Friday, June 22, 2012

The missing stair.

Flickr user BadSwan
Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it?  Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it?  "Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there's a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings.  But it's okay because we all just remember to jump over it."

Some people are like that missing stair.

When I posted about a rapist in a community I belonged to, although I gave almost no details about the guy except "he's a rapist," I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying "oh, you must mean X."  Everyone knew who he was!  Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant.  The reaction wasn't "there's a rapist among us!?!" but "oh hey, I bet you're talking about our local rapist."  Several of them expressed regret that I hadn't been warned about him beforehand, because they tried to discreetly tell new people about this guy.  Others talked about how they tried to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on him at parties, because he was fine so long as someone remembered to assign him a Rape Babysitter.

People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his "special requirements," that they didn't feel like there was an urgent problem in their community.  They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist and had done other unethical sexual things as well.

I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair.  Like something you're so used to working around, you never stop to ask "what if we actually fixed this?"  Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that's the fault of whoever didn't apply the workarounds correctly.

"Fixing" doesn't always mean throwing someone out. (Although in the case of sex groups I think people are way too timid about that.  Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right.)  Sometimes a person can be "fixed" by talking with them bluntly about their behavior, giving them specific rules to follow, or putting them on notice that they have one strike left.  You don't always have to get rid of "missing stair" people, but you do have to work with the person, not around them.



This isn't just about sex.  Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn't do their job, but everyone's grown accustomed to picking up their slack.  A lot of social groups and families have that one person.  The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to.  (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.)  The person you don't bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants.  The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they're perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry.

I know not all these people can be fixed, and sometimes they can't be escaped either.  But the least you can do is recognize them, and that they are the problem.  Stop thinking that your inability to accomodate them is the problem.



This isn't just about individuals, either.  Everyone who says "I don't want to be a victim-blamer, but girls should know frat parties aren't safe places" is treating rape culture like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "it's an ugly fact, but only women who don't make trouble make it in this business" is treating sexual harassment like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are," and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere.

Fixing staircases is a long and difficult and uncertain process.  But let's at least stop blaming each other for not jumping well enough.

99 comments:

  1. I was just thinking about your consent culture, or the lack thereof in this sad, sorry article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marisa-bennett/fifty-shades-of-grey-sex-tips_b_1606910.html#s1111070&title=The_Barehanded_Benchmark

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    1. Yeah, my minimum standard for sex advice is that it should not put you in a position where if you do it and they don't like it, you've already committed sexual assault.

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    2. Ugh, they also recommend tying up your partner with whatever happens to be lying around - scarves, belts, 'silk neck ties' ... Because heaven forbid you actually buy proper rope and plan this thing beforehand. It must appear to be spontaneous! Some of those things can be pretty bad, circulation wise, especially if you don't know what the hell you're doing...

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    3. I've been MSTing that POS for eleven goddamn chapters now! I even forged through a really boringly poorly written BDSM "contract" for eleven goddamn pages.

      ELEVEN.

      The things I do for my audience. And for my coping mechanisms.

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    4. Do you have a link to that sporking, please? I enjoy sporkings of terrible books, and it looks like 50 Shades of Shit No is my latest 'literary' rage-target.

      (I would get it out of the library, but I'm going to get a reputation for reading kink-erotica, I'll get it for reading good kink-erotica.)

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  2. "A lot of social groups and families have that one person. The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to. (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.) The person you don't bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants. The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they're perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry."

    I really needed to hear that part in particular/this whole thing today. Thanks.

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  3. "Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right."

    Huh. I think you may have just diagnosed (by analogy) the ongoing atheist/skeptic backlash against harassment policies. That was awesome to read, and thank you.

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    1. There are parallels between harassment at skeptic events and things Cliff has said about rape in the BDSM scene. Thee's an attitude of "that doesn't happen here" which all too easily turns into "anyone claiming it does happen here, including saying it happened to them, is mistaken" or "is trying to cause trouble" or "is just one of those mundanes who doesn't understand us" or "is trying to apply normal standards to our proudly abnormal group."

      Typing that, I wonder if there's a similar dynamic behind the overt presence of Nazis in the skinhead community.

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    2. Hershele - I think there's also an element of "our group has to protect its reputation against mainstream slander; the mainstream will think we're all godless barbarians/sick perverts if the news gets out that there's rape in our group!"

      Which is a complicated issue because it's not a totally unfounded fear. People do form negative stereotypes about groups when they hear about sexual abuse in those groups. But even though that's a bad thing, it's still not nearly as bad as covering up sexual abuse.

