Equity and Justice in Our Everyday Work: A Toolkit for Rape Crisis Centers to Implement Transformative Change


Are we people who patch people up and send them on their way or do we challenge abuses of power? In order to do anti-oppression work, we must be invested in and committed to challenging systems of power.

Do you believe you should be doing anti-oppression work?

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The Reckoning

While it is simultaneously evident that our social movements have reached new levels of power and effectiveness and reach, many people feel individually fatigued and powerless. We must subvert the systems of oppression that influence and impact our daily lives and are institutionalized within our movement organizations; and simultaneously unlearn the horizontal violence and psychological harm that plague our movements for justice. Collectively, we can deepen practices of principled struggle, working in coalition, and collective governance, so that we are able to ‘build the new world in the shell of the old.

AORTA Co-Operative

Theory of Change

Who is this toolkit for?

While we see Rape Crisis Centers (sometimes called sexual assault programs) as our home audience, most of this toolkit will be equally relevant to programs addressing domestic violence and other organizations that seek to operate from an equity and justice lens. We believe that a close look at the intersection of sexual violence with various forms of oppression is of value to anyone involved in intervening in or preventing violence: not only sexual assault programs, but also organizations focused on youth and community violence; racial and economic justice; health equity; support for immigrants, LGBTQ+ folks, sex workers, those who are homeless or unhoused, and incarcerated people; disability rights; mental health advocacy and treatment; and substance reduction work. Addressing sexual violence is part of all of this work – and if it is not, it certainly should be.

Why do we need this toolkit?

We recognize that incorporating equity and justice in our everyday anti-violence work requires a fresh, tough look at how we function. In 2020, a group of sexual assault and domestic violence state coalitions signed on to the “Moment of Truth” letter, acknowledging “the ways in which this movement, and particularly the white leadership within this movement, has repeatedly failed Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) survivors, leaders, organizations, and movements, specifically by such actions as investing significantly “in the criminal legal system, despite knowing that the vast majority of survivors choose not to engage with it and that those who do are often re-traumatized by it.”

We are seeing more clearly that certain structures and behaviors that are taught by dominant culture must be unlearned to achieve the goal of obtaining justice for survivors and equity for those who work in our field (many of whom are also survivors). As we acknowledge that we are all unconsciously socialized to see certain things through the lens of the white middle class, we realize that those norms can easily permeate our organizational cultures. This toolkit offers opportunities for learning and practical change so that we can live our values as we do our work. To reiterate VALOR’s stance, “This is a time for us as a movement, experts who are positioned to understand the many intersecting forms of trauma and violence inflicted on our communities, to continue stepping up and speaking out” ( CALCASA [Now Valor] Stands in Solidarity with Racial Justice Advocates: Criminalization Will NOT end Sexual Violence). Together, we will learn how to transform our organizations and become more responsive to diverse communities.

How have we strayed from our roots?

Rape Crisis Centers arose from grassroots organizing, with a wariness about partnering with the state and other oppressive systems to intervene and provide solutions to sexual violence. It is very difficult to maintain equity and justice inside of oppressive systems. As a result, the anti-sexual violence movement and field have participated in and benefited from upholding violent norms and perpetuating systems of oppression, and things need to change.

How can this toolkit help?

There are several practical benefits to using this toolkit. It can be extremely useful for organizations in meeting training requirements and standards set by state funders and accreditation processes. The activities in the toolkit can build a sense of community within the organization and ultimately help align individual and organizational values. In addition, this process can improve consistency and continuity in agency programming, operations, and strategic planning.

This is not a quick-fix manual, but rather a framework for a deep dive into the ways that oppression may show up in our work and the ideological and practical changes necessary to work toward justice and equity. We are for preventing violence, promoting health, advancing equity, transformation, and the growth of our movement. We also want healthy organizations with healthy staff. The materials and suggestions in this toolkit are in service of those goals. Oppression and inequity interfere with achieving those goals.

