14. Identity and Sexual Harms

Dr. Carolyn Stauffer, featured in this episode, speaks about about her work in the fields of sexual harm and trauma.  Before returning to EMU –her alma mater– as a professor, she lived in South Africa for 16 years. While there, she recounts working at a rape crisis center in the mid-1990s, where she saw a “hierarchy of identities” among the survivors of sexual assault.

Race “was the primary sort of frame of identity that was given the most recognition … after race then class became an issue,” Stauffer explained, especially among those from mixed race communities. In contrast, gender-based issues weren’t much considered in the national discourse on oppression, all while “Johannesburg was considered the rape capital of the world.”

When Stauffer joined the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) faculty in 2010, she thought seriously and prayed about how to serve those experiencing intimate partner violence and gender-based violence in the Shenandoah Valley. She started the Silent Violence Project, in which Stauffer and a team (which included Center for Justice and Peacebuilding students) worked with women who were homeless, undocumented, or in the Beachy Amish communities. 

“What were the unique risks that they faced based on their identity?” Stauffer asked. “What were the resistance strategies that they used to push back against abusers … what were their resilience strategies?”

At the time, Stauffer was co-director of EMU’s MS in biomedicine program. She wanted to ensure that the future healthcare providers under her tutelage would be sensitized to sexual harm survivors, so she held a symposium – with a cadre of conservative Mennonite survivors teaching her students. Many of the survivors hadn’t completed the eighth grade.

“I flipped the script and basically positioned them as the experts to train my biomedicine students sexual harm and trauma. And so it was this total change of power dynamics,” Stauffer explained.

Despite her vast expertise in this field, Stauffer still welcomes learning from others. She recalls how, after one symposium, someone asked her about the intersection between sexual violence and neurodiversity – for example, a survivor who may have ADHD or autism. 

“We have to think beyond just one particular sort of static definition of who that survivor or who that harm doer is. I think that’s part of taking the field forward, is including an understanding of the intersection of identity and sexual harm.”


Guest

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Dr. Carolyn Stauffer

Dr. Carolyn Stauffer is a consultant and educator in the fields of sexual harm and trauma. As Associate Professor she has served as co-director of EMU’s Biomedicine program as well taught in CJP’s Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership program. Carolyn’s passion for people has taken her to 34 countries and she has conducted trainings on three continents. She has lived and worked in the Middle East (17 years), and South Africa (16 years). In Virginia, USA, Stauffer has trained DOJ personnel, Title IX officers, and Sexual Assault Response Team members. She is the founder of the Silent Violence Project and has served on boards working with HIV/AIDs, the local chapter of UNESCO, and has collaborated on five competitive federal and local grants. Stauffer has 20 years of domestic and international practice experience focusing on enhancing survivor resilience through a strengths-based approach. Working through the dual lenses of advocacy and post-traumatic growth, one of Stauffer’s life goals is to amplify voices of healing justice.


Transcript

Carolyn:
But I think more recently the definition of sexual harms has expanded. And what I mean by that is, you know, historically, and this is something that, uh, we should all be ashamed of –historically harm, sexual harm against women’s bodies was actually considered, um, a dignity violation between two men, either the father of the, of the woman or the husband of the woman, and then somebody that had perpetrated that harm.

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patience:
Hi everybody, happy Wednesday to you!
Welcome back to peacebuilder, a Conflict Transformation podcast by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
My name is patience kamau and our guest this episode is:

Carolyn:
Carolyn Stauffer, associate professor of applied social sciences at Eastern Mennonite University.

patience:
Dr. Carolyn Stauffer is a consultant and educator in the fields of sexual harm and trauma. As Associate Professor she has served as co-director of EMU’s Biomedicine program as well taught in CJP’s Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership program. Carolyn’s passion for people has taken her to 34 countries and she has conducted trainings on three continents. She has lived and worked in the Middle East for 17 years, and South Africa 16. In Virginia, Stauffer has trained DOJ personnel, Title IX officers, and Sexual Assault Response Team members. She is the founder of the Silent Violence Project and has served on boards working with HIV/AIDs, the local chapter of UNESCO, and has collaborated on five competitive federal and local grants. Stauffer has 20 years of domestic and international practice experience focusing on enhancing survivor resilience through a strengths-based approach. Working through the dual lenses of advocacy and post-traumatic growth, one of Stauffer’s life goals is to amplify voices of healing justice.

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patience:
So, um, Carolyn, tell me what your journey was to EMU, and your connections to CJP through that.

