can think of the massive #MeToo & budding #ItWasMe social media trend(s) as testimonies that Reverse the Colonial Gaze of Toxic Genocidal Masculinity, an exercise of truth telling to advance the project of accountability for wrongs and injuries that have been committed. It is an act of breaking the silence, in a culture that has literally bred us to stay silent under violence. It is an act of necessary visibilization to advance collective survival- because political leaders are all too often rapists destroying the world. We testify so truth may be known. We take care of each other by holding deep analysis, holding space for complexity, and we warn that digital culture may create unforeseen simulations of safe space that facilitate voyeuirism and spectacle-ization of experiences. After all, we do live under a surveillance state, under the era of the Patriot Act. In spite of this, over half a million people have subverted the self-disciplinary nature of auto-surveillance and disrupted and took over news feeds for three days now! Is this what digital occupation/encampment looks like? How can we resist this movement from fading out, leaving us empty after feeling so charged from absorbing the mass visibilization of violence? We are raising consciousness-in ways that are hard to contain or control so what comes next? We live in a globalized world with an absence of rule of law, a world in which impunity rages, and today social media has become a (contested) “safe(r) space” for practicing digital transnational community building and enacting cultures of accountability. Rape culture is perpetual mass atrocity for which we need retribution. Who do we assert responsibility from? Is it the state? Does it start with those we are close to? How about our work space? More importantly, will accomplices really show up for us for this struggle? Even though survivors shouldn’t have to bear the burden of social transformation, isn’t there a sense of moral responsibility to advance protection and prevention for the most vulnerable populations? We certainly must not bear this burden alone. As we learn to bear witness for our online community members, we must also practice bearing witness for people all over the world who share the struggle against colonial sexual violence, racialized, and gendered state violence, and impunity. How are we simultaneously accountable to them? How are we accountable to indigenous people within U.S. borders, in our states, cities, and neighborhoods?
Right now we are in a stage of advancing the shattering of silence. We are unearthing the design that has shaped world (dis)order. As we do this we identify sites of responsibility that aid and enables rape culture. We can begin our analysis on the responsibility of the state. Where is our mandatory consent education? It should begin in pre-school and kindergarten and be continuously reinforced each year of school at learning institutions. Where are our mandatory consent and anti-oppression trainings and policies in the workplace? Where are our options to learn martial arts for physical education in k-12 or learning institutions? Where is our access to hxstory as narrated by the systemically disenfranchised? Why is tax payer money being funneled into war and mass incarceration, instead of mental health, free healthcare, and higher education for all? May we find strength in our numbers, united across intersections we are unstoppable.
Ways You Can Begin to Unfold a Longer Term Process for Transitioning Out of Rape Culture
Emphasis should be placed here that those who have hxstorically benefited from rape culture, misogyny, and patriarchy should be taking on a huge bulk of these efforts AND people with marginalized identities who are taking on a bulk of this emotional, psychological labor MUST be compensated.
- Show love and support for those coming forward with their testimonies. Be reciprocally accountable by participating in the #ItWasMe hashtag. Thank people for their honesty. Send love. Use the hashtag #IBelieveYou
- Share this link of 8 mental health & self-care resources for qtpoc
- Post resources to suicide-crisis hotlines and resources for mental health.
- Read and share the listed resources below to deepen your understanding on consent. Share with members of your community. Translate some of the material to another language and try to get it out to communities that speak this language. Host consent workshops for your friends. Post consent guidelines in party venues and bathrooms in event spaces. Post consent guidelines in your home.
5. Organize healing circles in your home, where folks can hold space for each other to heal. Here are some guidelines for holding space:
6. Make art. Art can shift culture. Art is therapeutic. It can be educational or it can be your emotional response unleashed. Give yourself permission to process whatever needs to be let out.
7.Building local and regional movements to make a consent and antioppression curriculum mandatory is a tangible action we can take. Start out on a microlevel by calling your elementary, middle school, high school, and university to ask whether students are receiving consent education under a broader antioppression curriculum. If you are in California, high school students must be, under SB 695. If the school isn’t, this is a great tangible goal to mobilize around.
8. If it is safe, talk to your family members, friends, classmates, and or coworkers by using the #MeToo #ItWasMe hashtags as a conversation starter. Ex. “Have you seen the trending posts on #MeToo and #ItWasMe?” If you are someone with an identity that holds privilege (cis men, white men, heterosexual men, white-cis-heterosexual men, ALL men), this is labor you are accountable for taking on
9. Use the trending hashtags #MeToo #ItWasMe to start conversations at work about introducing consent and anti-oppression training in the work space. If you are someone with an identity that holds privilege (cis men, white men, heterosexual men, white-cis-heterosexual men, ALL men), this is labor you are accountable for taking on.
10. If you have been trained in self-defense, host a workshop- and remember to learn about and practice consent before holding it. I’ve experienced way too many trainers touching students without asking to demonstrate moves and this is NOT OK. If you can afford to, enroll in self defense training, with the intention of building the skills and capacity to share this crucial somatic knowledge with others, to make it accessible. If you can’t afford it, there are videos online that one can learn some basics from. There have also been a growing number of free self defense classes being organized. Research on facebook and instagram to see if you come across anything. Call local community centers to see if they are holding any or would be open to scheduling some. Reach out to local martial arts education centers to ask if they can host free, donation based, or reduced cost workshops.
11. We have an under theorized ways to discuss retribution and restorative or transformative justice when it comes to sexual violence, especially under mass incarceration. To me, one of the hardest questions is how to navigate safety, justice, peace, and promoting healing-for everyone. Mia Mingus, has been organizing trainings for transitional justice in communities impacted by cycles of sexual violence and mass incarceration. “Mia is a founding and core-member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC), a local collective working to build and support transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse that do not rely on the state (i.e. police, prisons, the criminal legal system). She believes in prison abolition and urges all activists and organizers to critically and creatively think beyond the non-profit industrial complex.”
- Mia Mingus’ personal website: https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/about-2/
- Body Sovereignty: How We Can Create A Culture of Consent: