Monday, April 2, 2012

I can't believe I have to explain the difference between 'taking a stand against sexual assault' and 'misandry' - by Lisa Slater

There has been one person who has openly stepped forward and has said that he is uncomfortable with the stand that we are taking on sexual assault and the protocols that we are looking to develop around safety in our community. In his post on facebook, he says that he is writing " address the inadequacies in the protocol's statutes, concerning, proper and impartial investigative measures on the part of the Vancouver Slam's newly formed Safe Place committee, as to fully insure a comprehensive rendering of the facts, with a sound and unbiased judgement. The letter also makes mention of certain biases in the protocol and the blog, towards male patrons within the said Vancouver Poetry Slam Community."

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.


  1. How frustrating. Often when men are called to take account of their behaviour, it becomes a conversation about perceptions of "misandry", and not about engaging in a process where people have an opportunity to grow personally and changes harmful behaviour and come to a community that is important to them and others. It's great to see folks focusing, and moving forward.

  2. Well said. This work you are all doing to end a culture of sexual violence should be published and made available to people who can benefit from this info.

  3. I'm glad that you did this response to the person's concerns. I do have a thought/question... I don't know if it was brought up in the meeting or not. I don't remember reading it but that could just be faulty comprehension on my part... I just want to know if there was any mention of the fact that it could be a woman that is the alleged perpetrator (towards a man or a woman). I think if the language of anything written or spoken that is not about a specific case is kept gender neutral, that should help with people who fear the misandry angle. In my connecting with people nationwide there are women who are on people's list of who to be wary of so I think that should be kept in mind as well.

  4. I do think it is important to be vigilant about expressing efforts in terms of addressing sexual violence in all forms, between and among all genders. I do think that you have done this, and I'm sure you'll continue to do so.

    Good work explaining your perspective and the logical fallacies in this person's arguments rationally and clearly.

    Of course we all worry about the possibility of false reports, especially those with malicious/vindictive intent. But as you point out, those are really very rare, and with a smart, committed group such as you've formed, very unlikely to fly.

    I do think that one thing that could/should be done (and I don't mean by y'all, who currently have more than enough on your plate,) is to develop a common-sense gender-neutral guide to not getting accused of sexual assault. Things like, don't have sex with drunk people. Ask your friends from marginalized groups or genders or ethnicities outside your own to be honest with you about how well they perceive you respecting their boundaries and norms. And so on. Basically a long-form version of "don't be rapey." :)

    Congrats, good work, much love --


  5. It's important to keep non-specific cases gender-neutral also because there are plenty of people who do not fit within the binary gender roles who are causing harm and/or having harm done to them. In order to be a more inclusive community, it's important to keep these things open.

  6. When I was 15 years old, I was accused of rape by someone I never even touched, and as a result was violently assaulted by 20 people.

    18 years later, I was accused of sexual assault in the night by my former spouse, ten months after our divorce; these allegations were produced long after the fact; we had never discussed the matter before. I learned of the allegations in an affidavit filed during our custody battle. I agonized for months over whether there was legitimacy to the claims, i.e. whether something might have happened in the night while I was asleep. To this day I refuse to sleep in the same bed as another woman, for fear that I might grope her in my sleep. My gut tells me that the charges were trumped up, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

    My priest knew about the claims. His response made sense; I was asked not to show up until the matter was resolved, and he did not make any public statements about the matter. My spouse wasn't happy with this, however, and asked for a public announcement to be made. When the priest refused, she left, and I was allowed to return to the community.

    I think that you are handling this fairly well; formally, you've kept confidentiality. That's important.

    However, it's important to note that if you've publicly announced that an unnamed person isn't welcome at Van Slam because of such-and-such allegation, and people notice that a person hasn't showed up in a while (whether they're the person under investigation or not), they are bound to make assumptions.

  7. the main thing that matters is that we recognize all the things that normally are not noticed. the person who commits sexual assault almost always has their needs talked about lots and lots, by everyone, especially the people they assault. if you do not know that already, learn it. That's how these things tend to work because we live in a culture saturated with dominance. The people who experience sexual assault have their needs silenced and ignored lots and lots. time to put priorities where they belong, and recognize just how hard it is to speak publically about these experiences without demonizing anybody. A restorative model lets that balance be struck.


  9. Jean- Jacques Chateauneuf. this is disturbing to say the least. And what is this "infamous" letter of which you speak (in the 3rd person no less)?

  10. This Butler/Chateauneuf thing is just bizarre. And responding to a critique with vague invocations of "slander" is threatening and offensive, though predictable. Solidarity with the VanSlam women in the face of this offensive dudebro backlash.

  11. Many thanks for this continuing, oh so essential, and hard work. Wonderful and inspiring work by all involved. Many of the the elements, including the response/rebuttal from JJC/Mike Butler ring very familiarly. I'd echo eastvanhalen's comments.

  12. I think the mere tone of JJ's response speaks galaxies of his disinterest in working with VanSlam to create Safe Space. If he were he would be offering suggestions to a difficult and new space you all are navigating rather than denigrating an honest attempt to heal a community. I commend you all for the work you are doing!

  13. Just for the record, Jean-Jacques has posted a reply here:

    I believe that he genuinely wants to be a productive part of the dialogue. When he's back in BC, I think he will add an important perspective to these conversations.