Responding to sexual violence in our groups and communities: Facing discomfort and creating genuinely safer spaces
What can you do when someone in your group or organisation says that someone else within the group has been sexually violent  or abusive to them? What if that person is central to the group, is really nice to you, seems to have a great analytical understanding of power and privilege – surely they wouldn’t. It can feel confusing, uncomfortable and sometimes painful to take those claims seriously but it’s important that we do. Drawing on my own experience of supporting other survivors and of disclosing to my own community, here are some things you might want to think about.
I’m hoping to write a few posts on power in grassroots organising. This first one is about rules, how we use them and why they might not be as helpful as we think they are.
I’ve met a lot of people in grassroots groups and projects who like rules about how to behave and relate with each other. Including me! A safe space looks like this but not that. You should put your hand up like this if you want to speak in a meeting. You can eat this but not that. Some rules are written down and formalised in the shape of safer spaces agreements, ground rules, or methods of making decisions.
There’s an issue here that doesn’t get talked about much. Sometimes, the very people who have more power in the group are the ones who have most influence in making the rules. And, these same people can gain most benefit from the existence of the rules. This means that sometimes rules can actually make power less equal in a group even though the stated intention of rules in grassroots groups is to make power more equal.
By Kathryn Tulip
After it had happened a couple of times, I began to wonder why I got so upset when a colleague borrowed my books and returned them some time later dog-eared and with coffee rings on the cover. It took me a while longer to realise that I was getting upset about a class difference between us. My desire was to keep my books clean and tidy, my colleague seemed to me not to care about that. This led to some low-level conflict and reluctance on my part to share my books. We had very few books at home when I was growing up and lost or damaged things couldn’t easily be replaced, so I learned to be very careful with my possessions. My colleague’s experiences growing up and relationship with possessions seemed to be different, perhaps because lost or damaged items could more easily be replaced than was possible in my home. This was a conflict created out of two different experiences of scarcity. When we had that long overdue conversation, it was clear that this was just one small example of how class difference was playing out in our relationship. It was like a breath of fresh air to look at these niggles through the lens of class, and to start to bring an awareness of how class privilege plays out in our relationship.