Author(s): 

Julia Downes

Widespread doubt and disbelief of women and non-binary survivors who disclose, speak out and demand accountability for the violence they have experienced within social justice movements in the UK Left reveals a painful impasse and persistent barrier in movement building. Systemic failures of criminal justice responses to rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, coupled with State violence and regulation of social justice movements and marginalised groups, has led to consideration of community alternatives to help transform activist communities into cultures of safety and accountability. However, ‘counter-organising’ (INCITE! 2003; 2006) can distort, scrutinise and dismantle the work of survivors and their supporters in developing community accountability and safer spaces processes. The salvage research project (Downes, Hanson and Hudson, 2016) used participatory action research approaches and qualitative interviews with 10 women and non-binary survivors to explore the lived experiences of harm, violence and abuse experienced in activist communities in the UK. This article will explore how resistance to disclosures of gendered violence and anti-violence activism can be as (or more) harmful than the violence initially experienced. Five key silencing strategies are explored: (i) discrediting survivors and supporters; (ii) questioning the legitimacy of claim; (iii) questioning the legitimacy of community accountability; (iv) avoiding troubling recognitions; and (v) placing burden on survivors. The silencing of survivors and their supporters permits unequal power relations to remain unchanged, and removes any need for the misogyny and sexism produced in activist communities to be critically examined.

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