Safer spaces, false allegations, and the NYC Anarchist Bookfair

Safer space policy at The Free Hetherington - but what next?
Safer space policy at The Free Hetherington - but what next?

I've written this blog in response to a previous discussion of the safer spaces policy at the NYC Anarchist Bookfair 2012, and why I'm not convinced we need to be too preoccupied with the possibility of false rape accusations.

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence

Submitted by Ramona on April 26, 2012

I didn't want to get into the conversation or to post on the thread in question. In the past eight months, I've had so many private and public discussions about sexual assault, and specifically assaults carried out within the radical left and perpetrated by (mostly, but not entirely) men who would call themselves comrades and indeed feminists, I felt too exhausted and apathetic to add my voice to the discussion. I disagreed with a lot of what was being said by good friends of mine, and I'd rather ignore it, and just go off on my holiday to NYC and forget about it.

I'd been in town for about 24 hours when I got to the anarchist bookfair, and one of the first people I saw there was a man who sexually assaulted a friend of mine. At this point I realised that discussions about safer spaces, sexual violence, and our response to these issues as a community aren't something I am going to be able to avoid any time soon. The shitty reality is that sexual assault, as well as sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, queerphobic and other socially conditioned, oppressive bullshit (intentional or not) is not unusual. As communists, we can all agree that this kind of behaviour is A Bad Thing, 1 but the disagreement comes when we're talking about what we do about it.

Disagreement came pretty quickly once someone reproduced a letter sent by the Safer Space2 team at the NYC Anarchist Bookfair. The letter read as follows (emphasis added):

Hi [REDACTED].
I am writing to you on behalf of the 2012 NYC Anarchist Book fair Safe(r) Space Group to let you know that a request has been made that you not attend this year. The policy at the event, posted at http://www.anarchistbookfair.net/saferspace, is in place to create a supportive, non-threatening environment for all. This means that anyone may be asked to not attend. [b]No blame is placed, no decision is made[/b], we simply ask that you not attend to prevent anyone from feeling unsafe.
We understand that being asked not to attend is not easy, and we don’t take it lightly. You may not know why you are being asked not to attend or who all is requesting this, or you may feel the situation is totally unfair. Our goal is not to decide right or wrong but to maintain safety at the fair. Some situations are gray and sometimes based on simple misunderstandings, but regardless of the reasons, no matter what your defense, we still ask that you not attend this years book fair. Not attending is not an admission of guilt. In fact, you not attending is a statement that you respect everyone’s safety at the fair and are taking a positive step to uphold that principle.
[b]We also understand your need to know why you are being asked not to attend. However, the book fair is not the place to resolve conflict.[/b] Please, do not approach anyone at the fair who you think is responsible for the request that you not attend, or anyone that you think may have made this request before the fair. This violates our commitment to keeping everyone safe.
We realize that this email is formal. We chose to email you because we want to remain as neutral as possible in this position and situation, as well as to give you the space in which to process this request in whatever way is most comfortable and safe.
[b]If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.[/b] Again, do not contact anyone without their consent, especially any survivors. [b]You can field all questions through me or I can put you in contact with other safer space members[/b].
Thanks for helping us keep it safe,
[REDACTED]/ NYC Anarchist Bookfair Safer Space Team

Responses on the forum thread were initially negative, it was called “ridiculous”, “insane”, and was said to “give insight into a collective mental process that is fundamentally at odds with even the most basic notions of justice and reason”.
The main line of criticism seemed to me to be that the letter

  • Doesn't detail allegations and could be confusing for the recipient
  • Doesn't give the recipient a right to reply or provide their side of the story
  • By providing anonymity to the person who requested the recipient be asked not to attend the bookfair, this letter paves the way for abuses of power and a slew of false allegations.

I don't think the letter is without fault, nor do I think that people objecting to it are apologists for sexual assault by default, and I'd like to make that quite clear. I decided to go and chat to the safer spaces team at the bookfair. They weren't some shadowy clique plotting people's downfall in a backroom somewhere, I met a few women sat at the very entrance to the main room, with a clear sign indicating who they were, and arm bands making them easily identifiable. They had formed a group called Support New York who are

dedicated to healing the effects of sexual assault and abuse.  Our aim is to meet the needs of the survivor, to hold accountable those who  have perpetrated harm, and to maintain a larger dialogue within the community about consent, mutual aid, and our society’s narrow views of abuse. We came together in order to create our own safe(r) space and provide support for people of all genders, races, ages and orientations, separate from the police and prison systems that perpetuate these abuses

They were friendly and constructive, and gave me a whole load of resources about responding to sexual assault in radical communities, as well as email contacts, and the possibility of hosting some kind of workshop or talk in Scotland over the summer. They confirmed that the letters were sent out ahead of the NYC Anarchist Bookfair at the requests of survivors of (almost always) sexual or domestic violence.

