Category Archives: sexual violence

Don’t miss this massive protest July 24th during the Global AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

You knew it was coming. It’s been almost 30 years since the International AIDS Conference was in the U.S. — and this year, it will be in the nation’s capital just a few months shy of an election that many see as a referendum on access to healthcare. The worldwide media will be there. AIDS policymakers from all over will be there. And AIDS activists will gather to make as big a splash as we can.

The thing I love about this protest is not just how big and gorgeous it’s going to be — with 5 branches representing unique struggles that make up the AIDS movement — but that it unashamedly tackles the real problems, the complicated mess of profiteering and stigmatizing and controlling human beings that has caused and perpetuated the AIDS crisis. Please go to www.wecanendaids.org immediately to find out how you can get on the bus, meet up with the convergence in D.C., and get more involved. Read the captivating platform here and find contact info for transportation from your city here. For more information about the 5 branches of the protest, click here.

1. Fight Pharma’s Corporate Greed: People over Profits, Health Care and Treatment Access for All.
2. Tax Wall Street: Use a Robin Hood Tax to Fund AIDS Treatment, Prevention and Health Care, Provide Jobs, and Fight Climate Change at Home and Around the World.
3. Promote Sound Policies: Public Policy Based on Science and Human Needs; Lift the Federal Ban on and Fully Fund Syringe Exchange Programs.
4. End the War on Women: Reproductive Justice and End Gender-Based Violence
5. Respect our Human Rights and Promote Harm Reduction: End the War on Drugs and Drug Users; Confront HIV Criminalization, Stigma, Mass Imprisonment and Anti-LGBTQ Violence and Discrimination.

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Highlights from the US Social Forum: LA COIL on Intersectionality, Horizontalism and Prefigurative Politics

My favorite session at the U.S. Social Forum was organized by LA COiL (Communities Organizing Liberation), a collective of revolutionaries who work with the teachers’ union, the Garment Workers’ Center, and in hospitals in Los Angeles. [For more information, contact them at coil.losangeles (at) gmail.com.] They asked us to imagine in detail the world we want to live in, starting with what we want our schools to look like (windows on every floor! peer evaluation! all students, faculty, staff and community members involved in decisions about budget, curriculum, etc!) and then exploring how we can build accountability and support structures in our neighborhoods to replace police and prisons. These folks are for real.

LA COiL members gave workshop participants a little green booklet with a fresh design (trippy rippling circles that intersect) and reader-friendly layout. I am going to zerox the hell out of this thing and start handing them out like candy. I don’t think it’s available on the internet yet (although you can download a scrappy pdf here), so I’m going to type up a few short excerpts. The pamphlet, which LA COiL wrote together with a group named Another Politics is Possible, is called, “So That We May Soar: Horizontalism, Intersectionality, and Prefigurative Politics.” What does that mean? Basically, these folks are putting into words the kind of politics many of us have been trying to develop and have been searching for in every organization we work with. Here are some brief quotes from the pamphlet that can be used as definitions:

1. “Horizontalism challenges each individual to break out of the patterns of allowing others to be the agents of change, and to begin to trust, grow and develop ourselves, politically and personally, alongside others…. It is about investing the time and energy in education, support, and encouragement in order to allow for full participation and decision-making…. This requires the development of structures that truly embody collective work, collective leadership and decentralize power.” (pages 11-12)

2. Prefigurative politics: “We offer our vision of a different world, not as a promise of a place that is far off in the distance where one day we can hope to dramatically arrive, but rather as a set of principles and values that guide us in our practice of liberation now. We want to talk about how to build movements and organizations that both challenge current conditions and practice liberation. We practice liberation now in order to build experience with holding power differently in our own lives and communities, to reclaim our agency, creativity, humanity, dignity, and our capacity to love and be joyful…. We understand revolution as a process rather than an event and are working to build movements that transform power, rather than merely seizing or democratizing power in its current forms.” (page 1)

3. For Intersectionality, the term I think is most relevant to the AIDS movement, I’m going to type up a whole section of the pamphlet here:

Making an Intersectional Analysis Central

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.”

— Audre Lorde

We all live at the intersection of multiple identities, privileges and oppressions. As a result, radical politics that rank oppressions or attempt to identify a “primary contradiction” all too often end up addressing one aspect of domination while reinforcing others. Continue reading

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US Social Forum workshops not to be missed!

