Mridul Wadhwa – Building Intersectional Inclusion in Rape Crisis Services

About this event

Mridul Wadhwa, CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, will host a reflective talk followed by a Q&A.

We are thrilled to host Mridul Wadhwa, CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, who will host a reflective talk followed by a Q&A. Mridul’s ground breaking work within the sexual violence sector, will highlight their experiences of addressing barriers faced by people of colour and trans survivors in rape crisis services in Scotland and answer questions from the audience. 

This event is free to attend and will take place over Zoom

This event is for Domestic Abuse, Sexual Violence, Housing, Homelessness, Youth Services, Police, Probation Services and MARAC Reps across South Yorkshire

From the Eventbrite blurb

If you want the short version …

… Mridul Wadhwa, the trans-identified man who wormed his way into a post meant to be women-only, as protected in the Equality Act, is not backing down on his recent comments made on the Guilty Feminist podcast. Not one bit.

He conducted himself throughout as if he were some veteran campaigner, really saying nothing in this wheels-cha-cha of a presentation. He believes that domestic violence and rape crisis services need to identify those women who have ‘wrong think’ and remove them.

The long version

The two women who had invited Wadhwa to speak with gushed throughout the webinar, sycophantically praising him for shallow and egocentric musings. They were of course both using she/her to describe themselves. A third women was on hand to quietly remove anyone who kicked up a fuss (I hear that Jean Hatchet was booted for mentioning the Equality Act).

About ‘The Call It Out Project’

It is exclusively aimed at the ‘LGBT+’ community in South Yorkshire. I wonder what the actual numbers of that demographic is, and how many need to access specialist services? Given that the majority of lesbian and gay people gravitate to London, we are talking a minority of a minority of people. As with all ‘intersectional politics’, it is actually the intersection which is more important, not the victim of abuse, not the reasons why the abuse is happening. These people simply don’t care at the end of the day.

The talk begins

Wadhwa began by pussyfooting around, talking about how working in Scotland was different to working in England. Scotland had a different justice system but as a smaller country, collaboration and access to power was easier.

He began working with Shakti, domestic violence charity based in Edinburgh, in 2005. He claims that in his role there he was able to inform what domestic violence looked like for ethnic minority women, without of course even uttering one syllable about what the differences are. The word ‘intersectionality’ hadn’t existed then though, so there is that.

He had been involved in doing a lot of ‘external’ work (never defined) which was ‘easy’. Now Wadhwa realised that what needs to be done is ‘internal’ work within organisations (presumably difficult in comparison). He was able to spell out what that meant. Several times throughout the hour.

Organisations have to look inward upon themselves and communicate with each other about what ‘inclusivity’ and ‘intersectionality’ means (Wadhwa was careful not to bandy ‘trans’ about too much).

It was always trans inclusive

The Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre has always been trans inclusive – the real problem was this had never been properly communicated externally, nor had its employees and volunteers really truly understood what this meant once you got down to the nitty gritty (as if including men is beyond comprehension).

Materials would be produced about trans inclusion and then ‘that would be it’.

Inclusion cannot be anything. It has to be a journey. What I have found recently, along with colleagues, is that we need to go on this journey, that never ends, around inclusion.

So in my current workplace, Edinburgh Rape Crisis, it has been a trans inclusive space for a really long time. So it had to really wash and clean its history or the perception of a rape crisis centre as not being inclusive of trans people, which is our history …

Mridul Wadhwa, about 16 minutes in

What does trans inclusivity mean?

Employees and volunteers needed to have long drawn out conversations about what trans inclusivity really means. A minimum expectation would be that you would be able to describe what it meant and puke up the rest of the schtick about the underlying political guff on demand.

Wadhwa has tested this amongst the wims and the answer he got back was that they didn’t quite know how to do that. What a surprise! Only the people who had campaigned externally for inclusion had been able to understand (hands up who thinks this was the boy wonder alone?).

