Abstract

In this article, I explore the shifting realities of intimate violence for disabled people in the midst of a global pandemic. I argue that the social and political vulnerabilities of these pandemic times, which have (often deliberately) been compounded by conservative political regimes (like the Trump administration in the United States), make it urgent for anti-violence advocates/activists to root our organizing in the intersectional crip framework of disability justice. I suggest several avenues for intervention and resistance that are grounded in radical visions of care and access advanced by such disability justice theorists as Mia Mingus (2017), Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2018), and Sins Invalid (2016). In particular, I describe how engaging with these visions and concepts opens up alternative pathways for a more inclusive, liberatory, and transformative anti-violence praxis. My purpose in writing this article is to promote further conversation about the impacts of COVID-19 on intimate violence and to support critical action centered around the lived experiences and access needs of disabled/crip peoples, especially those who have been most directly impacted by the pandemic (e.g., poor and homeless disabled people, queer and trans disabled people, and disabled people of color).


The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the social and political landscape so drastically for so many disabled people that returning to a time before mandated physical distancing, face covering, and remote interaction can be difficult to imagine. Alongside substantial shifts in the economy and workplace, and partly because of them, have been considerable changes in people's interpersonal and especially intimate relationships: for many, the pandemic has redefined when, where, and how much people interact and inhabit space with others. For instance, the sudden and drastic increase in people working from home has meant that many people now occupy a shared space with their intimate others or family continuously for greatly extended periods of time and often without a clear sense of how to adapt to the uncertain situation. Accompanied by lessened access to support, such as friends, family, or care providers, and heightened stressors, like children being out of school, looming threats of eviction/homelessness, and fears of contracting the virus, these changes in interpersonal relationships are also changing patterns of intimate violence (Ott 2020). And disabled people have been disproportionately impacted (Katz 2020; Lund 2020).

The social and material consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in heightened rates of intimate violence (i.e. violence in intimate relationships, intimate forms of violence) as well as qualitative changes in lived experiences of violence among harmed people (Walker 2020). Disabled people, in particular, have been subjected both to more frequent and worsened enactments of intimate violence from our partners, families, and communities because of the shifting social landscapes around us. Pandemic times in the United States – a settler colonial country with one of the most appalling, oppressive, and ineffective responses to COVID-19 throughout the world – have simultaneously exacerbated the socially manufactured vulnerabilities of disability and rendered new vulnerabilities that anti-violence advocates/activists must urgently respond to. These vulnerabilities emerge both from ongoing shifts in intimate relationships and issues of inaccessibility and disability-based discrimination in, for instance, shelters and community spaces (Munson 2011). This historical moment is one in which the livelihood and well-being of disabled people need to be brought to the center of intersectional feminist analysis and resistance. As people trained to respond to crises, anti-violence advocates/activists have a responsibility to promote equity and access in defiance of the tendency to forget about, neglect, and dispose of disabled peoples.

Despite all the uncertainties and fear of these pandemic times, this moment also offers an opportunity to organize for social transformation and make movements toward collective access and liberation. It is not a coincidence that pandemic times have been accompanied by great civil unrest, such as the mass mobilization of Black Lives Matter activists or mutual aid organizers working to ensure everyone has needed resources. To borrow insight from radical disabled cultural theorist Aurora Levins Morales (1998), the problems we now experience are ecological in nature – they are part of the same ecosystems and, therefore, are interconnected and interdependent. So, effectively organizing against the most pressing issues of our time requires more than an isolated approach where we take on one problem at a time. The discomfort and intensity of this moment can be productive where struggles against domination and supremacy are united in solidarity – where we prioritize compassionate togetherness above self-interest or "single-axis" thinking (Lorde 1984). To meaningfully support the survival and well-being of disabled people amid the pandemic, those of us involved in anti-violence work have to accept that the problems resulting from the pandemic are an outcome of broader interlocking systems of oppression, especially ableism, capitalism, White supremacy, and cisheteropatriarchy.