So the US Social Forum starts tomorrow in Detroit!

I had a life-altering, mind-blowing experience at the first-ever USSF, in Atlanta in 2007, and wrote this open letter to the AIDS movement and the Left: https://aidsandsocialjustice.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/open-letter-to-the-left-and-the-aids-movement-two-ships-passing-on-our-winding-way-to-a-new-dawn/

This will be the second-ever USSF. I’ll be blogging about sessions I go to that are inspiring. But I probably won’t post anything here til after I get home, exhausted as my aching bones get at conferences, and me without a laptop.

Here are some sessions I’d recommend for AIDS activists and all social justice activists who are blessed to be going to Detroit!

– Suzy

WED, 10am-noon, Cobo Hall: O2-42
Join in the Whirlwind: A Cooperative Panel on Research and Movement Building
Team Colors Collective

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: D2-08
The Take Back the Land Movement: Realizing the Human Right to Housing in the US
Take Back the Land (Miami), Survivors Village (New Orleans), Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: W2-67
US Social Forum Queer People’s Movement Assembly
co-hosted by The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, which works on prison issues, along with other groups including Queers for Economic Justice, SONG: Southerners on New Ground, and more groundbreaking LGBT groups Continue reading

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Cultural Healing: Native American Activists Say Boarding School Abuses Harmed the Health of Generations

—Suzy Subways

December 2008 • Issue 9

An 1890s photo of Carlisle Boarding School graduates. Carlisle, the first Native American boarding school, was opened by Captain Richard Pratt in 1878.

“Many of the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse now prevalent in Indian country can be traced back to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of our keepers in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and mission boarding schools,” Lakota journalist and boarding school survivor Tim Giago wrote in the Huffington Post. Government-sponsored boarding schools have created a legacy of trauma among Native American peoples in the United States. The Boarding School Healing Project documents the abuse and demonstrates how it has led to high rates of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, violence against women, alcoholism, and drug use in Native communities. In addition to the homophobia the schools enforced in children from cultures traditionally welcoming of gay and gender-nonconforming people, most of these symptoms of trauma are the same factors that make Native communities vulnerable to HIV. A look at the brutal history of these boarding schools can teach us a lot about the ways that social injustice fuels the epidemic – and how to fight back.

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”

In the late 1800s, the U.S. government debated how to remove Native Americans from their land – “extermination or civilization,” as one former commissioner of Indian Affairs put it – and it paid Christian churches to run boarding schools as a “civilizing” alternative, Cherokee activist Andrea Smith writes in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and Native American Genocide. Army captain Richard Pratt opened the first of the schools in 1879, arguing that they would “kill the Indian and save the man” by destroying the cultural link between children and their communities. Until the 1930s, Native children were forcibly taken from their families at age 5, and parents who resisted were jailed.

For 100 years, from the 1880s through 1980s, about 100,000 Native people grew up at the schools. Abuse was rampant, and children were physically punished for speaking Native languages or practicing their religion. “I want people to know how we were beaten with leather straps, shorn of our hair, and used as child slave-laborers at these boarding schools,” Giago writes. “My eight-year-old sister, along with dozens of Lakota girls the same age, was raped at the mission school …. [she] told me about her abuse on her deathbed and I, along with her three children, finally understood why she had become a violent, alcoholic woman for so much of her life.”

“I agree that the effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses,” activist Charmaine Whiteface told the Native Press. “My parents both attended a Catholic boarding school and experienced, as well as saw, all these types of abuses. They refused to speak the Lakota language to us and only wanted us to be ‘white.’ There was alcoholism and major physical, emotional and mental abuse in our home. They knew no other way: They were terrified of being Indian. If it were not for my grandmother who taught me in secret, I might not have even a little knowledge about my culture.”

“The effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses.”

