7.16.2010

open letter to g20 survivor: there is such a thing as being a victim

After watching this, please read my thoughts, below.


What happened to Lacy MacAuley was horrific and inexcusable - and criminal. But she says some things are potentially very painful to other survivors. I imagine MacAuley's intentions are good, but nonetheless, it pains me to see these dangerous statements stand unchallenged.

Lacy MacAuley was a victim. She had no control over the situation and things were done and said to her without her consent. That's what it means to be victimized.

Now she is speaks out as a strong survivor. That is excellent. It will undoubtedly help her healing. But her inner strength doesn't mean she wasn't victimized. It doesn't mean another G20 protester who was similarly victimized and is now depressed or otherwise traumatized is weak or somehow "let" someone into their head.

The idea that no one can hurt you without your consent is both false and dangerous. It is a form of victim-blaming.

If no one can hurt you without your consent, then rape doesn't exist. Torture doesn't exist. Bullying doesn't exist. Abuse doesn't exist. But all these things do exist. Both women and men are tortured, raped, abused, bullied to the point of psychological torture. Not because they are weak. Not because someone "got into their head", but because we do not always have control over what happens to us.

We might not want to believe that, because it makes us feel unsafe. We want to believe if we walk with confidence or carry pepper spray - or, in MacAuley's case, have love in our hearts - that we will not be victims. That's fine if it gives us an illusion of safety so we can get on with our lives. But it's not fine if we negate other people's experience.

I understand that MacAuley is not saying that rape or torture does not exist. She knows what happened to her was abuse and assault. I get that. But, however unintentionally, she is assigning blame to anyone who doesn't share her strong and buoyant attitude. Not only don't we have control over being victimized, we don't get to choose how we feel and react afterwards, either.

MacAuley says she was lucky to escape sexual assault. She was. Other women in the G20 arrests were not as lucky. If any of them are now traumatized from that experience - or if MacAuley develops trauma symptoms later, which is not uncommon - it's not because they let anyone into their head. It's only because they are human.

18 comments:

Mike said...

Wow, yep no need for an independent inguiry there, the police definitely did an incredible job, a credit to their uniform and the country.
I see your point L-girl and I don't disagree but I don't really have anything to add to what you said really, I'm just really pissed at how the police acted that weekend.
They broke the law themselves and basically wiped their asses withe the charter. It may sound extreme or melodramtic but do we even live in a country of laws or rule by the strongest if law enforcement can ignore the law whenever they feel like it. The fact that they may not choose to exercise that power now doesn't mean they can't any time they feel like it.

L-girl said...

It doesn't sound melodramatic at all to me, Mike. You're 100% correct.

I hope my issues with this video doesn't obscure my utter horror and anger and disgust with the police, McGuinty and Harper, and everyone who excuses them.

Kim_in_TO said...

It's perfectly clear to me how you (and I) feel about the G20 police brutality. But I do think that you make an important point about this video.

I do understand the point she is attempting to make; I just think she's naive, and I don't blame her for that, as I would guess this is a new experience for her, and I don't think she has any idea what she is implying for other victims.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Kim. I tried to be very careful not to denigrate MacAuley or her way of coping. It's great that she's speaking out - these stories surely need to be told.

This post is also borne of my worries about the young women in that jail, my anger over what was done to them.

Nitangae said...

If I may go slightly off topic, I wonder about the repeated reference to the fact that the police attack after protesters start signing - Oh Canada, Give Peace a Chance, whatever. Here again - they were singing just before the police attacked. I mention this because I once spoke with a South Korean riot police who said that he liked the protesters who tossed Molotov cocktails (that being a manly activity which he could respect); but what really pissed him off was when they started to sing protest songs.

I think Martin Luther King said that something about singing movements being successful movements?

It makes me almost want to speak theologically - something about the Fascist mind being repelled by people who are happy and singing in unison.

L-girl said...

Nitangae, interesting thoughts!

Perhaps all the feelings that protest singing creates on our side - the feeling of unity, calming, strength, focus - gets under the police's authoritarian skin in ways they're not even conscious of.

impudent strumpet said...

Nitangae, that's really interesting because I was trying to think of ways that civilians can de-escalate situations that have been escalated by police. (This was all before I saw the Officer Bubbles video - now I'm completely at a loss.)

I was thinking the problem with the O Canada was that it creates a solidarity that excludes the police, and what needs to be done is create a solidarity that includes that police. But if they're just going to get weirded out by singing, I don't know what to do.

L-girl said...

There's no way for protesters to control or even ameliorate the police's actions. That can only come from their own leadership.

Lacy MacAuley said...

Hello, it's me, Lacy MacAuley. Thanks for your open letter. I wanted to say that it was not my intention to invalidate anyone else's experience or say that there is no such thing as victimization. That would indeed be a preposterous assumption. I'm just speaking to my experience.

The word "victim" is a very charged word for me. It implies not only some external force that you have been subject to but a mentality that is internal, that you have been traumatized. I know this by experience (I've actually been assaulted before): The physical wounds heal, but the trauma is actually internal. In this case, the trauma wasn't so bad because I didn't internalize it.