Though it has always been a valuable resource for anti-violence work, disability justice (Mingus 2018; Sins Invalid 2016) now more than ever has become vital for confronting the widespread reality of intimate violence against disabled and enabled 1 people alike. Disability justice is a critical, intersectional framework that names the interdependence of disability oppression with other oppressive systems/structures and advocates for the urgency of centering anti-ableist practices and values in broader movements for collective liberation. Disability justice offers a liberatory understanding of access and care that anti-violence advocates/activists can utilize to better center our work around the most impacted peoples and to approach advocacy/activism from a shared commitment to pursue "consistent anti-oppression" 2 and participate in transformative world-building (Piepzna-Samarasinha 2018). During these pandemic times, as relationships between people are subjected to new, often overwhelming challenges, liberatory understandings of access and care are particularly important for promoting and sustaining mutual well-being and survival. They offer a path forward toward solidarity and togetherness along which we can devise strategies for working through familiar and emergent conflicts arising between people.

In this article, I explore rapidly shifting realities of intimate violence for disabled people in the midst of a global pandemic. I argue that the social and political vulnerabilities of these pandemic times, which have (often deliberately) been compounded by conservative political regimes like the Trump administration in the United States, make it urgent for anti-violence advocates/activists to root our organizing in the intersectional crip framework of disability justice. I suggest several avenues for intervention and resistance that are grounded in radical visions of care and access advanced by such disability justice theorists as Mia Mingus (2017), Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2018), and Sins Invalid (2016). In particular, I describe how engaging with these visions and concepts opens up alternative pathways for a more inclusive, liberatory, and transformative anti-violence praxis. My purpose in writing this article is to promote further conversation about the impacts of COVID-19 on intimate violence and to support critical action centered around the lived experiences and access needs of disabled/crip peoples, especially those who have been most directly impacted by the pandemic (e.g., poor and homeless disabled people, queer and trans disabled people, and disabled people of color).

Disability and Intimate Violence in Pandemic Times

Before delving further into this analysis of the effects of pandemic times, I need to clarify my use of "intimate violence" and "disability." I use the expansive umbrella term intimate violence to describe all forms of harm that are a result of the abuse, violation, and/or exploitation of people in intimate relationships, whether they be voluntary, coerced, or imagined. Intimate violence can also manifest as the result of harmful actions that produce non-consensual intimacy – that is, a false intimacy better described as vulnerability taken without or against the other person's will, without their informed trust and consent, or without concern for their well-being. For instance, intimate violence can include acts of physical or sexual aggression, posting private pictures / videos online, threatening to "out" someone in order to control their behavior, and other invasive or manipulative actions. In most instances of intimate violence, the harmed person knows their harm-doer in some way – they might be acquaintances, co-workers, members of the same communities, friends, family, etc. This familiarity can make it difficult to recognize / resist violence and seek help.

Similar to intimate violence, disability is a political term. My account of disability aligns with Alison Kafer's political/relational model (2013), which posits that even as disablement is both embodied and enminded (i.e. seemingly embedded in individual bodyminds that deviate from or transgress normative characteristics), it is ever constituted through the sociopolitical relations carried out between unevenly dis/empowered and dis/advantaged people. In other words, disability is not simply the result of mental or physical differences between bodyminds, but rather is a political, relational construct that emerges from ongoing processes of assigning meanings to embodied and enminded differences (Annamma 2017; Clare 1999). Under a system of ableism, the (re)production of meanings around disability renders, justifies, and invisiblizes inaccessibility, which describes the refusal and failure to make space for people's needs across embodied and enminded difference (Garland-Thomson 2011). Care is an inverse of inaccessibility that describes acts of making space for / attending to people's needs with consent and in collaboration with them.

Access has a special place in disability studies as well as the disability justice framework and movement. Disability justice activists like Mia Mingus (2017, 2018) and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2018) consider access to be more than a simple, standard, or politically neutral thing. For these activists, the notion of access refers to a process of interrogating the conditions of our togetherness as a means of resisting ableism – the social, cultural, and political system which devalues disabled people, our bodies, and our minds. Additionally, access revolves around the recognition of our needs as interdependent, living beings and the making of communities of care wherein people commit to supporting and moving with each other (Sins Invalid 2016). In line with these critical theorists and activists, I argue throughout this paper that access is not a matter of individual bodies or even disability in particular; to the contrary, access emerges in the contexts of liberating and sustaining relationships between people (Berne et al. 2018), and it disappears or shrivels up when relationships and sense of belonging become predicated on the denial of our embodied needs such that we do not obtain the care we need. Moreover, from a disability justice perspective, access is not singularly about disability but instead must be defined and approached intersectionally, that is, with critical attention to the ways in which different identities, social locations, and systems of power interlock with and shape each other (Crenshaw 1991; Knoll 2009).