Criticisms of the letter
I'm going to focus on the final criticism I outlined above, because I think the first two are fairly easily dealt with by noticing that a) the letter does not seek to publicly defame anyone, or limit their participation in anything other than the bookfair, and b) a contact name and email is provided, with an invitation to raise any questions or concerns. I agree this could be made clearer, and perhaps a hint at the kinds of processes the recipient may be able to engage in should they want to clear all of this up would be useful.

The letter isn't perfect, but nor is it the Inquisition, or particularly Kafkaesque – there's no trial, no never ending process, no anonymous unreachable state bureaucracy: it's a letter from a person with a name and an email address that welcomes a response, that asks someone to not go to a two-day event.

Onto false allegations then. It's clear from reading the responses to the letter that the fear of false allegations of rape strike a chord, and it's easy to see why. The rape culture we all live in is supported by a media that loves to go to town on rape allegations, and makes heroes of men accused of rape (Assange, Polanski... ). The vindictive, crazy woman who wrongly accuses an innocent man of rape and ruins his life is a long standing trope, rooted in misogynistic assumptions and rape myths, given another airing recently by Plan B on his last album. Even women whose rape allegations do make it through court are often disbelieved (for some more pop culture misogynistic vitriol, have a look at the #JusticeForChed hashtag on Twitter, or google “Free Mercston”).

So I can see why a letter like this makes people nervous, or worried that false accusations of sexual assault might start to become a way for anarchists etc to undermine each other3 Loads of false allegations that will then be made public and be used to irreparably damage innocent men's reputations. I find this conclusion both really problematic, and really unlikely.

Having said that, I can see why people might be worried about false allegations of sexual assault, but it frustrates me that this seems to be such a high priority when pro-active measures are taken to tackle sexual assault within the radical left. Because surely, by now, there is a better understanding of the kind of shit someone has to go through to make an allegation of sexual assault. False allegations of sexual assault are not common, for lots of reasons, and it would take a hell of a lot more than a small group of sympathetic radicals at a bookfair to change that.

Speaking out about domestic and sexual violence is really hard, and the majority of assaults go unreported – anyone who read any of the #ididnotreport hashtag on twitter4 a few months ago will have been moved by the sheer number of people having the same reasons for never telling anyone about sexual assault. Rapists and abusers are more often than not our friends, associates, even family members and lovers. Sexual assault can involve so much power-play and coercion the survivor can often be unclear about exactly what happened. A survivor will often blame themselves (after all, there's a whole society to back up the abuser when they tell you it's your fault, or that you enjoyed it, or that what they did was normal and acceptable, and that no one will believe you anyway). When people do disclose abuse, the pressure to self-censor, to not make a fuss, is fucking overwhelming. When you're trying to get through something that traumatic, the idea of having to constantly explain yourself, justify your actions and responses over and over again (but why didn't you punch him? Why did you sleep in the same bed afterwards? Why have you only said this a year later?), and to eventually face down your abuser and their supporters when they say you're full of shit and you can't prove anything anyway, that's enough to make you think very carefully indeed about speaking out.

And speaking out for what? If a survivor does go to the police, they're going to face all that shit and worse, plus the possible disapproval of comrades for getting the police involved in the first place. Worse still may be the police's response if you happen to be queer, trans, sex working, a drug user... Even if your case does get to court (maybe after an internal physical exam, after all your clothes have been taken in for DNA testing, after you've had to answer over again exactly how much you had to drink that night), the court is almost guaranteed to be a nightmare, your chances of securing a conviction are slim, and they'll probably be out in 2.5 years anyway. If you don't go to the police, there'll be another group of people who take that to mean you're making it up, and as far as I know in the UK, there are not many people in the radical left who are experienced or confident in facilitating accountability processes5 .

I could say a lot more about how stressful and ultimately unrewarding speaking out about sexual assault is, but I hope you get the point I'm trying to make. There are so many barriers to speaking out, the idea that one small group of people sending a letter asking someone not to come to a bookfair would “encourage loads of false allegations” seems so many, many steps away from the situation we find ourselves in right now, where we as a movement are desperately ill equipped to respond to disclosures of sexual assault. I can only try to reassure you that this hypothetical day where your comrades who are the most likely to suffer sexual violence are so numerous and confident and powerful and supported enough to do damage with false allegations even if we wanted to (we don't) are a long way off – we can't even deal with really straightforward cases of assault. No one wants to make false allegations of sexual assault.

Beyond safer spaces: what do we do when..?
Drawing up a safer spaces policy for your event, organisation, or space is easy enough6 , but deciding what happens when someone violates that agreement is clearly a controversial issue.

I don't think anyone has, yet, come up with a clear, easily replicated model for dealing with these issues in our communities and networks, and recent events over the last few years in the UK have lead to lots of positive, productive discussions about our collective response to sexual violence. This weekend I was at a national meeting for the Anarchist Federation, where both the women's and queer caucuses discussed a need to gather resources and think carefully about how these issues might be tackled in the future should they need to be; discussions about safe space and responses to it's violation have been going on in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London of late in response to various events including a gang rape at Occupy Glasgow.

