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Calling Ourselves in to Collective Accountability

The National Harm Reduction Coalition stands with sex workers and survivors, full stop.

We are watching with grief and pain as women, femmes, and sex workers are yet again being forced to publicly bare their trauma in an ask for the harm reduction community to become a safe space for them, and we are examining our own organizational complicity in failing them. We hear loudly the voices of Philly sex workers who are pointing out the disconnect between their local community and the national perception. 

We also operate from the harm reduction framework – which reminds us that we are all capable of both reducing harms and causing them. That in order to truly be in community we must accept the responsibility of being accountable to those we harm in the ways they ask for, and creating the conditions for others to accept that responsibility. We at HRC would like to find ways to repair the harm we have caused the sex work community, on their terms. And we would also like to help support a repair process in Pennsylvania in whatever way makes sense for that community. 

But harm reduction also means honoring the good work of imperfect people. The Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition was, and continues to be, the good work of a large community of people. We are glad they are standing with survivors, we are grateful for their past work in supporting people who use drugs, and we will be working alongside them to both continue to support the PA community as well as to find ways to better show up for sex workers and survivors in the future. 

As harm reductionists, we are keenly attuned to the systems, structures, and cultures that produce and reproduce harm, deprive access to healing, and push people out of safety and community. The individual and cumulative impact of these dynamics of harm are both gendered and racialized, and vulnerability falls most heavily on those most marginalized. We cannot reject a politics of disposability without simultaneously creating processes and norms for accountability. Our dedication to reducing harm requires equal attention and care to how we work to transform harm.

We take this moment to reflect on and reckon with our broader histories of silence, complicity and our failures in taking responsibility to build, support, and co-create tools and processes for accountability and healing, safety and justice. We regard the events and disclosures of this week as a call to action that we are heeding far too late: too many people, including women and particularly women of color and sex workers of all genders and races, have already experienced harm and been pushed out of our movement.

We are also attentive to the fact that this belated moment of reckoning for our community is manifesting as demands for accountability directed at a Black man. We name this not to minimize his responsibility nor question or critique the women who have taken the risk of sharing their stories and experiences. Rather, we want to be explicit about the 30+ year history of white men in harm reduction evading accountability and relying on the protection of our community through their greater access to status, leadership, and power. Our failure to center survivors, as well as our failure to nurture and elevate the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color harm reductionists, have directly shaped and perpetuated a culture that both places individual leaders, white men in particular, on pedestals and marginalizes and exiles survivors.

In the coming weeks, we will be working to identify ways to step into our responsibility for providing and supporting the structures and resources for accountability and healing that we as an organization and we as a movement urgently need.

Read Philadelphia Red Umbrella Alliance‘s letter here.

Read Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition’s statement here.

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