It has become conventional wisdom, in anti- violence circles, to believe that silence stands in the way of justice. Through slogans and public statements – "stop the silence, end sexual violence" – great faith has been placed in testimony. There has been an implicit promise in the language of the rape crisis movement: if victims speak out, their words have the power to create change.
Yet more than 35 years after the advent of the rape crisis movement have we fulfilled our promise? Criminal justice outcomes for sexual assault crimes remain static. Civil rights protections for rape survivors are virtually non-existent. Cultural representations of violence against women (in film, music, TV and the 24/7 world of the blogosphere) often treat as normal that which is harmful. Our public discourse about rape and abuse, largely driven by a series of high-profile cases, often blames victims for the damage that has been done to them.
Victims from historically under served communities – including communities of color, people with disabilities, those who are incarcerated, those working in prostitution and gay, lesbian and transgendered survivors - have frequently been relegated to the sidelines of our movement or left out of our discussions altogether. And communities of faith have not been engaged – and at times challenged – as often and as effectively as they must be if we are serious about reaching rape survivors "where they are." In a national election year in which "change" has been a buzzword, our legal, cultural and communal responses to sexual violence too often continue to reinforce the status quo.
We think it's time to turn it around. And that's why the Victim Rights Law Center, the first nonprofit law center in the nation solely dedicated to serving the legal needs of sexual assault victims, and The Voices and Faces Project, a national documentary initiative that seeks to bring the stories of sexual violence survivors to the attention of the public, have joined forces. Together, we are launching CounterQuo: an initiative that will challenge the way that we, as a culture, respond to sexual violence.
CounterQuo began as a series of discussions between the Victim Rights Law Center and The Voices and Faces Project, discussions that considered how the rights and representations of sexual violence survivors are impacted by law, media and the public engagement of survivors. With the founding of CounterQuo, we seek to engage others in our conversation, one that has been characterized by respect, candor, inclusion and a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom (and one another).