Mónica Ramírez at the 2015 National Sexual Assault Conference


(downtempo electronic music) – And so our next speaker
is someone who I think really embodies about
building that movement, and building those connections, and building how we are
going to work together, and about how we really
are united in purpose. So I’m really excited to be able to have Mónica Ramírez being
able to join us today. And as I said yesterday,
I don’t like reading bios, and she didn’t want me to read her bio. But for me, she’s just
founded a new organization, Justice for Migrant Women,
it’s a national legal project aimed at eradicating economic
and sexual exploitation against migrant women workers. Throughout Mónica’s
career and her dedication as an activist, as a
human rights activist, as a farm workers’ rights activist, as an immigrants’ rights activist, as an activist working
to end sexual violence, has really provided an example for us. And so I’m really pleased for our last speaker that we’re gonna have at the 2015 National
Sexual Assault Conference, to have Mónica Ramírez
come to speak to us. (applause) – Thank you for the opportunity
to be here with you today. I’m eager to share with
you some of my story, and my vision for our
movement moving forward. I’m grateful to the conference
planners for inviting me to spend this great
conference with all of you. I first reached out to the National Sexual Violence
Resource Center in 2006, when I was an attorney at the
Southern Poverty Law Center. I reached out to them because I felt as though something was really missing. Prior to this point,
people had labeled me as a farm worker activist and an
employment rights attorney. Those were the circles that I moved in. So when I reached out to NSVRC, it was because I wanted
to broaden that circle. My family came to the
United States from Mexico. I’m the daughter and the granddaughter of migrant farm workers
and a secondary survivor of sexual violence. It was natural for me to be in the farm worker activist circle. It was natural for me to be in the immigrants’ rights movement. It was natural for me to be in
the workers’ rights movement. But I also felt a natural pull to be part of the anti
sexual violence movement. I knew that I needed to be
affiliated and to be partnered with the anti sexual violence movement because of the women
who I was working with. The vocation to which
I’ve dedicated my life has been to serve migrant farm
worker and immigrant women who are victims of
workplace sexual violence. I was representing women who were the victims of multiple traumas. I was representing women
who had no one to turn to. And despite the fact that in some cases, there were witnesses
to the terrible things that were happening to them, the individuals who were
witnessing these things didn’t feel that they could step forward. I needed people like you in
this room to train me on trauma. I needed people like you to teach me about bystander intervention, and ways I could reach those witnesses who didn’t feel empowered to speak out. And so I was so very fortunate
when I made that call to NSVRC in 2006, and they
welcomed me with open arms. In a similar manner,
I reached out to folks like Jessy Mindlin of the
Victim Rights Law Center and Anne Ream from the
Voices and Faces Project and Kimber Nicoletti from MESA at Purdue. I slowly started to form a
team of allies to help me learn and grow, and become a
better advocate and activist to serve the women who I serve every day. I was also eager to
follow in the footsteps of amazing important leaders like Milo Treviño Sauceda, the
founder of Líderes Campesinas. I was so fortunate that in my
early years of legal practice, and in my early years of activism, all these individuals scooped me up and wrapped their arms around me, and said, “we will walk
with you, because we believe in the same thing that you believe in. We have a shared purpose of ending sexual violence
against all people, including farm worker
and immigrant women.” You see, it was so vital
for me to affiliate and to become part of the
sexual violence movement because in the world that I came from, which was a world in which I was trained as a traditional farm
worker legal attorney, I learned all sorts of important things, like how to build a case, and how to handle
sensitive investigations, and how to train people
about their rights, but I had this huge gap in my
activism and in my advocacy. And slowly as you brought me
in, you helped build me up, so that I could do better work for the people who I was serving. Together, we formed
important partnerships, and it was critical that we did that because what we knew about
migrant farm worker women and the problem of sexual
violence against them, was that they were reporting
incidents of violence at rates of 80%-90%. We knew that the problem was
so vast that farm worker women were referring to
workplace sexual violence in the agricultural
fields as “green motels” and “the fields of panties.” We knew that the perpetrators
viewed these women as perfect victims because many of them did not speak English, or
spoke very limited English. Some of them did not have legal status to live and work in the United States. Many of them did not know their rights, and all of them felt alone and isolated. And so there was the sense of urgency for us to come together, for
us to reach out collectively to this most marginalized population. Together we launched and