Carolyn:
I would venture to say that my journey to EMU resonates with something that I heard in the mid 1990s. It was an address by professor Cornell West, and he talked about two things, “roots” and “routes” — “roots” in terms of R O O T S — the germinating tendrils that come from the ground in terms of our place of origin and how that connects with who we are. And then he talks about “routes” as in R-O-U-T-E-S, in other words, the sort of map that we take through life. And I think my journey to EMU started with the R-O-O-T-S those “roots” of origin. I had spent…my parents were overseas workers for 30 years in the Middle East and so I had learned Hebrew and some Arabic as my sort of languages of origin, even before learning to read and write English, and so I came to university at Eastern Mennonite College, which it was at the time, and it was a bit of a culture shock patience, it was, uh, something sort of extra ordinary for me. I remember I was staying in the Northlawn Residence Hall, and the first time it snowed, I came running down in my pajamas and I was like screaming and hollering –and this was just like these white puffs of “what” that were descending from the sky. And so, um, returning to EMU, or, uh, it was from EMC to EMU as a professor was one of those sort of homecomings in some ways. So that’s where it fits into that sense of “roots,” as in this was something that was embedded deep within me. In terms of what Cornell West talks about R O U T E S that “map,” after spending a decade and a half in the Middle East, uh, after I got married and spent some time in Richmond, Virginia, we went for 16 years to South Africa. And at that time there was sort of a burgeoning within me of interest around the issue of women’s advancements. And I remember reading an article that was actually a chapter by Cynthia Cockburn, and it was about how violence is uniquely engendered. And I saw all around me, these sort of aftermaths of apartheid and how women were experiencing in many regards, the, the unwaged labor that they were contributing to the economy and the way that they were working in homes or as domestic laborers and were underpaid for that –I saw that aspect. I also saw how, um, that many, in many ways, as, as men, uh, black men in the South African context were, were gaining political opportunities, women were still in the wake of that. They weren’t on the same page with that at the same level. And then also, um, women coming across the border from Zimbabwe, oftentimes needing to use, uh, their, their sexual labor power as a sort of transactional kind of, um, uh, sort of a way to make a life in the aftermath of, of displacement. And so all these experiences around women and how violence becomes embodied in their lived experiences, um, in South Africa, when I returned as a professor to EMU, I was looking for those places in the university where that would resonate. And two of the places specifically were, one was the emergence of EMU’s biomedicine program, where I could begin to research and think about how embodied trauma becomes and what are the manifestations of that. And then the second thing that was exciting at that time, and a shout out to Jan Jenner who was giving leadership, uh, to this program at CJP specifically, was the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program. And this was for women really from all around the globe, but many were coming from East Africa, from Kenya, from Somalia, from, um, the Pacific from Fiji, and these women were really taking the conversation around women’s advancements forward. And so being a part of that “WPLP” Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program at CJP felt like it connected to where I was coming from and what I had experienced very much in Southern Africa. So again, that was part of the sort of map route, as well as the, um, germinating roots that were yeah, sort of rising up and surfacing within me.

patience:
Yeah, wow-wow. That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic.
Um, so you’ve mentioned, um, women’s empowerment or at least awareness, and your area of research is in the field of sexual harms.
What is that? What are sexual harms? How would you define that?

Carolyn:
Sure. Sexual harms, I think, have traditionally been thought of as in terms of assault, um, against people’s bodies and, um, taking away from the dignity and integrity of the choices that people have over their bodies, um, that autonomy, that sense of, of bodily integrity that people have. But I think more recently the definition of sexual harms has expanded. And what I mean by that is, you know, historically, and this is something that, uh, we should all be ashamed of –historically harm, sexual harm against women’s bodies was actually considered, um, a dignity violation between two men, either the father of the, of the woman or the husband of the woman, and then somebody that had perpetrated that harm. But as that has shifted to, you know, more from a legal standpoint, the plaintiff and the defendant, you know, in terms of, you know, the, the actual man and, and, and woman usually, but it could, you know, harm women against women in terms of sexual harm, again, or even across the gender spectrum. But now it’s extending beyond just the two parties to include a third party. And what I mean by that is, uh, Jamie Abrams writes this fascinating article about the, the three-legged stool. And what she says is that there’s been an expansion to also include the responsibility of institutions. So it’s not just the person that’s harmed and the person that has caused the harm, but what have been the roles of institutions either in terms of silencing the harm, being complacent with the harm, or the erasure of the harm. And so that third leg of the stool, and in legal terms, it’s actually called tort law where you are looking at redress for injuries done. And oftentimes the negligence of institutions has been a key factor. In fact, there’s a lot of research that suggests that when institutions are silent around issues of sexual harm, it, it increases the level of trauma that survivors experience. So when we’re talking about sexual harm, it’s, it’s much broader than just the interaction between two individuals. It also includes the surrounding communities and how they do or don’t respond.

patience:
…to it. Yeah, that’s the culture. Um, when you said earlier that, that we need to repent for, you know, how we’d always looked at this and that it was harm between two, the two men, obviously that’s major patriarchy, and [chuckles] there are parts of the world where that’s still true, you know, uh, where a sexual harm is performed against a woman, and then she is the one to blame…and so she’s gotta be stoned or whatever it is “taken out of the equation,” because yeah, that just brought to mind –do you have thoughts about how societies respond to that? Punish the women; which actually then also crosses over to sex work and how the criminal-legal system deals with that, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about that.

Carolyn:
Yes, absolutely. So going back to my work with the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program, there was this crystallizing moment for me that I remember when one of the women shared that even in the face of, um, Resolution 1325 of the UN, which was supposed to augment and increase women’s safety, particularly in conflict zones, she said, this is what she said. She said, “you know, the most unsafe place for me is in my own home and in my own work space,” which was fascinating because we always think of those external sites as the places of hazard in situations of armed conflict and war, rape and so on. But she said my home place and my workplace, and this goes back, patience, to what you were saying around the culture of our, our employment, um, and, and the cultures that surround, um, how we view the relations between genders in the workplace. And she said that even, you know, working in a very quote-unquote progressive institution, she felt like so many times there were, uh, microaggressions that were happening, and that sort of very, the negative side of, of patriarchy was emerging and the hierarchy that accompanies that was emerging in the workspace. And so, again, this is an expansion of the definition of sexual harm, much more broadly to think about, um, “how are we navigating power within our home and, um, professional spaces as well?”

patience:
How, how does…yeah, what are your insights into how this overlaps with sex work?