You can be part of the advocacy field or part of a specific discipline (such as mental health or social services), but if you want to be part of the movement, you have to do this work. Working through this toolkit requires a commitment to have an open mind and to devote the necessary time and energy to make your efforts worthwhile. Additional and ongoing work will also be needed. One single toolkit or resource will never be the complete solution to these complex issues. This toolkit is one resource to get the work started and to move us several steps closer to our vision of justice and equity.

An anti-oppression framework helps inform the way we understand and support staff, as we are mainly a BIPOC agency. We meet our staff and serve our clients through a cultural humility lens that allows us to help them holistically, checking our own biases and experiences at the door. . .We have honest conversations about our own experiences, and we meet each with compassion, support, and action.

Laura Segura & Kalyne Foster Renda,
Co-directors at Monarch SCC

We have lived through a good half century of individualistic linear organizing (led by charismatic individuals or budget-building institutions), which intends to reform or revolutionize society, but falls back into modeling the oppressive tendencies against which we claim to be pushing. Some of those tendencies are seeking to assert one right way or one right strategy. Many align with the capitalistic belief that constant growth and critical mass is the only way to create change, even if they don’t use that language.

Adrienne Maree Brown,
Emergent Strategy

How to Use This Toolkit

This toolkit is intended for anyone who works in an organization focused on the elimination of violence – not only managers, executive leaders, and board members, but also advocates and volunteers. Within your organization, the toolkit may be used for a specific program or department, but it will be much more effective if the whole organization is on board and participating.

We know that organizations may be at different points in their life cycles, and these activities may be used in different ways depending on the stage.

  • Start-up stage: Organizations that are just forming have the opportunity to incorporate anti-oppression approaches and strategies right from the start. Investing the time and effort in having board members and staff at all levels work through this toolkit will reap significant rewards as you design your programs and develop your training materials.
  • Growth stage – In this stage, you are developing more nuanced policies, plans, and services; infusing these developments with an understanding of the ways in which oppressions of various types intersect with sexual violence will help guide your priorities.
  • Maturity stage: Healthy organizations continually examine their effectiveness and innovation. These tools can serve as a basis for this examination.

We understand that an entire toolkit can be a bit daunting at first. Here are some specific suggestions for how to approach this toolkit.

  • Start by reading through the toolkit so you have a comprehensive understanding of the anti-oppression framework before beginning to craft an action plan for yourself and your organization. A foundation must be laid before moving into action.
  • Before starting the activities for a particular section, consider the Readiness Questions.
  • Where indicated, all participants should read the section introduction and read or watch the same recommended resources. It’s important that everyone be on the same page and have a base level of understanding.
  • We strongly recommend that your organization should make a commitment to regular work with this toolkit. For example, you might set aside time each week or every other week to progress through the activities.
  • While of course you can select the activities that are most relevant to your organization’s needs, please consider doing all of the activities, and doing them in order. Each activity is specially designed to help you apply the anti-oppression concepts to your own organization, setting the stage for you to create action steps for transformative change. The activities are designed to build upon each other in the order they are presented, as your organization gradually finds its way to a shared understanding of what true anti-oppression work entails. Working through them in order will help you build trust within the organization so that you can approach this work with courage and conviction.
  • Among the activities in each section of the toolkit, you will find scenario-based discussion activities. These offer you and your team an opportunity to explore realistic scenarios, highlighting examples to help you respond to and facilitate meaningful conversations around race, gender, intersecting oppressions, and equity. We recognize that working through the topics in this toolkit will promote challenging conversations about systems of oppression. Our goal is to provide you with trauma-informed ways of addressing harmful or hurtful language and actions in a way that allows staff to learn and grow. We encourage you to identify additional scenarios relevant to your organization. The goal is to create intentional and tactful discussion questions that prompt meaningful, trauma-informed conversations about difficult topics without humiliating or alienating staff.
  • The objectives for each section function as a guide for selecting any additional activities you may wish to include. Ask yourself, “Will this activity help us to accomplish the stated objectives?”
  • Sustainability is critical to this work. Staff members and those in leadership positions will come and go and priorities may change. You don’t want the results of all your hard work on these issues to dim over time. Throughout the toolkit, we will highlight “Sustainability Tips” to help you focus on maintaining this work and continuing to move forward.