Canada forced Native children into residential schools until the 1970s, and abuses there are better documented. According to the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, churches and government are responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children. Survivors tell of witnessing church and school officials murder their classmates through beatings, hangings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. Many children starved because the schools were run on chronically low budgets. Until the 1940s, students were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis. Survivors say they were forced to play and share beds with children dying of the disease. There is testimony that babies born to Native girls raped by church officials were killed and buried on school grounds. The Canadian government issued an apology this year, but activists say that nearly half the survivors will be left without compensation, and witnesses will not be allowed to give the names of perpetrators or describe any misconduct. Continue reading

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TAKE ACTION – What You Can Do

December 2008 • Issue 9

  1. Break the silence about boarding school abuses. Order the 18-minute documentary A Century of Genocide in the Americas: The Residential School Experience by Rosemary Gibbons and Dax Thomas (2002) and host an event to show it with friends, in your neighborhood, school, or organization. After the film, you can hand out paper and pens so everyone can write letters to the editor of your local paper. Pass the hat for donations to the Boarding School Healing Project. Check the Project’s Take Action page and write letters to the United Nations and other authorities to demand investigation of human rights violations. Distribute the video to libraries and media outlets in your community.
  2. Demand sexual assault services for Native women. For most women living on reservations, the Indian Health Service (IHS) emergency room is the only place to go after a sexual assault. But in 2005, the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center found that 44% of IHS facilities lack trained personnel to provide emergency services after a rape, including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection. According to Department of Justice statistics, rape in American Indian and Alaska Native populations is 3.5 times higher than among all other racial groups. 85% of perpetrators are non-Native men, most of them white. The U.S. government is required by legally binding treaties to provide health care to Native communities, which it promised in exchange for land it took. Go to the center’s Action Alert page to send an advocacy letter. For background info on sexual assault and Native women, watch the center’s videos on YouTube: Indigenous Women’s Reproductive Health Rights (2005) and Violence Against Women is Against the Law (2007). Amnesty International also has an Online Action Center page devoted to the issue.
  3. Join or start a Oaxaca solidarity group – like the ones in Austin, Chicago, Flagstaff, Portland, Santa Cruz, and other cities – in your hometown. There will continue to be urgent calls for solidarity with social movements in Oaxaca asking people to demonstrate at their nearest Mexican Consulate, and a group can help people mobilize quickly. Your group can also host speakers and film screenings to educate the community and raise money to support organizing and media work in Oaxaca. If there isn’t already a group in your area, contact one of the existing groups or visit elenemigocomun.net [The Common Enemy] for help starting one.
  4. Research local archives and government and church records for evidence of crimes in Native American boarding schools. If your church or government is responsible for abuses and/or deaths of Native children, take steps to hold it accountable. This could start just by talking with others in your community about it. Then, for example, you could work within your church organization to help (and pressure) it to gather information, release it publicly, and reach out to Native groups to offer restitution.
  5. Protest the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. The 2010 Winter Olympics will take place on unceded indigenous land from February 12 to 28, 2010. According to the Olympics Resistance Network, the harmful effects have already begun – expansion of sport tourism and resource extraction on indigenous lands; increasing homelessness and gentrification of poor neighborhoods; more privatization of public services; union-busting, especially for migrant labor; the fortification of national security; ballooning public spending and public debt; and unprecedented destruction of the environment. Building on a call by Native activists, the network is organizing a protest convergence between February 10 and 15, 2010.
  6. Stay informed and involved. Visit Intercontinental Cry for frequently updated news, videos, and info about how you can support indigenous struggles around the world to reclaim their lands and protect their lives, their traditions, and the environment.

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RESOURCES

December 2008 • Issue 9

Bilingual Links:
What are American Indian/Alaskan Natives’ (AI/AN) HIV prevention needs? (2002, factsheet)
English: caps.ucsf.edu/pubs/FS/nativeamerican.php
Español: caps.ucsf.edu/espanol/hojas/pdf/IN-NAFS.pdf
This Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) factsheet from UCSF links the history of colonization, outlawing Native languages and spiritual practices, and centuries of forced relocation with a disproportionate burden of HIV risk factors.

El Enemigo Común (The Common Enemy)
elenemigocomun.net (website)
News and videos from social movements and media collectives in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Risk Across Borders: Sexual Contexts and HIV Prevention Challenges among Mexican Gay and Bisexual Immigrant Men (August 2008, monograph)
These findings and recommendations from a new CAPS study are an easy-to-read resource for immigrants, gay men, HIV educators, activists, policy makers, and scholars.

