Dawson student Catherine Duret faces her own fears when she goes off to interview international feminist activist Layel Camargo on their work in promoting transformative justice responses to child sexual assault. As revealed below, Layel’s passion and commitment is contagious, and their call for a more compassionate and community-based approach to sexual assault, along with a new openness to talk about the problem, needs to be heard.
I went into this assignment like a virgin, completely terrified, unprepared and without a twenty-four hour notice of what was about to happen. The morning of a conference at Montreal’s Center for Gender Advocacy, a teacher of mine asked if I would be willing to attend and interview the keynote speaker, Layel Camargo. Of course I agreed, because like every communications student who wants to get anywhere in this field, you jump at the chance to exercise your journalistic muscle, no matter how inexperienced and nervous you may be – and anyways I was already wearing a blazer, how could I say no?
As I prepared myself for what the evening would have in store for me, making sure all of my pencils were sharpened, my phone charged, and that I had enough paper to take extensive notes, I also made sure I knew exactly who I would be meeting and what we would be discussing.
Here to give a talk on transformative justice and how such attitudes benefit survivors and perpetrators of sexual violence was Layel Camargo (PGP/preferred gender pronoun: they). Originally from San Diego, they are an educator, activist, and member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, which focuses on transformative justice approaches to help children who have experienced sexual violence. Having experienced violence in their childhood, they began fighting for social justice in high school, and have become an internationally known feminist and activist. Aside from being a general kind-hearted badass, an eloquent and emotional speaker, and a gender nonconforming trans-identified person, Layel is muxe, also known as a third gender in Mexico, and according to their Instagram, they adore artsy things and vegan food.
Nine hundred people were expected to show up at the talk, which was giving me all kinds of performance anxiety, and had me show up an hour early to the university campus. The interview was supposed to take place beforehand, and so with the gracious okay of the organizers, I sat patiently waiting in the auditorium for an hour and a half, my notebook of alphabetically ordered questions held in between my clammy and jittery hands. Just writing this out has me feeling as anxious as I was that night, overcome with the need to prove myself worthy and professional before this important international activist, and all those who would later go on to read what I had to say about them. Is this a good place to ask how I am doing? Okay, great thank you.
By the time 6 o’clock appeared on my phone screen, I had changed seats three times and Layel had just arrived. The freezing and dimly lit auditorium was filled with only a hundred or so people ready to sit through what would be for many an emotionally tolling presentation. My interview would have to wait, but that didn’t stop the answers to my questions from already finding their way to my eager pen and paper.
“The beauty of transformative justice,” Layel stated, “is that we can’t tell you how to do it – you only need to start thinking about it for it to be put into action.” In fact, transformative justice is a philosophy that rests on a liberatory approach to violence and puts the person who has been hurt at the center. Another Bay Area collaborative, named generationFIVE, pioneered the use of transformative justice to end child sexual abuse. As they put it, transformative justice is “a liberatory approach that seeks safety and accountability without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, including incarceration and policing” (5). It encourages those who have been hurt to recognize the injustice perpetuated on them, yet use the communities surrounding them to heal, instead of turning to legal entities that may do more harm than anything else.
Layel recognizes that there is no satisfaction in “leaving the power to the perpetrator”, but as they highlight, transformative justice is only one of the ways we can start bringing honest justice back to those who have lost an integral part of themselves, be it by sexual violence or any other kind of abuse. Realizing that in relation to sexual violence, getting rid, blaming and shaming a perpetrator doesn’t solve any issues, the applied practice of transformative justice asks us to look beyond our condition to look forward to accountability.
As generationFIVE explains,
Transformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety and long-term healing and reparations, while holding people who commit violence accountable within and by their communities. This accountability includes stopping immediate abuse, making a commitment to not engage in future abuse, and offering reparations for past abuse. Such accountability requires community responsibility and access to on-going support and transformative healing for people who sexually abuse. (5)
Laval focused greatly on the extent to which we often forget or brush aside sexual assault as a form of violence. Is it because we are too afraid to speak of it, even though the concept of consent and sexual violence, which lack acknowledgment, understanding and teaching, is not only applicable to the bedroom, but happening in factories, on campuses and in the general workplace and street every day?