Carolyn:
Right, so I think sex work has traditionally gotten a very bad rap, but, you know, I would venture to say that, um, really it’s about the choices that people have, or don’t have, I believe it’s, it’s bell hooks that talks about, um, oppression as a lack of choices. And so as we think of sex work, um, we want to think about the protections of the sex workers. We also want to think about whole industries that are propagating and sort of underwriting, um, the commodification of bodies and, and how people become trapped within those equations. You know, when we commodify bodies, and this is the whole porn industry as well, we’re essentially consuming and discarding consuming and discarding, I believe it was Karl Polanyi [from his book “The Great Transformation”] that talks about when our consumption is dis-embedded from the common wheel, from the good of the collective, that’s when it becomes destructive. And so in arenas where people are consuming portions of each other without, you know, the person who is engaged in that, both parties having agency decision-making power, that’s when I think the negative sort of externalities of this show up. Um, patience, you mentioned my research specifically, and my research really has followed me throughout life. When I was working in South Africa, one of my observations was that there was sort of a hierarchy of identities that showed up in terms of the decade and a half that I was there. And so we came in 1994, I had a two and a four year old, and I worked at a rape crisis center where we dealt with survivors of sexual assault and, advocacy work in that regard. And one of my observations was that over that time, um, really race was the most important issue. This was 1994, the first sort of emancipatory all-inclusive elections were happening. Uh, president Nelson Mandela was, uh, you know, had a leadership post within the government of National Unity, and so race was the card that was, was the primary sort of frame of identity that was given the most recognition. And then across time as there were shifts in the economic structure, certainly there was, there were, there are still huge long-term legacies of the capitalist and, um, sort of neoliberal system within South Africa, and it, because it is so entrenched, but after race, then sort of class became an issue as you know, um, the, the communities that, um, identified themselves as “colored,” mixed-race communities said, “Hey, we’re not black enough in this new, um, you know, political spectrum, but we’re not white enough either,” and so “where do we fit into the enfranchisement that the government is handing out?” And so class became a central organizing factor.

patience:
Yeah, so race and class and gender…?

Carolyn:
Exactly. But gender was last. And so, you know, in other words, um, Johannesburg was considered the rape capital of the world. And so amidst this sort of hierarchy of identities that were surfacing within the national discourse, you know, I wanted to say, “Hey, don’t forget about how gender plays out and how so much of our conflict system is engendered,” as I mentioned. So when I came back to, um, the Shenandoah Valley, one of the things that I did is I spent time in prayer and fasting and just saying, “God, what do I need to know about the invisible forms of violence that are here in this space? Where, where are the points of erasure, where are the sort of social geographies of, of violence that are hidden?” And this is where I, um, started thinking about how to race class and gender show up in terms of intimate partner violence and gender based violence in Harrisonburg, in the broader corridor of the Shenandoah Valley. And so what I started doing research on, and, and just a shout out to some of my associates that worked with me on this, uh…

patience:
…is this the Silent Violence Project?

Carolyn:
Yes. Um, the, and just the verbiage of that patience “Silent Violence Project,” and so really it was about those hidden locations of violence where disproportionate and dis, uh, you know, um, disproportionate amounts of violence, um, resided precisely because of the erasure that was happening. So in the Silent Violence Project, I was collaborating with people like, uh, Claudia Cubas, um, [Cristian] David [Fonseca] Quezada, Katia Ornelas, Ema Billings, Jennifer Merritt, Elmer Malibiran, uh, Woré  Ndiaye and Bridget Mullins. And we as a group sat down and with community partners and started asking the question from service providers, “who are you seeing and who is experiencing the highest levels of intimate partner violence?” And so three communities surfaced, and they really fit with this race class and gender sort of, um, frame. In terms of, um, class, we started having conversations with, uh, women who were, um, experienced home…experiencing…survivors, specifically of sexual harm, who were experiencing homelessness. How do the dynamics of, uh, residential instability and the relationships that are missed or experienced within that space impact on, um, experiences of sexual harm? So, for instance, in, in, in that, if you’re looking at the issue of class, how does, um, you know, economic co-dependence on an abuser mean that you can’t exit that relationship? So all you can do is move your body to a new space, which is why those women were homeless, right? So class was showing up in incredibly profound ways. And then in terms of the bigger rubric of, of race, and I use that term very loosely here, here, I’m talking about, uh, political and, and national citizenship and religion as well. And a lot of our new immigrant communities, how were they experiencing sexual harm, uh, specific to their identities? And so we started, um, talking with some of the, the local Catholic church and some of the service providers, and it was undocumented Latinas that we ended up sort of focusing on as our second group of respondents. So homeless women with regards to class, with regards to race, it was undocumented Latinas. And from that group, we really found that it was the negative impacts of state interventions, that risked deportation, detection, detention that became…so in other words, these were respondents in the Silent Violence Project that didn’t access formal police structures and formal hospital and health structures. So again, their experiences of sexual harm, they had to carry on their own backs without experiencing the support services that were available to other population groups. And then lastly, the, the group that we focused on for gender, we worked with, um, conservative-plain community members from the Beachy Amish community, and, um, and here we felt like the way that gender was narrated within the religious tradition did not allow women to exit abusive relationships because of the sanctions around divorce. So again, you know, these women were trapped in unique ways, race, class, and gender was showing up. And, and, and these, you know, really it was about people’s identities and how they show up in experiences of sexual harm and disproportionately make them vulnerable to the systems and structures in their lives. So that is one of the projects, the Silent Violence Project that I’ve been carrying for for over a decade now.

patience:
Yeah. It’s still ongoing?