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    3. That's what I was trying to get at with "one of the mundanes": the genuine problem of a constant barrage from outsiders of "you're all rapists" somewhat drowns out people in the scene saying "Sam raped me after Foobfest." And the (not wholly unreasonable) defensive response to the first gets quite comfortably—but unreasonably—transferred to the second.

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    4. reminds me of those islands where systematic, almost socially structured rape was uncovered. And there was a huge appeal against the men (most of them) being convicted, because of the effect on the community of removing them - it was a fishing community, and they'd have had have starved, was the argument.

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    5. "People do form negative stereotypes about groups when they hear about sexual abuse in those groups. But even though that's a bad thing, it's still not nearly as bad as covering up sexual abuse."

      Not least because, when someone in the community finally blows the whistle, the community will still suffer from negative stereotyping, only now with added proof that it *does* actually harbor and protect rapists. Ask the Catholic church how that strategy is playing out for them.

      Also there's the whole ethically/morally reprehensible act of covering up abuse thing....

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  4. "Everyone who says "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are," and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere."

    My dad actually sat me down one day when I was about 10-ish and told me "You're a woman, you are going to have to work twice as hard in this world to get half as much. It's not fair, and I don't like it. It may change one day, but until it does, you need to realize what you are up against."

    Gave the same speech to my brothers about being half black (which I'm not, for anyone who may be confused why I didn't get that speech, too).

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    1. I can sort of understand that in terms of "here are your sadly necessary survival skills," but I think it should always be coupled with "here are your sadly necessary survival skills until we beat this thing."

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    2. I realized the other day that me and my brother took that same speech entirely differently. I took it as a call to change the status quo, my brother took it as "just work hard within the system and you'll get what you want."

      It kinda creeps me out. Talk about getting two entirely different results. I realized this as my brother went on a rage on FB about how people need to quit bitching and yelling and protesting for things that he earns by being in the military. My head nearly exploded.

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  5. The danger is getting habituated to the broken stair. Because if you're habituated to the broken stair, and start thinking "That's just normal", then you stop asking yourself "Okay, I couldn't fix the problem when it first cropped up, but can I fix it now? Or move to somewhere less broken?" You stop thinking that stepping around the broken stair is difficult or weird, and forget how easy it is for a new person to not notice or not have the skills to get around it. Maybe you even start to enjoy that funny little hop you take, and take pleasure in how skilled you are at avoiding the problem.

    Once that kind of thinking becomes ingrained, it becomes easy to lose sight of the difference between warning someone "Watch out for that broken stairs" and standing over them after they broke their leg going "You should have been more careful! How could you not notice that broken stair? What's wrong with you?"

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  6. I will admit sometimes I can't seem to figure out why the world works the way it does. I will never get why people constantly defend others whose actions suck, from a variety of points of view and everyone knows it but have absolutely no problem whatsoever raising hell about anyone actually calling the guilty parties on their wrongdoings. Shouldn't it work both ways, if you're lenient about a criminal, a slacker or a jerk, you should also be lenient (if not supportive) towards one who did nothing more than become frustrated against an obvious injustice? Are people so desperate to defend their narrow, broken little ways that they feel threatened to such an extent by those who try to fix the step everyone knows is broken?

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    1. In short, yes. People are so desperate to defend and cling to their way of life that anyone who questions it ends up getting treated like the problem no matter how important the actual issue may be.

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    2. Oh! What a relief it is to read yours and wally2069's comment! This resonates so much with me. It affects my interactions with other people almost constantly. I often feel that sadness of knowing that I'm aware of an injustice but feeling that no one wants me to voice it, they don't want to hear it or talk it out, because that might bum them out, or be in danger of 'being negative'.. and so I try to censor myself.. to make myself more palatable for general consumption. I guess I just have to save it up for the times when it can be heard, and just hope that gradually people's eyes will open. They do, eventually, but it's painful whilst you're waiting.

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    3. "Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right."

      I know of scenes where, when people have tried to bring up the issue with others, they have been called the trouble maker, and it is them that stop getting "invited to the parties". I myself have walked away from a community for this reason. It made me pretty sad and angry.

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    4. So right there with you. I have been that person as well, the one who spoke up and got dumped because it was easier to do that then confront and deal with the abusive jerk they were all kind of afraid of. It eventually cause me to walk away from that community and I am still struggling with the resulting hurt, anger and betrayal of that.

