By Uma Rao, Rainier Valley Corps Capacity Building Coach
Watching Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to our Supreme Court sent me spiraling to very angry places. Did this happen to you, too?
Everyone I spoke to about this was angry. Many felt betrayed and doubted if we are even a Democracy anymore. Many wondered where due process and due diligence have gone. Many wondered if enough of us even believe survivors of sexual assault, — if we even care enough to hold perpetrators accountable. I wondered all of these things, and I know I wasn’t alone.
This is demoralizing.
However, if we can try to compartmentalize what’s happening on a national level, let’s talk about this on a very local level, in our own organizations. Since this is our blog let’s talk more specifically about organizations serving communities of color: How can we best support our staff? In other words, I want to know: Are you, too thinking about #MeToo?
Consider this: There are survivors of violence everywhere, and those within communities of color are especially vulnerable.
- One in five Black women is raped during her lifetime.
- An estimated 21 to 55 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander American women (varied based on country of origin) have or will experience sexual violence.
- One in three Latinas have experienced some type of sexual violence
- Almost half (49.5 percent) of multiracial women and over 45 percent of Native American/Alaska Native women are subjected to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
Dig deeper into these statistics and you will find that some of these are generous estimates. This is what is reported or disclosed in a research study. We aren’t even talking about the many women who don’t come forward. And in my limited research, I couldn’t find statistics with confidence naming the amount of trans and non-binary people of color affected by sexual violence — because not only are these crimes underreported, there is also not enough data being collected on these populations.
So back to this: There are survivors of violence everywhere and our nonprofit organizations serving communities of color can be in a position to support survivors.
Are we ready, willing, and able to hold perpetrators accountable?
If you said “yes” right away, I want you to take a minute to consider the nonprofit sector serving communities of color and the workplace culture we have developed: We are mission-driven people, often with small staff sizes (less than 20), and we tend to build a “family” with our colleagues.
Consider now, if someone from your “work family” comes to you and says they have been sexually harassed by a colleague. Are you ready, willing, and able to navigate this situation?
Here’s what we need to think about, and here’s what we need to do:
To start, does your organization even have a sexual harassment policy?
If you don’t, get one immediately. Sexual harassment is illegal, and you need to provide protections for your employees.
More importantly, this: Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, said on Twitter, “The stakes are higher in a lot of instances for us (women of color) than they are for a lot of other women. That creates a dynamic where you have women of color who have to think a little bit differently about what it means for them to come forward in cases of sexual harassment.”
I’m looking at you, my community, the organizations that serve people of color and are staffed by people of color. Are you thinking about the women of color that work for you and the stakes we contend with every day?
Can we commit to believing survivors?
When we don’t report, nothing happens or changes for the better. Yet there are so many reasons not to report, from fear of being belittled to not being believed to being further harmed.
If a survivor does come forward to report, it is worth an investigation. Always. Let’s not spend time questioning their character or wondering if they are telling the truth. Even if it takes away time, resources, and comfort — follow a process diligently and investigate. That’s the only way you will know if you need to take action.
Perpetrators should be held accountable —no exceptions when they are nonprofit or movement leaders.
When we don’t talk about the issue, survivors don’t feel supported in speaking up — so perpetrators are able to continue to do harm and really hurt people because of their power. It’s important to recognize that as survivors are everywhere, so are perpetrators. We especially don’t want to talk about people who are literally and figuratively saving the world.
I urge you all to read this incredibly brave and on point piece from Amanda Aguilar Shank, Deputy Director of Enlace in Oregon.
In the piece, she calls out the problematic behavior of an older male colleague and movement leader, Francisco Lopez, and what happened when she did report. Francisco got fired and replaced, which is great. But — years later, he popped up again as a leader of a different organization, asking her organization to join an important coalition.
There she was, all over again, having to decide between her own sense of dignity and safety and publicly supporting an important rally and coalition that furthers their mission.
Amanda writes, “Once again, I was thrown back into the exhausting and frustrating process of pushing for accountability for somebody who had harmed me and others, when our movement does not yet have the tools to hold this accountability process in collective.”
In it, she also writes, “As a cisgender woman, I have been raised both in and out of movement spaces to put up with harassment, abuse, and to diminish myself in the face of male needs and ego. To begin to do otherwise is both liberating and frightening.”
So I’m asking you: Beyond our own organizational processes and cultures, are we talking to each other? Are we ready to hold known abusers accountable? And what does this accountability really mean?
Do we want to prevent abusers from working in our fields, or is there a restorative and transformative process we can enter to determine next steps, together? Amanda suggests a thoughtful process that asks both parties to understand impact and think of a solution that both holds someone accountable and offers compassion and hope for individual change.
Funders and donors, are you paying attention to who is being called out for this? Are you tracking when and where known abusers are working and if they’ve been held accountable?
All of this keeps coming back to: Are we even really talking about this in our communities and in our sector at all?
If your office has more than five women, chances are at least one of them has been or will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. These experiences and their consequences are not beyond us, outside of us, or far away from us. They are right in front of us, within us, and sometimes even perpetrated by us.
Let’s talk about this, about us, and about what accountability really looks like.
Are you also thinking about #MeToo and its implications in our sector? If you are, you aren’t alone; let’s talk about this together. I’m thinking about organizing a conversation around this in my community. Please reach out and let me know if you want to be involved or kept in the loop. However imperfect it may be, I would rather us talk about this than push it under the rug. We owe this to survivors, to our communities, we owe this to ourselves.