Transformational change is hard work. The content of this toolkit can be challenging. It is our hope that the activities will be engaging enough that people will look forward to each step in the process and find the work rewarding. Realistically, we understand that disrupting the status quo can cause stress and dissension at times. It’s important to begin by discussing a healthy process for change. Adopting Ethical Communication principles to guide your work now and moving forward will not only lessen conflict, but will also embody the social justice values of this approach. These principles include:

  • Create and preserve a harmonious work environment
  • Address challenges or issues as they arise
  • Address conflicts respectfully, directly with the person involved

To enhance cohesion and camaraderie as you embark on these challenging activities and discussions, consider ways to foster more relationship-building in the work environment. Simple enjoyable activities such as potluck lunches, a picnic in a nearby park, or a brief “show and tell” about a cherished personal object at a staff meeting can help people to feel more connected and at ease.

The material in this toolkit is flexible enough to be integrated into other requirements and agendas for your organization. For example, the activities might fit into:

  • Your organization’s strategic plan
  • Training requirements set by funders or to fulfill accreditation requirements
  • Joint training with community partners to develop a shared vision
  • Board training to help move your board of directors into a more forward-thinking position
  • Team building
  • Ongoing anti-racism work

We will approach this work by starting with clarifying our values and exploring the fundamental principles of anti-oppression work (Section 1); assessing our organizational culture, policies, and practices (Section 2); developing a clear vision of the change we hope to create (Section 3); planning our action steps (Section 4); and finally, taking action and reflecting upon our process (Section 5).

This is an ambitious undertaking that requires a significant commitment of time and energy. Your organization will benefit by staying fresh and relevant, increasing engagement of staff and volunteers, and knowing you are doing your best to infuse your daily work with the values that drive our field forward.

An Anti-Oppression Framework for Organizational Change

As a society, and specifically in the anti-sexual violence field, we have come to realize that we cannot separate our work from the need to address oppression. We care about promoting equity in society, as a means of responding to the needs of survivors and changing the conditions that make violence possible. We need to be intentional about eliminating the barriers to equity, which requires an anti-oppression lens in our work.

As we commit to addressing our individual implicit bias and lack of awareness of our own privilege, we recognize that our organizations are not immune from these barriers to equity.

An anti-oppression framework seeks to comprehensively eliminate barriers that reinforce marginalization, exclusion, and disenfranchisement…Simultaneously, we actively challenge imbalances and abuses of power, while working to rebuild systems with equity at their centers so that everyone has access and opportunity…The first step in doing so is to see where we fit into the picture…rape crisis and domestic violence organizations are not immune to the influence and power of oppression, as we do not operate outside of society and culture. In one sense, our social justice goals begin with our own liberation from the ways in which we, as anti-sexual/domestic violence movements, participate in and benefit from interlocking systems of oppression (Valor, 2021, Support for Survivors).

This work is challenging but vital, and it requires turning our focus inward toward our own organizations so that we can adapt to establish generational and social relevance in the field as society shifts and changes. We must reevaluate our grassroots movement values and reintegrate them into our field. Anti-oppression work cannot simply be window dressing; it requires fundamental honesty and change at all levels of our organizations. This toolkit is designed to guide you through this work.

Readiness Questions

Are you ready to make changes based on what you find?

Do you have resources and/or a team in place to make these changes?

Are you prepared to address any conflict or tension that may be brought to the surface?

Section 1

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Section  2

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Section 3

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Section 4

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Section 5

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