Giovanni D'Ambrosio

The Political Construction of Survivor Support: Imagining Need and Visioning Strategy Within the Bay Area’s Anti-Sexual Violence Movement

My thesis explores the effects of the institutionalization of the anti-rape movement through a comparative analysis of the mores and practices of rape crisis centers (RCCs) and grassroots, abolitionist anti-sexual violence collectives in the Bay Area. Feminist historical and sociological literature represents the emergence of RCCs in the 1970s as a shift in anti-rape political activism to a social service model organized around partnerships with the criminal legal system. These accounts rarely consider structural intersectionality, articulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw in this context as the institutional constraints on RCCs–namely, funding standards that privilege needs which are largely white and middle-class–limiting their capacity support poor and working class women of color. Thus, I ask how RCCs and abolitionist collectives construct notions of “survivor support” to address how institutional legitimation changes the policies and practices of social movement actors. I employ a multi-method approach, drawing on data from (i) participant observation, (ii) semi-structured interviews with staff and volunteers and (iii) archival research on funding sources, policies and external partnerships (with state and non-state actors). In doing so, my research clarifies how these organizations’ variation in institutionalization informs, limits and otherwise prefigures the ways in which they anticipate the needs of poor women and trans folks of color, and respond accordingly.