‘White cis heteronormative women rule the rape crisis movement’

Most the service users are white straight women too, admitted Wadhwa. (Fancy that in a country where 85 percent of the population is white and only around 1 percent of women describe themselves as lebian/bi.)

He admitted that rape crisis services were very badly underfunded and the majority of service user demand was from white British women. This also meant there was a limit of resources that could be spent on minority groups. Most organisations were simply pushing out trans inclusive messages via social media and weren’t doing any real work internally.

Wadhwa invites the floor to respond to his ‘presentation’

Wadhwa responds to his own ‘presentation’

He kicked the ball off.

So for some organisations, they might be at a place where they are actually able to have open conversations with survivors, if they wish and are willing to engage around what equality [and ?inclusivity] actually means. Whether it is the context of a group and if the survivors bring it up in the context of feeling. Um, but many of us are not really there. And if we do it, it always and should be survivor led.

Mridul Wadhwa, about 21 minutes in

The topic should be a standing item on the organisation’s agenda.

He named all the various ‘intersections’ neatly forgetting (you’ve guessed it) poverty/class. How do we get people into the service missing from the service?

Really important was reflecting on case work, but more important still was imaging what it might be like to have to deal with a trans person. How would you deal with that? What could be learnt from imagining how to deal with that person who never needs to use the service? (This, apparently, is a useful tool in working in rape crisis, and not a waste of everyone’s time at all.)

What if you have a trans person on your case load. Or, if somebody has experienced sexual violence from someone who has a protected characteristic and they are talking about them in a stereotypical way, as perpetrators, and then stereotyping a community, if this has come out, how are you dealing with that?

Mridul Wadhwa, 23 minutes in, clearly advocating that service users should be questioned by support workers

The senior management should be aware of all these issues which go on and consistently monitor the situation. This will then result in ‘practical solutions’ – these were never satisfactorily described – but it was clear the success of the organisation was the important thing with the service users sounding like they were far down on the list of concerns.

Use leverage on other organisations you might be able to help to ensure they have the same inclusivity policy you do (i.e. as per Stonewall policy).

Wadhwa responds to withdrawal of women feeling able to use Rape Crisis

His main concern is that people from ‘marginalised communities’ (trans and BAME) do feel able to come forward and use the services.

You have large groups of survivors, some not using our services because they fear they are trans inclusive and feeling that they may be exposed to an issue that they are not prepared to deal with.

Translation (from me):
You have large numbers of women who will not use our services because they fear they will meet a man, an abusive man who will have a wank over their sexual assault/rape.

Mridul Wadhwa, 25 minutes in

Wadhwa predictably blamed this on ‘transphobia’ and said that like with racism, we had to learn to be anti-racist, women now had to learn to be ‘not transphobic’. Wadhwa sounded world weary. We had to ‘unlearn misogyny’ and this was very difficult because transphobia had engulfed the Scottish ‘rape crisis movement’. ‘Especially any organisation I’m part of,’ he said with a crooked smile.

Who Wadhwa is really worried about

There are two groups (trans and BAME) who are particularly marginalised and who might not be believed in they hitch up in a rape crisis service. This was a direct impact of transphobia. These two groups are now further away from being able to access these services than before we entered the right wing transphobic environment.

Women began by saying they had legitimate concerns about the Gender Recognition Act, but more and more of them were on the right and ‘very comfortable associating themselves with fascists’. These women wanted to sideline anyone who was not ‘cisgender and white’. It was a difficult task ahead.

How to exploit- sorry- support rape crisis services

Funding was very difficult to get. There was a high turnover of support staff which caused a situation which made the survival of organisations perilous. Organisational memory was often lost. What better way to shore up the organisation than to expose support staff to unending Maoist-type reflections on social justice warrior-type issues.

Wadhwa finally finishes responding to himself and invites questions

Can you tell us who you are suggesting is ‘right wing and working with fascists’?

