Andrea Smith of INCITE! Spoke on Sexual Violence
and Mass Incarceration
BY JOSH WOLF
Student Groups Abolish Cops and Prisons, and Feminists In Solidarity Together hosted Andrea Smith, Ph.D to speak at Evergreen about sexual violence on Jan. 23. Smith currently teaches at the University of California, Riverside.
Her award winning publications focus on violence against women of color, and particularly, Native American women. Smith has also worked with Amnesty International, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
Smith, who is Cherokee, is a co-founder of the Boarding School Healing Project (BSHP). According to their website, the group “seeks to document Native boarding school abuses so that Native communities can begin healing from boarding school abuses and demand justice.” Part of BSHP’s strategy is to challenge societal conceptions of violence, and specifically, sexual violence. “By framing abuse as the continuing effects of human rights abuses perpetrated by government policy, we hope to take the shame away from talking about the abuse and provide space for communities to address the problem and heal,” reads their website. Smith frequently makes the connection between historical events, such as the genocide of Native Americans, with contemporary inequality and oppression.
Smith has also co-founded INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, which is “a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing,” according to the group’s website. INCITE! believes that violence against women of color is a complex issue, and is a result of an array of different institutional and social forces. “We identify ‘violence against women of color’ as a combination of ‘violence directed at communities,’ such as police violence, war, and colonialism, and ‘violence within communities,’ such as sexual and domestic violence,” reads the INCITE! website.
– Andrea Smith
Due to the complex nature of sexual violence, INCITE! confronts a broad range of issues, while placing “women of color at the center,” of their work. The group takes a holistic approach in confronting “attacks on immigrants’ rights and Indigenous treaty rights, the proliferation of prisons, militarism, attacks on the reproductive rights of women of color, medical experimentation on communities of color, homophobia/heterosexism, hate crimes against queer women of color, economic neo-colonialism, institutional racism, and more,” according to the INCITE! website.
Smith is an advocate of creative alternatives to confronting sexual violence. “The question is not: ‘Should we call the police?’ The question is: ‘Why do we have no other option, but to call the police?’” said Smith. Throughout her talk, she gave a strong critique of the prison industrial complex, arguing that sexual violence needs to be addressed within communities, and not only through institutions. “Sexual violence cannot be addressed by mere political reform,” said Smith. She argued that community organizing and “groundwork has to be laid before the crisis of abuse takes place.”
During her talk, Smith spoke of a holistic approach towards confronting institutionalized violence. For example, when anti-immigration laws are passed, undocumented women become less likely to be able to access the medical services they need. Additionally, undocumented people living in the U.S. don’t have equal access to the police: it doesn’t make sense to ask someone for help when they have the power to get you deported, argued Smith. At the heart of Smith’s speech was a message to address sexual violence at its roots, through community organizing, and creative alternatives towards social justice.