#MeToo in Ward 8: Triggered Documentary Screening & Community Discussion


Earlier this month, our policy team co-hosted a community event in Ward 8 with Grassroots DC to talk about street harassment, gendered violence, and ways we can make change in our community: starting with the Street Harassment Prevention Act (affectionately called SHPA).

The event included a screening of Triggered: Street Harassment and Rape Culture in DC’s Ward 8, which was produced by Liane Scott, president of Grassroots DC. Scott’s film documents the events that took place at the Reclaiming Our Bodies speakout last year. The speakout was prompted by the harassment of a teenage girl and her mother when they were in line for a free meal at a community food table. Instead of getting a meal, they got an earful about how the girl’s attire—a t-shirt, tied at the waist, and leggings—justified harassment and threats of violence by men in the community, including the men serving the food. (SO not ok.)

After the screening, community leaders, including our own Rethink Masculinity co-director Stephen Hicks, took part in a panel discussion on street harassment in the District—and how it’s not about what people are wearing, it’s about a harasser exerting power and control. Stephen Hicks also shared that people, especially men, learn toxic scripts about how to treat themselves and women. He reiterated that people need to un-learn these scripts about masculinity–something CASS’s program on Rethink Masculinity is proud to do.

As panelist Dr. Pamela Brewer, a clinical social worker and therapist said, “None of this is about what you are wearing. All of this is about power.”

Panelists also discussed how race and racism are inextricably linked to street harassment, and how men need to be part of the movement to end gendered violence. Aja Taylor, affordable housing advocate director at Bread for the City and an anti-harassment activist with Reclaiming Our Bodies DC, called attention to the double burden that black women face each day, experiencing harassment due to both patriarchy and white supremacy. Her words were affirmed by an audience member, who added that “Black women have not had an outlet to talk about the violence [they] have faced.”

Hicks also described how our Rethink Masculinity program pushes for societal change: participants are pushed to see the women in their lives as whole beings. Men are too often socialized to see women and queer folks as less than whole beings, as only conduits for pleasure. Panelist Schyla Pondexter-Moore, the mother of the girl who was harassed in the original incident, lifted up the importance of listening to victims of sexual harassment. “If you want to solve the problem, you have to go to the girl and ask her, what would you like to have done as a victim?”

Tony Lewis, Jr., a DC native and author of the book Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration, added, “As men, we may be violating women and we may not even be aware. This [harassment at the community food table] is not an isolated issue of trauma and pain.” Panelist Aja Taylor affirmed the prevalence of trauma in black communities and its role in perpetuating violence: “Trauma [from harassment, from racism] is unnatural. It happens to everyone, but it’s unnatural, and people expect you to have a natural response to something unnatural.”

This event was just the beginning of the very necessary yet often-painful conversation about gendered street harassment.

We need you to help build a campaign for DC to invest in community-based solutions to street harassment. Volunteers help mobilize supporters, engage with DC Council, and bridge arts and activism. Email leah@collectiveactiondc.org to join.

I Won’t #TakeaKnee Until the Movement Against Police Brutality Centers Women of Color

Editor’s note: TW for domestic violence.

I’ve been hesitant to #TakeaKnee.

I am of course always inspired and energized by new advocates joining the movement for the first time. We all started somewhere. We are all on a journey. Our political analysis evolves over time with exposure, experience, and community accountability. I am grateful to Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee and for being outspoken about white supremacy and state violence. And I am grateful that NFL players are kneeling in solidarity.

But I’m tired of gendered violence taking a back seat.

Amid the headlines and national outrage this weekend, people seem to have forgotten — or conveniently erased — the experiences of Black women and women of color as victims and survivors of state violence. Because yes, state violence affects women of color, too. Today, Paris Knox is in court in Chicago, appealing her 40-year sentence for defending herself against her partner when he showed up at her home.

Police brutality doesn’t necessarily manifest the same way for women and femmes of color as it does for men. In many cases, women’s experiences with state violence are tied to their experiences with domestic violence. Fifty percent of women’s homicides are by a partner, and Black women have the highest intimate partner homicide rates. And yet in the cases when Black women fight to survive, they often face incarceration, perceived as having no selves to defend like Paris Knox and Bresha Meadows. Women are even held accountable for the violence of their abusers with “failure to protect” laws. In 2014, a Buzzfeed News investigation found 73 cases of mothers who were sentenced to 10 or more years in prison between 2004 and 2014; 38% of these mothers were domestic violence survivors. Just last year, Danielle Whyte was charged with manslaughter when her boyfriend strangled her infant son to death and then threatened to kill her if she called police.

With state violence against women of color so frequently tied to our experiences with domestic violence, it is difficult for me, as a woman of color and as a domestic violence survivor once jailed for self-defense, to kneel with NFL players, many of whom have been accused of domestic violence or sexual assault.