led important campaigns, like the Banana Project. We helped build networks that included both expected and unexpected allies. We helped elevate the issue
of workplace sexual violence against farm worker
women to the point that new reports would be written and published by Southern Poverty Law
Center, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and others. Significant documentaries were made, like Frontline’s Rape in the Fields, and landmark cases were won
for women around our country. Media around our world covered the progress that we were making. Most importantly, farm
worker and immigrant women felt that they had a platform. They knew that people,
from government officials to every day citizens, were listening, and some things were changing, in spite of the fact that we were living in one of the most anti-immigrant times in our country’s history. We, members of the anti
sexual violence movement, must be proud of all of the
progress that we have made to prevent sexual violence, to stand with victims and survivors, and to remedy the wrongs where
wrongs had been committed. We must be proud of the coalitions that we have formed and built. We must be proud of the
unlikely partnerships that we have made to advance our goals and achieve our mission. But we cannot be complacent,
because we all know that the problem that we
have dedicated our lives to is much bigger than any one of us. We cannot get comfortable
because we have seen progress. When we have dedicated ourselves to the eradication of violence, a goal that is one that
we, in our lifetimes, may never realize, but one
worth every ounce of energy and every minute of our time,
commitment, and conviction. As we reflect on the
progress that we have made, we must remember that our
movement is one small part of a much larger social justice movement in this nation and in our world. We cannot separate the
problem of sexual violence from other forms of oppression. We in the anti sexual violence movement must consider ourselves part
of the racial justice movement, the economic justice movement,
the women’s rights movement, the immigrant rights movement, and all of the other justice movements. And we must embrace
what that really means. (applause) Thank you. It means more than just sending someone to a meeting or a rally. It means more than just setting up a booth with information about our services. It means more than sending
our materials to people that we wouldn’t normally
consider part of our movement. To truly be part of a larger
social justice movement, we must consider how people
experience oppression in varying ways, and how not one, but multiple characteristics or factors may lead to victimization. We must examine the root cause and we must determine how we, together with allies in the
broader social justice movement, can effectively make changes
that will make our world, our entire world, better as a whole, not just on one issue. I was a senior in college
the first time that I met Dolores Huerta, co-founder
of the United Farm Workers. And I will always remember
what she said in her speech: “If we stand for justice, we must stand against
all forms of oppression.” We, my friends, must
adopt this as our mantra. Standing for social justice means ensuring that we are putting into practice the same things that we are promoting. We must ensure that people
who work in our organizations and in our movement are
paid just and living wages. (applause) We must be mindful of our biases and the privileges that we hold. We must understand that
in this global society, it is not sufficient to have
one bilingual language speaker, or one person in our organization that’s culturally competent. (applause) We must ensure that our
services are available to all victims, truly available, and whatever language they speak, and from whatever culture they come. Social justice means making sure that we are not asking one staff person to do three people’s jobs. (applause) And that we are not faulting or judging people’s
commitment to our cause when they decide that they
need to prioritize self care. (cheering and applause) I am inspired by all of the
bridges that we have built and all of the progress that we have made. I am encouraged knowing that you are in the trenches and on the front lines in the effort to prevent
and address sexual violence. But friends, there is
so much more work to do. And there are people around
us, around this country, who are not in this
room, who stand with us. We are not in it alone. They may identify with
movements of different names, but they understand that we
need them, and they need us. That is what happened when the
Southern Poverty Law Center, historically recognized as a
racial justice organization in our country, and its
founder Morris Dees, opened their arms and
welcomed me when I founded Esperanza: The Immigrant
Women’s Legal Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. They understood that efforts to prevent and end sexual violence
were an important part of their mission to promote
equality and a more just world. I pray that we will think
of ourselves not just as anti violence activists and advocates, but also as freedom fighters, as peace builders, and as change makers. If we achieve these things,
we will move forward together, inspired by progress, united by purpose, together moving forward. (applause) (downtempo electronic music)

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