The following remarks were written by Elena, a youth-oriented organizer and a member of the Durham, N.C., branch of Workers World Party. Elena was scheduled to represent the International Action Center at the 3rd All India Mahila Sanskritik Sanghatane (AIMSS) conference in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, being held Jan. 29-31, along with Workers World managing editor, LeiLani Dowell. The day before the conference was to begin, the Indian Consulate in the U.S. denied her a visa to travel there. Her talk was read at the conference.
I thank you for your humbling invitation to attend the AIMSS conference in Kerala. I regret that I am not able to attend in person. The day I was to travel, I learned that my visa application was delayed by the Indian Consulate, pending a review of both my references and the references of the AIMSS conference.
This action by the Indian government was a significant disappointment, particularly at this moment when the women’s movement and the movement against patriarchy and violence against women is at a historic high in India. No doubt it is in direct reaction to this growing popular outrage against the persistent dehumanization of women that made the government choose to bar access to this important conference to international delegates.
It is a testament to the power of the women’s movement in India, and to the importance of this conference, that the bureaucrats representing the Indian government believed that repression was the best approach. I thank you all for reading this letter in the place of my physical attendance. I hope in the future I may be permitted to visit India, to hear your stories directly, and learn more about the women’s movement here.
It is an overwhelming task to be asked to speak to the state of the women’s movement in the U.S. and the struggle against violence and patriarchy in a short amount of time. I will seek to highlight some of the overall trends and developments in the United States. The treatment, degradation and violence against women in the U.S. in many ways mirrors the experiences that women face around the world. By naming and recognizing our shared experiences, we can build greater unity in our fight for socialism and our fight against patriarchy, discrimination in the workplace, economic insecurity, trafficking and gendered violence.
In 2010, the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control conducted a comprehensive survey on sexual assault in the U.S. The study, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of 16,507 adults, produced startling results. What it found was that the prior estimate by the U.S. Department of Justice, which held that approximately 188,000 women were the victims of rape or attempted rape in the previous year, was most likely incorrect by a factor of 10.
It found that 1 percent of women surveyed reported being raped just in the previous year, a figure that suggests that 1.3 million women annually may be victims of rape or attempted rape. One in five women report being the survivors of sexual assault in the U.S., 1 in 4 report having been beaten by an intimate partner, and 1 in 6 report being stalked.
Additionally, one in 71 men report being sexual assault survivors, and of them, nearly 30 percent of male survivors were sexually assaulted before age 11. Of the women who were sexually assaulted, almost half experience their first assault before the age of 18.
Thus, we see that in the U.S., under capitalism, a system that feeds its existence through exploitation and violence, we have cultivated a culture where the victims of the worst kinds of violence, including the violence of poverty, are overwhelmingly women and children.
In order for this to be true, the ruling class must hide this behavior to the point where it is barely seen or mentioned in the media and they normalize it by perpetuating a rape culture — a big part of which is victim-blaming. Such is the case of the 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, who was raped by members of the town’s beloved high school football team. They [the football players] took the unconscious drugged teen to a series of parties, where other attendees tweeted, took photos, and posted videos, making jokes about the assault as it was happening and posting it in real time on social media.
Even now only half of the residents in this economically depressed, working-class town believe that the football players, not the girl, are to blame and should be prosecuted.
In this case, it has only been through the persistent action of people living outside the town, namely the activist hacker group “Anonymous,” which unburied photos and videos that had been deleted from the Internet and reposted them, calling national attention to this case.
National attention was also raised by the actions of a woman crime blogger who grew up in Steubenville, but has since moved away. She acknowledges that the people who live in the town risk threats to their livelihood and retribution by the community if they dare to speak out on behalf of the victim — or to come forward as witnesses.
It has come out recently that the parents of the victim were intimidated by the prosecutor from filing a report. It was later revealed that this prosecutor may have hosted one of the parties where one of the incidents took place.
Even now bureaucratic delays, judges and prosecutors recusing themselves based on personal relationships and other official roadblocks, have made the path to justice rocky.
Sexual violence and white supremacy
This prevailing sentiment that “boys will be boys” has too long been used as a cover for gross injustice, allowing men and boys a free pass. This sentiment also perpetuates through tacit sexism and patriarchal attitudes violence and the dehumanization of women, girls and children. Further, the ways in which violence, prosecution and justice play out in the U.S. is deeply and intrinsically tied to white supremacy and racism, where white boys get a slap on the wrist if anything at all, particularly when the victim is a woman of color.
In 2005, I was part of the community struggle around a well-publicized rape of a poor African-American dancer, who was also a student and single mother. She was hired to entertain the members of the Duke University LaCrosse team at an off-campus party. Duke University is an elite school whose great endowment has historic roots in the tobacco and plantation fortunes of the South.
At this party, she was allegedly assaulted and raped by several members of the LaCrosse team who are white. The following morning, after news of the party had spread, dozens of brave women in Durham — many of whom were themselves survivors of assaults, and one leader whose family is actually from Kerala, India, held a pots and pans demonstration in front of the home where the assault took place, making a great noise to bring attention to what had taken place.
News of this story went international; however, there was to be no justice for this young woman. Despite strong community organizing, the families of the rich ruling-class students hired a very expensive legal team that slandered the reputation of the survivor, by repeating the “she deserved it,” “she shouldn’t have been there in the first place” mantras.
In addition, the lawyers went after the office of the Durham prosecutor who was seeking the conviction — who was drummed out of office. And the charges were eventually dropped — not because the men were found not guilty by a jury, but because of bureaucratic technicalities in how the evidence was acquired and how the investigation was conducted.
We saw very clearly that wealth, class, gender and race are the determining factors in how justice is applied under a racist, capitalist and patriarchal system.
In the U.S. one-third of all women have experienced intimate partner violence, psychological terror in the form of stalking, or sexual assault. But unlike our brave sisters and allies in India, people are not taking to the streets by the thousands; in fact, the issue is barely mentioned, particularly not through the lens of dismantling patriarchy and in pursuit of restorative justice and structural change. We, in the U.S., have much to learn from our sisters and allies in India.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act, an act which has been renewed every year since 1994. It is supposed to help protect women against assault and encourage them to come out and report it when assaults happen.
While the effectiveness of its implementation is another question, there is no question that this law provided much needed protections to victims and survivors, protections which have now been stripped away in this tide of misogynistic reaction — that is, the kicks and screams of men holding on to power and resisting the emergence of a new generation of strong, educated and empowered women. Women know that questions of poverty, imperialism, violence, economic security, exploitation and education intersect with their class interests — that ultimately class unity and the struggle against all forms of oppression is the only way toward true liberation, to an end of patriarchy and an end to all forms of economic, physical and sexual violence in society.
Down with patriarchy! Long live the global class struggle!
Your sister in the U.S. South,