It’s Down to This: Reflections, Stories, Experiences, Critiques, and Ideas on Community and Collective Response to Sexual Violence, Abuse, and Accountability
Various contributors, ed. Claire Urb
100 pg. at half-letter size
$5 from Doris Distro
It was really nice to post about my nice vacation. But now I’m back at work, and back to writing on the internet about sexual violence. Those halcyon days of summer!
I actually read this zine a couple months ago, and it’s been sitting in my “to-review” stack since. This morning, reading Tumblr on my telephone on the bus to work, I came across a blog (which has in the interim been taken down) by a woman who had overheard a man jokingly threatening to rape a drunk woman on the street, and had punched him in the face. She posted a picture of her smiling face and bandaged hand and a statement about her lack of regret. It was pretty rad, and it got me to thinking about this zine again.
Dealing with sexual assault and abuse is something that there’s a lot of zines about— I guess probably because of the combination of it being incredibly prevalent, and the fact that mainstream material on the topic tends to be hamfisted and unhelpful at best. So zines have leapt in to fill the gap, and they’ve done really well.
A lot of the zines I’ve read about sexual assault have centred on how to conduct an accountability process, where, in theory, abusers are taken to task within their communities, made to understand the consequences of their actions, and reintegrated into the fold. This is totally a hard thing to do, but the idea is that everyone has a chance to speak their piece and make their feelings known, and the abuser doesn’t have the luxury of sallying forth into a new group of friends to fuck them up, but rather has to stick around and deal with people’s feelings about them.
The cool thing about this zine is that it’s mainly critical of this process. Claire Urb writes in the introduction,
“I wanted to see this zine happen because I knew myself and many others to feel stuck or dissatisfied with what we understood to be emerging norms for aggressor accountability and survivor support models. But as the people I had worked with and with whom I shared a mutual investment and dedication to anti-sexual violence work, many of us felt unable to voice criticisms or were afraid to admit that we had criticisms.”
I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted to read a zine like this until I had it in my hands, and I was eagerly jotting notes and circling sentiments I share. I wanted to cheer when I read Angustia Celeste’s piece, “Safety is an Illusion: Reflections on Accountability”, which is a wonderfully angry essay about being failed by accountability processes. Man, had I ever wanted to hear someone say,
“In the case of sexual assault I think retaliatory violence is appropriate, and I don’t think there needs to be any kind of consensus about it. Pushing models that promise to mediated instead of allow confrontation is isolating and alienating. I didn’t want mediation through legal channels or any other. I wanted revenge. I wanted to make him feel as out of control, scared, and vulnerable as he had made me feel. There is no safety really after a sexual assault, but there can be consequences.”
In addition to the righteous fury, this zine also has great writing about disillusionment with belonging to a punk scene, a couple of perspectives on having a relationship with someone who’s been called out for abuse, and lots of other interesting writing about accountability and recovery from violence.
There’s also a long, comprehensive, and really awesome article about finding a therapist (difficult! important!). It’s written by someone who had been abusive and is involved in an accountability process, but a lot of the advice is helpful for anyone who is looking, or considering looking, for a therapist: the focus is mainly on finding someone who either has good politics, or is at least able to understand and respect your views.
This zine is pragmatic, angry, and down-to-earth. The editor acknowledges that it’s pretty likely to be polarizing, because everyone really wants accountability to work and some people definitely find it helpful. However, if you or anyone you care about has experienced sexual violence, which is overwhelmingly likely to be the case, I’d be surprised (and concerned) if you haven’t experienced serious feelings of rage and helplessness and a thwarted desire to DO SOMETHING, preferably with your l’il fists. I know I have.
You should buy this zine, it is five dollars for 100 text-heavy, thought-provoking, wish-fulfillment inducing pages. Read it, and we’ll work on finding a place to put our feelings and our fists.
- Lily Pepper