By: Katie King
The problem with rape is, no one wants to talk about it. Dani Rivera and Liz Blasco, both active members of the Austin punk scene, are bringing this issue to the public spectrum. Their goal: to upset the culture of rape and sexual violence against women in punk. But their message extends far beyond that. They’re combating anyone, or anything, that validates and perpetuates rape culture. It’s an unspoken belief that assault is an insolvable problem. Rivera and Blasco’s goal is to work toward a world without rape.
After having their own personal experiences with abuse and assault, the two decided to host an unofficial SXSW showcase, Benefit the Body, on Saturday, March 19th from 4 p.m. – 12 a.m at House Of Commons. The event is being curated by Rivera, Blasco, Nigel Hendricks and Kyle Rotta. 13 different bands are set to play, and many artists have donated artwork that is geared toward empowerment. Admission is free, and all donations will be going towards Planned Parenthood.
This event has been 3 months in the making, but their struggles dealing with sexual violence began far before that. Dani’s story began from an early age:
“I was raised by a Latina single mother. Growing up, it was just me and her. My dad wasn’t around. And then one day after school, my mom told me that she had been talking to my dad and that he was coming home. My mom worked in the ER, and she would work the graveyard shift. My dad worked in the daytime, so whenever my mom was working, he could take care of me. It wasn’t that shortly after he came back in my life that he started to sexually abuse me. I was 5 or 6. I can remember some of it. When he first started sexually abusing me, he told me that if I ever told anyone that he was going to kill me and my mom. So I never told anyone. So I didn’t tell anyone until I older, around 10. I remember telling my mom, of course it was hard for her to accept it early on. But a couple of days later, we had a conversation in my bedroom and I told her exactly what was happening. I remember her bursting into tears. My dad was sitting on the sofa, and I just remember her walking up to him and slapping him across the face. That was the last time I ever remember seeing him.
My mom called the cops, of course. He ended up on probation until I was 18 so there was no communication, which wasn’t a problem with me. After that, my mom and I had to go through a bunch of crazy stuff. Our house got foreclosed because it was under my dads name, he stopped paying child support, too. Basically she had to raise me on our own again. It was a lot of change that happened very rapidly.
I used to get flashbacks, but it’s rare now. I still have anxiety from the aftermath and I did go through a self harm phase in my early teens.
And that’s why sexual rape and abuse happening in Austin really touches home for me. After going through all that stuff when I was younger. And I know that when people are dealing with sexual abuse and other things of that nature, it’s a really hard time mentally to talk about it when it first happens. I think the reason I resorted to self harm was because I didn’t talk about it, I was ashamed of it, I was embarrassed it happened.
But whenever I was 18 or so, I became super open taking about my experience. I want any person who has gone through some traumatic experience like that to know that they are definitely not alone. At the age that I am now, I know this is something that happens far too often.
With everything that has happened in my childhood, my mother has been my rock. She’s a badass. Not only has she helped me to have a very strong backbone, but going into adulthood she’s molded me into becoming the strong, resilient woman that I am now. She raised me all on her own. And in order for me to get through everything that I was going through emotionally, she had to be there and be strong for her and her child. Right before my dad had come into our lives again, my grandmother passed away, she had been battling lupus. So on top of grieving her death, my mom handled everything in the aftermath, like going to hospitals and councilors, with such composure. The older I got, the more respect I have for her. I am so grateful to have such a strong woman in my life who has taught me to fight. To fight for things that I believe in, for myself, and for other survivors.”
I talked to Rivera and Blasco about their event.
SMEAR: How did you guys meet?
BLASCO: We met through the punk scene about two years ago.
S: How long have you both been into the punk scene?
B: I’ve been going to shows since I was 12.
RIVERA: I’ve been going since I was 14.
S: What made you so interested in punk?
R: I think I was going through an angsty teen phase and I wanted to rebel, so I think that has a lot to do with it. I also didn’t know a lot about everything that goes into punk until I got a bit older and started learning that punk means different things to different people.
