Anne Patterson has dedicated her life to ending gender-based violence, from working in shelters to her work as the Vice President of STEPS to End Family Violence from 2014 to 2022. Anne’s passion is infectious and her approach to abolition and organizing shine in our discussion below. As someone who worked closely with AVP in a variety of positions, Anne has seen the organization from many different perspectives.
We talked about carceral feminism, hotline training, the criminalization of survivors, and dreaming abolition.
When did you first come into contact with AVP?
Many, many moons ago. I went through the hotline training in 1999. I had become familiar with AVP’s work before that, but I really was enveloped in the AVP community when I went through the hotline training.
It was so, so good. At that point, the training was facilitated by Kim Fountain. They facilitated the bulk of the hotline trainings then. I was immediately captivated by them and their passion and their humility. I just was so thrilled to have that experience.
What was the thing that made you reach out and engage AVP?
I’d like to say I’m a person who has a single skill. From the time I was a late adolescent, I have always been invested in working to end gender-based violence. Starting in high school, I did a tremendous amount of volunteer work in shelters that would provide housing for people who had been harmed by their partner. That’s the only work that I’ve ever done. I did that work all throughout undergrad. Then, I chose to go to social work school, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. This is the continuation of my lifelong passion.
When I moved to New York to go to social work school, I wanted to continue to operate in a volunteer capacity working to support people who had been harmed by their partner. I wanted to do it in a more explicitly queer setting, so that’s what brought me to AVP.
I always like to say from the moment that I learned about AVP, I had an organizational crush on AVP. Up until very recently, I was also working at a program that supports survivors of gender-based violence called STEPS to End Family Violence. STEPS to End Family Violence and AVP have similar programmatic ways of being.
Those of us who work in the nonprofit industrial complex, specifically in programs that are invested in supporting people who have experienced harm, historically, the dominant way that those programs have been organized is around notions of carceral feminism.* Both AVP and STEPS, when I was a part of STEPS, were very critical of the harms of carceral feminism and much more curious about more generative ways of ending gender-based violence, more inclusive ways, and more gentle ways. That’s why I’ve always been captivated by AVP. It’s a program that acknowledges that it’s embedded within the toxic soup that is the nonprofit industrial complex, but knows that from within that place, there’s an opportunity for revolution. I think AVP has always really been so clear about that. I think it’s because of its radical queer roots.
Can you describe your later work with AVP?
When I had the opportunity to apply for money from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to expand the criminalized survivor work that was happening at STEPS, I wanted to do that work with AVP. . For about five years, we had a formalized partnership. It was a contractor-subcontractor relationship technically, but it was a partnership in spirit and in practice. For five years, we were a single team. We were a single team called the Still Survivors Team that was invested in specifically supporting queer criminalized survivors of gender-based violence.
It was a really beautiful partnership. It worked so well because there is this real shared ethos, this resisting of carceral feminism, this challenging of traditional binaries of people who harm and people who experience harm.
What was the day-to-day of that partnership like?
It was fantastic. It was a team of clinical advocates, so a team of everyone who was trained as a clinician, but also invested in criminal legal advocacy. Also, everyone was really united. All of the direct practitioners really united in a commitment to abolition. So the abolition not only of the prison industrial complex but all systems of harm and domination, so the abolition of the police and prosecution. Aspirationally abolitionist, but still practically invested in working within the systems to just elevate the narratives of criminalized survivors.
Once someone has been arrested, their survivorship is pretty consistently ignored. They’re now only seen as someone who’s been arrested. They’re now only seen as someone who’s been labeled as a defendant, and everything that led up to that arrest is quickly forgotten. The whole work of that joint STEPS-AVP team was to make sure that people who are within the criminal legal system do not forget about the survivorship that directly brought people into contact with that system.
The daily work was therapeutic work with criminalized survivors, both in the community and also at Rikers Island. The Rikers Island work was really robust pre-pandemic. Then [there was] a tremendous amount of teaching and training to people all over New York City to increase the city’s capacity to understand the criminalization of survivorship, to respond to survivors who had been criminalized, and to really name that queer folks, specifically Black, brown, and Indigenous, trans and non-binary folks, are especially targeted for criminalization related to their survivorship.
How do you describe abolition to people who are skeptical when you’re encountering that?
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, I think, is the person who is most accredited with this notion that abolition isn’t about absence, but it’s about presence. That’s an absolute paraphrasing of her beautiful language. I think that really shifts people’s thinking. Because when you think about abolition, you just think about the absence of something, the destruction of something, the removal of something, and [the way] she talks about it, it’s absolutely not. It’s about the creation of something. It’s about the creation of something different, like fundamentally. Radically dig up the top of the soil and plant a new forest. It’s about this new, beautiful, abundant imagination. About what could be, as opposed to what we are interested in taking away.
It’s absolutely about burning Rikers Island to the ground, and it’s about building something in its place.
Why do you think organizations like AVP are necessary?
Because we haven’t burned it down yet. Until we have engaged in radical revolution, until the police have been abolished and rich communities of dialogue are put in their place, we need places like AVP specifically, that are invested in supporting people who have caused harm, people who have experienced harm, but also people who have caused harm. I think AVP is really good at that. They know that if we’re ever going to actually end gender-based violence, we have to be supporting both the people who have experienced the harm as well as people who have caused the harm. Until abolition comes, we need AVP because systems are still causing harm, and people who are impacted by those systems are still also causing harm. Until that day comes, we need AVP.
* “Carceral Feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women. This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence.” – Victoria Law
This interview has been shortened and condensed for clarity.