Thursday, April 26, 2012

What to do if there's a Rapist at an event you attend- Jessica Mason-Paull

I like going to Fetish parties.

If you've never been and live in Vancouver, B.C. I will gladly tell of some great events that go on and some events I would not recommend. I also like going to any event where there are out spoken progressive folk, but the outfits are better at fetish parties.

I've noticed a sadly common thing that happens at events I go to where there are creepy/unsafe/known rapists that attend and no one tells me straight out. I usually find out some weeks later over coffee with friends that so and so raped their friend or this person is a super creep stay away from them. This makes me filled with rage. People don't talk openly about unsafe people in social situations often and that makes everyone unsafe.

First off, no one has the right to be at a social event where the expectation is that you have good intentions towards that community if they do not have good intentions towards that community. Our rights as humans in our society is that we have to abide by the rules (laws) of that society. In communities though, we only have the right to be there if our intentions and actions are concurrent with those of that society. As an example I would not be welcome at a Republican conference because I'm not a Republican. I would also vomit while people were speaking and that would be bad for everyone, especially those with weak constitutions (pun intended).

Secondly, if you are aware that there is a person who is unsafe it is your duty to tell anyone who'll listen what you know and hopefully the organizers will take action. If you are an organizer it is your responsibility to take care of your community members. This doesn't mean you have to look after any one who enters your community, but those that show themselves to be in line with your principles, yeah those people, you should keep them safe.

Too often organizers fall into the trap of trying to keep everyone happy and equal.
"Well, that person was accused of assault or inappropriate conduct and we only have the victims statement."
It's one person's word against another's and the victim often leaves the organization when their abuser has the same rights as they do, i.e. to continue attend events. I see this far too regularly in the fetish community and other communities. I think the reason for this inability to address Perpetrators in organizations is due to a few common factors:

1. Organizers want Everyone to be welcome-

This is something a lot of organizations believe. Just by your willingness to attend an event you are assumed to be safe and have similar principles. This is a great assumption to start with, but has to be constantly reassessed.

I work for a consensus non-profit that votes with 100% consensus. The linch pin that holds this process together is the idea that if you block a decision you feel so strongly about that decision that you are willing to leave the organization if it goes through. This is critical because then as a group you can look at the proposal and decide if it is indeed in line with your principles and mandate or if the proposal is in fact against said principles. If the person blocking a proposal is indeed not blocking it because it is against the principles of the organization and instead their own principles then they are asked to leave the organization. This is critical to keeping the organization on track.

If "Sam" rapes "Chris" (insert your own gender biases) after an event they met at, then Sam has shown that they are not in keeping with that organizations principles and should be asked to not attend again.

2. Organizers want to remain neutral and not "police" the community- 

Organizers are usually very competent in social skills and marketing, but rarely are they experts on Law or governance. This leads to having the people running the show being afraid to make legal problems for the organization through slander cases and libel. This is a smart concern, but one that is not justified through individual ignorance.

I realized very quickly in my career organizing events that it was inadequate to just get people together and create a fun event for them. I was responsible for their safety, both physically and emotionally and that was scary to acknowledge and then work on. I got an advanced first aid certificate, taught my volunteers what to look out for, the questions to ask and how to go to when things went wrong. It's an ongoing process, I have a lot yet to learn.

If you are afraid of legal action by outing a rapist/abusers/liar then go to a lawyer. Your organization owes it to it's members to spend a few bucks consulting a lawyer. In Canada that consultation is often free so no excuse. Look up Legal Aid online and give em a call.

As an organizer your actions count more than anyone else in an organization. Your power, both perceived and real, is present at every event you host. If you say "that behaviour isn't ok" then a culture of that being not ok will perpetuate, equally if you consistently hit on young, emotionally vunerable people at your events it will make that easier for other people to do the same. You have to do better, be a brilliant example and brilliant people will join your community. If you really don't like the idea of this much responsibility then step down, you're doing everyone a favor.

Organizers are also afraid to kill the creativity of a scene. I've heard this time and time again when I've brought up the fact that someone was racist, sexist, a jerk on stage and the response is that we want to encourage people to try new things. This is bullshit. If trying "new" things means trying hate speech or trying non consensual interactions then those new things are wrong and should be corrected.

Creativity thrives in truly safe and welcoming environments.

3. Organizers are afraid to take sides-

When it's one person word against another a complex web of actions must take place. When listening to an accusation as an Organizer here's what you want to work through:

a.) The first assumption must be that the accusation is true and it's your job to remove any immediate threats to your communities safety. Be clear you are not backing the accusation (yet) you are simply creating a space to deal with it effectively.

b.) Garner information and give out information. Give all community members the resources they may need to educate and help through this tough situation. Let everyone know you're willing to talk and listen, provide professional services info for all. This can include legal options, counselling, police reporting and medical information. when you look to gain more information, remember you aren't a cop, you are someone looking out for everyone's safety. make an open call for more information on the matter and educate yourself on some of the common reactions a community has to this type of behaviour/allegation. Read up on minimizing, victim blaming, power dynamics/privilege.

c.) Decide with your community what they want to do about the situation. This is a never ending process not a conclusion. Safety is all relative and a concept that is impossible to fully realize. Do the best you can do, just make sure you do something. This will go a long way in creating safety, if people are talking openly about violence of any kind you are on the right track, it means people feel safe talking about it.

d.) Look after yourself, delegate if you are feeling overwhelmed. Seek professional help and take time to deal with any feelings that may be coming up for you. This will make you a better community member.

4.) A fear of Confrontation-

If you aren't a confrontational person it's really hard to say
"you aren't welcome here" or
"what you did is not welcome here".

This fear is partly why there is a prevalence of sexual assault and bullying behaviours in society. So, practice your words, choose them well, take friends who are good at confrontation with you and do it. Being afraid to be seen as mean, bitchy, unfair when you aren't being that way is irrational, plus remember that if you don't confront the situation then you are perpetuating that violence. Straighten your spine and speak because if you don't you'll have to fall asleep every night knowing you are allowing these people to continue to abuse in your community. Your silence is telling them it's ok to abuse, that you're on their side.


  1. I am of the humble opinion that the best way to "kill the creativity of a scene" is to prioritize not confronting a few raping fuckheads, most of which are too cowardly to stick around once they've been told "we know what you're doing, get out," over the safety of the many people they've victimized.

  2. Once again, brilliant minds think in ways that complement one another. This article appeared mere days ago...

    1. Oh damn I love Holly Pervocracy! Thanks Dane. x