English Links:
Native American HIV/AIDS organizations (web page, 2008)
Current list from the UCSF Center for HIV Information.

HIV Cultural Competency within Native American Communities (2005, video)
Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center video on how to respectfully provide HIV services in Native communities. Viewable on YouTube.

Lisa Tiger, HIV/AIDS educator and motivational speaker (website)
A longtime Native activist speaks about living with HIV and how to fight AIDS in Native communities.

Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (organization)
A community-based volunteer organization to restore the role of Two-Spirit people within the American Indian/First Nations community.

Allies of the Lakota (organization)
Donate to the Porcupine Clinic, the only independent Indian community-controlled health clinic in the United States.

Turtle Island Native Network – Focus on Indian Residential Schools (web page)
Videos and documents about the genocidal history of Canada’s Indian residential schools, with healing resources for survivors. Continue reading

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Workers in the sex industry fight discrimination, violence, and HIV

by Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

Many different types of jobs and trade can be defined as sex work. And many people around the world may call themselves sex workers, including people who work as escorts, prostitutes, erotic massage workers, exotic dancers, or hustlers; do phone sex, lingerie modeling, adult internet sites, or adult films; live with the support of a sugar-daddy or sugar-mama; or have sex for housing, food, clothing, drugs, or other things they need. In this issue of the Solidarity Project, we discuss ways that sex workers are building their power to protect themselves from violence, arrest, stigma, and HIV.

“Sex workers organizing as HIV prevention workers, especially in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, South Africa, and some Asian countries have, with funding for HIV prevention programs, fostered a thriving sex workers’ rights movement,” says Priscilla Alexander, longtime activist and researcher on sex work and HIV. “The best HIV prevention is designed by vulnerable communities themselves, so it’s essential that sex workers have a say. But the gag rule has damaged global organizing.” The gag rule is a policy requiring all organizations outside the United States to denounce prostitution in order to receive global HIV prevention money (see sidebar next page).

In this issue of the Solidarity Project, we spotlight activist groups, such as Davida in Brazil and EMPOWER in Thailand, that work creatively without U.S. funding. We also explore how arrest, deportation and police abuse, as well as the stigma and violence sex workers often experience from clients, in their workplace and in society, put them at risk for HIV – and how
organized resistance to these threats is an essential element of HIV prevention.

“The first reason for not using condoms is the fear of violence,” says Yaya Liem of Project SAFE, a street outreach program for sex workers run by volunteers in Philadelphia. “The rate and visibility of violence is sky-high.” Continue reading

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Liberated Style

Sex workers in Washington, DC, and Brazil develop creative strategies to fight stigma, violence, police repression, and HIV

By Darby Hickey

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

The “DC Madam” is in the news again. Some sex workers on the streets of the nation’s capital may be glad that Deborah Jeane Palfrey (accused of running an illegal escort service for 13 years) has helped reveal the hypocrisy of moral crusader David Vitter, the Republican Senator from Louisiana, who has admitted to being a client of the service. At the end of April this year, Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias – the man responsible for implementing the policy that forces all organizations to denounce prostitution in order to receive U.S. global AIDS funds – also resigned after being linked to the alleged prostitution service. Although it may be a joy to watch Vitter and Tobias tumble, many DC sex workers want to know why Palfrey is getting so much media attention while most sex workers regularly face violence and police arrest.

Sex workers from around the world demonstrate at the XVI International HIV/AIDS Conference in Toronto, August 16, 2006.

You won’t hear about sex workers organizing for their rights in DC in the media frenzy surrounding Palfrey’s case – but they are organizing. Transgender women, African-American exotic dancers, online escorts, male street-based workers and sex workers from many different fields are coming together to push for change in the District and to support broader activism by people trading sex for money and other things they need for survival.

Washington, DC: Safety in the Streets

In 2005, community members and organizations such as Different Avenues, HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive), La Clinica del Pueblo, and HIV/AIDS groups, organized to form the Alliance for a Safe & Diverse DC to work against proposed repressive legislation targeting people in public spaces. Although the legislation passed, the organizing effort built community among those involved. People were determined to keep up the fight for the rights of some of the most marginalized communities in our city. One of the most alarming aspects of the law was to create “prostitution free zones” where police could arrest anyone in the jurisdiction they believed were there for the “purpose of prostitution” – even if they weren’t breaking any law. Basically, the legislation gave legal backing to long-standing practices of police profiling of certain individuals and communities. For example, these techniques pushed transgender sex workers out of a downtown stroll into a much more dangerous area located on the literal edge of the city where they are not only robbed, raped, shot at and more, but also have greater difficulty interacting with health outreach teams.