We're all learning, none of us quite know what we're doing. Letters like the one sent out before the NYC Bookfair are not perfect, but if your main concern when you read it is that rape culture will be so powerfully overturned that women will not only start to speak out about sexual assault, but also make it up, your priorities are wrong. How many incidents of sexual assault and discriminatory behaviour within the radical left do you know about, and how many false allegations have you ever heard of?7 The real, immediate and fucking serious problem here is abuse. Maybe, just maybe, some false allegations might come about as a result of this. As I've said, I find this pretty unlikely, and I don't see how a letter like this would make dealing with false allegations any harder than it (hypothetically) would be already.

I'm not arguing for all responses to sexual violence and other oppressive and discriminatory behaviour to be beyond criticism or debate, but for those of us who live every day with the effects of past attacks on our bodies and autonomy, and continue to be in public spaces where we are confronted with our own abusers and those we know to have abused others, there's a certain urgency to this issue that (with all due respect) may not be felt by those who are not particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence, or those whose involvement in radical politics does not involve a lot of face to face interaction.

In my experience, the kind of uncritical, DO SOMETHING!!!1!! responses I hear most often are along the lines of “why don't we just kick his head in?”, “cut his fucking balls off”, to the milder “why don't you just go public and make sure no one works with him again?”, or combinations of the above. Tempting as these may be, they don't solve anything. And besides, no one's head ever gets kicked in, and attempts to excommunicate people never quite seem to come off either. Our responses remain inadequate and abuse continues, often unchallenged.

At some point, we as a movement will hopefully grow beyond a relatively small network of people who all know someone who knows someone, and we might not be able to deal with these issues through mutual contacts and informal channels as we currently (ineffectively) do, and we are going to need to find ways to do this. So why are we wasting time thinking up hypothetical ways that something like this might possibly maybe be abused and then throwing the whole thing out, instead of thinking about how we might use this model or improve it to deal with issues we have all dealt with in our communities?

No one wants to talk about sexual violence, and even fewer people would be willing to mentor an abuser through any kind of accountability process, restorative justice, or any of the other models of dealing with abuse beyond the castration/excommunication model. There will no doubt be people who already knew, or inferred from the above that I have survived several incidents of sexual violence and would perhaps politely suggest that maybe I am biased or not objective. But then you'll need to make your minds up: either you want women and queers and people of colour to take the lead on prioritising and tackling this stuff, in which case you'll have to accept that our lived experiences of violence and discrimination will of course inform our views, or you're going to have to get your hands dirty and engage in proactive discussions, which may well lead to you actively confronting and following up the people who perpetrate violence and discrimination8 .

  • 1although some people may wish to defend their right to make racist, sexist, homophobic etc jokes, because we all know they're a communist and don't really mean it. Luckily, Polite Ire has taken the trouble to explain exactly why that's bullshit.
  • 2People have been questioning the use of “safer” vs “safe” – afaik the reason “safer” is used is because even with all these policies and communist awareness and so on, discriminatory behaviour and violence continues to occur, and nowhere can quite be guaranteed as “safe”.
  • 3I originally quoted a post from the thread here from Steven. which was out of context as he points out below, so I've removed this to avoid confusion
  • 4many of the tweets have been collected here
  • 5if you are, PM me, I can think of a shitload of people who'd want to talk to you
  • 6although don't be surprised if you find people resisting this, dismissing the need for it, or ridiculing you for being activisty/a feminist/a liberal/any other damning anarcho insult, there's a whole lot of unlearning yet to be done
  • 7the woman in the movie Matewan doesn't count, she's a fictional character
  • 8Or preferably do both of these, actually

Comments

tastybrain

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by tastybrain on April 26, 2012

Great piece. The thread on the "kafkaesque" letter made me cringe. I tried to articulate in that thread why I thought people were missing the point and worrying too much about the potential for false accusations in such a system while basically ignoring the real abuse and violence that occurs within our movement, but I'm not sure how I did. Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree. The whole false allegation thing is a pretty ridiculous fear. The letter doesn't condemn or publicly call out the person. It also seems totally ridiculous to object to anonymity for the victim. How else are you going to ensure people's safety? I really hope that anarchists start to take this problem more seriously and deal with these problems instead of whining about "kafkaesque" letters and how perpetrators are "innocent until proven guilty".

Ramona

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ramona on April 26, 2012

Thank you! I really appreciated your posts on that thread.

As an aside, outside the bookfair while people were gathering from a demo, another friend of mine saw a guy she'd known to say "hi" to, and saw him confronted by some women for being at the bookfair when he'd been asked not to. He maintained that he was outside the bookfair, not at the bookfair, but left soon after. In my experience, having the confidence to confront someone in that kind of situation is actually really difficult, and I personally would find that a lot easier if I knew a formal request for that person not to be there to back me up would make it a whole lot easier. But it's interesting to see how the process worked in practice, at least in one instance.

Soapy

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Soapy on April 26, 2012

I must say I agree with this blog post and Tasty Brain. Let's say for a minute that there are false accusations that occur (although I've never heard of one), it seems to me that the amount of false accusations and actions taken falsely against accused activists are completely dwarfed in comparison with the amount of rapes and sexual assaults that occur in our community without repercussion. I think we can afford to trade a false accusation every once in a blue moon for some actual progress on creating safer spaces in our communities.