In jail I provided comfort and encouragement to many women who had been assaulted and/or hurt by the Toronto police. I do not invalidate their experiences. I am only speaking with my own voice, and offer another way to frame the discussion besides, "The police made me a victim. I must now heal from that victimization." I think it's important to acknowledge that we're all different and we all respond differently to things. I don't have to be a victim if I don't feel like a victim, just because someone else thinks I need to call myself a victim.

It is a typical process to let people harming you get under your skin. It happens all the time, and people must heal from that. As the post says it is "only human." When people have truly hurt me, I must heal too. But however anyone else feels about their experience of assault/violence, I resist the notion that the police can truly victimize me.

This is basic empowerment. As a woman I reclaim the power to be "victimized" through this situation. I sincerely believe that, because I was meditative and didn't internalize the police brutality, I emerged without much trauma. I am not speaking to others' experiences, only mine.

That said, maybe your definition of "victim" is different. That's okay and I do not invalidate your definition. I also do not invalidate others' experiences. The terms that you use in your post move from "victim" to "hurt." I was without a doubt hurt. Yes, I was hurt without my consent. That doesn't mean I was victimized, not according to my definition. I was one of the lucky ones: I was able to stay calm and meditative, which made it far less traumatic.

We are all different in this world. I choose a world in which the power of the police to make you a "victim" is a power we can reclaim.

I hope and trust we can reach an agreement. Thanks again for your open letter. If you want to reach me privately, you can e-mail lacymacauley@gmail.com. Or you can send another open letter, and hopefully I'll find it :)

L-girl said...

Hi Lacy, thank you very much for coming by and for your thoughts.

I don't feel as if we need to reach an agreement. You conceive of trauma and healing in a different way than I do. Whatever works for you, works for you, and what works for me, works for me. There's no need for us to see it the same way.

I understand and believe that it was not your intention to invalidate anyone else's experience. However, you did speak in broad, general terms, not only from an "I" place but from a "you" place.

The second half of the video does seek to define the experience not only for yourself but for others.

For example, you said, "Someone can only hurt you when you let them under your skin." And several other similar statements.

Without intending to and without realizing it, you are blaming people for their own pain.

* * * *

I don't agree that victim is a loaded word. It is merely a fact: a victim is one who is "hurt without consent".

That doesn't mean one must carry the torch as a victim for the rest of her life. I learned early on that while I had been victimized, I was now a survivor.

But if it's true that "someone can only hurt you when you let them under your skin," then every battered woman, every abused child, every person who is raped or tortured, let it happen.

I wonder if you might find a diffferent way to express your own feelings without making a broad, general statement about others.

I wish you the best. Thanks for speaking out about what happened to you at the G20, and thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

L-girl said...

I received this response from someone reading this thread. She agreed that I could post it for her, anonymously. I'm pasting it in exactly as it was written.

* * * *

I don't feel confident to participate in the conversation but I wanted to add my thoughts.

Lacy's reaction to your post is very unsettling to me. I can't get my head around her analysis, but, more significantly to me, I cannot connect emotionally with anything she says. What she says does not ring true. I have nothing against her, and if she is able to cope this way, then more power to her. If she believes that she lives in a world where she can "reclaim her power" from the cops who brutalized her, well, I wish I lived in her world, then.

But I don't.

In my experience, I found that I had to accept that I had been a victim in order to get to all the rage, shame, sadness and hopelessness that resulted from the trauma. I was told to "snap out of it" and "cheer up" enough times to get the message from everyone that my "negative" feelings were not welcomed ("you have to be strong"). And Lacy's argument feels like more of the same social pressure.

Now I am strong. I can call myself a survivor and truly mean it, but i believe that I had to move through the ordeal of realizing that I was a victim and that I was victimized to get to where I am today.

Like you say, everyone's different.

Lacy MacAuley said...

Thanks for all of these thoughts. Again, I don't want to invalidate anyone's experience or healing process. The anonymous poster says, she "had to accept that I had been a victim in order to get to all the rage, shame, sadness and hopelessness that resulted from the trauma." That is okay. Perhaps the reason it was so extremely painful was because that person had already been let into your heart, or had an emotional connection... In my view, people can harm our hearts more or less depending on how close in we have brought them. We are all different. And different people experience things different ways and think about things different ways. That is okay.

For the record: I am an activist and have been harmed by police before. I am a woman and I have not escaped assault my whole life. I may be naive about some things, as we all are, but this is my approach to recovering from these experiences.

To further explain where I am coming from: I am a very deep-felt activist. To keep on going, and not let the police or other authority figures stop you through their campaigns of assault, is necessary if we are going to stop the G20, the IMF, the World Bank, other development banks, and giant corporations from destroying traditional communities and the environment. That is what keeps me living and breathing in this purpose-driven life. I am going to be back out on the streets soon. I simply think that if I give them the power to make me feel hopelessness or shame, then they have effectively found a tactic for neutralizing me as an activist. I do not give the police that power over me, because I must continue to go forward. The police can and do try to neutralize activists through their violence. It is in their program. But if we can realize that theirs is an illegitimate source of power and not give them the power to get inside our heads and hearts, even as they punch and kick, then their tactic will not work, and our love will overcome their fists, guns, and prisons.

