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Beyond the Domestic Violence Awareness Vigil

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month — a month dedicated to raising awareness of the fact that an awful lot of people, including an estimated 54% of trans and nonbinary people and at least 50% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) encapsulates many of my issues with the contemporary U.S. domestic violence movement: its erasure of the systemic enablers of intimate partner violence, its exclusion of LGBTQ survivors from resources and discussion, and its collusion with law enforcement that perpetrate violence against marginalized survivors and their communities. Events for this month hosted by nonprofits and local governments tend to focus on educating people about the existence of domestic violence through statistics, vigils and events, and public statements by elected officials, including the Rapist-in-Chief, Donald Trump.

These gestures may be well-intentioned (in some cases) and cathartic for some survivors. But they also expose the hypocrisy of institutions that seek to ‘raise awareness’ of intimate partner violence while oppressing survivors of color, queer and trans survivors, poor survivors, and immigrant survivors. Are survivors safer when Boston celebrates DVAM but slashes funding for housing programs and collaborates with ICE? How helpful are DVAM events by law enforcement agencies that routinely perpetrate sexual assault and criminalize survivors of color for protecting themselves and their families from abusers? How about when colleges that ignore Title IX celebrate DVAM?

By focusing on the nebulous goal of “awareness” rather than on the concrete systemic and structural harms that survivors face, DVAM deflects attention from the role that institutions play in perpetrating and facilitating intimate partner violence (and other forms of gender violence). Survivors might be allowed to participate in these events, but they don’t necessarily serve to make us safer or address the causes of violence.

So, in light of this month, I want to highlight survivor-led efforts that offer us alternatives for responding to the gravity of intimate partner violence and struggling for a better world. The anarchist feminist, queer and trans survivor authors of the zine Dangerous Spaces show one set of possibilities to resist the entwined structures of interpersonal and systemic violence that institutions often ignore:

We do not want a feminism that will put us up in a run down state shelter for a short while until we’re “back on our feet.” We want a feminism that will break back into our house we were just kicked out of and tell the landlord he’ll have hell to pay from a mob of angry bitches if he attempts eviction again. And when one of us is raped and murdered for our gender we definitely do not want more empty calls for “justice” and quiet candle-lit vigils… We want a visible expression of exasperation, anger, and frustration that makes obvious that we are finished with these routines: the routines of violence against women and queer people, the routines of quietly shaking our heads at these tragedies, the routines of asking for change. We want a feminism that is not afraid to try new things, that is dynamic enough to know that at times healing comes in the form of vengeance and change comes in the form of destroying what destroys you.

Their actions — shutting down city streets, challenging and naming community perpetrators, providing material support and protection to survivors — are powerful to me because they serve to remind us that violence is never over, never part of a past that can be forgotten. When violence is part of the fabric of the world in which we live, nothing short of total revolution can bring an end to it.

And there are so many ways to enact that revolution on a daily basis: supporting currently incarcerated survivors, demanding immigration justice and economic justice, supporting our friends, reading and learning from other survivors, fighting to abolish prisons and police, and many others. There is no universal model of healing or survival, but we can still support one another and work for our collective liberation.

This October, let’s give the survivors in our lives more than awareness. Honor and respect survivors’ self-determination, rage and grief in the face of interpersonal and state violence. Give time, resources and energy to uplift the voices of survivors on the margins. Awareness is only the beginning: our mourning must come with a promise to continually resist the systems that keep all of us from being free.

“We are not asking for a right to the streets, we are taking them; we are not asking for advertisements that do not objectify women, we’re destroying the commercial mechanisms that objectify women; we are not appealing to male power for an end to rape, but threatening: ‘If you touch me, I will fucking kill you.’”Dangerous Spaces

Header image credit: Konhee Chang / The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, LGBTQ person and cat lover living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, LGBTQ person and cat lover living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

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