Strategies for Survivors Zine Available!

color-cover-256Our newest zine is out!  Strategies for Survivors is full of hints and tips from our experience, for survivors of sexual assault and the people who support survivors.

Click on the image for a black-and-white PDF download — it might take a while to transfer.  Either view it on line or click the “booklet” setting on your print options page to make a printed copy.

For printed copies on nice paper — especially color copies — contact us by e-mail at SurvivorSupport@Riseup.Net

We are grateful to all our collective members over the years, and especially the survivors and their supporters we’ve had the honor to know, for making this zine possible.

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Check out our new mini-zine, Strategies for Survivors

We’re excited to announce our new one-page zine, Strategies for Survivors. View or download the PDF at: https://phillysurvivorsupportcollective.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/strategiesforsurvivors.pdf

Note: This zine is designed to be printed on legal size paper (8.5×14).

Get in touch if you want paper copies — you can email us at survivorsupport@riseup.net, or call (215) 618-2020.

Please spread the word to anyone you think might find the zine useful!

strategiesforsurvivors

No Justice Here

by Sarah Small and Hunter McCorkel

On October 3rd 2012, death row prisoner Terrance Williams narrowly avoided execution. If he had been executed, his would have been the first execution in Pennsylvania since 1999. However, his life still hangs in the balance. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is appealing the stay of execution, and if he has his way, Terrance Williams will be killed before the year is over.

Terry Williams was sentenced to die for killing Amos Norwood in 1984. He was eighteen years old. After his sentencing, it was revealed that Williams had been routinely sexually abused by Norwood, and had been sexually and physically abused by family members and men in his community since he was a child. After his arrest, Williams was also convicted of killing Herbert Hamilton, another man who had sexually abused him. Evidence of Williams’ abuse was not presented at his trial, and numerous jurors have since stated that they would not have voted for the death penalty if they had known about the violence perpetrated against Williams. The case has been gaining national attention due to the large number of supporters for Williams’ clemency, including Amos Norwood’s widow. Despite the national spotlight, it is becoming clear that Pennsylvania, under the leadership of Governor Tom Corbett, is poised to restart an era of executions.

Terry Williams’ abuse history and the role that sexual assault played in the murders have become central to both the media coverage and Williams’ court appeals. At the time of his trials, Williams did not tell his lawyers or the court that he had been sexually abused by the men he killed. It should come as no surprise that given our culture of silencing and shaming sexual assault survivors, Terry Williams would not disclose his abuse history. Since then it has been revealed that numerous community members knew of other young people who had been abused by Norwood or Hamilton, both of whom were in positions of local leadership. Williams was failed by these communities, which, through their own silence, allowed his abuse to continue for years. And for Williams, as well as so many other survivors of abuse, the intervention of the state only escalated a cycle of violence rather than breaking it. This execution would not offer justice for Terry Williams. It would not provide justice for Amos Norwood and Herbert Hamilton, for their families, or for Terry’s family. And it does not show a path forward for all of us in Pennsylvania who are struggling to address and prevent sexual abuse.

When solutions to sexual assault are put in the hands of the state, survivors are not helped — they’re criminalized. Survivors who fight back against their abusers often face harsh penalties from the state. Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot towards her abusive husband, is just one recent example. We must recognize that state violence against sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors is also happening here in Pennsylvania. These cases demonstrate the urgent need for communities to develop solutions to violence and harm that support survivors rather than criminalizing them. Survivors of abuse do not and cannot receive justice through a court system that penalizes them. Likewise, incarceration does not address the systemic violence and trauma that leads people to engage in abusive behavior. People who go to prison for abusing others often leave prison with additional trauma and with few or no new tools to rejoin their communities. We must break these cycles of abuse and retribution and instead look for models that heal and transform us.

In Pennsylvania, many people are trapped at the intersection of policies of neglect and criminalization. Funding for institutions that keep people safe and healthy is being stripped away, while at the same time “tough on crime” policies funnel more and more young people into the prison system. Governor Corbett cut $840 million from public education in 2011 alone, while continuing to spend $685 million dollars on building more prisons. General assistance for low income Pennsylvanians has been cut while no additional job opportunities have been created. The loss of educational opportunities, health care and basic financial assistance is making it harder for all of us to survive and thrive in Pennsylvania. And while PA currently has 200 people on death row, over 4,500 more are serving “life without parole” sentences. “Life without parole” is often referred to as Pennsylvania’s other death sentence, because it condemns thousands of men and women to die in prison. Terry Williams’ case is making headlines due to the overt willingness of the state to execute a victim of violence, but thousands of Pennsylvanians are suffering slow deaths due to Corbett’s policies of neglect.

Right now, the state is breaking ground on two new prisons in Montgomery County. The prisons, which will cost over $400 million to build, include a brand new 100-bed death row. Just one year past the execution of Troy Davis, we are faced with the reality that Pennsylvania is one of a shrinking number of states still performing executions. These new prisons will expand Pennsylvania’s reliance on incarceration and capital punishment while diverting funding from basic human needs like housing, healthcare, and financial assistance for the poor. Governor Corbett is killing Pennsylvanians- by neglect because of lack of medical assistance, by closing schools and poisoning our water, by long prison terms and “life without parole” sentences that force people to die in prison, and, if he has his way, by the planned execution of Terrance Williams.

While Terry Williams no longer has a scheduled execution date, the state is still pursuing his death. Real justice for Terry Williams means fighting not just for a stop to his execution, but for his release. Terrance Williams should not die in prison, either from old age OR lethal injection. We believe that the interest of justice would be better served by an investment in funding life-sustaining programs like education, community mediation, healthcare, and general assistance. Now is the time to end capital punishment. Now is the time to end life without parole. Now is the time to stop building prisons and invest in a better future for all of us.