B: I was going to shows for about five years before I really started understand how much I was into it. I guess the first time that I really understood it was something I wanted to stay a part of my life is when I went to a show and they were talking about abusive households and I grew up in one. It was empowering to have a bunch of people in the crowd cheering for something like that, because I had never heard anyone speak of something like that outside of – say, a health class. It was cool to see that there was a bunch of people drawn to this bigger thing rather than just my experience or my favorite band.
S: Going along those lines, do you think it’s an accurate statement to say that punk is defined by an attitude rather than a musical style? Or would you say it’s the opposite.
B: Especially as of lately, there’s so many genres included in punk rock that it’s way bigger than just a musical style.
R: With music, there’s so many different subgenres of punk, like there’s hardcore punk, trans punk, feminist punk bands. Different instruments are used in punk. It’s a stereotype that comes with punk that you have to come from this background and have these certain things going on in your life that makes you “punk.” Which is silly.
S: How do you think people in the punk movement view gender and gender expression?
B: Something that really connected Dani and I is that we’re trying to get people more open to expressing gender, and more radical ideas of respecting any decision based on sex and gender. As a whole, I feel that there’s a movement becoming bigger and bigger that’s allowing it to be easier to talk about.
As a whole, I feel that there’s a movement becoming bigger and bigger that’s allowing it to be easier to talk about.
S: So do you think it’s gotten better?
B:It depends where you are, really. Punk is made up of a bunch of small communities, it just depends on what community you’re in. As far as Austin goes? It depends on what shows you’re at. I don’t think it’s a safe space at all for people exploring their gender. I also think that a lot of people are making strong movements to help alleviate that.
R: I also think that certain venues claim to be safe spaces, but not everyone ever always feels safe. Ever. We’ve tried to make more people aware of their problematic actions. It’s hard sometimes to call people out because the community is so tight-knit. It’s kind of like an epic circle sometimes.
S: Do you think people people have different personas when they are at a show? Do they tend to get more violent?
R: I think it’s a good way to express yourself, but I also think people should take into consideration the people they are surrounded by. Because not everyone feels comfortable with certain movements. It’s also a huge problem with males being overly violent. I also just think those people are just assholes.
S: Transitioning to the benefit that you two are hosting, how do you think this event is going to help with female empowerment and also raising awareness about rape, and sexual and physical abuse that occurs within the punk scene?
B: This show shares a common date with someone who personally affected Dani and I, and that’s not a coincidence. I think that this show has as much power as it does because there’s so many people that are finally ready to speak out against abusers in our scene. We’re trying to define our moral standing in the scene. There’s been an outpour of support that both Dani and I have seen through artists and musicians. It really helped us that we both were able to heal productively after something traumatic. It could have torn us apart, it could have turned into shame that we shoved away and no one talked about. But now, it’s turned into a means of empowerment. By supporting each other, we’re able to support the entire community.
It really helped us that we both were able to heal productively after something traumatic. It could have torn us apart, it could have turned into shame that we shoved away and no one talked about. But now, it’s turned into a means of empowerment.
S: Do you think that there’s a way to blend feminist consciousness and the punk style in an already male-dominated scene? Or do you think that a separate, all female subculture needs to be formed in order for that to happen?
B: I think that they can be blended together, and I’ve seen them be blended together really well. Men have to actively try and include people that they wouldn’t normally think to include. Basically men need to give up the mic.
S: I’ve heard that it’s hard for females to get involved unless they have a boyfriend who already involved in the scene. How do you think it can get easier for woman to get involved and give punk a try?
B: I think that just like any revolution, you need to find people with a common mindset. Eventually you’re going to have a radical group of people that are willing to break down those barriers and make people feel uncomfortable.
R: Whenever I first started going to shows, I met a group of people online and I thought they were really awesome so I met them in person. So I eventually started going out with them and it was a really fun time. Once you get in your scene, it’s great. But once that happens, open communication is key.
B: We’re actually meeting up with a group of people to talk about how to make it easier to talk to people who have done really shitty things in the scene. We actually have a list of people who need to be removed.