Of course, we all know about that time that Bash Back broke into someone's home and beat the guy with a baseball bat, but everyone knows that Bash Back is just completely bat shit insane.

lzbl

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by lzbl on April 26, 2012

YES. Good post.

I also think there needs to be more recognition of exactly how fucking difficult it is to even get to the point you can write the kind of letter above, let alone become some kind of crazy power-mad group purging all the men. We're a tiny scene. Even if the safer spaces group aren't perpetrators (I hope they aren't), it is likely that any wider group they are part of will include either perpetrators or their uber-defensive friends who think that the perpetrator 'isn't like that', is 'a nice guy' or perhaps 'just a bit pushy' (all quotes from men I know when confronted with the fact that one of their friends has done something they don't like and they don't really want to think about).

So this letter is not evidence of some kind of power play by women, but is more the first step and one that can only be achieved through hard work and struggle against, for instance, the attitudes seen on the 'kafkaesque' thread. Which, by the way, I did not respond to because I didn't feel like it was a particularly safe space for a woman let alone a survivor of sexual violence. Nice work boys.

NB WE DO NOT WANT TO PURGE ALL THE MEN WE WOULD JUST LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN A SPACE WITHOUT THE RISK OF SEEING THE PERSON WHO RAPED OR OTHERWISE ASSAULTED US, SOMETHING WE ALREADY HAVE TO TO LIVE WITH ON A DAILY BASIS WITHOUT WALKING REMINDERS, ALRIGHT?

Redwinged Blackbird

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Redwinged Blackbird on April 26, 2012

Good shit, Ramona! Thanks for taking the time to write this. I was pretty disturbed when reading that thread. It was enough to make me not want to come on here for a while.

Shorty

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Shorty on April 26, 2012

Well, since this seems to be the long awaited pro-active thread to discuss ways and processes of dealing with sexual assault. Let's get the ball rolling. In the original thread I linked to an article written by a really good friend of mine that's included in a zine called "It's Down to This", that's available here: http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2012/01/26/itsdowntothis.pdf

Maybe ppl can check it out and see what they think.

Also, I don't live in the UK but I'm sure there must be some people in the scene/movement or connected to it, working in Rape Crisis Centres and otherwise you can contact and will still have a radical approach and view to things.

I'll PM you in a while with regards footnote 4. I may have some contacts for you.

Rob Ray

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 26, 2012

**

Nate

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on April 26, 2012

hey Ramona, thanks for this post. I hadn't heard of the NYC letter before. I'm not around activist spaces or events much at this point. I think if I had just read the letter/policy of the NYC bookfair I would have had a kneejerk reaction against for the kinds of due process reasons you mention here. Your post has changed my mind, and I appreciate that very much.

Tart

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Tart on April 26, 2012

I agree with this very much- sexual violence is endemic in society and as such will occur everywhere- how we handle these situations is the test for our ability to think and organise and I have no problems with people taking this on. Mistakes will be made and it will be a torturous process but there is no simple clear cut solution for complex and messy human behaviour. Having a structured response will not be enough to eliminate interpersonal violence and intimidation but it does force the issues into the open and we can learn from the success and failures and unforeseen consequences of our interventions.

dohball

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by dohball on April 26, 2012

Ramona, thankyou for this thoughtful blog entry. It's energising to read.

Hopefully i can respond more usefully at later date but more immediately i felt i needed to respond to this:

@shorty

Well, since this seems to be the long awaited pro-active thread to discuss ways and processes of dealing with sexual assault.

It is hard for me to ignore that in the other thread you told me to

Start another thread, this is continuing the line that because people are criticising the letter (which was the topic of this thread) they're not concerned with or have no suggestions for responding to sexual assault. I'd be willing to engage and offer my own experiences of such processes.

In my observation the OP often starts a discussion that shifts and moves in a number of directions and takes a number of (sometimes disagreeing) perspectives. Quite often people (& i was not alone in doing so in that thread so i do not really understand why you singled me out) criticise the way that people are responding to the subject/s in hand and sometimes even say (which i didn't) that the whole thread should be put in the bin.
At no point did i say or do i believe that that

because people are criticising the letter ... they're not concerned with or have no suggestions for responding to sexual assault.

I don't see why my criticisms should lead to the expectation that i should initiate a thread

to discuss ways and processes of dealing with sexual assault

I also saw the letter as attempting to respond to a variety of types of abuse and harassment & didn't assume that it was solely about sexual assault.

Initiating a thread kind of obliges you to follow it and respond to the people who post on it. It obligates you to think about the subject of the thread. You know nothing about my life or current circumstances to presume that i would be willing, or able to do that. As it happened i just didn't feel like doing it, partly because the atmosphere and prevalent focus on the other thread (not peoples opinions in and of themselves) didn't inspire me with hope that starting another thread would be a very useful experience for me. As you have read a number of other people also felt unhappy with the way that thread generally went.

