Friday, November 9, 2018

Better Together – Address Race & Privilege


By Cordelia Anderson, MA

The theme of ATSA’s 37th Annual Conference, “Better Together” felt desperately needed against blatant hate speech, and acts of racial bias that has become more prevalent, and supported, in our neighborhoods, as well as in our social media, news media, civil discourse, and politics.  I had all this in mind as I listened to Elder Gerald Oleman, one of the 2018 ATSA Conference keynotes. He drew from his personal experience and Indigenous history to address why racism is so important to understand, especially in our work that is so linked to treating trauma. Elder Oleman pointed out that Europeans have a different culture and explained, “when it hit ours, it was a tsunami that flattened us, and we are still trying to stand back up.” He described colonization as “complete political and economic control over indigenous people and their land”. He gave several examples of how this shows up with so many “images of indigenous people as less than.”

In May of 2017, the ATSA Prevention Committee started to discuss various ways that addressing privilege and race fit with strategies to prevent sexual violence.  The discussions included the research showing that entitlement and dominance are core contributors both to sexually aggressive behavior (e.g., Knight & Guay, 2018; Malamuth, 2003) and to the maintenance of privilege and the continuance of racial prejudice.   Given the conversations in the public domain, ATSA has a unique voice to contribute to this conversation.  We also discussed that we may not be fully addressing this issue within our own work and that ATSA should be concerned with considering privilege and race not only as they impact the exacerbation of sexual harassment and sexually coercive behavior, but also as they affect ATSA’s therapeutic and prevention focus. (adapted wording from ATSA Executive Survey Summary, 2018).

At the October 2017 ATSA Conference, the Prevention Committee sponsored a well-received panel to discuss these issues.  During this past year, as a follow-up to this discussion, the Committee developed a survey to learn how ATSA members view these issues and their interest in ATSA taking further action. With 375 ATSA members responding, this is what we learned:

Ø  87% of survey respondents endorsed either “agree” or “strongly agree” to statements indicating that race and privilege had an impact on perpetration, survivors’ healing process, and prevention of sexual violence.

Ø  Surprisingly, respondents suggested that race and privilege had less of an impact on various areas of their own work (i.e., an average of 76%). This merits follow-up to determine if it reflects resistance to addressing this issue in their own work.

Ø  The majority of survey respondents affirmed the overall need for ATSA to address issues related to race and privilege (76%).


Based on the outcomes of the survey, the Prevention Committee made recommendations to the ATSA Board to explore ways that ATSA as an organization and in our membership can address issues of race and privilege in our work. Alison Hall, co-chair prevention committee and ATSA Board of Directors member, reported that ATSA’s Board of Directors has formally “recognized that race and privilege impact ATSA’s work, and the work of ATSA members. Furthermore, the board voted to ensure that ATSA commits to incorporate privilege and race issues into all its strategic goals.”  Each of ATSA’s committees will be looking at how race and privilege affect their work.  The Prevention Committee is further exploring member responses through a series of interviews that were conducted during the recent ATSA Conference.  We hope to be able to provide some of the resources that were requested during these interviews and through the surveys. 

The interest and ATSA’s Board of Director’s response are essential to shine a light on the intersection between entitlement, privilege and racism and the work needed to prevent sexual violence. Going back to Elder Oleman’s keynote, he explained that “People that lose their way start to harm people.”  He asked the audience “What can we do for the children to prevent this from happening?”  Part of what we can do is to continue to understand the privileges we each have and how they can be used in constructive rather than destructive ways. Prevention involves working to overcome the “othering” that allows people to be treated as objects or commodities that are less than. As we struggle to not be hooked by our fears, but instead to understand to build on our connections between prevention, research, policy, and treatment, between the voices of those harmed and those who created the harm and across races, cultures, genders, and sexual identities religions. We can bring depth and action to the conference theme; we are indeed “better together:”


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