While we are touched and moved by those people who have stepped forward to defend the stand we've taken and the values that we've engaged with, we want to take a moment to address some of the concerns that can legitimately be raised. As Jessica has noted, we are not experts. We are doing the best that we can. We are making our decisions based on our values, and trying to be consistent with our principles.
In his essay, he says, "there is no mention of an allegation, there is no mention of an 'alleged' perpetrator, nor is there any mention of an alleged victim. There is only mention of absolute truths regarding an accusation in the reporting of a purported crime. Since when does an accusation evidence itself as fact?"
As a community, it is not our place to investigate, allege or punish. That is a job for the criminal justice system. It is our job to try to establish community standards for how we treat each other, and to make our community as safe and welcoming as possible. When someone comes forward with a story about a sexual assault, we have made a decision as a community that we are going to believe them. We are going to ask that the person who has been named as a perpetrator take a voluntary break from the community while we either: a) establish policy (as we are doing over the next few months); or b) once this policy is established, we will ask them to take a break from the community while they engage in a process of restorative justice and reconstructing safety with us. If the person agrees to do this, they are showing a sign of good faith. They are putting people's feeling of safety ahead of their own interests. This is someone that could become safe to welcome back into our community.
Take a second and imagine that you had been accused of being a perpetrator. Even if you thought it wasn't true, even if you thought the sex was definitely consensual, even if you had never engaged in any kind of sex with the person and it was clearly false - can you imagine how unsafe everyone else would feel if this story was told and the person who it was about refused to engage and ignored the community's request? By denying the request of the community, you are signalling that you do not care about anyone else's feeling of safety.
By taking a break from the community, the person who has been named as a perpetrator has declared that they care about people feeling safe. That if they have crossed a boundary, that they want to make it right. That they are willing to be accountable, and that they trust the process to make it right. That they want to be a part of the solution.
By respecting the process, you are sending a signal. By not respecting the process, you are also sending a signal. If you choose not to respect the community's requests - if you say 'fuck you' to their boundaries and the process - you are telling us something about how you feel about boundaries, and your willingness to respect them.
The essayist then goes on to say: "Why is there no mention of the possibility of a false accusation on the part of a alleged victim? More and more companies, organizations and government institutions are reporting the steadying incline in the numbers of false accusations of harassment in the workplace." The goal of the process that we are developing is to be as fair-minded as possible. To this end, we are hoping to develop a process where we feel good about how we treated people if the story turns out to be true, and we also feel good about how we treated people if the story turns out to be false. (By the way, the prevalence of false reports of sexual assaults are reported as being somewhere between 2-10%, which is consistent with most other crimes.)
If an allegation is false - that will come out in the process. Asking someone to take a break while we figure shit out is not a guilty verdict. And I believe that whatever the personal inconvenience or temporary damage to their reputation, it will do far less damage to our community than rampant incidences of sexual assault continuing to occur unchecked. Cooperating with the process is good for everyone.
The essayist goes on to say: "Notwithstanding the communities' paramount need to improve conditions for women, try not to create a negative and anti male biased environment at any of the the Vancouver Poetry Slam events and venues, in it's accomplishment." The team that put together this community meeting and developed the response was 3 men and 3 women. The new committee that has been formed (the Safety Policy Development Committee) has an almost even gender balance (I think there are currently 3 men and 4 women). We do not have any interest in creating or perpetuating misandry.We have an interest in rooting out misogyny and sexual violence. We want to involve men in all of these conversations. We believe that making the community safer is better for all of us. It leads to a richer, more creative environment for us to write and perform, and better and more trusting relationships with each other as members of an artistic community.
The essayist concludes by saying: "Since when do organizers at the Vancouver Poetry Slam interrupt or censor a performance that is deemed, in their opinion, misogynistic?" Um, since forever, dude. Free speech means I get to boo anyone's fucking misogyny or racism as much as I want.
I encourage people to continue to challenge us. We may have blind spots that we haven't realized. Please, point them out. We want this to be as useful and productive as possible.