Restorative Justice is Sexy

Check out my article that was recently posted by one of my professors on her website, Peace Is Sexy.

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Reflections on my Struggle Against Sexual Violence

Dear all,

I wrote this for an online class I’m taking called “Domestic Violence: Community Problem, Community Impact, Community Solutions.” It’s in addition to my Master’s degree. I’m really excited about it and feel really good about my thesis idea so far.

Love,

Matthew

I’m at a very important moment in my academic and professional career as a Master’s student in Peace and Conflict Studies in Turkey with a week left of classes. I feel that I have learned all I want to know about international conflict for the time being, but what I know I will never stop studying is the war at home. 

For more than eight years now I’ve fought in some way for women’s rights. I have identified as a feminist since college and have organized numerous protests and demonstrations on behalf of the cause. I also joined a men’s group, called the “Men of Strength Club,” supported by the D.C.-based Men Can Stop Rape, to talk regularly about issues of masculinity and violence against women. My group reached out to other men and raised awareness on campus. I was more than content with my role as a male ally. I remember speaking passionately at Take Back the Night one April because I was moved to tears when I heard a previous speaker talk about the horror and cruelty of domestic violence. It was as if all the violent acts she was describing were being committed against the woman I loved at the time. I was deeply moved wanted nothing more than to do my part to challenge the prevailing standard of masculinity. 

Right after college I completed the training to become a crisis counselor for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). I would gone through the training at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) back then but was told I’d have more direct service opportunities at RAINN. I served as an online counselor from May 2008 and spoke to hundreds, if not thousands, of people, mostly women, until just recently, when I became overwhelmed with personal and professional strive and could do it no longer. Yet I continue to serve the cause as one of only a handful of male volunteers at the DCRCC, where I just recently tasted victory in a two-year struggle with management to give men equal volunteering opportunities (namely to allow them to take regular shifts on the crisis hotline if they are qualified, committed, and trained) at a time of increased demand. The change occurred only after the resignation of the hard-line executive director of 20 years. 

I am also involved in a community project in D.C. that helps survivors of sexual and other forms of violence to find healing and accountability through transformative justice. Last year I attempted to expand this work to Occupy D.C. with mixed results, but we continue to work to this day to address lingering issues from what was a highly insecure situation in the two Occupy camps for women and other vulnerable groups.

I believe the key to winning any struggle that concerns gender is to bring people of all genders closer together. Adherence to a strict gender dichotomy in order to maintain the power of one group over the other is the root cause of any form of gender-based violence or discrimination. It is easy (and common) to see this as a “man v. woman” issue where the man is the perpetrator and the woman is the victim. I know a few men who see it in reverse, but both views are far too simplistic. If we as a society are serious about ending rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and discrimination, we must make a concerted effort to cooperate as people. I even hesitate to use words like “men” and “women” because it is clear that people do not fit into such static categories. I personally like to identify as androgynous: I am a human being composed of numerous attributes, some of which are more associated with the masculine while others are more along traditionally feminine lines. I will not accept exclusion or dismissal because of my perceived gender. This would not be acceptable in most, if not all other, progressive movements, so it should not be acceptable in the women’s rights/anti-gender-based violence movements. It only adds fuel to the violence inherent in division when any major stakeholder is not given a seat at the table — no matter what the movement intends to address.

My personal experience with both sexual and emotional violence has taught me that that the most dangerous people are those who are sufficiently dis-empowered and lack the skill, support, and/or the knowledge to re-empower themselves in a healthy, nonviolent way. The link between the abused and the abuser has never been clearer to me, and I have spoken to many, many people who have been in both roles, sometimes simultaneously. The ray of hope to take from this is that both abused and abuser are conditional roles and can change once the abused is liberated. I plan to spend the rest of my life working to break those chains of oppression and the silence that upholds them — as a modern-day abolitionist.

The next step will be to write my thesis, which will focus on restorative and transformative responses to sexual violence..

I end with a poem by Edwin Markham that, to me, sums up the entire struggle:

He drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that kept him in.