And the NFL’s gendered violence problem is surpassed still by law enforcement officers. Between 24 and 40 percent of police officer families have experienced domestic violence, up to four times as a high as the rate of the general population. Police sexual assault is also the second most common form of police brutality, with a police officer caught in an act of sexual misconduct every five days, and this data doesn’t include the officers who never got caught. It also doesn’t include most incidents of police sexually assaulting sex workers, which in some states police assert is their right.

Too frequently, these narratives are missing from the larger conversation about police brutality, an omission that Andrea Ritchie works to highlight in her new book Invisible No More.

For women of color to be included, state violence and gendered violence must be tackled simultaneously.

When I think about the divisions in this movement, I also think about my own experience in an abusive relationship: how shocked I was when he hit me. It was surreal to me that this betrayal would come from someone so close to me — my own partner who I loved and shared a home with. I saw the barriers he was facing to becoming sober and nonviolent, and I was invested in his progress: I believed that his success was my success was our success. He always made me believe that he was fighting for me, for us. I believed that we were in that fight together.

I spent years focusing on his needs, believing that if we could solve the problems that he was facing then eventually that work would pay off and end his violence against me. But instead it kept getting worse, as abusive relationships often do. The violence escalated, and I could have lost my life in that relationship.

Too often, anti-violence movements feel like abusive relationships themselves. Black women and women of color are consistently asked and expected to fall in line. We are told that we must prioritize the needs of Black men in the movement against state violence and the needs of white women in the movement against gendered violence. We are shamed, silenced, and gaslighted when we ask if our needs will also be addressed and included in this fight. We are called “divisive” for asking to be included.

I’m hesitant to put my life on the line again for men who tell me that we’re in this fight toward liberation together when we’re not.

It should not take away from your needs to also acknowledge my needs. If you can’t say that my needs are just as important as yours, if you don’t speak out against gendered state violence, if you believe that somehow seeing and speaking up about my needs takes away from your cause or your movement, then you’ve already thrown me under the bus to drive forward without me.

And I’m tired of fighting for men who aren’t fighting for me.

If you believe that this message is divisive, that it takes away somehow from the masses who connected to Kaepernick, remember that you are dividing two issues and two movements that for me are completely intertwined.

Image credit: loveandprotect.org

You Can Help Make DC A Safer Place To Go Out

We have some great news to share — TWENTY DC-area bars have made safety a standard of service by becoming Safe Bars certified! The Safe Bars program, a partnership between CASS and Defend Yourself, uses innovative bystander education strategies to empower bar staff to recognize and respond to sexual harassment and assault.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy a night out without the fear of being harassed or assaulted, but considering over 50% of sexual assaults involve the use of alcohol as a weapon or as an excuse for aggressive behavior, bars are a natural setting to tackle this problem. Bar staff are on the frontlines of service and are already on the lookout for over-served and unruly patrons, so the Safe Bars program provides a simple, affordable extension of training that can help staff make their patrons, especially women, feel more secure. Using proven bystander intervention techniques, staff can help diffuse threatening situations by engaging potential aggressors before they cross the line.


Now, while twenty certified Safe Bars is an amazing start, we’re going to need your help to make DC a safer place to go out. The Safe Bars program has already proved successful in preventing at least one assault, and we know that the more bars we reach, the safer DC’s nightlife will become. There are many ways you can help to promote the Safe Bars program:

  • Take a Selfie at a Safe Bar! See the list of trained bars below, and make it a point to patronize them! Be sure to take a selfie with the yellow Safe Bars decal, which can usually be found in the front window of trained bars. Post your selfie on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #RaiseTheBar.
  • Host Your Next Happy Hour at a Safe Bar! If you coordinate a happy hour, sign the Safe Bars Happy Hour pledge. If your favorite HH spot isn’t a Safe Bar, let us know so we can reach out.
  • Ask Your Favorite Bar to Become a Safe Bar! Do you have a bar you’d like trained? Send us a message or tweet. Here’s a sample tweet you can use, and feel free to personalize!
  • Share Your Story! Have you been harassed or assaulted at a bar? You’re not alone. You can anonymously share your story with us.

The Safe Bars program has been completed by the following DC-area bars:

The Safe Bars training is funded in part by a grant from
Raliance, an initiative funded by the National Football League to support programs that prevent and address sexual violence.

You’re Amazing!

This #GivingTuesday, we set an ambitious goal — to raise $15,000 to launch ReThink Masculinity, a partnership with DC Rape Crisis Center and ReThink, in 2017.
Through your unwavering generosity and dedication, we exceeded our goal, raising over $17,300 for CASS’ efforts in the coming year! We’re eager to engage men in the movement against gender-based violence, and we couldn’t do it without you.


From all of us at CASS, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making our campaign so successful. More information will be coming soon about the program launch!

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