Anti-Sexual Violence Advocates Call for a Ceasefire and the Reinstatement of the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre
We are a group of anti-sexual violence advocates urging the anti-sexual violence community to add their respected voices to the chorus calling for an end to genocidal violence in Gaza. We are concerned by the deployment of anti-sexual violence narratives like #MeToo as justification for ongoing genocide and apartheid against Palestinian people. We are also alarmed by the effective closure of the U of A Sexual Assault Centre, one of many local support services caught in the crosshairs of polarizing discourse that equates all opposition to Israel’s assault on Palestinian civilians with anti-Semitism. As anti-sexual violence advocates, it is our responsibility to model discernment between believing and supporting survivors and the co-optation of sexual violence narratives to dehumanize people targeted for state violence.
Recent conversations about sexual violence are being used to justify escalating retributive violence by the state of Israel rather than to honour the pain of victims and survivors and build intersectional global solidarity against sexual violence. As anti-sexual violence advocates, we must not be afraid to name the significant racialized and Islamophobic dimension of this rhetoric. Agents of state violence, whether they be governments, militaries, or police forces, have long used the abstract issue of sexual violence to incite moral panic and justify colonizing, controlling, and killing people of colour. Conjuring the specter of the violent and misogynistic Arab man whose victims must be saved through imperial invasion and war is a well-known trope of white supremacy.
We witnessed a disturbing example of this framing in our local community when a Calgary-based anti-rape group enacted street performances depicting a man dressed in head scarves sexually assaulting a white woman at a pro-Israel rally. While the performance group may say the actor represented ‘Hamas’, the performance trafficked in white supremacist narratives that construct Arab men as predatory.
We are also concerned by the silencing and censuring of local anti-sexual violence advocates and organizations that stand in solidarity with Palestinians. We have noticed an alarming trend in which all expressions of Palestinian solidarity are treated as suspect or equated with anti-Semitism. Locally, this polarized discourse has led to the firing of a respected leader in Alberta’s anti-sexual violence field, Samantha Pearson, and the effective closure of the U of A Sexual Assault Centre (UASAC). Since Pearson’s firing on November 18, UASAC has been functionally dismantled. Based on our research and the experiences we have heard about from community members trying to access the UASAC, drop-in support services are cancelled, the Centre’s space is locked and empty, and staff are not directly reachable by phone or email. These are major concerns for Edmonton’s only specialized drop-in crisis support service for experiences of sexual violence. On top of all of this, staff themselves have been experiencing doxxing, harassment, and defamation by bad-faith actors for weeks. Rather than supporting the UASAC’s recovery from destabilizing events, the University administration has given fodder to ongoing harassment campaigns with a baseless public statement undermining the Centre’s longstanding reputation as an inclusive resource for all survivors.
UASAC is a critical resource for survivors of sexual violence in the campus community. Research shows that young women attending university are among the groups most targeted for sexual violence. December is usually a busy month for campus-based sexual assault support services because of exam stress and the relational complexity many survivors must navigate during the holidays. People healing from sexual violence deserve support services that are easy to access and provided by people with appropriate training. Creating barriers to such services directly harms survivors in the campus community. We call on the University of Alberta to reinstate all UASAC services and to make clear to students, staff, and faculty of all backgrounds that they are safe and welcome at the Centre.
We recognize that polarized discourse creates a sensitive context for anti-sexual violence advocates to speak out against the genocide in Palestine. At the same time, sexual violence is a weapon of war. As long as the bombardment of Palestinian civilians continues, everyone in the region remains at an elevated risk of all forms of horrific violence, including sexual violence. Transformative and restorative justice movements teach us that the most effective antidote to violence is for people to have what they need to live dignified lives.. As anti-violence advocates, the only position consistent with our commitment to a world free from all forms of violence and oppression is one that calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and an end to the occupation and colonization of Palestine. We call on anti-violence advocates in our community to join the movement for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation.
Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton
December 23, 2023