That said i appeciate your desire to start a constructive discussion and also the link which i read during my participation in the other thread. It is a thought provoking piece and i am still turning it over in my mind.

madashell

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by madashell on April 26, 2012

Rob Ray

The example I used was if, for example, you had a situation where a cliquey group was in charge of such a process and decided someone wasn't "the right sort" a non-specific charge of not feeling safe can cover practically anything, up to and including "they shouted at me in a meeting once." If the accused isn't given the basic information, there doesn't seem to be a way of stopping that from happening in the NYC bookfair method.

There is a safer spaces policy which outlines the grounds that somebody would not be welcome to attend the bookfair:

The NYC Anarchist Book Fair safer space policy is intended to make this event a supportive, nonthreatening environment. In order to do so, we will have an onsite mediation team and people who have perpetrated inter-personal violence, assault and/or harassment are not welcome at the book fair unless they are actively engaged in an accountability process and currently in compliance with all the terms and/or demands of that process (according to the facilitators, the survivor, and/or whomever's been designated to monitor the agreements emerging from the process).

There's ample evidence that this isn't a case of some unnaccountable clique who are empowered to tell anybody they feel like not to attend without good reason.

Rob Ray

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 26, 2012

**

jef costello

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by jef costello on April 26, 2012

Thanks for the post, I've re-read the thread as well. I think the focus on the idea of false accusations is not representative of the discussion as a whole but it is probably the most important problem (there was more of it than I remembered) and one I didn't really know how to argue against.
To my mind the problem wasn't that people would make false accusations of rape, it was that it was completely unclear who the safer spaces team were or who they were accountable to, if anyone. To be honest I never actually looked for that information so I've no idea if it was available, but it is good to know that the safer spaces team were available, although not sure what they'd actually do at the book fair.

To be honest I think the letter greys the water too much and the language reminds me of the language used when the council, the estate agent, the tax office, your boss does something to you leaving you powerless. I'm not sure how to fix this and obviously a lot of thought had gone into the letter but I thought that by openly suggesting that it might be nothing it undermined itself as well as recalling the nothing-speak of those in power.

Refused

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Refused on April 26, 2012

jef costello

To be honest I think the letter greys the water too much and the language reminds me of the language used when the council, the estate agent, the tax office, your boss does something to you leaving you powerless. I'm not sure how to fix this and obviously a lot of thought had gone into the letter but I thought that by openly suggesting that it might be nothing it undermined itself as well as recalling the nothing-speak of those in power.

I don't have a clue what this is supposed to tell us.

Otherwise I think the OP made a fantastic post. It's quite clear that "due process" and safe spaces are not mutually exclusive, from the poster's account of the NYC bookfair group (and I tbh I think the talk about shadowy cliques is paranoid nonsense).

Rob Ray

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 26, 2012

:(

I'm not talking "shadowy" anything, I'm talking about the very real phenomenon of small anarchist groups staffed primarily by self-selecting volunteers sometimes excluding people for bad reasons - hell libcom admins have made really controversial decisions enough times and that's completely open.

Right, that really is it, any more complaints and I'll just delete the post, I REALLY don't want this to degenerate into an argument about a related but not core issue.

In fact fuck it I'll do that anyway (I'll leave this one up as notice for future reference). As a request, can future posts not focus on my stuff but on the OP please.

Rob Ray

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 26, 2012

**

Shorty

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Shorty on April 26, 2012

@dohball

My sincerest apologies, and I didn't meant to single you out, it was obviously a heated thread with tempers frayed. Perhaps instead of placing the onus on you to start a thread, I should have said "If someone is willing to start that thread ..."

You know nothing about my life or current circumstances to presume that i would be willing, or able to do that.

There's no way of me knowing that, it's an internet discussion.

As it happened i just didn't feel like doing it, partly because the atmosphere and prevalent focus on the other thread (not peoples opinions in and of themselves) didn't inspire me with hope that starting another thread would be a very useful experience for me.

It's also for these reasons I didn't think trying to turn the thread into that discussion would be productive.

I'm still critical of the letter, it's lack of commitment and I think that "perhaps a hint at the kinds of processes the recipient may be able to engage in should they want to clear all of this up would be useful" is an understatement.

But if we can let bygones be bygones maybe we can contribute to some suggestions and experiences around processes of accountability, as currently and as Ramona points out "we might not be able to deal with these issues through mutual contacts and informal channels as we currently (ineffectively) do, and we are going to need to find ways to do this". (One of my worries is that in terms of trauma and (sexual) assault well meaning but ineffectual methods can sometimes do more harm than good, in terms of mental and emotional healing/care, amongst other things.)

I think it's important because most of the time what people call an "accountability process, restorative justice, or any of the other models of dealing with abuse" are not "beyond the excommunication model" but actually blurred into it to become one and the same.