This culture of unhealthy interactions and relationships, where 50 to 60% of transgender lives will experience sexual assault – and 70% of those actions will be based on hate* – demands us to not only hold ourselves accountable, but our community as a whole. The fact that few of us are safe these days is troubling, but this makes it much more of a necessity for us to create safe spaces where we can come together and talk about assault, violence and the experiences we go through as humans of this world. “It’s important to think of healing as a collective thing,” Layel emphasized. There is undeniable value in collective action and interdependency, and as we seek to build trust for transparency and confidentiality within our social circles, the need to stretch our compassion muscle as they put it, is greater than ever.
Two hours later, after an enthralling presentation and a very personal question and answer period, I was finally able to put my two hands together to honour Layel for their work and commitment to such an important cause, and their ability to translate and instill in us the importance of individual accountability. It was now or never to go up to them and ask for that interview, and I can tell you that I wasn’t the only one in the room who wanted to talk to them. As I finally approached Layel and introduced myself timidly, still overcome with emotion and babbling slightly, I remembered to hit record and ask the one question on my list that hadn’t been answered during the conference: “If there was one thing you’d want to let students on campuses know about sexual violence, what would it be?” Their answer was what I had been waiting to hear all evening long.
Talking about sexual violence is hard, and so nobody wants to talk about it. It’s not the sweet juicy conversation starters and stories that people want to hear. Even the people who are doing the work probably don’t want to talk about it.
We’re doing this though because some people have vocalized that this is good for them, but we also want to highlight that there are some individuals that can’t disclose their sexual assault – there are individuals who prefer to be anonymous because of the hardships that come with disclosing, and we also recognize that there are some people walking around the planet not knowing they are survivors or that they have caused sexual assault.
What I want to stress the most is that sexual violence is prevalent in different institutions, and systems, and so it’s often about what is being left out, and it’s in those left out places that we really have to increase that visibility. It’s unfortunate that when we do talk about environmental racism and labour abuses, the conversations around sexual abuses is always left to the sidelines But the conversation never ends up being about that, and that alone is a horrible experience that is often un-highlighted, so I think if there’s ever an opportunity to have conversations about it, and have a space where people can have dialogue, we have to take it.
It’s with that rekindled fire within me that I thanked Layel for their presence that night, and their message of courage. I left the auditorium, emerging back onto a bustling de Maisonneuve Street on a Thursday night, hope in my heart and tears in my eyes, all nerves pushed aside and humanity and self-love reinstated within myself. I now felt ready to share with others around me. Then I realized something. I had just done something that absolutely terrified me, but now I stood on the other side of that fear, accomplished, proud and ultimately transformed and finally at ease with myself – just as I will be when I finish writing this article.
The fact that, on my short walk to the metro, I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen in two years, whom I considered one of the most important people in my life at one time, isn’t at all a coincidence. It was the consequence of me allowing myself to forgive all those, including myself, who have hurt me in the past, as well as in the future. All Layel was asking of us, was to find the humanity within ourselves, and I can only imagine what would happen if we all did.
Kershnar, Sara, et al. “Toward Transformative Justice: A Liberatory Approach to Child Sexual Abuse and other forms of Intimate and Community Violence.” generationFive. June, 2007. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
*The statistics on violence against transgendered peoples were given in Layal Camargo’s talk.
Layel Camargo (PGP: They/Them) is a 26 year old educator and activist who is a gender non-conforming Trans-Identified person. Layel is a Mexican of Mayo and Yaqui indigenous descent, and identifies as Muxe, a third gender in Oaxaca, Mexico. Originally from San Diego, California they are a first generation American and college graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with two majors in Feminist Studies and Legal Studies. Layel Camargo is currently working with the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC), which highlights the need for community-based responses to incidents of child sexual assault.
Catherine Duret is a graduating Arts & Culture Student at Dawson College, a proud feminist and writer. She is also enrolled in the Women’s/Gender Studies Certificate program.
For more information on the potential of transformative justice, we invite you to have a look at our posting on reconciliation by clicking here.