Photo: Official flyer and advertising for Ampersand’s #RIPrapctulure party. Designed by their Development and Marketing Committee. 

 

So what are you doing for Halloween this year?  I am going to a costume party where I will actively participate in ending rape culture!!

Instead of having its annual Black & White Ball, a traditional charity event where partygoers dress in formal attire while dining on a fancy feast, for the second year in a row Ampersand Sexual Violence Resource Center of the Bluegrass designed a Halloween themed soirée that celebrated various community activists and partner organizations for their work in fighting sexual violence – Ampersand’s Advocates for Change. Honorees were given the floor to speak and clearly verbalize why work to kill rape culture is communal work and so not the work of one individual person or individual agency.  It is about building partnerships and prevention.  Killing rape culture is intersectional and multilayered because sexual violence affects us all.

The five Advocates for Change honorees were: Briana Persley, a Crimes Victims Advocate who helped thousands impacted by sexual violence navigate the criminal justice system; 2) Dr. Pam Remer, a world renown UK psychologist awarded for her work in date-rape prevention as social justice training; 3) Ranym Nenneh for her vital support in Ampersand’s 24/7 support line and medical advocacy work; 4) Wendy Turner, a high school teacher who pushes student journalists to tackle issues on fairness, social justice and diversity; and 5) Tarana Burke who began the #metoo movement in 2006 that has garnered world-wide attention and praise for starting a collective conversation that a) promotes awareness and healing through solidarity and that b) roots sexual activism in a collective fight against toxic masculinity.

 

Photo: Briana Persley, one of Ampersand’s Advocates for Change honorees.  Persley was honored for her work as a Crimes Victims Advocate at the Fayette Commonwealth Attorney’s office for 15 years.  During that time she helped thousands of individuals impacted by crime navigate the criminal justice system.  Over the years she worked with multiple victims who experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, and numerous other violent crimes.  She also invests in and supports prevention education programs to prevent violence in her community.  Photography by Sarah Caton of Space, Place & Southern Grace

 

The Halloween themed party allowed Ampersand to send a very strong message to rape culture – we know your many faces and your cankerous tricks, but we are killing you everyday; you will die by a thousand cuts.[1]  Death iconography was used to support this declaration.  In the opening picture, a cemetery with gravestones that read “R.I.P rape culture,” “Here Lies Toxic Masculinity,” and “Victim Blaming” spotlighted by the Ampersand in the full moon was the official advertising and marketing campaign for the party.  Looming in the back, Ampersand, shining brightly, is the watchful eye over the cemetery making sure rape culture does not rise again.  Halloween and tombstones was the perfect marriage for the #RIPrapeculture soiree because it ingeniously uses death and burial to subvert life, a life that has normalized sexual violence against women and girls, the objectification of women, misogyny, ownership of women’s and girl’s bodies by men and boys.[2]  Whether through death work or deathways, women’s voice and women’s knowledge has long been a tool of activism and agency.

Branded as a Halloween party with a mission, Ampersand reached beyond its donor list and list of volunteers to invite everyone in the greater Lexington, Kentucky area to the event.  As a result, over 200 guests packed into the Aviation Museum of Kentucky on October 13thfor food and fun but namely to spend time honoring Ampersand’s Advocates for Change, listening to their stories all the while invited to join the movement to end rape culture that has swelled since #metoo. Some dressed as the Mad Hatter and Peter Pan, all costumed attendees were met with a tarot card reading station and a live band pumping out tunes from the 1980s.  Attendees – young professionals, Gen Xers, college students and Lexington’s Rollerderby Team – all danced the night away empowered to say R.I.P to rape culture, R.I.P to toxic masculinity, and R.I.P. to victim blaming.

 

Photo: Pictures of partygoers at Ampersand’s#RIPrapeculture Party on October 13, 2018 at Aviation Museum of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.  Photography by Sarah Caton of Space, Place & Southern Grace

 

Lively and festive, the #RIPrapeculture Halloween party promoted community empowerment and collective togetherness in the fight to end rape culture.  The folks at Ampersand visually reminded everyone that they were apart of something important.  From the door, attendees were greeted by large posters in the entryway that read “RIPrapeculture” and “We Believe Survivors”.  Each table held Ampersand brochures and were stocked with cards asking attendees to write to survivors creating a personal connection that was beyond sympathy and sorry.  A staff member was also seated at each table to answer any and all questions.  So from the cards and conversation, attendees were being invited to join the movement to end rape culture and not just “giving to charity” and disconnected from an issue that affects us all.