Croy

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Croy on April 26, 2012

Really good article. I did try and read the thread but could not frankly be bothered after about a page.

dohball

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by dohball on April 26, 2012

@ shorty, many thanks for your apology and PM - totally appreciated.
yes definetly up letting bygones be bygones and getting back to more important subject at hand.
cheers, dohball

Nate

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on April 27, 2012

I was thinking about this post and wanted to come back and comment, I haven't got time right now to read all the subsequent discussion, sorry if I'm repeating a point already made. What I wanted to say was, let's say for the sake of argument that we were to concede the point, that this policy might be subject to abuse (ie, false accusations might happen). Even then, I think the policy is better than not having it. No policy = abusers present and make survivors and their loved ons uncomfortable or absent (all the crap that goes on now that Ramona talks about). Policy that's occasionally abused = some people are unfairly not allowed to attend the bookfair, but survivors have recourse in order to safely be able to attend the bookfair. That is to say, I think that this policy even if abused would be better than its absence.

I may be overthinking this and I'm not trying to suggest that any actual claims made have been false, just trying to take on the sort of "we should have due process" objection. (Also wanted to say, the post talks about how people say "let's beat up the abuser" but no one actually does so - actually abusers do sometimes get beaten up in anarchist milieus for this, at least in the US, there was an incident of that in New York's insurrectionary milieu in recent memory. That's niether here nor there for the post but I thought it was worth mentioning.)

Steven.

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 27, 2012

Just to say that I agree with most of the points Ramona makes in this post. However, I think it's a bit out of order to quote my comment (“if you say you have a principle of believing the accuser by default, and giving them anonymity, then that will encourage loads of false allegations.” ) in a post about sexual assault, therefore implying my comments were about sexual assaults, whereas they weren't in the slightest - my point was about allegations made by anarchists about other anarchists in general. Many of which are outright false or grossly distorted, hence us not permitting them on libcom.

About sexual assaults specifically I recognise that the much bigger problem is nonreporting rather than false reporting, and would never have said anything otherwise.

To be honest, seeing that the "safer spaces policy" was actually about sexual harassment, assault makes me feel much happier with the letter in general, as this wasn't clear initially and seeing how stupid so many American politicos are I wouldn't have been surprised if it was about a clique that didn't want people who had disagreed with them in a meeting to turn up.

Steven.

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 27, 2012

Soapy

I must say I agree with this blog post and Tasty Brain. Let's say for a minute that there are false accusations that occur (although I've never heard of one), it seems to me that the amount of false accusations and actions taken falsely against accused activists are completely dwarfed in comparison with the amount of rapes and sexual assaults that occur in our community without repercussion. I think we can afford to trade a false accusation every once in a blue moon for some actual progress on creating safer spaces in our communities.

Of course, we all know about that time that Bash Back broke into someone's home and beat the guy with a baseball bat, but everyone knows that Bash Back is just completely bat shit insane.

yeah, I agree with this post as well.

Which is why my comment quoted above wasn't about false sexual assault allegations (which I've never heard of in the UK) but was about allegations in general (of which there are lots about all sorts of things)

Ramona

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ramona on April 27, 2012

Steven., point noted, I've now edited the quote out of the original article and added a footnote (I love footnotes) explaining.

To clarify, I was not intending to pick out particular responses or users and misread the context of the quote I used, sorry. [/Hari]

Some really interesting responses that I'll get back to soon, am away atm.

Steven.

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 27, 2012

Cheers Ramona

posi

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by posi on April 27, 2012

I agree, in general, that people talk nonsense about other people all the time. But do people talk nonsense about people, then ask that they be excluded from events? We pretty much have a similar process for the London Bookfair, though AFAIK people are told personally they aren't welcome rather than being sent a letter. Is there any known incident of someone making a malicious complaint about a trivial incident to the organisers?

georgestapleton

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by georgestapleton on April 30, 2012

posi

Is there any known incident of someone making a malicious complaint about a trivial incident to the organisers?

Well I think a lot of people on this site would think the complaint about Aufheben being at the bookfair last year was "a malicious complaint about a trivial incident".

---

I like Ramona's post and wrote a reply to it but it got a bit out of control. It was heading to 1,000 words and I still hadn't said everything I wanted to say. So I might work on it a bit more and put it up as a blog post. Plus I want to protect the identity of some of the people in the cases I discuss so I might not put it up at all.

But I just want to say two things.

1. I think on the question of false accusations, innocence, guilt and process. A big problem is that, from my experience, the only time a collective process happens is when people have already decided that someone is guilty. This is problematic in three ways. (a) The obvious one - what if someone accused in a process isn't guilty? It's problematic to just assume guilt at the start of a process. But, what happens when it isn't decided that someone is guilty? Then from my experience no process happens. Which brings me to the other two big problems. (b) People who have had things happen to them don't get it dealt with. (c) People who have been accused of things don't get it dealt with so the accusation hangs over them.

