April Showers Rain on RAINN’s Reign

April showers rain on RAINN’s reign

Take Uber or Lyft? Stay in Airbnb? Use TikTok? Drink Absolut?

One way to support victim-survivors of sexual violence this Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is by advocating for a change in leadership at the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. Please join me in contacting corporate partners of the “nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.”

Since the recent exposé on #RAINN‘s racist and sexist workplace, six executives have departed and four companies have ended their corporate partnerships, yet president and founder Scott Berkowitz remains.

Why the rain on RAINN’s reign?

RAINN’s advocacy and services add to trauma and impede healing.

The lack of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) board representation and president and founder Scott Berkowitz’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of rape culture and intersectionality—basic, well-established and accepted concepts in sexual violence prevention—have hurt the victim-survivors of sexual violence that RAINN purports to serve in the following ways:

By promoting police-based responses. RAINN advocates widely debunked criminal justice approaches to preventing rape on college campuses. Its failure to describe the downside of and its promotion of the criminal justice system as the best way to respond to and prevent rape has put many victim-survivors in untenable situations. RAINN does not acknowledge that over-policing BIPOC communities, implicit bias in courts, and police killing of BIPOC people impacts BIPOC victim-survivors’ willingness to engage in the criminal justice system. With RAINN’s deceptive depiction, many victim-survivors have not been able to make informed decisions and have ended up experiencing distressing secondary victimization as their cases wound fruitlessly through the courts. 

By stifling alternative community-aligned responses. RAINN’s dominance in the field reinforces its police-based narrative, impoverishing the national conversation, leaving survivors unaware of other avenues through which they could seek healing and justice, such as restorative practices. For example, when the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs had a Black co-director, it expanded its political agenda beyond the criminal legal process. In addition to dealing with issues like rape kit testing and statutes of limitations, it promoted an effort to stop immigration officials from arresting people at courthouses, where abuse survivors must go to seek protective orders. And it supported a bill to create a working families tax credit, to support those whose lack of income keeps them and their children trapped with an abuser.

By refusing to represent the diversity of victim-survivors and the types of violations they experience. RAINN purposely did not depict people wearing head coverings, with visible physical disabilities, or larger body sizes in an animated video, and none of RAINN’s published stories by survivors of sexual assault in the military feature scenarios in which an attacker outranked their victim. Victim-survivors often do not seek help when they don’t see themselves represented. The statistic RAINN cites for male sexual abuse prevalence is the much lower 1 in 33 statistic, not the 1 in 6 statistic that professionals in the field use and that is the source of the name of a prominent male survivor group. By minimizing their prevalence, RAINN makes male victim-survivors—a group with unique challenges accepting their assaults—even less likely to come forward. 

By providing misinformation. RAINN does not list marijuana as a drug that, when combined with alcohol, can increase blackouts and thereby facilitate assaults. It published erroneous information on statutes of limitations on reporting to the police. RAINN also uses what mental health professionals consider outdated language to refer to suicide.

RAINN’s dominance hurts other worthier organizations.

RAINN’s tagline, “Nation’s Largest Sexual Violence Organization,” sounds impressive, but sexual violence prevention is a field in which we know that size consolidates power, and power can lead to abuse. 

RAINN has dominated the national stage and funding sources, starving other worthy organizations of basic funding and taking credit for their work. RAINN is known for running the National Sexual Assault Hotline. RAINN itself explains, however, that local sexual assault service providers actually answer the calls placed to the hotline and offer critical support to survivors, their loved ones, and their communities.

There is no dearth of alternatives to RAINN. RAINN itself lists other national resources. Many excellent groups—advocacy organizations and local rape crisis centers—have been operating in its shadow for decades.

How RAINN reigns:

With a board that is neither qualified nor representative.

RAINN’s five board directors, including president and founder Scott Berkowitz, are white. None publicly identify as victim-survivors of sexual assault or have expertise in the field. In fact, Berkowitz confesses, on the RAINN website, that when he started RAINN, he “knew next to nothing” about sexual violence prevention. Two of the four independent board members are communications professionals, and none has legal, accounting, or financial expertise. Berkowitz has been heading up the organization since co-founding it, and current board chair Regan Burke has been chair since 1995. A white man who does not identify as a victim-survivor of sexual violence and who confesses to know little about the issue has been leading the “nation’s largest sexual violence organization” for more than a quarter of a century. Change is long overdue.

With a racist and sexist workplace.

In February, in Insider, Bradford William Davis recently chronicled 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. A few highlights:

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

Without taking responsibility for its failures.

Scott Berkowitz’s “apology” in response to the Insider article

In corporate America, after a devastating exposé such as Davis’, a board would have fired the president. Instead, in A Message from RAINN, Berkowitz, in consultation with the board, offered a nonapology: “I am sorry for the impact this article may have had on you, …” And in a further act of non-accountability, RAINN took down its web page listing its board and staff, maybe because six executives have departed in the wake of the exposé.(Pre-exposé version of the page is available on the Internet Archive.)

What would legitimize RAINN:

President and founder Scott Berkowitz and board chair Regan Burke resign.

Bylaws expand board and specify board term limits.

Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), self-identified victim-survivors of sexual violence, and people of other marginalized identities lead RAINN’s board.

After operating with only four outside directors for decades, RAINN has, after the Insider exposé, only now committed to “increasing the size of the board over the next year and ensuring that the board reflects the diversity of our staff and those we serve.” Those changes won’t be sufficient unless RAINN adds enough new board members who are not beholden to Berkowitz such that the board can fire Berkowitz if he doesn’t resign as he should. 

How you can help rein in RAINN’s reign:

Thank RAINN’s corporate partners for wanting to prevent sexual violence and express concern about their support of RAINN.

Uncommon Goods, TOMS, Gorjana, and Lewis + Llewellyn LLP ended their corporate partnerships with RAINN since the Insider exposé. Yea!!! Thank you!

There are still dozens of other corporate partners still supporting RAINN—including consumer brands Absolut., Airbnb, Awe Inspired, Lyft, Paige, Uber, Santa Fe Dry Goods, Sozy, Thrive Causemetrics, and TikTok. Choose one and post on a common on social media or write a quick message in their customer comment form thanking them for wanting to prevent sexual violence and asking them to disassociate until RAINN makes needed changes.

Donate to other sexual violence prevention organizations and encourage others to do the same.

Here are lists of advocacy organizations and local rape crisis centers. Research before donating to sexual violence prevention organizations and encourage others to do the same. Know that RAINN is not an isolated case of racism within gender-based violence prevention groups. At a minimum, make sure that BIPOC people, self-identified victim-survivors of gender-based violence, and other people of marginalized identities are on the board of organizations to which you donate. Your local group will likely make better use of your dollars than a national organization (and if you or a friend or stranger need help, you’ll know where to go!) ​​

Ask RAINN’s national leadership council members to resign.

Take a look at the list and see if you know any and let them know what you know about RAINN.

Spread the word, stay updated, and join me in making a public statement.

The actions mentioned above can be private correspondence. Contact me if you’re interested in signing a public statement. Subscribe to this blog and follow #RainOnRAINNsReign on Twitter for the latest updates. Tell your friends, colleagues, and associates. Thank you!

#SAAM2022 #SAAM #SAAPM #SAAPM2022 #RAINN #RainOnRAINNsReign


© 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: 4.27.2022

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