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  7. THEY ASSIGNED HIM A RAPE BABY SITTER?!

    sorry. i did read the entire post - it was ace - but I can't quite move past that one thing. My eyebrows still haven't come down from my hair line in fact

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    1. I utterly fail to see why inviting the guy and assigning someone to watch him and make sure he doesn't rape anyone is preferable to not inviting him, other than GSF1.

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    2. It was sort of an informal thing. It wasn't a "this is your babysitter, X, don't stray too far from her," but people saying to themselves and their friends "while X is at the party I'm going to try to keep an eye on him."

      Formally assigning babysitting duties would have required way too much honesty about what they're dealing with.

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    3. That's the way I read it: They were able to do it without alarms going off because they didn't call it that. I bet almost no one talked about it, either. I bet one to three people just noticed that this guy was a problem, and took it upon themselves to keep an eye on him. As long as they were focused on that narrow question ("There's a guy at this party who's going too far, should I do something or look the other way?") their solution looked reasonable. Nobody was questioning that dichotomy, thinking "There's a guy at this party who's going too far, should we tolerate that or get rid of him?"

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    4. yes, that's what I assumed actually, that it was an informal 'under the carpet' thing that the guy wasn't informed about

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    5. I agree with Don. I think that sometimes people are just afraid of confrontation and want to avoid it at almost ANY cost(and that's clearly what's going on when somebody points at a problem and people get pissed off with the pointer), but sometimes it's that people fail to see what their options are. If you know that your options are a)stop inviting the rapist to parties, b) assign a rape baby-sitter, and c) let him keep raping, at least some people would pick a) as the obvious choice. But you might not even have thought about the possibility of excluding somebody from the group, you just think "this guy is a problem, should I look the other way or do something", and then "doing something", i e babysit, seems right.

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    6. People hesitate to step forward and lead the whole group with what feels like a unilateral decision. The entire group may or may not follow; it depends on how much social power the person taking the lead has. People with social power may not realize they have it, or they may believe that exercising social power is inherently bad. So everyone waits for someone else to take the lead, and in the meantime people with very valid concerns but insufficient confidence/ability to lead, seek individual solutions rather than group solutions.

      Sometimes all it takes is for one person to speak up, at which point everyone else breathes a sigh of relief and follows their lead. Other times, someone will speak up and they're not a person with social power, or they are less than adroit, and the group WON'T fall in line behind them. Do you dare take the risk? Look what happened to so-and-so! Leading is too scary, but the problem is real, so the individual solutions continue.

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    7. There have been pretty good studies done on this in emergency situations. If you keel over in front of one person, there's a pretty good chance she'll dial 911 and try to give you aid.

      If you keel over in a crowd, unless some people have been designated to respond, there's often a longer delay while all the bystanders look around to see who's going to step up and take care of this emergency.

      This is why CPR classes teach you to direct other people to call for help . . . because it honestly might not happen quickly if no one steps forward and takes that lead.

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    8. A guy in my social circle who had a reputation for being a bit awkward creepy, but probably pretty harmless, sexually assaulted me twice when I was 20. He sort of drifted out of the social scene not long afterwards and after a year or so I stopped feeling guilty and embarrassed and realised that I had actually been sexually assaulted, not just "let myself" be coaxed into a regrettable sexual encounter, but by that stage he wasn't around so it was fine. I started telling people about what had happened, at first leaving his name out of things for fear of people telling me not to be mean to him, but eventually it became reasonably common knowledge that this specific guy had assaulted me, and had probably assaulted other women in and around the social group, and had definitely been creepy to a lot more.

      I was recently at a semi-public event (essentially a con, but for musicians; the social group I'm talking about is a musical group) where that guy turned up after nearly six years of not being in contact with anyone from the group. The con involved a lot of people who didn't know this guy at all, and some who knew him and knew that he'd assaulted me. There were about 200 people there, though, so it wouldn't have been feasible to spread the word that he was a rapist without standing up and making an announcement or something, which seemed inappropriate. I definitely found myself keeping an eye on - or rape babysitting - him during the week, especially if I saw him talking to women who I knew hadn't met him before or heard about what he did to me. I was worried about sounding like a grudge-holding bitch if I started spreading it around that he was a rapist (and truth be told, he did seem both less sleazy and more isolated this time around). But I didn't want to run the risk of anyone else ending up in the position I had been years previously.

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  8. I have to share my personal experience on this. It's just too damn close to home.