To help support our claims about the negative impact of the legislation, the Alliance for a Safe & Diverse DC started the Community Research Project. The Project is examining ways that DC’s prostitution policies affect communities, including trans people, the homeless, and women of color. Community based research in this case means research directed and conducted by members of the affected communities, rather than by academics. Our diverse research team will use anthropological and sociological techniques in gathering surveys, observing police activity, and conducting interviews to get as much information as possible. Very little research has been done on the impact of prostitution policies and issues in the United States, and little of that sparse research has been led by people who engage in commercial sex.

We wanted to do this research to show lawmakers that they should make decisions based on evidence-based research and careful thought rather than knee-jerk reactions. By continuing to pass new anti-prostitution laws without having more information, they are not making good policies and are even contradicting their own efforts – like HIV prevention. The District has among the highest HIV rates in the country, but increased criminalization and harassment by police of suspected sex workers drive the workers further underground, further from services like health outreach and HIV counseling and testing. Police harassment also decreases sex workers’ ability to negotiate condom use or even to carry prevention materials, since police sometimes seize the materials or use them as an excuse to arrest someone on prostitution-related charges. Continue reading

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Excerpt: Durbar Policy Document on HIV Positive Sex Workers

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

In the Bengali language, Durbar means unstoppable. Based in West Bengal, the region of India with the major global city Kolkata (Calcutta), Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, or Durbar for short, is an organization of 65,000 sex workers. Durbar grounds its work in the “3 Rs” – Respect toward sex workers, Reliance on the knowledge of the community of sex workers, and Recognition of sex work as an occupation. In 1999, Durbar took over a government HIV prevention program, the Sonagachi Project, which now has HIV prevention programs in 49 sex work sites and outreach efforts serving 20,000 street workers and their clients. The group also provides low-cost HIV medications at its own clinics, education and vocational programs for sex workers and their children, cultural activities, savings and credit, social marketing of condoms, and self-regulatory boards in sex work sites to prevent trafficking.

The following is an excerpt from Durbar’s policy document on the inclusion of HIV positive sex workers in its work and leadership. It also offers insight into how stigma, violence and criminalization fuel HIV risk. In this document, “+ve” means “HIV positive.” It can be found in its entirety at http://www.durbar.org/new/a011_policy_document_on_psw.html. Continue reading

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TAKE ACTION — WHAT YOU CAN DO

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

If you’re part of a sex worker activist project and would like to learn from others doing this work, contact the following groups for insight and inspiration:

Different Avenues
Washington, DC
202-829-2103
www.differentavenues.org
Different Avenues is a peer-led organization working for the rights, health and safety of people at high risk for HIV, and fighting violence and discrimination. The organization works across labels and identities to envision a world where our communities live with justice and well-being. The majority of its constituents are youth and young adults, people who are homeless or just trying to get by, and people who formally or informally exchange sex for things they need. Most of its work is local, but Different Avenues also does its best to support national and global movements for social justice.

Project SAFE
Philadelphia
866-509-SAFE
http://www.safephila.org
SAFE serves women, including transwomen, and distributes a Bad Date Sheet to help street-based sex workers avoid clients who have attacked other women or stolen their money. Workers call SAFE’s hotline or invite SAFE volunteers to visit them at home (where they feel safer talking than in the street) and give a detailed physical description of the attacker and what happened. Reports are anonymous and shared only with women. This keeps the information from johns and the police (who may arrest or dismiss a sex worker trying to report a rape), builds trust and community, and helps women define what rape is and be heard without being stigmatized.

St. James Infirmary in San Francisco, run by sex workers for sex workers, provides free, non-judgmental healthcare.

Stella
Montreal
514-285-1599
http://www.chezstella.org
Stella, a broad-based sex worker activist group in Montreal, Canada, also has a Continue reading

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