AF3IRM women joined the gathering of over 4000 women from across the globe in Chiapas on Dec. 27, 2019.

Speaking up for Ourselves and Listening to Survivors: AF3IRM Names Digital Violence As a Form of Violence Against Women

Connie Huynh
AF3IRM National Chairperson, [email protected]
Valeria Espinosa
AF3IRM National Programme Coordinator, [email protected]

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. 

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy

AF3IRM women follow in the footsteps of our ancestors who fought the patriarchy for generations. AF3IRM is an organization of women of color, many of whom have survived multiple forms of violence at the hands of batterers ranging from brutal dictatorial governments, law enforcement, intimate partners, family members, and even complete strangers. That is why the women of AF3IRM know we cannot capitulate to capitalism or patriarchy. We must fight to dismantle these interlocking systems of oppression. And we are guided by the foresight of Gerda Lerner who wrote, “The system of patriarchy is a historic construct; it has a beginning; it will have an end.”

Our refusal to concede ground to patriarchy has made AF3IRM the target of patriarchal violence. Most recently, AF3IRM has been subjected to a concerted digital violence campaign targeting individual women in AF3IRM, in addition to specific chapters – Hawaiʻi and Los Angeles- and our organization as a whole. Our members have been stalked, harassed, doxxed, and hacked. Our attackers have incited mob-attacks using blatant lies and poorly construed disinformation. 

The violence has not only been retraumatizing to members, it has also been disheartening to see a small handful of attackers creating and leveraging digital platforms to do the work of male supremacy, rather than fight patriarchy. The Internet, developed by a sexist, racist, and classist society, lends itself readily to violence against women, especially women of color, by batterers shielded by anonymity. Cyber abuse is another layer of oppression we women must actively oppose. This is why AF3IRM launched an info series in July to bring awareness to the digital harassment thousands of women face every day. 

These batterers have attempted to defame our organization in order to discredit and silence our members. As an organization made up of many survivors, AF3IRM is exercising our platform to speak for ourselves. To tell our own story. In response to our many allies who have continued to support us and to act on principle, here are the facts about AF3IRM and our Purple Rose Campaign.

What is AF3IRM?

AF3IRM stands for Association of Feminists Fighting Fascism Imperialism Refeudalization and Marginalization. We are a transnational feminist, anti-imperialist organization of women dedicated to the struggle for women’s liberation and the fight against oppression in all its forms. We are an all-volunteer, grassroots organization of women of color who share histories of migration under imperialist globalization and bearers of a multiplicity of histories, languages, cultures, and world views. We actively practice immigrant and Native-led trans-inclusive feminism. We are NOT a non-profit/501(c)(3). We are NOT a government entity. We ARE working-class women of color who donate our labor to militant movement-building and make change through grassroots organizing, trans-ethnic alliance building, education, advocacy, and direct action. It is an intentional strategy that AF3IRM remains grassroots to its core, to build power outside of the State and work towards decolonized economic alternatives to capitalism. 

What is AF3IRM’s Purple Rose Campaign? 

AF3IRM launched the Purple Rose Campaign in February 1989 as GABRIELA Network to fight against the sex trafficking of women and children, and the work has evolved since then to include combatting sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and fetishization. 

Why is it called the Purple Rose Campaign? Roses, by nature, were never purple. Purple Roses were bred and made exotic by human will. They exist not for their own evolutionary purposes, but for the pleasure and profit of others. Women and child victims of trafficking are no different from the Purple Rose. They are reduced to becoming mere objects of pleasure and sources of profits. Forced by poverty, commodified and enslaved by globalization, women and children have become Purple Roses. The Purple Rose has symbolized our work in ensuring liberation– the kind that’s uncompromising, unanchored from patriarchal demands that lead to exploitation– for all womankind.

It is from our ancestral homes that predators see a steady supply of bodies to sustain this horrid industry– in the aftermath of climate-change-driven disasters, wars, and in the midst of poverty brought on by imperialist conquests. Thus, what we are fighting for is not an abstract cause: We are fighting for our very lives. 

As a transnational feminist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and Native +immigrant-centered organization, AF3IRM is leading a movement that is survivor-centered. We are fighting for the liberation of the predominantly women, children, and gender diverse people of color in the sex trade, and their right to not be in the sex trade and their right to exit; as well as the decriminalization of those who currently are trading or previously traded sex for currency. AF3IRM women know that our work and obligation is to fight for these lives. We are an organization of survivors whose stories tell of the damaging colonial legacy of fetishization and objectification. We are the descendants of generations of women who were trafficked as Comfort Women and as mail-order brides. It is in their honor that we continue to wage our decades-standing Purple Rose Campaign to end the trafficking of women, femmes, and children. And we refuse to take a backseat to imperialist expansion projects.

The Purple Rose Campaign is not a funded project or program, has NO connection to the State, and should not be confused with any other “Rose” campaigns. AF3IRM has been a leading organization directing the United States away from the criminalization of survival and toward the ultimate goal of a society that recognizes the full humanity of women and members of the LGBTQ community. The work of our chapters is proof that you can be pro-prostitute or “sex worker” without being pro-capitalist patriarchy.  