The political/relational production of disability is interwoven with cisheteropatriarchal structures, institutions, and norms that rationalize and perpetuate a culture in which intimate forms of violence (e.g., stalking, sexual assault, domestic abuse) are not only ignored or tolerated but accepted as normal and even desirable (Samaran 2019). This interweaving is an example of the ecological/intersectional nature of oppression: cisheteropatriarchy is structured around a reductive ableist construction of women and femininity as mentally and physically inferior – as inherently less able-bodied and able-minded than men and masculinity; similarly, ableism is bolstered by cisheteropatriarchal devaluations of care and (inter)dependency, both of which are associated with femininity, weakness, and subordination. Accordingly, many disabled people, particularly disabled women and queer and trans disabled people, disproportionately exist in a reality where intimate forms of violence are a routine part of our lives. The ordinariness of intimate violence is oftentimes even more salient for disabled people who occupy other oppressed/disadvantaged social positions, such as poor disabled people that are dependent on abusive partners or family members for financial support. Race adds another dimension because of the ways that women and transpeople of color are especially subjected to the violence of White men who feel entitled to their bodyminds (Levins Morales 1998).

The systemic interdependence of cisheteropatriarchy and ableism that causes disabled peoples to be disproportionately affected by intimate violence is ever present, but pandemic times have made it especially urgent to center the experiences and needs of disabled people for several reasons. Before the pandemic, enabled people commonly viewed disabled people as less-than-fully human, as pitiful, as burdensome, and, at times, even disposable (Clare 1999; 2017). The many events and incidents of 2020 revealed the dire extent to which enabled people prioritize their own lives, well-being, and comfort above even the most basic access considerations crucial for disabled peoples' livelihood. In many places, as a result of uncertainty and experiences of scarcity (e.g., economic crises, inaccess to essentials like staple foods and toilet paper), harmful and uninformed perceptions of disability have grown worse, meaning that disabled people subjected to intimate violence may be more likely to be turned away by the people and groups/organizations they turn to for help.

Further, because so few places have centered access in their pandemic response, from the beginning and even this far into it, harmed people may be turned away because the groups or organizations they turned to do not have a plan in place to meet their access needs. For example, many shelters and other non-profit organizations lack the ability to protect the health and well-being of chronically ill and immunocompromised people, which means that going to those spaces can be highly dangerous and even life-threatening. In addition, as a result of the economic downturn and resultant funding cuts, important outreach programs and services that promoted accessibility (e.g. providing sign language interpreters) have been severely limited or interrupted, making it much more difficult to fulfill the needs of the most impacted victims/survivors. On top of this, for deaf/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, "[t]he lack of accessible information about the coronavirus in ASL is compounding the domestic violence crisis" (Katz 2020) because they are often rendered dependent on their partners for information – partners who may lie or manipulate facts to maintain control. The people most affected by these cuts are poor people, people of color, and others who have historically been precariously positioned within mainstream anti-violence spaces.

I make this point with the knowledge that far too many anti-violence organizations and spaces lacked a commitment to build towards collective access prior to the pandemic (Munson 2011), so what pandemic times have actually done is bring about an upsurge in inaccessibility to a world where true, genuine access was already so hard to come by outside of disability-specific spaces. Anti-violence advocates/activists throughout the United States, and across the world, are now in a complicated position where it's more difficult to provide even basic needs to people, such as food or housing, at the same time as new challenges to access are emerging. So, it is urgent for us to think about which communities we can be accountable to in this moment and how we can practice solidarity across sites of power and difference.

For example, masks are a necessary, vital part of keeping people safer during the pandemic, but they can also create new obstacles to equity and inclusion for many disabled people. Masks cover people's faces and mouths, preventing lip reading and making it harder to rely on facial cues to "read" people's emotions, both of which deaf/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, autistic people, and others often rely on to participate in social interactions. The point here is not that masks are bad but rather that without a disability-centered, anti-ableist framework, advocates/activists will struggle to respond to access challenges presented by the pandemic because we are not thinking ahead about how to make space for all peoples and bodyminds to be present.