Yes, said Wadhwa. These are the people who oppose the GRA and who oppose the existence of trans people. He was keen to create the impression that he was happy for wims to have opinions, but stated that these people (always people and never women) had been joined by (unnamed) fascist groups. This was dangerous. It was also scary for men like him. Men like him also needed ‘radical liberation’.

How can we adapt our language to be trans inclusive?

Use pronouns. Not all trans people like to use them, but they were a useful indicator of inclusivity. It was important to capture identity when gathering data.

Trauma work is hard and Wadhwa understands if a survivor did not wish to talk or come out about their trans status (so the trans inclusion policy presumably includes not asking if a man identifies as a woman, it is their privilege to divulge). On the other hand, a person might want to come out as trans or as disabled, as a result of doing trauma work.

Organisations should be explicitly inclusive.

But what about mainstream services?

Wadhwa really struggled to remember the case of a South Asian immigrant woman who was scared of her uncle (‘she was scared to go back from where she was from’). Because of the wide reaching work that Wadhwa has done in the BAME community he was able to understand the significant of her being scared of her uncle (thereby implying that white women never have such a problem). It was so much more reassuring for a BAME woman to go to a centre and see only faces which looked like hers (which isn’t really logical if she is escaping an extended family clan).

Wadhwa said a mainstream service simply wouldn’t be able to understand such a case. The inclusion work would hopefully resolve this problem. But specialist services were still needed.

What can we do to be more trans inclusive?

Find out what the team thinks. Not, as in, ‘find out what the team thinks to improve things’. But, ‘find out if they are on side in their thinking’. Not creepy at all.

There is always one who is more quiet than the others. Find out how they feel about transphobic language and negative portrayals of trans people. Can their views be changed, or are they permanent?

We can ‘unlearn’ patriarchy, racism and transphobia.

Tips for trans survivors keeping emotionally safe caused by transphobic views

Wadhwa is also on this learning curve. Find a support network, though this was difficult the further north you went, he said, firmly relying on a stereotype. If your family weren’t supportive then you needed an online space.

Don’t ask trans people about their genitals, their former name or if they orgasm. Wadhwa does not want to be asked about his genitals (he has previously shared publicly that he has been castrated).

This was a very bad dangerous time for trans people and their safety was fragile. Seeing so many people on the webinar gave him hope (I rather think it was terftastic, a fact he was no doubt acutely aware of).

Look up what other trans people have reported about specific organisations – are they really trans inclusive. Wadhwa pulled a sad face. (One wonders really whether this this was a sly dig at potential female service users.)

A question about funding

Wadhwa advised that if you design the service with the black disabled trans woman in mind then you get the service which was accessible for everyone (in reality this simply alienates the traumatised).

Should we sack those who don’t unlearn?

Wadhwa sounded his best to sound sketchy and unsure, but it was really clear; he believes that it is not tolerable to work with someone who does not believe in the cult of gender identity and did not validate him. Legal advice should be sought.

The handmaiden hosting gushed that she was so thankful that he had agreed to do the talk and wished it had been in person.

More waffle about opening up spaces and understanding intersectionality

Why is it that I am the only trans woman who works in the violence against women movement in Scotland that I know of, because I’m sure if there’s another one she would probably reach out to me because I’m more visible than she is. But I don’t believe there is another trans woman and that says a lot about our society in the sense that our services historically, and even now have employees and volunteers, who are survivors [who have gone on to work in the service] and trans women, as yet, haven’t made that journey.

Mridul Wadhwa, 108 minutes in

Wadhwa reflected that it was lonely being the only fox in the hen house and out came that crooked smile again. It’s the one thing that he wants to see change, that, and opening up the service to ‘all genders’.

More grovelling from the hosts

Emotional, the hosts told him what an amazing privilege and honour it was to hear him speak. One said it made her heart beat faster. They’re discussing more trans inclusion later in the week. That’s the real focus. Not helping women out of trauma or difficult situations, but making sure any woman who might be potentially turned off by politics and ideology never visit the services at all.

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