2. I really just want to echo Tart's post. I think it sums up my feelings on this reasonably well:

I agree with this very much- sexual violence is endemic in society and as such will occur everywhere- how we handle these situations is the test for our ability to think and organise and I have no problems with people taking this on. Mistakes will be made and it will be a torturous process but there is no simple clear cut solution for complex and messy human behaviour. Having a structured response will not be enough to eliminate interpersonal violence and intimidation but it does force the issues into the open and we can learn from the success and failures and unforeseen consequences of our interventions.

radicalgraffiti

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on April 27, 2012

This has been reposted on anarchistnews.org http://anarchistnews.org/content/safer-spaces-false-allegations-and-nyc-anarchist-bookfair

Joseph Kay

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 27, 2012

If there's one thing to be said for anarchistnews, it makes libcom look good.

BanjoRed91

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by BanjoRed91 on April 27, 2012

People on anarchistnews calling this "left-wing fascism" and saying "COINTELPRO subtext is written all over it" make me cringe at some of the people in the world who call themselves anarchists.

posi

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by posi on April 27, 2012

georgestapleton

Well I think a lot of people on this site would think the complaint about Aufheben being at the bookfair last year was "a malicious complaint about a trivial incident".

Totes diff. obv. Public political dispute.

Black Badger

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Black Badger on April 27, 2012

People on anarchistnews calling this "left-wing fascism" and saying "COINTELPRO subtext is written all over it" make me cringe at some of the people in the world who call themselves anarchists.

Part of the reason for that is anonymous posting. There are a million and one assholes who post there (and not just there!) who are obviously not anarchists. There are about three or four actual content-filled comments worth reading and possibly responding to, but, as is the case with every comment section after an article, you have to plod your way through a load of dross to find them. I usually just bypass anything with fewer than three sentences.

Arbeiten

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on April 28, 2012

radicalgraffiti

This has been reposted on anarchistnews.org http://anarchistnews.org/content/safer-spaces-false-allegations-and-nyc-anarchist-bookfair

What an utter cluster fuck. I wouldn't expect any less from Anarchist News.....

cantdocartwheels

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on April 28, 2012

Good blog post ramona.

And yeah sure we can all point fingers at anarchist news because its an easy target with its open posting policy but i am still absolutely disgusted by a lot of the behaviour on that original thread.

Emma2012

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Emma2012 on April 29, 2012

I've been thinking a lot lately about these kind of processes and I do sort of agree with the "just do something" sentiment. I've been sexually harassed and assaulted by other activists and not once was the process afterwards (if there was one) even close to satisfactory. I've also witnessed many female friends being victimized and often ending up having to leave organizations themselves because it was the only way to get distance from the perpetrator.

However, I do think that false allegations could be a real problem. The incidence is incredibly low. But from what statistics I've seen it's similar to false reporting of any other crime (which is also incredibly low), this wasn't including cases that were found "not guilty" but only proven false allegations.

I personally have seen two women make false allegations of domestic violence against partners. I know this because I was living with them and witnessed the incidents involved and later heard them telling versions of the stories which were either vastly exaggerated or completely false. In one case I think it was a sort of revenge after a break-up and in the other I think the woman had psychological problems. I've also seen men do it but it was generally in the context of trying to cover up there own violence which I think falls into a whole different category.

I knew one women who made rape allegations against several men over the time I knew her. I originally believed her and went to a lot of effort to support her in every way I could. However it eventually became apparent that she was actually having some kind of psychotic episode as her allegations became more and more extreme and eventually involving supernatural elements. I don't know if some of the accusations were true or if they were all false. But a number of them were clearly complete delusions.

All these women were/are my friends. I had every reason to believe them. So when I say that I believe the allegations to be false it's not without a lot of thought and 100% certainty.

And I do think that cliques are a real issue. A friend of mine was accused of basically being a rapist by such a clique because he was going out with someone they didn't want him to (also a friend). His supposed victim was going out with him quite willingly and was extremely angry about the accusations. But despite this it kept going until he was driven out of the group.

I do realise this is just four incidents and pales in comparison with the number of real assaults and harassment I've witnessed/heard about. And maybe it's unusual to have witnessed so many false claims, but I don't think so.

Also I am concerned that if it is known that there is a process for barring people from various events that just involves writing a letter to the organizers, and where there is no right of reply, then it would be very easy for the state to abuse this.

petey

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by petey on April 29, 2012

two comments on emma's thoughtful post:

Emma2012

I do realise this is just four incidents and pales in comparison with the number of real assaults and harassment I've witnessed/heard about. And maybe it's unusual to have witnessed so many false claims, but I don't think so.

1: the number of assaults certainly exceeds the number of false accusations. but that is irrelevant to the reality of the victimization of people falsely accused. too many posts in these two threads suggest that since the number of false accusations is smaller, they can be ignored, as if victims of a certain type should just suck it up.

2: no, it's not unusual to have witnessed a number of false claims.

it goes without saying that no victim of sexual abuse should ever have live with the torment of seeing the attacker left unaccountable anywhere, but especially in a milieu which is working to minimize differences in social power.

