As a follow-up to the Revolutionary Lovers Guide and our Letter to Male Activists, Sisters of Resistance is posting the open letter of Seattle-based community organiser Robin Suhyung Park detailing her experience with intimate partner violence and the lack of response from the Seattle activist community. We share it here as yet another reminder that the revolution begins at home, with ourselves, and how we treat each other.
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” -Audre Lorde
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Robin Suhyung Park. I am a 21 year old student, poet and organizer based in Seattle, Washington. I have been a member of Sahngnoksoo, a Korean American organization, since 2009. In the honor of vday, the Global Movement to End Violence Against Women and Girls, I write to you for 3 reasons:
1. To break my silence; to make my experience known and real.
2. To examine the heteropatriarchal values which undermine the strength of our communities.
3. To formally ask what you have done in your community to hold perpetrators of violence accountable, and what you have done in your community to prevent intimate partner violence.
In October 2009, I began a relationship with a fellow student at the University of Washington. The relationship quickly became emotionally abusive.
In March 2010, he raped me. It may seem incredulous, but I did not leave the relationship right away. I never reported the rape to the police. That may also seem counterintuitive to you, but intimate partner violence is a complicated cycle that isn’t always easily broken, especially if one looks to her community and finds no frame of reference for how to handle such incidents appropriately and in the best interest of the survivor. Furthermore, I was petrified at the treatment I would receive from law enforcement, a historically oppressive institution that discriminates queer-identified, transgender, gender non-conforming, and womyn survivors of color.
I eventually ended the relationship in June 2010.
At first, I kept my experience quiet. I only told my closest friends and family. I did whatever I could to avoid contact with the man who raped and abused me. I sought the aid of several Seattle counseling organizations, created a safety plan (as my abuser is volatile and unpredictable) and began therapy.
In the early fall of 2010, the events of the previous summer resurfaced, becoming known to more people.
It started on September 21st, 2010, at an Anakbayan Seattle event. I attended. So did the man who raped me. We did not make contact, but the experience left me emotionally traumatized and physically ill. Anakbayan Seattle and Arts Kollective, as well as Sahngnoksoo, did not take action.
That same month, I planned to release a chapbook of my work at Isangmahal Poetics & Consciousness. The works chronicles my experiences over the previous year, including my healing process around the rape and abusive relationship. I contacted the organizing group -predominately men- to request that my rapist be banned from the event. The organizers refused to ban him, promising instead to simply “keep an eye out.”
Once again, there is no action by any community organization.
A month later, once again, I attended a community event put on by BAYAN organizations (including Anakbayan Seattle, Pinay sa Seattle, and Arts Kollective). The man who raped me was also there. I spent most of the night in the bathroom, overcome by emotions, by fear, by the obvious trauma that has resulted from being abused.
It was only after this event that the sense of urgency became real. Because of these incidents, an informal group of community members concerned for my safety attempted to hold my rapist accountable. However, this was not achieved.
In short, I was in an abusive relationship in which I was raped and assaulted. My ex-partner then attempted to enter the community I work to cultivate safe spaces in.
There was, and still is, a need for community leaders to confront this man about his behavior. It was agreed among several organizations that he is not allowed entrance into events. But was he confronted and held accountable by the community for what he has done? Never. I still do not feel safe attending most community events.
The majority of the members of this community have remained silent to not just my experience, but to the reality of intimate partner violence. Most do not engage me, or even make eye contact. Some have told me this is “personal stuff” between individuals and thus does not concern the greater community. Still, others who profess to speak out on violence against queer-identified, transgender, gender non-conforming, and womyn of color do nothing for such critical causes.
The overall lack of reaction or action isn’t just disgustingly disappointing, it is shameful. Talk is not enough. Creating the appearance of doing something is not the same as actually doing something. Politicized communities are formed because they give voice and agency to marginalized people. In other words, we are supposed to support and protect each other. It is reprehensible how much shaming and silencing I have experienced by those who profess to support “social justice” organizations and safe, nurturing “community spaces.” It is terrifying how so few know what intimate partner violence looks like, and how to hold perpetrators accountable while also supporting survivors.
We do nothing to address social justice if we allow these incidents to go on and do nothing to stop them. The community organizer who speaks out against police violence or government corruption cannot condone or remain silent about someone who rapes or beats their partner. The community organizer who protests the prison-industrial complex or extrajudicial killings and does not recognize the connection between these and intimate partner violence, does not have a complete analysis. Just as what seems to be larger systems of oppression are cyclical, so is intimate partner violence. To compartmentalize each one is NOT working towards equality and justice.
The work to dismantle these systems does not end as soon as we cross the thresholds into our homes. It does not end when we exit the traditional public sphere. If we truly believe in the power of people to enact change, then it begins with ourselves and how we operate in our smaller communities.
I have noticed that in our community the majority of those working to end intimate partner violence are queer-identified, transgender, gender non-conforming, womyn of color, NOT heterosexual men. There seem to be no recognition or understanding of how male privilege and heterosexism directly affect how queer-identified, transgender, gender non-conforming, and womyn survivors of color are received in our community.
It has been heterosexual men who have ignored me.
It has been heterosexual men who have attempted to shame and silence me.
It was a heterosexual man who raped and abused me.
The totality of this experience to date has without question been hell. But I am just one womyn. There have been countless before me, and there will be too many after me. What are we going to do for them? What are you prepared to do for them?
I have come to understand the main reason for this inaction is fear. Perhaps the issue of intimate partner violence or rape is a trigger for them based on their own experience. Perhaps they are afraid of doing further harm to a situation where an impossible amount of harm has already been done. With that said, silence and inaction are unacceptable and do more harm than any rapist ever could. Silence and inaction positively affirms perpetrators of violence and their actions.
I do want to acknowledge, give credit, and show my appreciation for those who have stepped up and stepped forward: Pinay sa Seattle and Sahngnoksoo. Members and officers of both organizations have made the effort to directly engage me, been present, and worked to move forward in this entire process of accountability.
Through my work as a spoken word artist and poet, I have begun to speak out against the silence in our communities. As a result, I have spoken to survivors who harbor similar trauma. Most keep it a secret, unable to find safe spaces to vocalize their experience. They are the same community organizers, teachers and artists that we meet, work with, and often come to know as family.
That being the case, I ask you the community organizer, the member, the partner, the friend, the family:
What have you done to create and maintain safe spaces in your community?
Are your ideals and principles cemented by equal action?
Reflect on the departures of previous members and if their exit was the result of intimate partner violence or other forms of violence?
Does your community have a model for community accountability and what are you doing to maintain the integrity of that infrastructure?
Does your community know how to create and engage in healthy and transformative dialogue on these issues?
How do you honor survivors?
I understand you may not have the answers to these questions; this is another indicator that this discussion is long overdue. This conversation is necessary for you to work towards social justice.
If you’re reading this letter and feeling that I have no right to bring these ugly matters to the forefront, to shine a light on them and demand we give them our full attention, be assured-as a survivor of rape and intimate partner violence, I have the right to do so. Moreover, I have the duty to do so.
I have the responsibility to hold my community and its members accountable, to call you out when you fail to lead us forward in our allied movements.
I have the right to speak my experience just as all survivors have the right to be heard, to be validated and supported by their communities. We have the right to claim our truths. We have the right to safe spaces.
We are taking our bodies, our stories, our voices.
We are taking ourselves back. We will not be shamed. We will not be silenced.
I welcome your feedback. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robin Suhyung Park