Carolyn:
Yes, it is. In terms of some of the research that’s, um, I’m picking up on, um, let me just, uh, let me just pick up on, on a couple of, of voices here. I want to bring in some of the voices of the women, we, this was a, um, a study that was really essentially a story web, where we collected life stories and patience, we gathered more than 400 pages of transcripts. And this was like a treasure trove of these sacred stories from these women’s lives, from these survivors’ lives. And I remember with one of the homeless women, women, what we worked with was not only just the rubric of race, class, and gender, but we worked with three specific ideas that surfaced in the narratives of these women, and that was, um, what were the unique risks that they faced based on their identity? What was the, what were the resistance strategies that they use to push back against abusers, as well as, um, sort of structural violence that they were experiencing as survivors, so risk, resistance, and then also what were their resilience strategies? And so with the, um, the homeless women that I’m thinking of right now, in my mind, she talked about how, whereas state structures like social workers, pathologized her homelessness, her dislocation –she said that was her, her survival strategy. That was her actually resilience mechanism. And so she said, you know, I would, she said this, let me just, um, just use her words to describe this. She says, “I even made it into a TV show –Wayne County’s ‘most wanted,’ it was about the time that John was doing that…what was it called America’s Most Wanted? It was comical. I got all these emergency phone calls; mama was a calling and saying, ‘they had you on Wayne County’s most wanted.’ And I said, ‘you bullshit me –for one frickin’ gram of Coke?’ I said, ‘are you serious?’ And she’s like, ‘yep.’ But guess what? I’m like, ‘no, what’s the surprise?’ And she says, ‘they don’t have a picture of you –they had a statement saying, you change your style and appearance so much that they can never get an accurate picture,’ which I do. Yes! And I found a hairstylist, my daughter, and she didn’t even know, but I get bored with the look and I change it up, and since I got this drawstring pony tail and a weave and that, I can be dead on near bald and I change it up every day so that I can be whoever I want to be.

patience:
Agency!

Carolyn:
Exactly!

patience:
She reclaims her agency!

Carolyn:
Yeah, yeah. And so these women, you know, whereas we had pathologized their survival strategy, they saw it as an asset. All of my research, patience, has really been working from a strengths-based approach to say, what are the assets that survivors bring to the table? I remember when I was, um, interviewing, um, some of the, um, undocumented Latinas and, and they highlighted the hazards of this threat of deportation. One of them said “I’ve had other experiences of sexual harassment at the workplace with coworkers. I think it’s because I don’t have documents and many people try to humiliate me. So sometimes I endure all of that humiliation because I do not want to lose my job. That’s the trouble with this country, that no one can defend themselves.” So that was like multiple layers of not only personal harassment in her job site, based on the power disequilibrium of her having undocumented status, therefore not being able to push back, but also the state violence of fearing deportation. So all these levels of violence. And what’s interesting with that particular group was they, um, some of the verbiage that came out with them was “cars, keys, and cash.” And what they essentially did was they use the economic opportunities that they were gaining access to in the workspace as a way to push back. So cars and, and, uh, you know, conflicts over, over having vehicles, you know, and, and cash, and, and being able to leverage that cash and keys. These were symbols of their advancement, their economic advancements, and that’s how they push back. So their asset, their resilient strategy patience, was really those new economic opportunities that they were gaining.

Transition music:
[Transition music plays]

patience:
That story you just told of, uh, the undocumented person who was being victimized at work, and then couldn’t even…felt trapped in it. Is that what you refer to as uh “polyvictimization” because it’s so many levels that they…yeah, talk about that…what is polyvitimization?

Carolyn:
Yes, polyvictimization. I think the field of trauma more generally has de-historicized, especially from the…has depoliticized and de-historicized, especially in terms of the sort of, um, traditional –and I would venture to say Western and White definition of trauma has personalized it and taken it out of historical context. And when we view people within historical context, we understand that their lived experience is a product of the intersection of so many of their identities. And that intersectional piece is really what polyvictimization is about. Um, polyvictimization is about not just one form of violence, but multiple forms of violence, interacting-intersecting together. And Kimberlé Crenshaw, um, speaks to this in her writing as well as Patricia Hill Collins, uh, speaks to that as well. She talks about in her 1986 work, she talks about “learning from the outsider within,” as an African American and, and ways of pushing back. And then she revisits that ,Patricia Hill Collins does, in 2016 in her work, “Black Feminist Thought as Oppositional Knowledge.” Uh, patience, one of the things that we wanted to surface within the Silent Violence Project was what were the forms of oppositional knowledge that were surfacing. And, and how were these women pulling, pushing back at the polyvictimization that they were experiencing? Um, I remember in the third community with the plain community and Amish community members, um, one of the women talked about the hierarchy, the power hierarchies, which was part of the polyvictimization again, in her particular experience, it wasn’t just about the individual abuser, it was about the system and how it protected abusers and silenced the victims. And she says this, “we had a rule book that we lived by that was very strict. It laid down in details our entire lives. I mean, just every detail of our lives –dress, you know, you weren’t allowed to have your elbows showing, lengthy sleeves, big coverings, thick coverings were everywhere! Everything was underneath of that. And so, yeah, that was our standard, that was the standard by which we lived. And it was as if the abuse was my fault. It was something that I was doing. It was maybe how I was dressing or being seductive or something. And I remember at one point I threatened the guy who was abusing me and he would say, ‘no, no, no, don’t tell.’ And I’d be like, ‘no, I need to say something.’ And he’d say, ‘no, no, I’m sorry,’ as he would stick his hand up my dress! We wore dresses that were so accessible to them all the time –damn dresses!” And it was interesting in that context, dress code, which was essentially to be a distinctive separation between this particular community to identify them as different than the surrounding world dresses, instead of being a location of protection, became a location of predation.

patience:
Oh God. Yeah.