    I was raped at a party by a guy that either put something in my drink, or else simply undressed me and started having sex with me after I'd gone to bed alone. The next day was a veritable walk of shame getting my stuff together, trying to not freak out, and then dealing with jokes from the guys in the group that assumed it was consensual (I was too shook up to convey otherwise, beyond freaking out about STDs). I'll never forget what he said to me:

    "You should be ashamed of yourself--you slept with the rapist of the group."

    Sure, it was my problem, and of course you should just assume I wanted it...

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    1. They knew he was a rapist and they still said that to you?

      (Also, I'm still boggling at how they could say "the rapist of the group" like it no longer even occurred to them that one could have a group of friends that didn't include a known rapist.)

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    2. ...I feel obligated to apologize for the human race at this point. Wow. :-(

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    3. They don't think it was really, you know, RAPE rape. That's an affectionate nickname, not an accusation of rape. They don't really think he's a rapist, just maybe a little sketchy in that vast gray area they see between consensual sex and rape.

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    4. ARGH yes, I found myself in exactly the same position and it's clear that I'm seen as the problem. The uptight one who won't move on. He's got a history of skeeving and attempted/successful assaults and yeah, he's just treated like he's fucking quirky.

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  9. As a dear friend of mine would say, oh my stars, Cliff. You've hit the nail smack dab in the centre of its camouflaged head. I do believe this is one of your very best posts, especially of the shorter sort.

    As always, complacency is one of our largest and most indefatiguable enemies. And when combined with the human habit, of, well, habit-forming, it can be even harder to spot, let alone defeat.

    I will be sharing this important piece generously. Thank you for writing it.

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  10. Danielle CinnamonJune 23, 2012 at 2:25 AM

    Hey, i don't think i've ever commented and i've been reading for awhile. This post is one of those posts of yours that i finish reading and thing to myself, that's why i read this blog. Great metaphor, great insight, great post.

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  11. When I first read your broken stair metaphor (in a comment at Captain Awkward's place?), I was so fucken excited!!! It really is brilliant!!

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  12. I've been part of a group that did the babysitter thing in a non-sexual context. We had people who wouldn't follow basic rules of safety and courtesy, so we assigned someone to watch them at every event. It wasn't a tacit "I'm going to do this"--it was explicit "You are X's Guardian this event."

    On the one hand, that let the person who was in the process of having a schizophrenic break stay with us about six months longer than she otherwise could have, and it let the developmentally disabled person stay in the group (he had a pleasant personality but couldn't be trusted not to kick over candles and yank peoples' arms while dancing).

    On the other hand, it drained our energy and made the gatherings feel less safe. And one time we were handling a person via babysitting who wasn't just awkward and annoying but turned out to be a predator.

    On the balance, I think we weren't always wrong to do it, but we should have been much more hard-headed about the cost/benefit analysis each time. And I think we would definitely have been wrong to do it by habit.

    The worst "do it by habit" I've seen was at a church some friends of mine were in. They had a guy who was not safe to be around children. They had made a tacit rule "Sunday school leaders won't let this guy be around children." But it was *tacit*. People left and new people arrived, and eventually no one remembered why, and they stopped watching out for him. After all, no one had ever written it down or made a fuss.

    Luckily when he made his move the target was a grown woman who made an enormous fuss and got him asked to leave. It could so easily have been much worse. My friends were horrified to find out that for years the church had just been quietly keeping this guy away from kids and *not telling anyone*.

    Very much like Sandusky, actually: they told him not to bring his child victims to the University....

    It's easier in some ways to accept that bad people suck. It's hard when you're reminded that all too often good people suck too.

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    1. "Luckily when he made his move the target was a grown woman..."

      As far as you know. I hope you're right. The only thing you can be sure of is that he did not succeed with THAT PERSON. How many children did not report?

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    2. I think this can be even more of a problem in groups like churches, part of whose mission is generally to "invite in the broken and fix them". How long do you let somebody hang around, hoping your message gets through, before you dismiss them as a predator taking advantage of your hospitality?

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    3. Rosie, you've pretty much exactly described what happens with sexual predators in Alcoholics Anonymous (at least in my experience). There was a guy in AA in Vermont who was known to have a history of creeping on teenage girls, but he was ~a sick and suffering alcoholic~ like the rest of us, and we couldn't POSSIBLY ask him to leave his support system, right? Maybe if he stayed and worked his program he'd get better and stop being a creep! (For the record, I was not OK with this, but I was a newcomer and didn't really know what to do about it)

      AA, by the way, is a subculture where sexual abuse is so common they have their own name for it (they call it "the 13th step"). And yet they apparently can't be bothered to do anything about it. One of many reasons I'm no longer in the program...