You can disagree with my approach, but I lived it from the inside of my soul. I am living that approach right now, as the very last of my bruises finally disappears. That is the only thing that I can do. Again, I don't mean to invalidate anyone else's approach.

Due to the points that L-girl and others bring up I'll try to use different word choice while talking about my philosophies and my approach in life. I'll also try not to invalidate others in the process of sharing my own thoughts. However I really do believe, based on my life story, that a person's ability to emotionally hurt you is dependent upon how closely they are held in your heart, how much they have gotten "under your skin." I believe this is a valid thought, and will keep presenting it as such.

During the two and a half days that I was kept in jail, I spoke with so many wonderful women, many that I'm still in touch with, and I felt that they drew inspiration from these thoughts - the police can't keep us from protesting again, because we are a force more powerful than their guns, their handcuffs, or their bars. I've gotten so many e-mails and messages that these thoughts help other activists keep going. So, as long as the other activist women who were arrested/assaulted/mistreated in Toronto can be uplifted by these thoughts, I think I should keep giving them.

Lacy MacAuley said...

Also, one last thought:

I do not feel that it is always a choice how much someone gets "under your skin." Sometimes you just feel a connection with someone, and it's instant. For other beautiful and open souls, it is simply that everyone is let into their heart. That is a beautiful thing, and if I lived in a world where it were safe to do so, surrounded by people I trusted not to hurt me (such as my home environment), I would hope that I would do the same thing.

A person's closeness to your heart, or how much they are under your skin, is not always a choice.

I am not saying that people who were traumatized or "victimized" are choosing to be victims. That would indeed be false. I am saying that if we choose not to let the police get into our heads and hearts, then their tactics of assault and violence will not work to silence the movement for a better world.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Lacy.

I am going to be back out on the streets soon. I simply think that if I give them the power to make me feel hopelessness or shame, then they have effectively found a tactic for neutralizing me as an activist. I do not give the police that power over me, because I must continue to go forward. The police can and do try to neutralize activists through their violence. It is in their program.

I absolutely agree with this, and I applaud you for it. Certainly some people who were arrested and assaulted will not be able to return to public activism yet. They may need more healing time. But I certainly hope that no one lets the's police's criminal behaviour keep them from further activism.

L-girl said...

I wanted to separate this from my other comment.

Perhaps the reason it was so extremely painful was because that person had already been let into your heart, or had an emotional connection...

In my case, the reason it was so extremely painful was because rape and assault is an extremely painful experience.

I was raped by a stranger who broke into my home and held a knife to my throat. I had no emotional connection to my assailant. The degree of my pain and suffering after the asasult was not informed by any kind of "letting in" to my heart.

However I really do believe, based on my life story, that a person's ability to emotionally hurt you is dependent upon how closely they are held in your heart, how much they have gotten "under your skin."

I just have no idea what this means.

I never "held in my heart" the man who raped me. The words don't even make sense or apply to my experience at all, nor the experiences (I believe) of the many survivors I have known and worked with.

I understand and appreciate that you conceive of your own experience of trauma and healing in a completely different way than I conceive of mine.

Due to the points that L-girl and others bring up I'll try to use different word choice while talking about my philosophies and my approach in life. I'll also try not to invalidate others in the process of sharing my own thoughts.

That would be excellent.

During the two and a half days that I was kept in jail, I spoke with so many wonderful women, many that I'm still in touch with, and I felt that they drew inspiration from these thoughts - the police can't keep us from protesting again, because we are a force more powerful than their guns, their handcuffs, or their bars. I've gotten so many e-mails and messages that these thoughts help other activists keep going. So, as long as the other activist women who were arrested/assaulted/mistreated in Toronto can be uplifted by these thoughts, I think I should keep giving them.

I don't doubt for a moment that your strength and buoyancy has been uplifting to many people.

But the people who your words may unintentionally wound are unlikely to tell you about it.

They may not even be able to articulate it. Your ideas may just reinforce their feelings of self-blame and make it harder for them to heal, without their even knowing why.

So if you did find a way to speak from the "I" - about your own experience, without generalizing to others - it might go a long way.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and for being out there, fighting the good fight. I wish you all the best.

L-girl said...

The anonymous commenter tells me she also survived a stranger attack, and doesn't understand the whole "let into the heart" thing.

She feels that Lacy is trivializing trauma the same way mainstream society does, but using feminist language to do it.

She also wishes Lacy all the best on her healing journey.

* * * *

I hope I captured that all right. She asked me not to quote her directly but said it was ok to paraphrase.

Also, that's the end of the discussion for her.

Stephanie said...

It has been a week since this was first posted and yet David and I continue to have very lengthy discussions (daily I think) about this post and all of your very important and compelling comments.

Thanks to each of you Lacy, Laura and the anonymous commentor for sharing you perspectives on such an important issue.

Please accept my (our) sincerest and most heartfelt thanks!

L-girl said...

Thanks Stephanie! That means a lot to me. A lot lot.