This statement is a collaboration between Decarcerate PA and the Philly Survivor Support Collective. It is an effort to broaden the conversation about capital punishment, state violence and sexual assault.

Sarah Small and Hunter McCorkel are members of Decarcerate PA, a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. Hunter is also a member of Philly Survivor Support Collective, which supports survivors of sexual assault in directing their own healing, offers alternatives to the legal system for survivors seeking justice and safety and works to transform our communities to end sexual assault.

For more information about these groups, visit
http://decarceratepa.info/
https://phillysurvivorsupportcollective.wordpress.com/

strip searches make us all less safe

In early April, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone can be strip searched for any offense upon being arrested. This is devastating news for those of us who are survivors of sexual assault and/or police violence, as well as anyone who is in jail or could be arrested for any reason. We don’t want anyone in jail or prison – our long-term goal is to get rid of the system that locks people up. But as long as jails and prisons exist, we have to speak out against rulings like these. According to the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties ban the procedures that the Supreme Court just approved. Regardless of whether you are in police custody or not, there are basic human rights that everyone has, and basic respect that everyone deserves.  Strip searches are humiliating and unnecessary.

The ruling extends this humiliation beyond the walls of prisons and jails — noted sites of sexual violence where strip searches are already used regularly without cause under the transparent pretense of creating safety.  People imprisoned at Pennsylvania’s Rockview and Somerset facilities recently reported guards performing harassing strip searches, sexual groping, fondling, and making rape threats.  Strip searches are a police weapon used outside prisons too.  Consider the 2003 case of Ana Nogueira, a reporter for Democracy Now!, who was stripped by male police at a demonstration in Miami, Florida.  Nogueira was able to access sufficient resources to successfully win a lawsuit.  That expensive post-violation legal option is now gone, further discouraging free speech among current and would-be activists and journalists.

With the already numerous examples of stripping and sexual humiliation being used by the state, the Supreme Court ruling creates a slippery slope.  It’s not a far jump from strip searches to sexual violence being used as a way to control and victimize people in police custody.  It also allows for a culture of normalized sexual humiliation, making it easier for corrections officers and other prisoners to enact sexual violence.

This practice also inordinately affects people who are already marginalized in society.  People who have histories of sexual and/or police violence  will may have strong emotional reactions and relived trauma while being strip searched.  Queer and trans people may be singled out and humiliated for not fitting social norms and will potentially be at risk for more sexual violence from arresting officers. Trans people in particular may be exposed to additional violence if their trans status is discovered when strip-searched.

The Florence v. County of Burlington Supreme Court decision is a way of scaring all of us so that we don’t challenge state power for fear of being arrested and sexually humiliated.  This is another way that the state uses sexual violence as a means of control. This chilling effect is particularly strong for those of us who are more likely to be victims of police violence anyway, because of our race, class, sexual orientation, trans, HIV or immigration status, work in the sex trade, or any number of other reasons. Philly Survivor Support Collective believes that all of us deserve to live lives free of sexual violence.  We believe that courts, police and prisons do not help us end sexual assault and rape, but rather increase it. We can only hope that this ruling will be a wake-up call for our allies in the fight to end rape and sexual assault, so we can come together in agreement that as long as we embrace policing and prisons as responses to sexual violence, we will never get there.

Open letter from the Philly Survivor Support Collective to SCI Rockview Superintendent Marirosa Lamas and PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel

Open letter from the Philly Survivor Support Collective to SCI Rockview Superintendent Marirosa Lamas and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel:

We are responding to a call from people incarcerated at SCI Rockview’s Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) whose human rights and safety are being violated by the prison’s lieutenants and guards. Prisoners at SCI Rockview are demanding investigation into a recent rise of abusive conditions including a pattern of routine sexual assault by guards, retaliation for using the internal grievance procedure, double-celling, excessive use of solitary confinement, and arbitrary placement on the restricted release list. These abuses violate the human rights of all people to physical safety and bodily integrity, whether we are incarcerated or not.

People incarcerated in the RHU at SCI Rockview have been attempting to access the official grievance procedure but are faced with threats and retaliation for voicing their objections. Because this single recourse has been taken from them, individuals in the unit have called for external support to shed light on and bring an end to the abuses they face.

The Philly Survivor Support Collective is a group based out of Philadelphia that is working to end sexual assault. We support individuals and communities who are healing from assaults, and work together to transform the conditions that allow sexual assault to be perpetrated and those who cause harm to remain unaccountable. We organize to create alternatives to the legal system for survivors seeking justice and safety, because we believe that police, prisons and the legal system all increase the violence in our communities.

The abuses being inflicted on people incarcerated at SCI Rockview have impact beyond the prison walls; they strengthen the conditions that condone sexual assault and allow it to continue to ravage all of our communities. We all deserve to live without being sexually assaulted, and to have access to the physical, economic and emotional resources that allow us to heal from assault when it does occur. We cannot hope to build a world free of sexual violence while people who are incarcerated are subjected to it with no recourse.

We urge you to investigate the abusive conditions at SCI Rockview’s RHU and take action to remove perpetrating officials from this prison. Everyone has a right to physical and emotional safety. Disregarding the abuses faced by people who are incarcerated at SCI Rockview is an unjust and inexcusable act of violence.

— Philly Survivor Support Collective

Article about the Philly Survivor Support Collective in Tikkun magazine

Now you can read about us in Tikkun magazine! The current issue (Winter 2012) contains an article about the Philly Survivor Support Collective and Philly Stands Up, “Confronting Sexual Assault: Transformative Justice on the Ground in Philadelphia” by Bench Ansfield and Timothy Colman. Read an excerpt on Tikkun’s website.