We (Sierra and Maria) had the opportunity to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference this year, where the theme was “Embracing Intersectionality.” Our field has seen a much-needed shift in this direction over the past several years, but especially after the COVID-19 pandemic brought what was already known by Black and Indigenous communities, communities of color, LGBTQIA+ communities, disability communities and activists, and other marginalized and underserved communities: we need to do better at recognizing how people’s identities and the way systems treat their differences impacts health outcomes, service provision, and life expectancy.
We were thrilled to continue learning how to better support advocates and member programs through an intersecitional, anti-oppresion lens. NSAC expanded our knowledge on best practices and emerging frameworks, including those that have been happening for a long time in marginalized and underserved communities but have largely been ignored by the “mainstream” movement. We are excited to share with you some of our takeaways from this conference.
While attending NSAC, I felt an immense amount of gratitude toward presenters, peers and colleagues in the sessions I attended. Each of us brought our intersectionality and lived human experiences to session conversations. I think showing up in that way created an embracing and reconstructing environment that I hope guides us all within the bigger movement to end oppression in all its forms.
Some specific takeaways include:
Sharing survivors’ stories through theater performance can be real, raw, and may be what our communities need to experience. The richness of storytelling performed by Black and Afro-Latinx transgender women and non-binary femme child sexual abuse survivors challenged my thinking of what healing and justice mean. And collective community care is crucial! If you ever have the chance to view Mirror Memoir’s Transmutation Ceremony, I highly recommend it!
“How am I using sensational or fear-based language when working with survivors that use substances?” This session in particular, presented by Katarina Pulver from the Southern Nevada Health District, allowed me to reflect on the ways in which I’ve been harmful and left me with tangible practices I can implement to decrease harm.
We need to acknowledge and discuss the full history of the anti-violence movement which includes the oppression experienced by marginalized bodies. This includes the intersectionality of race, sex and gender, and body health and wellness. Specifically, the history of the fat body and how survivors living in these intersections experience harm and trauma every day. Thank you to the presenters of this session, Amy Turner from the Kentucky Coalition for Sexual Assault Programs and Traci Simmons from The Center for Women and Families, for creating an environment to collectively process and digest lived experiences as well as prioritizing advocacy for marginalized bodies.
After attending NSAC, I remember some poignant soundbites that encompass my takeaways from the conference. Things like “DEI is what leads to belonging, it is NOT belonging,” and “be color brave” – meaning to see someone for all their person, not just a part of them. We have been doing work at CCASA around anti-oppression and diversity, equity, and inclusion, so it was really great to have these succinct ways to continue to talk to our member programs and the Colorado community about this important work. Similarly, it helped to broaden the view of some additional identities that we may not typically think of when working with survivors. I attended sessions on working with survivors upon reentry after incarceration, and on finding the intersection between sexual violence and weight.
Similarly, NSAC provided the opportunity to reflect on how we are “walking our walk” at CCASA. A reflection question one presenter asked was, “Do you require your professional partners to hold the same standards to which you ascribe?” Especially in the last few years since Black Lives Matter came to the forefront of the collective consciousness, many of us have found ourselves walking a thin line between our anti-oppression values, and working with particular partners that may not completely ascribe to the same framework. We’ve heard of partners abandoning their partnerships with member programs for taking this stand.
Another one of the sessions put into words the need to set, and adhere to, standards for our partners: “not only must we be color brave, but we must also have institutional courage whereby we commit to doing the right thing regardless of the unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost.”
Unless we can do this, we run the risk of inflicting the same institutional betrayal that survivors experience within systems we are trying to change; we need to be able to provide the support we say we will, ascribe to the values we say we ascribe to, and focus on survivor interests to create appropriate services that meet those needs instead of those that we THINK they need. This must be at the core of our advocacy.