Carolyn:
And so that’s where this whole idea of polyvictimization that you’re talking about, shows up.

patience:
Yeah. Yeah. How did the “Oppositional Knowledge” emerge? Like how did that present? How did it, um,…

Carolyn:
Yeah I think, as much as anything, we wanted to follow in the footsteps of a lot of people who have –the sort of ancestors of this work patience– there are many women who have contributed to this field. And I, you know, I think of, uh, uh, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work in, she, she talks about the “genealogies of experience.” I think that the patriarchy more generally has canonized what is written, but has given less credit to oral traditions and experiential traditions and so that sort of feminist epistemology is so important. Um, and so gathering these, these stories was a way of canonizing and amplifying these voices. So when you talk about that oppositional, um, knowledge, it was giving it “air time.” And another way that specifically critical race theory, and then LatCrit as well, Latino-LatinX critical race theory has showed up around the conversation of moving from those stock narrations to, um, surfacing the concealed, um, the concealed stories then to the stories of resistance and then to the counter stories. And so by the end of this project, I really felt like these women were in their own business of, of meaning creation. They were generating counter stories. So they had moved from that erasure to an amplification of their stories, and then, like I said, meaning-making around an oppositional and counter story. And so I remember one woman, you know, she, she ended the whole interview, you know, I said, so, you know, “if you were to tell somebody or a survivor that you had just met, you know, something, what would you, what would your words of advice be to them?” And she says, “well, I’m about preaching and I’m going to have my voice heard.” And it was this sort of emancipatory impulse that was showing up in these, in these women’s voices. And so that counter story tradition, I felt like was being enhanced and, and built on.

Transition music:
[Transition music plays]

patience:
Let’s talk a bit about, um, the work in the field of sexual harms that you have done on campus, on EMU campus.
Uh, yeah, tell us about that –what have you done? It’s been a decade, 10 years?

Carolyn:
Sure, yes, it has, and we’re going onto our 11th now. And so, you know, following in the tracks of, I had in, in, um, Southern Africa and in a number of different countries, but specifically in Johannesburg, I had worked in informal settlements where, you know, we didn’t have running water, we didn’t have electricity and so on. And so there was always that sort of entrepreneurial and creativity of the local residents that was the sort of base out of which we worked. Um, uh, the, I call it “ground ‘truething’,” in other words, the truth that emerged came out of the lived, uh, you know, innovative experiences of troubleshooting that people had. And so coming to the Shenandoah Valley and working within EMU specifically, I wanted to work with, um, the wisdom that was already resident here. So the first thing that I did, and as co-director of, of EMU’s biomedicine program at that time, I was working with highly educated, um, you know, this was a master’s degree for students that were on their way to medical schools, you know, DO, MD, PA you know, all these different, um, sort of highly recognized, um, locations of potential power over people’s bodies, right? And so one of the things that I wanted to do is to say, how do we send, how do we sensitize these, um, you know, potential caregivers to the aspects around sexual harm and around trauma. And so the first thing that I did is, and this was what I considered, I sort of had a strategy of micro, mezzo and macro. So I started with that group of biomedicine students, as well as incorporating in some of my undergraduate students as well –and I held a symposium. And what I did was I brought in, remember those three groups that I was working with, you know, the, the, the homeless survivors and the undocumented Latinas, right,…

patience:
…and the conservative Mennonites.

Carolyn:
Yeah, exactly. So I brought in a whole cadre of conservative Mennonite survivors, many of whom didn’t even have hardly an eighth grade education; but I flipped the script and basically positioned them as the experts to train my biomedicine students in sexual harm and in trauma. And so it was this, this total change of power dynamics, you know, again, folks that didn’t have that formal education, but had different locations of wisdom that I really wanted to work with. And so, so they were the expert knowledge that was, that showed up in the room for this symposium and we worked on the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), and that way we could also connect it to the biomedicine students and my undergrad students to say, where have you experienced disempowerment and where you have felt profound vulnerability, especially in terms of your own bodily integrity. Um, uh, one of the, um, uh, presentations that I did to the Virginia Association of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence was called “Body Toxic.” And in that…

patience:
…what is that?

Carolyn:
“Body Toxic” is the idea that sexual harms occur on your body; so you can’t escape your body. You can’t live anywhere else except for in your body. So when your body becomes unsafe, that that impacts the way you view the world and how you experience your own body and live through your own body. So addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences on that micro level, through that symposium, and that flip of power dynamics was really my sort of first attempt to work on campus. Um, and then on the mezzo level, I also wanted to think about how does, uh, sexual harm actually rupture relationships between –not only individuals– but communities and, and how do we deal with that? And so the second conference that I, um, helped to, to run here was called “Conversations on Sexual Violence: Cultivating Community Resilience.” And I worked with a number of partners on this, Dr. Johonna Turner, Dr. Katie Mansfield, and, and these folks helped to do some of the keynote addresses. Katie, uh, also brought in a colleague of hers who talked about the idea of “moral injury;” moral injury is the idea patience that, um, sexual harm not only violates our bodies, but our consciousnesses. And so, um, you know, the, the idea of moral injury actually came out of, um, some research that was done on the Vietnam war and how, when soldiers were directed to, um, do massacres on women and children and unprotected populations, that was a form of moral injury. When, for instance, in, in CSA, when child sexual abuse, when you are asked to do something that you know is against your conscience, but the power dynamics of somebody older than you, that has authority over you, so you do these activities, but it violates your conscience. That’s what moral injury is about, and so in this, in this sort of mezzo level conference, I wanted to talk about how do institutions, um, you know, begin to, uh, re-narrate “what does it mean to do community?” And “what does it mean to hold persons that have caused harm accountable?” “What does that look like?” “What is, um, building community and, and keeping resilience in place –what is that gonna look like?” And then on the macro level, and this was through the help of actually, uh, Dr. Lisa Schirch, um, she advocated for EMU bringing in, um, Dr. uh, Father Thomas Doyle from the Catholic tradition. And he had essentially, uh, picked up on, um, uh, blown the whistle on, uh, sexual abuse within the Catholic church. And so the, the, um, symposium that we ran there was, um, entitled “Institutional Harm and Healing: Responding to Sexual Violence.” And here we were essentially looking at how institutions, faith institutions, um, you know, school or university, higher education institutions can be agents of either harm or healing. And so how do we, how do we work with those dynamics? Um, there’s some fascinating research done by, um, Dr. Jennifer Freyd, and she talks about the idea of institutional betrayal and how, when institutions, like, for instance, right now, Boy Scouts of America, I just heard last week from one of my close colleagues, um, Matthew Tibbles, he sent me an article about how, uh, Boy Scouts of America is actually filing for bankruptcy because of all the cases of sexual abuse that are surfacing now. And so again, institutions have a responsibility to protect their constituencies and when they don’t show up to do that, um, they are agents also, of harm.

patience:
Yeah, yeah. That’s, that’s also bringing the, what is it? The gymnastics –American Gymnastics.