Photo: Ampersand Sexual Violence Resource Center of the Blue Grass has a mission to support persons impacted by violence as well as to engage the community in changing rape culture.  To learn more, to donate, for anti-oppression resources, please visit www.ampersandky.org

 

This shift from having the annual Black & White Ball to a #RIPrapeculture Halloween party is not a superficial one but one that reflects the ideological transformation and purposed intersectional outreach rebranding Ampersand has recently undergone.  Formerly the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center with a customary reactive approach to sexual violence, i.e. providing services for the survivor who works up enough courage to verbally seek out aid, Ampersand is now taking a more proactive and intentionally intersectional approach.  The former type of model is as limited as it can be ineffective but one derived from our cultural beliefs that a) rape, sexual assault, molestation is the problem of the person assaulted and b) these types of sexual crimes are only committed by a few “ ‘sick’ individuals out there”.  (As in outliers to our normal constructions of “well” individuals.  “Out there” as opposed to not inour homes, families, inner circle).

Ampersand understands that sexual violence bears its country’s marks and so is part and parcel of U.S. culture, i.e. normalization of objectification, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and submissive femininity.  Ampersand, then, has decided to be proactive in addressing sexual violence by creating programs and services that illustrates the very intersectional nature of sexual violence and creating bold initiatives that engages the community in fighting to end rape culture.  The #RIPrapeCulture party was the loudest and biggest example of that. so far, bringing in $14,000 for the non profit, which is double the proceeds from last year’s Black & White ball.

When you think about your next Halloween party, think seriously about making it a #RIPrapeculture soirée where party goers howl in solidarity like the women of the horror films who howled against white supremacy, shape shifted out of conventional gendered norms, went raving mad at patriarchy, screamed at gendered racism, and appeared possessed when it fact autonomous and empowered.[3]

Ding Dong rape culture is dead!

 

 

Dr. Kami Fletcher is an Associate Professor of African American History at Delaware State University.  Her research centers on African American burial grounds, late 19th/early 20th century Black male and female undertakers, and African American death ideology.  She is the author of “Real Business: Maryland’s First Black Cemetery Journey’s into the Enterprise of Death, 1807-1920”.  Look out for her forthcoming volumes: 1) the co-edited Till Death Do Us Part: American Ethnic Cemeteries as Borders Uncrossed which examines the internal and/or external drives among ethnic, religious, and racial groups to separate their dead, under contract with University of Mississippi Press; and 2) the co-edited Southern Cemeteries, Imprints of Southern Culture which demonstrates the interactions between southern culture and the dead – especially examining the fluid, ever changing demands the living placed on the dead with careful attention to the growing debate over whether Confederate monuments should remain in public cemeteries.

Watch a video about Ampersand’s #RIPrarecultureparty here, created by Sarah Caton of Space, Place & Southern Grace.

Author’s Note:This blog could not have been written without the full cooperation and consent of Ampersand.  I would like to thank the Board of Directors, Executive Director M.E. Kobes, and the staff, specifically Director of Development & Marketing Heather Darby, and Development & Marketing Coordinator Kellie McClure Baldwin.  Heather Darby and Kellie McClure Baldwin are the two-woman Development & Marketing Committee who came up with the ingenious idea of the #RIPrapeculture soiree. They graciously answered my email inquiries pertaining to the logistics, details and success of the party.  I would also like to thank Sarah Caton of Space Place & Southern Grace for permission to reprint pictures and video taken at #RIPrapeCulture party.

[1] When Heather Darby, Director of Development & Marketing, was asked about the party’s Halloween theme and its perception and reception from attendees, she had this share: “This theme aligns closely with our mission, vision, and values. We [Ampersand] hope the folks attending our event will leave feeling like they have a hand in killing rape culture, and that they want to find ways in their everyday lives to participate in the death by a thousand cuts.

[2] When Darby was asked about the graveyard and headstones used in advertising and marketing the party, Darby responded, “When designing our materials, we wanted to send folks an invitation with a statement. We wanted to design something that our network of folks would want hanging on their walls, but that also portrayed the heart of our existence. The grave scene was the perfect marriage between our mission & the Halloween theme.”

[3] During conversation Kellie McClure Baldwin, the Development & Marketing Coordinator, informed me that yelling and howling in unison in honor of the voices of the #metoo movement was planned as part of the #RIPrapeculture party.  For more on women and horror and activism, see feminist death worker Sarah Chavez  and end-of-life doula Michelle Acciavatti

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