I had established that this was something I wanted to deal with in my community, that everyone should know who the perpetrators of sexual violence are and that we should be creating ways to prevent this from happening again through community education and helping the Perpetrators to get the help they needed. I had no fucking clue how to do that.
I knew accountability was key. Sexual assault was happening because the Perpetrators were not being held accountable. So, I had to reveal, confront and explain my assault and name names. This idea was both petrifying and strangely comforting to me.
It was comforting the idea of naming the person who assaulted me because I had spent years pretending I was "friends" with him. I had been defending him in multiple situations, had comforted him through his threats of suicide and his endless tales of persecution. I had allowed him to continue to assault people through my inaction, assault my friends. It felt amazing to know that soon everyone will know the truth.
I discussed options with my Partner and Chris Gilpin (both members of the community in question) and I brought them the idea that we bring it up at a Family meeting. Slam Family meetings are open meetings where we invite anyone who regularly attends our events to come discuss whatever current issues need to be discussed.
I wanted the community to know what was happening, not an elite group of decision makers. I wanted everyone to be a part of the process of deciding what actions we were going to take in the short and long term. They agreed that this was a good course of action and that although it had severe drawbacks (safety, attacks etc), the drawbacks of not doing it publicly were greater (people continuing to get assaulted).
When I spoke with Erich and Chris I had a feeling that whatever I suggested they would have been right behind. Feeling their support was incredible and a huge factor in me continuing along the path of dealing with community safety in a tangible manner.
We began looking for allies who we knew would believe my story, be willing to engage in some restorative justice and were integral members of the scene, to call on for help in creating and implementing this plan. This discussion was long and arduous. I realized pretty quick that even some people you consider close friends may have a very negative reaction to discussions of sexual assault and ways to hold the perpetrator accountable.
The first person we decided to add to the organizing team was Lisa Slater. She is President of the Vancouver Poetry House which is the umbrella organizing non profit behind VanSlam. I know she had previous experiences being sexually assaulted through people she knew from Poetry Slam and I felt I had a good rapport with her.
I went to a workshop at Rape Relief then on my walk home plucked up the courage to call her and tell her my experience and my current plan to deal with it. She listened while I explained my sexual assault and then said something I know you're meant to say after someone reveals something like this, which was "Jess, I am so sorry you had to go through that". Please remember this phrase if anyone ever tells you they were assaulted, it turns out that it's the most wonderful thing to hear.
At this point I started to cry and felt so happy for the friends in my life. After a few seconds I explained the ideas we were having about bringing the assault up in a meeting, creating an accountability plan and then following through with community education. Lisa began to tell me that she was worried for the Perpetrator, his emotional health, his lack of support network, his feelings of alienation from the community and so on.
These were all concerns I had had. I was and am worried about how the Perpetrator of all this is going to fair. I want him to get better. It was so hard to hear her tell me her concerns for him before her concerns for my safety. I understand why, but it was incredibly hard. As a community we have all been defending him for years.
Our society teaches us to listen to older white males (this description is inline with the Perpetrator) essentially from birth. We look to them for guidance, we treat them as Wise Elders whether it is concious or subconsious. When one of them is being attacked we immediately defend them as we are defend our social structure. The Perpetrator has a strong persecution complex, often uses emotional manipulation, blackmail and projects a highly self sacrificing persona into the community. I have been sucked into thinking he is worthy of defense even when he is clearly in the wrong, he's that convincing. Lisa had spent much one on one time listening to him and dealing with his issues, so this was really hard to hear that she had invested an incredible amount of time into someone who had assaulted her friend.
My Attacker is also a very imposing man. He is tall, loud and uses emotional bullying constantly. He is very quick to announce himself self sacrificing and noble and gains respect through force. I have been one to back him for years while he rants endlessly about the injustices he has faced, even after the assault and Lisa has also been his backer many a time.
Lisa began crying suddenly during the phone call and apologised for not "being on my side" and instead "defending" the attacker. We continued to talk logistics, express our deep anger for being abused and lied to by him for years and then told each to her how much love we had for one another. It was all round a great conversation which showed us the power of how others in the community might react when I tell them what happened.
People were going to be angry, at me, at him and possibly even themselves.
Read The Plan- Part 2 Logistics