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Issue 33

Communities Respond To Sexual Assault
By  Cary Miller

A group of five women stepped onto the Pointless Fest stage on an early Sunday afternoon in August 2004 and announced that three rapes had been committed during the weekend. Silence settled over the sweaty crowd in the basement of the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, where the four-day annual punk music festival was taking place. Although the rapes had not occurred at the festival venue, both the survivors and the two perpetrators were attending that weekend. In a scene like underground punk and hardcore that pays a lot of lip-service to being anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-oppression, news like this is a reminder that these struggles are far from over, even in Leftist communities.

The five women, who organized themselves the previous night, read a statement that the survivors were being emotionally and physically supported and that the two perpetrators were being dealt with. Both from Minneapolis, one perpetrator was arrested and the other was “made to understand that he will never be welcome in Philly again.” Information about the three survivors was kept vague or secret, in order to spare them the negative stigma applied to rape survivors.

Later on that week an open letter was widely distributed to underground punk zines and on the internet detailing the work, the careful consideration, and the actions taken to support the survivors. This letter, available online at, provided a timeline of events and an explanation of why certain actions were taken. It was designed by the group of women as a self-critique and a call to action. An excerpt from the letter defined their goal: “To truly have a radical community that exists as a safe space for all, we need to get ourselves together on sexual assault issues.”

Since the Pointless Fest, this small group of women has grown into two collectives working in cooperation: Philly’s Pissed, whose goal is to support survivors, and Philly Stands Up, which focuses on the accountability and rehabilitation of assaulters. Originally split along gender lines, with women in Philly’s Pissed and men in Philly Stands Up, a reorganization resulted in multi-gendered collectives and a greater focus on developing members’ skills to deal with both survivors and perpetrators.

Cristy Road, a member of Philly’s Pissed, says that “police often invalidate survivors’ stories, placing the blame on their clothing or behavior.” Unless there is significant evidence of physical violence, a prosecution is difficult to obtain. “And that’s not even mentioning the alienation, abuse, and humiliation that survivors may go through when they come forward,” she adds.

When a survivor approaches Philly’s Pissed, the collective asks, “What do you need to start healing?” This question returns power to a survivor and allows them to rebuild confidence that they are in control of their life. Sometimes all a survivor needs is someone to listen to their story. Sometimes they want professional counseling. Other times, a survivor will have a list of demands they would like the assaulter presented with.

Philly Stands Up contacts the perpetrator and works to see that these demands are understood and met. Some demands for the assaulter include: they will not contact the survivor; they will seek counseling; if the assaulter plays in a band or writes a zine, they will use their community forum to announce they are an assaulter; and, they will notify any future sexual partners that they assaulted someone in the past. These demands are designed to establish a sense of accountability to the survivor and the community.

In the past decade, as punk communities have become more and more involved in activist and anti-oppression struggles, punks across North America have begun utilizing their do-it-yourself attitude to deal with sexual assault situations within their local scenes. The organized responses have sometimes seemed ephemeral. A rape survivor will publicly name their assaulter, and a group of friends and concerned individuals will come together to provide support and confront the assaulter. In many cases, the emotionally-charged nature of the situation has created rifts within punk or activist circles, and the lack of widespread public support for the survivor and their supporters has led to burnout and alienation. Supporters who experience backlash from the scene say that, in many cases, it only made them more committed to survivors and demonstrated how desperately accountability models are needed.

The Hysteria Collective in Portland, Oregon is possibly the longest-running and most well-known anti-sexual assault collective in the United States. Like the two Philadelphia groups, Hysteria is working toward a proactive and, hopefully, preventative stance by creating safe spaces at events like movie nights and musical performances, to raise money for counseling and to create awareness of the issues. In addition to providing free counseling, they are becoming a community resource for any sexual assault survivor.

Lauren Hartley of the Hysteria Collective says, “One of the main reasons I’ve become involved with this is because I really need us as a community to get to a point where we can solve our own problems. As an anarchist, I would love to say ‘fuck the system,’ but I can’t in good conscience say that if there aren’t any other options to turn to.” Her goal is to build upon current support systems, such as crisis hotlines and the criminal justice system, to create “something that feels safe for queers, trannies, working class people, people of color or even punk kids.”

To read the rest of this piece and other great Clamor features, please pick up a copy of the new issue, or subscribe now.

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