Moreover, the pandemic has worsened the systemic isolation experienced by crip/disabled people, which in turn renders us even more susceptible to intimate violence and less prepared to recover/heal from it. People that cause harm in intimate relationships frequently attempt to undermine harmed people's access to beneficial social and material resources; they methodically act to increase harmed people's dependency on the abusive relationship, often by making it so that other peoples and things outside of the relationship are inaccessible or at least appear to be so. Pandemic times make acts of isolation, particularly against disabled people, much easier by crafting a social context where maintaining meaningful connections is an uphill battle (Kluger 2021). Many people have not seen friends, family, or co-workers in months, except perhaps over a Zoom call, which means that the chances of noticing and responding to harmed people's needs are greatly reduced. And, any people that lack easy access to the internet or computers, especially when community spaces like public libraries are less available, often have an even more challenging time keeping in touch, which is an unsurprising outcome of racial capitalism.

People in long-term care facilities or medical/psychiatric institutions, which have their own protocol for visitation, are also made particularly vulnerable to isolation and harm, especially when being in such spaces is not voluntary. Intimate violence from staff in these facilities and institutions happens more frequently that people are often willing to admit, and it may have been worsened or impacted by the pandemic due to overworked and anxious staff, reduced family presence and oversight, and the introduction of new COVID restrictions. Intimate violence in these spaces can include many of the same tactics as elsewhere but is especially likely to include things like forced or coercive medication, gaslighting, and neglect. Additionally, people in facilities and institutions often have a more challenging time resisting harm doers and accessing help from others because of their isolation as well as ableist tendency to distrust them or discount their experiences.

In addition to isolation, and also a significant aspect of it, economic, legal, and social shifts in response to the pandemic have facilitated the surveillance of harmed people and made moments of privacy/confidentiality more difficult to come by. Many of us are now together with our intimate others for different lengths of time, at different times of day, and under different circumstances. Prior to the pandemic, one of the most common times for harmed people to contact advocates/activists was during the working hours of the day – hours when they were able to be away from harmful others for lengthy periods of time without raising excessive suspicion. Swelling numbers of people working from home means that this separation is often gone, and harmed people must find alternative ways of reaching out for help despite being watched more closely and more consistently throughout the day (Torres 2020).

Further, mandatory lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and other, related expectations of distancing have put pressure on people, especially young people and college students, to move back into or reside in places where they are stuck with abusive family members, most often parents or guardians, whom they could previously avoid. Being compelled into these spaces has led to increased incidents of physical and sexual harm, shaming/other sorts of emotional violence, and greater exposure to oppressive beliefs and ideals. It also places young people in situations where they can be more easily monitored, disciplined, and therefore subjected to manipulation (e.g., threatening to withhold basic needs to control behavior). At the same time, calls for social distancing have led to disconnection from chosen families and communities who, for marginalized/oppressed peoples like disabled people, may provide much needed care to recover from the harm of abusive relatives and intimate others. Without the intimacy of crip kin, disabled people can struggle to maintain a hopeful outlook, care for ourselves, and imagine alternatives to the violence in our lives.

Within this context, harm doers across the United States have sought to manipulate the crisis to their advantage by tapping into the widespread turmoil, precarity, and uncertainty of these pandemic times to bolster their power and control over intimate others. There have been many cases of people refusing to follow safety guidelines, forcing intimate others into dangerous situations, and even intentionally exposing their partners to the Corona virus. Abusive people have also gaslighted or punished their intimate others for trying to protect themselves from the virus or caused them to feel like burdens after making reasonable requests (e.g., that their partners practice physical distancing or wear a mask when leaving home). For instance, Al Mascarenas (cited in Katz 2020), explains that harm doers have used the pandemic to engage in new forms of economic abuse, such as "forcing survivors to return home or to meet their partners in person to receive [stimulus] check[s]." This act is a way of compelling intimacy and interaction through financial exploitation at a time when poverty, homelessness, pay cuts, and layoffs are overwhelmingly high.

It is also important to recognize that, in many cases, intimate violence can manifest as a result of crisis situations or prolonged states of emergency that lead to heightened stress, fear, and confusion (Walker 2020). Crises breed intimate violence as a method for people to reclaim a feeling of power and control in the face of loss and anxiety about the future. Especially for people who have not actively developed skills for managing difficult emotions, pandemic times often exacerbate their reliance on violence and coercion. Consequently, experiences of harm are becoming more common and severe in part because many people have not developed the skills needed to manage the emotional tolls of the pandemic. Ableism function to render disabled people more readily vulnerable to harm, and so we are among the most frequent targets of such violent energies. Part of the work of disability justice-informed anti-violence organizing is to help people learn other means of working through their emotions that are do not involve the abuse and violation of others. Disability justice is especially important here because it emphasizes interdependence and the value of being in right relationship with those around us (Mingus 2017; Sins Invalid 2016).