Carolyn:
Yes. Yeah. Yes.

patience:
When you were talking about, um, the conference, the symposium you had at the beginning where you had the conservative women, uh, teaching, basically being the teachers of these biomedical…biomedicine?

Carolyn:
Yes, students…

patience:
…students, I thought, how great would that be if it was, if that had happened within the, you know, so we wouldn’t have the Larry Nassars…

Carolyn:
…that’s right…

patience:
…and all those really toxic men who just really exploited these young women and girls.

Carolyn:
Well, and, and that’s where I feel like we, we need to have these conversations around patriarchy and around, you know, it’s interesting Desmond Tutu talks about a variety of types of truth. He talks about, you know, “political truth” certainly, he also talks about “personal truth,” he talks about “experiential truth,” but he also talked about “healing truth.” And, and this is where I like to talk about the concept of, um, you know, “healing justice,” or I would prefer to actually put the one before the other, “just healing,” right? And in other words, we need to, um, have forums where we address power disequilibriums and, and the whole anti-oppression movement and, and how that fits in with, uh, you know, in other words, these three groups that, uh, I talked about with the Silent Violence Project, they were all trapped within, um, structures that disempowered their exit, you know, for different reasons, but disempowered them from exiting situations of violence. So, so like you were saying in the sports arena, certainly #MeToo, sports arena, media arena, music arena, um, you know, our, “Hollywood Dame,” the, you know, the, the, the movie industry is full of these “casting couch” kinds of situations. And that goes back to what I was saying about what that, um, Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program participant told me. She said, you know, “I feel most unsafe in my work and in my home.” And so I think that as we look at, at, at women’s advancements really across time, um, we’re realizing that we need to keep taking space, you know, not just the suffrage movement and political representation, which mind you was very highly racialized all around the world right?

patience:
[Laughs] Very much so, mm-hm!

Carolyn:
So, you know, there’s that whole conversation too, women’s political emancipation and still women are not making…there’s no equity or parity around, uh, you know, purchase power in terms of, uh, women being paid equitably, right? So that’s the economic sphere, but then also the social sphere, um, patience, in our intimate relationships, why are those still locations where, where people feel profoundly vulnerable and structurally, um, you know, there are gaps and holes that allow for these forms of violence to occur.

patience:
You mentioning the suffrage movement that was very, very racialized, um, and speaking about women taking space in these sorts of areas immediately brings Ida B. Wells to my mind, because she refused to be relegated, you know, was it a women’s conference? Where was it in New York or Chicago? I don’t remember, but they said, no, we can’t really include Black women, and she said, well, you know, I’m showing up anyway!

Carolyn:
That’s right!

patience:
Such courageous women!

Carolyn:
Yeah, and that’s where I feel like, and here I draw on, on really a clarion voice for this, the work of Dr. Johonna Turner in the, in the field of Transitional Justice. It’s not just about restoring justice as if justice can be, you know, restored to how it was. It never is “restored” to how it previously was. It was, you know, we’re always moving forward, but what Transitional Justice does is it really does “colorize justice,” and that’s part of, of Dr. Turner’s work is…and obviously the work of, of historically people like Ida B. Wells, um, and her journalistic influence. In other words, she was a woman that amplified the stories of Black women and their experiences specifically, but more recently, even the work of somebody like Mimi Kim, who talks about anti-carceral feminisms. In other words, how does the prison industrial complex actually, um, you know, how is that an instrument of oppression for persons of color more generally, but also its impacts on –specifically African-American women, Latino women and so on. So, and the, the, the racial profiling that happens –all of these, you know, the, the white feminism of the turn of the century in the U.S., in terms of the suffrage movement was really, um, in many regards, a silencing of anything but white feminism. And so the transitional justice movement is so much more of an expansion of that emancipatory, um, impulse and voice, and the representation! Representation is so key; and here patience, I really draw on the work of James C. Scott. He talks about how, you know, it, you know, at the, during the Marxian sort of revolutions around the world, we thought of these mass mobilizations, everybody coming together and so on –James C. Scott, um, you talks about the, the “weapons of the weak” or the “weapons of the peasantry” is really about pressing back and opposition in your own sphere. You won’t, and you won’t always have the, the leisure and the opportunity to mobilize, um, with person, you know, maybe outside of your geographic area. So start your revolution at home, right.

patience:
Where you are!

Carolyn:
Exactly. Um, you know, in other words, the whole, you know, “the revolution will not be televised.” Well, we start in our locations and certainly Arab Spring is an example of that, how technology and media, they were starting in these specific locations, and then the wildfire spread, …

patience:
…then it becomes transnational –it creates a transnational movement.

Carolyn:
Yeah, that’s right.

patience:
Yeah, yeah.

Transition music:
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patience:
How do you see the field of Sexual Harms shifting across time?

