Mujeres Talk: The Right to Learn and Work in a Safe Place


annanietogomez2012Partially presented at the 2012 NACCS Conference Roundtable Panel “’Callin’ it like it is’: Transforming Gendered, Sexual and Heteropatriachal Violence in Chicano Studies and Academic Institutions”

People who pursue knowledge and participate in social justice activities have the right to expect people of authority and influence to commit themselves to establish, and maintain a safe and respectful work environment that is free from verbal and physical abuse such as bullying, hazing, harassment, stalking, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, physical and sexual violence, rape and hate crimes.

Persons of authority and influence in educational institutions, Chican@ movement, and other social justice organizations are responsible to prevent and stop these behaviors because we understand that bad behavior is about bad people abusing their privileges and our failure to take action would negatively affect the achievement of the goals of our organizations. We know that the truth eventually comes out, and when it is revealed that no action was taken and that abuse and violence were allowed to continue, the credibility of those with authority and influence will suffer and they will eventually come under scrutiny and be held accountable. When unacceptable behaviors occur, these institutions and organizations need to make public and generally well known that:

1) There will be consequences for these behaviors. Action will be taken against anyone regardless of their power of authority, privilege or social status.

2) People who report these behaviors are safe and free from reprisals and retaliation.

3) Complaints will be investigated and appropriate action taken.

4) Criminal behavior will be reported to legal authorities for investigation.

5) Victims will receive appropriate treatment and assistance to heal and recover.

Institutional Violence

Anything less than the above is Institutional Violence. Institutional Violence is when authorities of institutions and organizations know or should have known that these behaviors occurred but directly or indirectly allowed the violent behavior to re-occur because they:

  • Did not take appropriate action.
  • Allowed the victims, and those who try to help the victims, to be directed away from receiving help and/or are shunned, blamed and/or intimidated.
  • Pretended to help but really acted to suppress and intimidate.
  • Sought approval and acceptance for not taking appropriate action by appealing to one’s commitment to “La Causa” or the organization and took  steps to do the following: ignore and/ or deny that the incident occurred, protect the one who is alleged to have promoted and or participated in these behaviors, appeal to the fear that something horrible will occur should appropriate action be taken. These actions or inactions demonstrate that the organization or institution is more important than the victim and that to take action “would be the end of everything we have worked for” or “bring disrepute upon the institution or organization.” The threat and fear is exaggerated and not based on the actual situation and the appropriate proposed action.

When persons of authority and influence in movements, organizations and institutions act in the above manners they allow people who thrive in hostile and unsafe environments to continue their unacceptable behavior.

Recognizing a Hostile Environment 

Take a hostile environment assessment. Talk to people and evaluate what you observe. Ask yourself: Is it generally well known that the following behavior is allowed to occur?

  • Demeaning, isolating and discrediting others (often used to gain power, influence, control and dominance).
  • Pushing, shoving, threats to hurt or actual fights.
  • Unwanted sexual advances (sanctioned because they are viewed as harmless and/or as compliments).
  • Bystanders ignore, passively observe or encourage these behaviors.
  • A pattern of Institutional violence.
  • Action to stop the abuse involves removing the victim from the organization, rather than stopping those who are abusive and violent.

Avoid What Does Not Work

Conflict resolution and or mediation between the one who has power and one who doesn’t only serves to further intimidate and threaten the one without the power. Group treatment for bullies and violent people doesn’t work because it tends to reinforce bullying behavior in each other. Simple, short-term solutions such as in-service training, meetings, lessons taught by individual teachers have demonstrated ineffective in when it is known that action will not be taken against those who abuse, are violent and/or rape.

What You Can Do

Require that the educational institution or community organization to post a public statement that this behavior is not acceptable and consequences will result when it occurs.  The names and phone numbers of who to call for help should also be identified.

Confront the bullying and the sexual harassment openly, honestly and quickly and put everyone on notice that it simply won’t be tolerated.

Warn people who plan to join that it is a hostile environment and encourage them to seek an alternative place where activists and students are safe and respected.

GET HELP. If you or someone you know has been assaulted and or raped encourage them to get help. Rape survivors tend to deal the more effectively with their experiences when they take an active role in acknowledging that the rape did occur, disclosing the incident to appropriate others, finding the right help, and learning it was not their fault.

Organize at the local level and take action.

Educate. Organize a campaign to raise awareness of the problems and the appropriate actions.

Collect personal stories of harassment and violence and failures of persons of authority to act. Come to a collective agreement as to what actions can be taken and with individuals who are also able to make a commitment to take part in the agreed upon action(s). Pick a target that is manageable and easily accomplished and can lead to bigger actions or issues.

For More Information: 

  • The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education investigates complaints of sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may complain on behalf of another person or group. A complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended by OCR for good cause shown under certain circumstances. For the phone number in your area contact 1-800-421-3481or file a complaint form at:
  • Equal Rights Advocates’ Advice and Counseling Hotline is here to help you understand your legal rights. Free, discreet, individualized advice is available if you are facing sex discrimination or sexual harassment. Contact 800-839-4372.
  • Regarding Sexual Harassment on campus see “Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Academic” at
  • The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act at
  • Stop bullying in schools and cyber bullying. Prevention, laws and policies available at National Center for Prevention and Control, Division of Violence site:
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Bullying and Harassment Guidance (pdf):

You can write to Anna NietoGomez at

2 thoughts on “Mujeres Talk: The Right to Learn and Work in a Safe Place”

  1. In April this blog site was visited 911 times — and your essay was accessed by many, so thank you Anna for sharing this valuable information and insight.

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