Care and Creative Resistance at/for the End of the World

As I make these arguments about the worsening realities of intimate violence for disabled peoples, I am aware that in addition to the many negative effects of COVID-19, there have been incredible and extraordinary acts of resistance taking place since the pandemic began. Even as the pandemic times have exacerbated widespread inequities and injustices, resulting in a staggering loss of life accompanied by hoarding, panic, and civil unrest, they have also opened up important opportunities for creative resistance that activists across the country have fervently pursued. Creative resistance, 3 as I use it here, refers to a critical methodology of social justice rooted in the intentional creation of meaningful connections across sites of power and difference – connections that lead to disruptive, compassionate relationships and promote a "praxis of accountability" (Russo 2019) through the recognition/ongoing refusal of dominance. Creative resistance is a transformative approach to dismantling systems of power and oppression that prioritizes liberatory community-building through "radical imagination" (Haiven and Khasnabish 2010; Pitcher 2018) and transformative justice.

These pandemic times have shown us many clear, interesting examples of creative resistance at work that are beneficial for thinking about what disability justice-informed anti-violence advocacy/activism could be(come) in this moment: mutual-aid movements are burgeoning across the country as more and more people come to honor togetherness and organize for our collective survival (Spade 2020). Rent freezes, tenant strikes, and eviction blockades are interrupting the ordinary functioning of capitalism – a significant triumph when Amazon and other corporations reported astoundingly high revenues. Reduced travel has helped de-pollute air, land, and waterways, thereby making the world more habitable for animals and people alike, particularly disabled/sick people who have difficulties breathing. Intentionally practicing means of remote connection has furthered this gain. And mass mobilizations against racialized, especially anti-black, police / carceral state violence throughout 2020 have demonstrated that we can struggle in solidarity alongside each other at the same time that we care for each other's safety, health, and access needs. Indeed, in response to all we have lost since the pandemic began, so many people are finding creative ways to reclaim togetherness and extend love to one another.

Beyond the surge of radical resistance spurred from civil unrest, I am also aware that the pandemic times have made commonplace modes of social engagement that were previously deemed unreasonable, sometimes even impossible: Many workplaces and educational institutions are providing accommodations for remote learning that they had previously denied to students with disabilities. There has been a proliferation of online resources designed to facilitate meaningful interactions across the expanses of spacetime, which can help to combat the loneliness of distancing and isolation. Of course, these resources are also troubling because they allow for the continuation of capitalist exploitation – even during a pandemic, people are expected to maintain normative levels of productivity instead of resting and caring for ourselves. However, there is also possibility present in these things for expanded forms of accessibility and equity, for all the new and ongoing social transformations are contributing to the formation of a liberatory politics from which advocates/activists can organize against intimate violence in ways that were not as feasible before.

I argued in the first section that the pandemic has made it urgent for anti-violence advocates/activists to listen to and center the experiences and needs of disabled people, especially those of us who also occupy other marginalized and oppressed social positions. The critical, intersectional framework of disability justice provides meaningful tools for reimagining care within anti-violence work, both in terms of who has access to care and what forms of care are centered (Mingus 2017; Piepzna-Samarasinha 2018). As I stated earlier, care here refers to the process of promoting equity and access through the recognition of and attention to people's embodied and enminded needs. Care is about building worlds in which we can co-exist with one another in interdependence because we have collectively built the conditions necessary for everyone to be present and in right relationship.

From my viewpoint as a crip anti-violence activist, the work of re-imagining care through disability justice is a vital expression of solidarity and accountability; it is a substantive way for feminists to, in the words of Margaret Price (2011), practice alliance instead of simply being an ally (see also: Del Hierro, Levy, and Price 2016). Practicing alliance in this moment is particularly urgent because we are confronting emergent situations that call on us to devise new methods for expressing solidarity in the face of looming catastrophe. As people engaging in feminist care work in the midst of a global pandemic, anti-violence advocates/activists are working through difficult-to-answer questions that many of us haven't had to think about before, and we find ourselves in situations where we must come up with different answers to old questions.

