Finally! Rain on RAINN’s Reign

Raining on RAINN’s reign

Bradford William Davis of Insider did an excellent exposé of Rape Assault Incest National Network (RAINN)’s toxic workplace culture: “Insiders say RAINN, the nation’s foremost organization for victims of sexual assault, is in crisis over allegations of racism and sexism: 22 current and former staffers say the organization favored by Hollywood and corporate America is in crisis. ‘How can RAINN be helping survivors externally, when they’re traumatizing survivors and their own employees internally?’”

[UPDATE: for my latest on this topic, see my April 23, 2022 post “April Showers Rain on RAINN’s Reign“]

Great reporting! Please read it for yourself. Ironic highlights are:

  • To defend itself against Insider’s investigation, RAINN hired the law firm that represented Matt Lauer in #MeToo allegations and whose cofounder defended Brett Kavanaugh’s innocence during his confirmation hearing.
  • Founder and president Scott Berkowitz made $481,000 while staff were paid so poorly they qualified for public housing.
  • For its own staff, RAINN provided sexual harassment training that was sexist and racist.

I would like to see an investigative reporter do a follow up looking at how RAINN’s messed up organizational culture impacts the work it does. Davis points out one example. Because of a desire to keep a lucrative Department of Defense contract, RAINN was overly deferential: For fear of offending, none of RAINN’s published stories by survivors of sexual assault in the military feature scenarios in which an attacker outranked their victim. I would guess that such assaults would be a significant proportion, if not the majority. 

I wrote a blog post, “Is It Time to Rain on RAINN’s Reign? “Nation’s Largest Sexual Violence Organization” Thinks Police Can Stop Rape,” several years ago showing that RAINN is out of sync with leading sexual violence prevention advocates and scholars. It publishes erroneous information and advocated widely debunked criminal justice approaches to preventing rape on college campuses. 

The members of RAINN’s five person board—which include its founder and president, Scott Berkowitz—are white. None publicly identify as victim-survivors of sexual assault. Two of the board members, not including Berkowitz, are communications professionals, and none have legal, accounting, financial, much less sexual violence prevention expertise. None identify their affiliations. [3/21/22 UPDATE: That board directors link is now dead. RAINN deleted its leadership and governance page since I wrote this blog post, but here’s the page as of February 5 courtesy of the Wayback Machine Internet Archive]

On Twitter, in response to Davis’ article, several commenters, including Harry Weinstein victim-survivor Lou Godbold, noted how RAINN, in its operations, is replicating the power abuse dynamics experienced by the people it purports to serve. 

A lot of people have been bamboozled by RAINN. Somehow, the tagline “Nation’s largest sexual violence organization” gives RAINN creditability that people don’t question. Davis notes that Timotheé Chalamet, Ben Affleck, and Taylor Swift have publicly pledged earnings to RAINN. I learned that Ronan Farrow didn’t do his research and publicly donated to RAINN, and gamers use Tiltify to raise money for RAINN.

Davis acknowledges that Insider refers people to RAINN’s hotline at the bottom of every story about sexual assault. That’s kinda a meta level ironic demonstration of the problem right there: somehow editorial wasn’t able to make the change in this “automatic system” after publishing a scathing takedown of the organization. By not taking action, Insider is essentially saying: RAINN is bad inside, but o.k. enough to use. I disagree.

You can help. 

  • Approach RAINN stakeholders—corporate partners, pro bono legal counsel, national leadership council, federal government funder—the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and RAINN federal fee-for-service Safe Helpline client, U.S. Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DoD SAPRO).
    • Request that they:
      • Stop funding and/or end their association with RAINN until:
        • RAINN’s president and founder Scott Berkowitz and board chair Regan Burke resign, and the organization transitions to a board with a balanced skill set with Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) people and self-identified victim-survivors of gender-based violence represented.
        • RAINN revises its bylaws so that, among other things, board members have term limits. (Current board chair Regan Burke has been chair since 1995: that’s 27 years.)
        • RAINN changes its name to signal a new era of the organization.
      • Explain publicly why they are stopping funding and/or ending their association with RAINN.
    • By:
      • Calling, emailing, and filling out customer service contact forms.
      • Making tweets or retweeting my tweets about the #RainOnRAINNsReign.
      • Commenting on other social media platforms with #RainOnRAINNsReign.
  • Research before donating to sexual violence prevention organizations. Know that RAINN is not an isolated case of racism within gender-based violence prevention groups. In Mother Jones, Madison Pauly put a parallel example of workplace toxicity in historical context in her excellent article, “How the Mainstream Movement Against Gender-Based Violence Fails Black Workers and Survivors: Allegations of racism at a Washington coalition highlight a broader movement’s betrayal.” So make sure that BIPOC people and self-identified victim-survivors of gender-based violence are on the board of organizations to which you donate. Find your local group, which will likely make better use of your dollars than a national organization (and then if you or a friend or a stranger need help, you’ll know where to go!) Here are lists of advocacy organizations and local rape crisis centers.
  • If you see someone organizing a fundraiser for RAINN, tell them about the #RainOnRAINNsReign.
  • Inform everyone you know. Share this post.
  • Use the hashtag #RainOnRAINNsReign.

Let’s rain on RAINN’s reign!

© 2022 Michele Beaulieux … Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute to Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I continue to tweak, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration: 4.9.2022

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