Gentle Reminder: Choice and Consent

Dear friends and colleagues in anti-violence,

I would like to believe that most of you really mean well when you decide things for those of us who have experienced abuse and exploitation, but I want to be really frank with you that it is difficult to do so. It makes it a challenge to believe much of what you may profess about how you want to help, how you are there for us, and how you want to see abuse and exploitation stop. It makes it hard to believe that you see me or others like me as whole people, whole people who are capable of amazing things.

I think that for those of you who mean well, your choice to omit or withhold information and opportunities from us, may be because you want to shield us and protect us from re-traumatization and further harm.

Thing is though, when you don’t tell us the whole story, when you don’t share resources or information or opportunities with us, when you hold things back from us… you aren’t just choosing for us. You are taking away our right to consent and to choose for ourselves.

No matter how well-meaning or intended you are, those actions aren’t aligned with honoring us as whole people.

People who abuse(d) and exploit(ed) us did and do a lot of the same things, many of those abusive and exploitive people did and do so under the guise of being concerned for our well-being. Removing the right to choose or consent to something is a control tactic, honestly, and it is always centered in the person who is removing those rights.

I know, because I have done this, that it can be tough to be honest with ourselves about what our reasons for not providing all the information or offering opportunities might be. If you want to serve people who have been, or are being, abused and exploited in any capacity, you must go beyond that surface reason and surface action.

If you are withholding information or blocking opportunities for any reason other than that person, who heard your up-front and clear concerns about the information or opportunities being shared with them, said “I think you’re right, can you just not tell me about that?” I need you to double check: what is your real reason for withholding or blocking?