For instance, a common question when working with people in abusive relationships is, "How do we care for people's needs without endangering their lives?" Much of the time, harmed people are subjected to worsened levels of violence if the harm doer catches them reaching out to advocates (NCADV n.d.). Attempting to leave a violent relationship is often the time when harmed people are most likely to be exposed to severe forms of destructive behavior directed against them, even including murder. Consequently, advocates/activists spend a lot of time safety planning with harmed peoples to minimize the risks of aggravated harm being committed against them. Safety-planning is not victim-blaming, nor does it say that harmed people are responsible for preventing violence against them; rather, it acknowledges that in situations of violence, keeping people as safe as possible, alive, and cared for is the single most important thing. However, pandemic times can make safety planning much more complicated, especially for sick, chronically ill, and immunocompromised people. After all, it's harder to leave a violent relationship when leaving home poses a serious health risk both to the harmed person and to anyone supporting them. This difficulty is one of the many reasons why access must be centered in any and all anti-violence efforts.

Safety planning is a well-established practice among anti-violence advocates/activists that helps us to support the needs of harmed people in violent relationships; it is an invaluable tool of harm reduction through planning and preparation that expands the possibilities of resistance open to harmed peoples living in difficult circumstances. Emergent issues of precarious housing, financial uncertainty, lessened privacy, reduced escape routes, and so on means that advocates/activists have had to adapt practices of safety planning, but many of us have struggled because pandemic times feel overwhelming. Furthermore, a good amount of anti-violence work centers around teaching and implementing tools for boundary setting, which are especially vital because of how pandemic times have affected people's relationships and intimacies. What does boundary-setting look like when people occupy the same spaces all day long? How do people maintain a healthy degree of separation in a 600 square foot apartment while on lockdown? Additionally, responding to the pandemic has also forced advocates/activists to set new boundaries in our work, both in an effort to protect the peoples we work with and to protect ourselves. But how do we effectively advocate for and practice solidarity with harmed peoples from a minimum 6-foot distance and often much further away? In learning from disability justice, it is possible for us to imagine answers to these questions – to find possibilities instead of just limitations.

Because of these new challenges and safety considerations, doing anti-violence work now requires us to think more critically about the meaning of equity and access during pandemic times. The larger overarching question is, "How do we create equity and access in the time of mandated distancing, isolation, and lockdown, particularly considering just how much of care work depends upon closeness, contact, and presence?" Indeed, because the pandemic – not just the Coronavirus, but the social and political contexts in which it exists – has rendered widespread inaccessibility, organizing against intimate violence in these times requires establishing new forms of community and togetherness to keep people safe. And, how we go about generating these new opportunities for connection must be grounded in a critical awareness of disability that centers concern for the most vulnerable and potentially harmed bodyminds. Building equity and access in anti-violence care work means thinking not only about how we can reach out to and support the most harmed people, but also how we can maximize the impact of our outreach while also minimizing the fallout and negative consequences.

I am arguing here that anti-violence advocates/activists could approach our work from a commitment to disability justice by focusing on practicing care and building access to establish and restore interrupted "care webs" (Piepzna-Samarasinha 2018). A care web is an often messy and ever-shifting network of connections and shared resources that function together to meet an individual's needs. On a broader level, many criss-crossing and interwoven care webs provide the crucial starting point for communities and societies that are collectively accessible to all peoples across embodied and enminded differences. We all have care webs, and each of us is somehow contributing to the care webs of other people. When care webs fall apart or fail to adapt to changing situations, people's needs go unmet and suffering rises, which in turn leads to fear, jealousy, hatred, violence, etc. Unmet needs are the foundation of all kinds of violence, including intimate violence, and it is only through working together to meet people's needs – both harmed people's needs and harm-doers' needs – that we can be freed of intimate violence. I make this statement not to say that harmed people and harm-doers ought to receive the same kinds or levels of attention from us, but rather to return to the ecological framework of this paper: ending intimate violence means restoring ourselves towards interdependence by supporting healing change in all peoples. 4

In my advocacy and activism work, I continually return to the notion of "pods," which is a concept developed by Mia Mingus and the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (2016). They explain that a pod "is made up of the people that you would call on if violence, harm or abuse happened to you; or the people that you would call on if you wanted support in taking accountability for violence, harm or abuse that you've done; or if you witnessed violence or if someone you care about was being violent or being abused." Much of the time and in many ways, our "pod people" are the same people who fill up our care webs – they're the people who we rely on, who are kind to us, and who help us to become better versions of ourselves. Pods are often small, people may have different pods for different occasions, and how we include people in our pods can be wildly different and specific to them. I scaffold my thinking about anti-violence work through this concept: I strive to help people reflect on and develop their own pods, and, especially in the classroom, I strive to teach people how to make themselves more pod-able – that is, how they can practice accountability, solidarity, and extend kindness, love, and compassion in such a way that others trust them enough to come to them in times of need.

