Saturday, March 31, 2012

What I learned in the process of confronting sexual assault in the slam community- by Lisa Slater

  1. When a dear friend comes forward and tells you that she was sexually assaulted, do not ask what happened. Tell her you’re sorry. Ask her what she needs and how you can support her. Tell her you love her, and thank her for trusting you. (And if you fuck it up like I did, proceed to point 2.)
  2. When I found myself trying to protect the perpetrator, I had to check myself and check my values. I had to remember that the most important thing was the safety of the survivor and our community, and that I couldn’t let a perpetrator’s discomfort over being called out guide me. I had to remind myself that confronting shit is hard, but necessary if we are going to build a better community. 
  3. The process of confronting sexual assault in a community is never about one situation. It is never about one perpetrator or one survivor. It is about building a framework for confronting these issues, so that silence does not reign. It is about coming together as a community, and saying “we care about the fact that this is happening to people in our community. We want to build a community response that keeps people safer, and allows perpetrators to heal.”
  4. Do not project your story, your values, or your needs onto anyone else that is participating in this process. Do not advise the survivor on how they should handle this. Support them in moving forward in whatever way is best for them and their healing. 
  5. When a group of people are working on these issues in close quarters, you will sometimes rub (slam) up against each other’s triggers. It will be hard. You will feel like a fuck up most of the time. There is a lot of crying. Sometimes there is a lot of arguing. In the best cases, there is also a lot of listening and accountability and honouring and practicing good self-care.
  6. Be conscious of the way that other people’s stories about violence engage and trigger you in places that you might not be expecting. Seek out support – lots of it – from lots of places. We can all be loved and supported abundantly, if we just allowed ourselves to believe that we are not a burden.
  7. I learned a lot from the men who were involved in this process. In university, I learned to process and heal from sexual assault with women in a women-only space. I had no tools for building safety that involved men, and no tools for engaging with men who were survivors. I have been doing this work a long time, without engaging men as anything other than bodyguards and bouncers. It was tremendously joyous (and hugely fucking difficult) to be emotionally heard and supported by men, and to process alongside them. The things I learned from my husband Kyle, from Jessica’s partner Erich, and from our friend Chris were invaluable. They help me believe that I can have intimate, safe friendships with men.
  8. “Nice girl” instincts are the worst: the desire to not stir the pot, to let sleeping dogs lie, to let it all be water under the bridge and keep the herd together. I had to confront the reality that silence allows people to continue to be assaulted. Silence allows perpetrators to move through the community, unchecked and unhealed. I needed to make a decision that no matter how painful that shit was, that I was not going to be complicit in these assaults through my silence.
  9. Okay, actually, guilt might be the worst. Guilt about calling people out, about naming them. About demanding that they change their lives. About the devastation of their friends and families when they learn this. The question, uttered in a whisper: What right do I have to do this to them?
  10. Going into the community meeting, I knew of at least 5 stories of violence, intimidation or sexual assault. More have been coming forward, both at the meeting and since then. If this has happened to you, I can almost guarantee that there are others. People are contacting Jess to tell her: me, too. That’s why I stopped coming to the slam. It is fucking heartbreaking, but also affirming. This needed to be said, and we are speaking for so many other people.
  11. Tara Hardy is the second coming of Jesus.
  12. I was doing pretty well last night with trying to hold it all together. I shared my own experience with sexual assault without crying. Do you want to know what broke me open? A man in our community saying that he had been someone who didn’t believe that this was a problem in our community, that he had heard things but didn’t know what to do, and that he was sorry. The grief and regret in his expression. I didn’t know how badly I needed to hear that. I didn’t know that I had a sob choked in my throat, waiting for that apology.
  13. My anger that nothing had been done for so long is outweighed only by my relief that we have finally done something.
  14. I can make and support a change of culture in my community. So can you. We all can.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


  1. This is making me cry... the thought that this is happening / has happened in my community (even if it isn't my community... if you know what I am saying... I'm not sure I do)

    I am so sorry.

  2. I agree that silence is not helpful. It only caters to people feeling that they are alone & isolated, and protects the perpetrators. This is true for sexual assault or any type of bully or abuse. Together, people can create change & safety - but silence keeps people alone, struggling by themselves. Good for you, for speaking out. I'm sorry you have had that experience. Shame on the perpetrator. And, I'm glad you have found supports in friends (both male & female). I support you.
    - Leigh (aka Poeticleigh Speaking)

  3. This post definitely made me cry, and not to lessen the pain and tragedy, I must say it's also given me a charge of positive energy by showing a strong, self-analytical, and caring response from the community. People matter, and the way we interact and address our issues as they arise in our communities also matter. Your response is heartening to this old cynic.

    And yes, Tara Hardy is the second coming of Jesus.