Carolyn:
Well, I think, you know, some of the things that you’ve actually picked up on, um, I think are key here. So the role of institutions, um, I think is, is really, really important; and so looking at the policies, the procedures, the structures, and this really draws me to my more recent work with a number of colleagues, um, Dr. Joy Kreider, Rhoda Miller, Rachel Roth Sawatzky, Ram Bhagat. We joined together to work on a STAR for Sexual Harms, uh, which is “Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience,” which was essentially a, um, a manual that was created, which you can find online. But through that work, we really wanted to look at, you know, not only just the individual harms that are embodied again, you know, Katie Mansfield talks about the embodiment of sexual harm and our trauma more generally, and “Re-friending the Body” and certainly Bessel van der Kolk talks about “The Body Keeps [the] Score,” right? So it does play out on our bodies. Um, but the, the field of sexual harms more generally as we move to the future, I think we also have to talk about the impacts on community and Rhoda Miller in our sexual…STAR for Sexual Harms manual does a fantastic job of surfacing the conversation around attachment and how attachment is one of the most key elemental impacts we have as we, you know, join humanity, it’s our attachment to our primary caregivers and so on. And so when those attachments are severed or ruptured through sexual harm, that has probably got to be one of the most egregious forms of violence. And so how do we work at reattachment within community? And then also, um, Rachel picked up on this, Roth Sawatzky, and Ram Bhagat as well, um, picking up on the idea of “institutions and cultures,” Ram addressed that. And, and Rachel and her piece, her chapter of the manual talked about “policies and procedures.” So I think as we think about, you know, taking the field of, of Sexual Harm forward, we have to address this, not just individually, we begin there, and this is where we’re, um, Dr. Joy Kreider began in the manual is to say, “what are the body impacts?” You know, body beliefs, behaviors, that’s where we started. And then it, you know, in the second chapter, we looked at issues of how does this play out socially with privilege, power, positionality, patriarchy, and, you know, and, and, and so on. And so we move through the manual, working from that micro to the macro, but including all these sort of whole system approaches, you know, I think even, patience, the field of trauma more generally has tended to (a) pathologized people’s, you know, strategies of, of resilience, you know, um, self-care strategies, oftentimes, uh, you know, in other words, I need to take withdrawal in order to, you know, self-care, but then that withdrawal is seen as somehow a negative thing, you know, even psychological dissociation, which is a strategy to shut-off the pain, is seen as mental health pathology, right? So I think, you know, we, as we move forward, and the other thing that I would say is, so, so whole system, um, you know, a systemic understanding of sexual harm is important. And then what you brought up around, polyvictimization the intersecting pieces of identity and how those show up in terms of sexual harm. Like, for instance, I remember after doing a symposium at EMU and here, I had just returned from a sabbatical and, and was connecting with some of the work that –incredibly innovative work that’s being done in New Zealand, as well as in Ireland– and, um, I remember walking down the stairs of, uh, the, um, of my office building and somebody came up to me and they said, they said this to me, they said, “you know, something you didn’t mention in this, um, in this manual, you didn’t give it as much airtime was what about neuro-diverse communities?” In other words, people with, um, what has traditionally been thought of as disabilities and, and, and, you know, cognitive differentiation and differences, and, um, you know, how do you address sexual harm in those types of contexts and for those communities? So, uh, you know, again, we have to think beyond just one particular sort of static definition of who that, you know, survivor or who that harm doer is. Um, and so I think that’s part of taking the field forward is, is including an understanding of the intersection of identity and sexual harm.

patience:
Yeah. Yeah.
So how do, how do fields like trauma awareness deeper theologize, um, those coping responses that you talked about?

Carolyn:
Yeah, well, this is where I feel like there’s also a spiritual component. Um, you know, uh, the, the, the best trauma literature and, and here, you know, even the work of, for instance, Renee Linklater in “Decolonizing Trauma Work” and, and a number of the more recent pieces that have come out, they consider people’s worldviews, and their, their sort of the spirituality that they bring as an asset. Um, and so that trauma awareness, in other words, you’re aware of your frame of reference. Let me just use an example here. I remember when I was in South Africa, there was an older gentleman that had done me, considerable harm, personally, professionally and so on. And I, I would dream about him. I, you know, this, this was something that just lived in my head, patience. And then, um, I was at a professional conference –it was down in Cape Town, actually, there’s some important people there, you know, the mayor of Cape Town, which is no insignificantly, you know, sized city, you know, and was there. And I saw this man walk in and I, you know, the first thing that flew into my mind was “Carolyn do a, you know, do a public exposé, of this man and what he did to you,” you know, and then I looked at him and he was just so pathetic looking. He was so shriveled and, and sad and toxic. And, and I had this, then the second brainwave that just hit me was “actually, you don’t need to do that, he’s already the living representation of that.” And, and so I didn’t say anything that day and I went home that night and I told my kids, and I told my husband, I said, I have gained my power back. And it was my, my spiritual worldview of not having to continue that cycle of violence. I could step out of it; that made me the most powerful. And this is where, and again, I don’t want to cheapen the idea of forgiveness by suggesting that there aren’t systems and structures that need to be aligned with equity, don’t get me wrong. But my personal ethic of forgiveness was the biggest gift I gave myself. And that was what freed me. And that was what allowed me to take my power back.

patience:
Yeah, mm. That transitions well into…I’d be very curious if you could tell us, um, what your spiritual resonance is, uh, what does this mean to you? How does it feed your soul, uh, to do, to have dedicated all this time and research and effort into Sexual Harms? How has that manifested in you?

Carolyn:
Yeah, well, the first thing it does is, patience, I have, um, you know, in reclaiming my own body, um, I love to dance and I…that is one place and I, and I dance in worship too, and I dance for cheer and I dance just to party and I dance because it’s a representation of life and a celebrative, um, sort of form of the use of my body. And it can so often be done collectively. You know, I remember, um, there’s the one story of, um, you know, women that were, um, coming from a very Western context to a more Southern hemisphere context, and the Western women were saying, um, Oh, they have so much problems with depression and this and that and the other, and these women from the Southern hemisphere –I remember one of them specifically saying, “well, obviously you don’t dance around the fire enough!” [Both laugh]

patience:
[Laughing] Obviously!