Select Hallmarks of AF3IRM’s Purple Rose Campaign

International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) | We helped win a monumental legislative victory with the inclusion of Mail Order Brides into IMBRA under the definition of trafficked women. This expanded access to resources and immigration rights to these survivors. This was a key victory as mostly women of color, particularly Asian and Pacific Islander women, were being trafficked across borders through the Mail Order Bride system and were historically excluded from many rights and resources in the United States.

#NotYourFetish | The Los Angeles Chapter launched a direct action campaign against the now-defunct band “Day Above Ground” which released a sexist, racist music video depicting Asian women as sexual objects. Hundreds of women participated in the hashtag campaign to raise awareness around fetishization. The band’s label dropped them as an artist, and the House of Blues released them from using their venue. The band never managed to restore their reputation and disbanded.

Justice Not Charity | In 2013, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, AF3IRM announced our Justice Not Charity campaign that sought to work with women and local organizations on the ground to address sexual violence and trafficking after disasters.

#SurvivorsNotCriminals Campaign | Beginning in 2018, AF3IRM launched our campaign to decriminalize those (mostly women, children, and feminized people) who have been criminalized for ‘prostitution’ in the sex trade.

The success of the Survivors Not Criminals campaign started in 2019 when AF3IRM Hawaiʻi led a successful legislative campaign that resulted in the greatest progress on relief from criminalization for sex workers in any state. In Hawaiʻi, the law now says that you can vacate a prostitution conviction and shorten the time for expunging prostitution charges, even if you are not a victim of sex trafficking. The Honolulu Prosecutor fought AF3IRM and the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women arguing that the proposed law would “remove an important tool for law enforcement to curb prostitution in Waikiki” and to target street-based sex workers because it would allow relief for “actual prostitution offenders,” rather than proven sex trafficking victims. Haters — and they are haters — have tried to trivialize this victory as “grossly inflated” but HPD’s testimony to the Legislature underlies its significance: “Why would we even have a law against prostitution if this bill passes? There will be no point. Prostituting will be virtually decriminalized because they can just turn around and vacate.” For more information on AF3IRM Hawai’i’s work to support women and feminized people in the sex trade, read this.

In 2020, AF3IRM Los Angeles concluded a two-year-long organizing and advocacy campaign leading to a landmark victory for survivors of the sex trade and trafficking in Los Angeles County massage establishments. AF3IRM intervened when the county Board of Supervisors announced its intent to curb sex trafficking through health inspections of massage parlors. While health inspections present an overall public good for the fastest growing industry in the county, members of AF3IRM L.A. fought hard to ensure that survivors would not be criminalized or handed over to I.C.E. 

Twenty-eight organizations joined in support of AF3IRM Los Angeles to lift up our survivor-centered demands and hold the LA County BOS accountable, including American Indian Movement (AIM), and Black Lives Matter-Pasadena. 

An example of AF3IRM LA’s #SurvivorsNotCriminals social media campaign demanding the LA County Board of Supervisors to adopt survivor-centered resolutions instead of law enforcement approaches.

AF3IRM and SWOP LA collaborated to block last-minute language the County sought to include regarding prostitution convictions. At the hearing, several AF3IRM LA members testified against the proposed criminal background check requirement.

One member testified, “I support passage of this ordinance, with the caveat that the language allowing suspension, revocation, or denial of licenses to those with prostitution convictions should be stricken.  This ordinance is important because it would place regulation of IMBs in the hands of county officials, rather than criminal law enforcement, which is a much-needed step away from police raids, and toward survivor-centered solutions.  The guiding principles of the ordinance should be supporting, destigmatizing, and decriminalizing survivors. Including a provision that allows suspension, revocation, or denial of a license to those with prostitution convictions goes directly against that principle.”

When it came time for public comment, SWOP LA stood alongside AF3IRM. Its director stated, “I’m here to support this ordinance. I’m really excited to see the Board of Supervisors taking these steps to really involve Public Health, and real alternatives to law enforcement being the principal face of the city…I really echo the sentiments of the women from AF[3]IRM.  It is absolutely vital that you strike the language that limits access to people with prostitution-related criminal records from accessing this program.”

January 28, 2020: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Meeting Transcript where the Director of SWOP LA publicly declares support of the #SurvivorsNotCriminals ordinance and the efforts of AF3IRM LA.

Through this collective effort, we got the County to remove language requiring massage technicians to undergo a criminal background check. 

AF3IRM Los Angeles spent two years holding our elected representatives and the agencies they direct accountable to accomplish this and we are aware our work is not done. However, the County of Los Angeles is now the only county in the nation to divert law enforcement resources, to preempt the criminalization of survivors in massage establishments.

While AF3IRM’s attackers continue to attempt to sow discord and divide feminists working together in solidarity, or pit LGBTQ activists against one another, we see through these veiled attempts and know that our work, decades of history and resistance speak for itself. 

The women of AF3IRM collectively fight to live and thrive every single day– but we are also fighting for something much larger than ourselves. We have an acute sense of our responsibility to name our oppression and our oppressors, to declare loudly and clearly what we are experiencing, and to be critical of the global impact of the steps and decisions we make. Our culture of sisterhood goes beyond our immediate community; it stretches beyond so-called borders, crossing vast terrains and seas, to the islands and the ancient cities of our ancestors. We are transnational women. We are fighters through and through. 

We have our eyes set on genuine liberation for ALL. Nothing will distract us from this vision. 

Forward to a feminist future!