The Many Faces of Nonviolence
by Emily Mattio
In April 2018, twelve women in red cloaks and white bonnets stood behind California State Treasurer John Chiang, voicelessly embodying the handmaids from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of a future where women’s rights are nonexistent. These costumed protesters, among many others, gathered in support of Chiang’s announcement that he would circulate a petition to direct part of California’s state budget to end rape backlog and begin testing approximately 13,000 untouched rape kits. Out of the many survivors of sexual assault, only some go through these invasive examinations to help prosecute their attackers. However, many of these kits remain untested, which prevents thousands of survivors from building a strong legal case. Chiang’s call to action, inspired by these powerful protesters, is a step towards justice.
Among the crusaders was Chelsea Byers, who was asked to not only organize, but also to speak at the press conference. She founded her organization, the Campaign to Abolish Statutes of Limitations on Rape and Sexual Assault (CASOL), after observing the power of grassroots movements and hearing survivors’ stories firsthand. Its message is simple and straightforward: it is time for every state across the nation to eradicate statutes of limitations (SOLs) for rape and sexual assault.
SOLs restrict the amount of time between a crime and the ability to charge someone for it. SOLs for rape and sexual assault ignore the holistic knowledge that we now have about survivors of such crimes, along with recent technological developments that make it easier to identify and prosecute perpetrators. This prevents survivors from speaking their truth and bringing their attacker to justice once they are emotionally and physically ready to do so.
Due to societal stigma, a broken justice system, and the severe emotional and/or physical trauma that results from an sexual violence, many victims choose not to report their attackers. SOLs don’t take these factors into account, and instead gives victims a time limit to come forward. It disregards the fact that the time provided by the SOLs might not be sufficient for the victims to heal and prepare to report their attacker. Chelsea Byers has heard this story countless times. A specific instance that came to Byers’ mind concerns a nurse in the Midwest, whose daughter was sexually assaulted but unable to prosecute her attacker once she felt ready to speak with law enforcement officers. This mother now works with CASOL to rally her community behind this issue.
CASOL is in the process of publishing an advocacy toolkit and organizing an advisory committee to combat SOLs on sexual crimes. The toolkit will compile relevant information that will make it easier to share ideas, give advice on how to influence local legislation, and run meetings/campaigns. Additionally, CASOL will start an advisory committee to represent different communities across the country in order to build a stronger support system, decentralize efforts while maintaining a central body, and address intersectionality. In the meantime, CASOL continues to support active campaigns in five different states. As the movement grows, CASOL hopes to grow with it, offering solutions and resources for any problems that arise.
CASOL also offers Nonviolent Direct Action Training (NVDA), which plays a large role in the organization’s activities. NDVA puts power back into the hands of a survivor by providing them with effective tools to rise up against injustice. Byers believed that a legislative approach alone would miss the greater movement-building opportunity inherent in this cause. Investing in building capacity for nonviolent action is the best way to create a large base of people power, which then puts pressure on lawmakers to change legislation.
Byers argues that everyone, not just survivors, should be working to abolish SOLs for sexual assault. Movements such as CASOL and #MeToo demonstrate that our current criminal justice system cannot adequately address sexual violence. While CASOL cannot change the past, it provides survivors with tools that will empower and motivate them to advocate for a future where individuals are able to come forward once they are ready. Nonviolence International is proud to be partners with such an incredible organization that is making significant strides in using nonviolent action to support the rights of survivors. We are grateful for the opportunity to tell their story.