Nate

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on May 1, 2012

Petey, I don't think anyone is saying false accusations should be ignored. I've had a loved one falsely accused of assault by an abusive partner, to the police, resulting in massive stress and expense. That's a huge problem and not something to pretend is acceptable. I do think that "you can't come to the anarchist book fair" is really, really mild as these things go. If the safer space policy was a "kick the ass of whoever is reported" I wouldn't support it, but all it says is "you can't come to this short event."

Personally if the choice is between the current arrangement where abusers get to push victims and survivors our, or a situation where some false accusations happen but more survivors can attend, I think that's an acceptable though unpleasant tradeoff. I'd say that's true even if there were equal numbers of people affected either way (as in, if there was one false accusation made for every survivor who could more comfortably attend), because in this case I think the punishment (unable to attend anarchist bookfair) is milder than having to deal with a former abuser. And I think it's really unlikely that there would be this kind of one-for-one frequency. False accusations happen, but less frequently than assault and harrassment do.

Not really related but I'm unconvinced that anarchists can actually do meaningful accountability processes to handle this stuff. Part of what I like about this safer space policy is that it's just trying to make survivors comfortable and welcome and isn't trying to handle everything else to do with this stuff. At least some of this (the aftereffects of abuse and assault, let alone meaningfully working with abusers in a restorative way) seems to me way, way beyond what anarchists are able to happen. We might as well try to do amateur surgery, this stuff is about as complex as that in my opinion, and should be treated with similar level of seriousness.

smidge

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by smidge on May 2, 2012

Ramona - thanks for the post. Really good, and I want to express some of kind of respect for you being open about being a victim too. I think thats really impressive.

smidge

11 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by smidge on May 2, 2012

I think I wrote that inadequately but I hope you get what I mean.

happychaos

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by happychaos on September 6, 2012

Does anyone have a link to libertarian workshops/training on dealing with abuse, processes for dealing with it, restorative justice, best practices etc. I would really appreciate any links. Thanks heaps.

Simon

Ramona

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ramona on September 6, 2012

Hey simono,

There's some really good resources and links here. Support New York facilitate accountability processes, the New York based Coalition for Safer Spaces have some good stuff. Philly's Pissed have a lot of really good resources, although they're no longer active and direct people instead to Philly Survivor Support Collective. I'm sure any of these groups would be happy to talk to you further about any other questions or resources, I hope that's helpful!

Leo

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Leo on September 19, 2012

The main line of criticism seemed to me to be that the letter

Doesn't detail allegations and could be confusing for the recipient
Doesn't give the recipient a right to reply or provide their side of the story
By providing anonymity to the person who requested the recipient be asked not to attend the bookfair, this letter paves the way for abuses of power and a slew of false allegations.

While all these are true, I think my biggest criticism of trying to handle a situation like this is that it is the sort of thing which is going to be ineffective.

Why? Because someone who reads this letter and decides not to attend a meeting as such is more likely to be someone more to the innocent side of the gray area, at least that is. I do understand that these people would be a small minority, and I imagine most who received this letter attended anyways. And those who do attend the meeting despite this letter would almost universally be the ones who should be out.

Either someone is banned or not. Half measures never work. And a sexual offender or rapist who gets this letter isn't going to be deterred, because it asks them not to come but implies that there won't be any real consequences if they do. Why? Because, as difficult as it might be to accept this, sexual offenders and rapists are human beings too, with their psychologies and pschological justifications. Especially in radical communities, most probably a majority of them don't see themselves as sexual offenders or rapists, and it is not difficult for them to justify theirr actions, with the whole predominant patriarchal mentality.

The fact that the writer of the original post witnessed a sexual assult and the fact that this letter was produced in the bookfair itself, creating a dispute, also mentioned in the original post, clearly demonstrates this in my opinion.

So what is the alternative?

In my experience, the kind of uncritical, DO SOMETHING!!!1!! responses I hear most often are along the lines of “why don't we just kick his head in?”, “cut his fucking balls off”, to the milder “why don't you just go public and make sure no one works with him again?”, or combinations of the above. Tempting as these may be, they don't solve anything. And besides, no one's head ever gets kicked in, and attempts to excommunicate people never quite seem to come off either. Our responses remain inadequate and abuse continues, often unchallenged.

This may well be true in the US - it certainly isn't true to the same extent in Turkey. An extreme example is the PKK, who has banned its male and female members from entering any sexual or romantic relationship, to the point of punishing them for "the adultry of the eye", in other words looking at each other - there's always been rumors from former members that it's a very different story for the leaders . Evidently, most of the left has no such attitude, but on the level of membership, men who do sexually assult or rape women in these groups do in an overwhelming majority of the cases, at least get kicked out. Of course, patriarchal attitudes are extremely strong - probably a lot stronger than the American radical millieu when it comes to language and mentality. Again, obviously all this is a result of Stalinist/Trotskyist, top to bottom disciplinary practices, which tends to bend substantially when it comes to the leaders.

I don't think kicking them in the head would solve anything either and attempts to. But the fact is that deterrance is effective. I'd say a clear ban of known offenders, a serious warning about anyone who intends to sexually or physically assult anyone and an active work towards being able to identify and kick them out in such events would be a better way to deal the situation.