What would it mean for a concept like pods to become a foundation of anti-violence work? How would that shift advocates'/activists' relationships not only to harmed people but also to the broader communities in which we do our work? In one sense, it would mean letting go of our own power by focusing on the collective empowerment of those around us. For instance, by engaging people around us in critical thinking and practice about what they can do to show up for harmed people and harm doers close to them. It could also entail reimagining our relationships to harm doers, such that we engage with them in a different way that is about fostering accountability and transformation. During my time working at a shelter, I can scarcely recall any efforts to reach out to harm doers or to promote people taking accountability. My shelter was entirely focused on harmed people, which was important and meaningful, but left out an important part of the work that is urgently needed.

Additionally, the concept of pods for me encourages people to reflect on what gets in the way of solidarity and connection. For instance, I often sit with people and we talk about what gets in the way of their connections to other people – what prevents them from including someone in their pods or why might they be not included in someone else's pod. Much of the time, with some careful guidance, I move the conversation into considerations of access and ableism. I encourage people to think about how they have made space for other people's needs and actively shown them that they will be accepted and loved even if they need more patience or generosity or to stay inside more often or to not go certain places. I also make efforts to connect this conversation to gender, race, class, sexuality, and other differences.

Conclusion

Even though disabled activists are often marginalized in and erased from dominant historical accounts of anti-violence organizing, we have always been represented in the ranks of those rebellious peoples who have dared to imagine and build toward worlds liberated from all forms of violence, including intimate violence. Disabled activists continue to organize for a better world, and we are fighting for the people who the mainstream anti-violence often leaves behind. But now is a moment when advocates/activists can no longer neglect disability but must collectively work against ableism. Doing anti-violence work through the intersectional framework of disability justice in ways that prioritize interdependence, access, and care is one example of how to engage in creative resistance, and it is something that we desperately need. Too many advocates/activists and anti-violence groups/organization continue to show a lack of understanding and training regarding disability and ableism. We must join together in a commitment to organize with disabled peoples at the center and to resist ableism in all that we do. Otherwise, the most harmed people will continue to be left out.

During the pandemic, practicing anti-violence work can look very different from what it looked like before, but there are now some very simple, visible ways to demonstrate dedication to other people's survival and well-being. Wearing masks is a celebration of togetherness that honors the lives of those around us. Physical distancing is an act of revering life in a time of mass sickness and death – it shows attention to how we occupy shared space and that we care about how our lives come into contact with one another. And, quarantine is a way of rejoicing in future life which says, "We must be apart for now, but there will be a time for us to return to one another." Following safety guidelines while also actively seeking creative ways to struggle alongside other people toward our mutual well-being is how we get through these pandemic times and push back against the rising tides of intimate violence.

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Endnotes

  1. I use "disabled" and "enabled" here to emphasize that disability is a social, political, and historical production that acquires meaning from systems of power and oppression rather than a description of obvious or apolitical differences between bodyminds (Annamma 2017; Clare 1999). Which differences constitute disability shifts depending on the multiple, varying interactions between bodyminds and the environments in which they exist (Kafer 2013; Garland-Thomson 2011).
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  2. I borrow this concept from Brueck and McNeill (2020).
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  3. My use of this term is informed by my engagement with restorative and transformative justice frameworks and movements (e.g., Creative Interventions 2012; Dixon and Piepzna-Samarasinha 2020)
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  4. I also want to acknowledge that the binary between harmed people and harm doers is false (Arielle 2016). People regularly cross over or occupy both sides of this binary. For instance, many of the people who commit acts of intimate violence are also victims/survivors themselves who were denied space/resources for healing. If advocates/activists refuse to work with harm doers, then we are neglecting a large number of people who need support and care.
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