Carolyn:
…[laughter continues] and it was this, you know “aha!” moment of how, when we, um, reinhabited our bodies in constructive ways, it is profoundly emancipatory. And so in terms of the spiritual component of that, I, you know, I, I feel like there is a template for that. You know, even in my understanding as a follower of Christ, I see Christ as that embodiment, right ,of God in our midst. So God understood enough about bodies and that bodies matter to have an embodied representation, that incarnational presence. And so in my work with this, I want to be a part of that story of an incarnational sort of presence and a presence of solidarity. That’s what I see, you know, “God embodied on earth” is about solidarity. It’s about somebody who was here to feel it, do it, and to be physically present with it.

patience:
“God with us” –Immanuel!

Carolyn:
Exactly, exactly! So that, that piece of it really, really resonates with me. And then the other piece of it that I think sort of builds on my spiritual journey is, you know, in 1 John 4:8, you know, in the Christian tradition, in the New Testament, it talks about “God is love.” And so how can I be an embodied version of God and love, or God’s love? In other words, there are different forms of quote-unquote love in this, in this world and, and, and as I mentioned earlier, sometimes that, uh, “love making” can be very, uh, appropriating or extractive, but how can I be an agent of God’s love, which is really such a higher definition of, of that love. And I, I read a definition of leadership recently, and it talked about the leader, or the best leaders are the ones that are the, are willing to be the first to lay down their lives on behalf of others. And what that means is that you, you lead through service, you lead through, um, demonstrating –and Gandhi said that as well, “be the change that you want to see in this world,” you know, be that embodied, um, example of solidarity and, and, and really, um, what I call “critical hope” because it brings in the elements of critical theory to navigate power relations and to understand them, and to call them out, to speak truth to power, but also to, um, allow for that, that healing impulse to surround those processes.

patience:
Mm, mm-hm. Um, I’m curious, um, so we’re recording this on March 11th, uh, and earlier this week, I wonder if you saw it, but I –it was covered briefly on the NewsHour– that the World Health Organization had released this statistic, um, that 1 in 3 women in the world (!) [incredulous chuckle] have experienced some form of sexual harm. That was noteworthy to me. I wonder, what did you think about that? 1 in 3 is –that’s a third of all women in the world. That is a huge, huge number. What are your thoughts?

Carolyn:
Yeah, well, let me just say that. That’s where I feel like structural interventions and policy responses are key. In other words, we cannot just talk about this in the corridors, you know, in the bedroom or in the corridors of, of, you know, our, our homes and professional lives. We need to bring this to the Capitol Hills, you know, when some of the, the, the worst offenders in, in, in regards to sexual harms against women are having incredibly powerful positions within our political structures. You know, where do we, how do we query that? And we query that by, by looking at how policy –and this is back to [UN] resolution 1325– what are the protections for women nationally, trans-nationally, globally that need to be put into place? Obviously, you know, we need to conscientize, and there’s a lot of education that needs to happen, but you know, what patience, I’m hopeful, like for instance, the, um, the, you know, um, the whole campaign around, uh, drunk-driving and, um, actually calling that out was really effective, um, in terms of changing legislation in this country, you know, the legislation around tobacco use, seatbelts and all of that, there are, if you look at it even from a public health perspective, there have been a lot of campaigns that have changed, um, sort of the public discourse and perceptions around things that are harmful. And I really do have hope and believe that we can –and this was one of the other grants that I got– “change the narrative,” the title of the grant was “Change the Narrative on Sexual Harm.” I believe we can, patience. And so I’m profoundly hopeful that even in the face of the statistics that you were talking about, that there is possibility for transformation, and yes, that, you know, as Desmond Tutu said, that is not just a political process, that is not just a political, um, sort of engagement, but it has to be a personal truth as well.

patience:
Thank you!
I, yeah, coming here toward the end, is there anything that you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered that comes to mind?

Carolyn:
Well, let me just close with these words, and this comes from, and here, I just want to, um, note the work of Dr. Fania Davis, who is really a Civil Rights activist, a Restorative Justice, um, practitioner, but also a Transitional Justice sort of doula. Doula is like a midwife, right, you know, helping with the birthing processes. And, and let me just close with her words. She says, “let’s walk this land, inhabit this space, not with discord, devastation, and domination, but instead with healing, wholeness and holiness.”

patience:
Thank you for taking the time to do this Carolyn, I am so grateful!

Carolyn:
Thank you for sharing the space! patience, let me just say that I consider it such a privilege to, um, be in this, um, digital environment, this online environment with you as a host; your skills come through as a podcast host and so I feel literally, and figuratively, very privileged to have shared this time with you.

patience:
Oh, [grateful/humbled chuckle] thank you, thank you so much.

patience:
Dr. Stauffer is the author of “Sexual Harms: Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience,” “Infrapolitics of Defiance: Forms of Agency Exhibited by Homeless Survivors of Gender-Based Violence” and “The Sexual Politics of Gender-Based Violence in South Africa: Linking Public and Private Worlds.”

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patience:
All the music you hear on this podcast has been composed by the one and only, Luke Mullet, our audio mixing engineer extraordinary, is Stephen Angello. And, I am the podcast executive producer, audio recording engineer, editor and host patience kamau. As you are able, please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so that other peacebuilders may find it. We’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks. Thanks so much for listening and join us again, next time.

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2 comments on “14. Identity and Sexual Harms”

  1. Judy Clarke says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Stauffer! This is the best thing I have listened to since I left EMU in 2011!

  2. Elena Huegel says:

    Thanks again for a great podcast! I have a copy of the STAR for sexual harms and have begun conversations with the women in Chiapas, Mexico. We hope might do some shorter workshops as an opening to talk about sexual harms at a community level… Thanks for ideas and encouragement!

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