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    4. This comment reflects the problem with these discussions of excluding a Problem Person from a social group or gathering. Exclusion from one group doesn't stop the person from being a problem to the rest of society.

      Furthermore, if the exclusion is not honestly explained, the Problem Person is likely to blame something other than their Problem for the exclusion. The exclusion(s) will make the person feel more lonely. Either of these factors could lead the person to *increase* their Problem behaviour.

      So I think a better response is: If a Problem is illegal behaviour, report it to the police. If it's legal but unacceptable (or the police would put the group at risk), explain the Problem bluntly to the person. Give them warnings or "babysitters" or other supports, for a defined period, in hopes that they can learn to enjoy the group in acceptable ways. And if not, ask them to leave the community, expressing that they should not do the Problem behaviour elsewhere, but they are otherwise a good human being.

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    5. What if the Problem is, for instance, sexual abuse, and there's enough evidence to lead the group members to strongly believe it's true, but there isn't enough evidence to get the police to take the accusation seriously? What if they've gone to the police and been ignored? What if the victim isn't willing to make an official accusation for whatever reason (possibly even because they think it'd seriously endanger their safety), and the other people in the group can't get charges filed without the victim's participation? Do you let it go and hope that the next time they offend they do so with more evidence? Do you assign the Rape Babysitter and hope you can watch carefully enough?

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    6. What Anonymous said. It's certainly one thing to bluntly tell somebody "this behavior is not acceptable", and if the behavior is not egregious (say, if it's just social awkwardness) then you can consider letting the person remain in the group, but the idea of a "babysitter" for an adult is just...wow.

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  13. "ken in sc," your comments have been removed for trolling.

    In the very small chance that you're not, you should know that when a woman says no to sex and a guy keeps going, that is rape. It is not her decision. She decided to say "no" and he decided to keep going--the fact that she didn't then escalate to physically resisting (and maybe getting hurt or killed for it) does not mean she wanted sex.

    But I think you're trolling. I think you get some kind of sick joy out of this because you live in a world where rape isn't real to you, so the fact that people get angry about it is just funny or whatever the fuck. I'd ask you to reconsider that but I think you're probably way too dumb.

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  14. Thank you for this article. It's hard to admit that people weren't who you wished they were. For me the 'broken stair' is admitting that my parents weren't as loving and supportive as they presented themselves to be. It's taken me time to admit that I'm much better with little to no contact with them and that I'll never have the healthy relationship other people have with theirs.

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    1. It can be very difficult when the issue is your parents or a parent or even family considering that there seems to be a very strong perception still that parents are as a rule loving, caring, kind, etc. and that anyone who doesn't have a good relationship with them is just over reacting or making a fuss. This is especially true when the abuse isn't overtly physical or sexual. It can lead to an environment where survivors feel very isolate and alone.

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  15. I was at an age play party, when a man came up to me and started talking to me in a way that seemed different than usual and kind of creepy. We didn't talk long, because my husband (who is *never* jealous or territorial about me) came over and made it clear that I was with him. Later my husband told me this guy was a known creep and someone else had left the party because she was so uncomfortable with him being there; he had indeed come over to protect me.

    I thought the fact that someone had to leave an expensive party was pretty fucked up at the time, and now, being made more aware of all the ramifications of what happened, I'm even angrier about how this guy was enabled.

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  16. I have witnessed this dynamic in many places as well, and I'm glad you gave us such a great metaphor as well as the extension to family, workplace, friends, etc. A big contributor to complacency and habituation is that many of us avoid confrontation at any cost, and that cost is indeed high. To address the rapist or the mooch or the slacker means that we have to stir the pot, cause a fuss, provoke an intense conversation, or deal with the backlash...i.e., we have to DO something, and that can be hard...much harder than just explaining it away, working around it, looking the other way. Healthy skills for approaching conflict/confrontation are not something that we're born with or are taught explicitly, sadly, and I wish this could be part of a "social skills" curriculum along with comprehensive sex education and healthy relationship skills.

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    1. Yes, please! I would take all of those courses so many times, and probably get more out of it each time.

      In regards to the confrontation thing, I think you're absolutely right. It's the whole King's New Clothes situation all over again, where all it -really- takes is someone to loudly and bluntly ask "WHY IS HE EVEN HERE?!" for everyone to wake up and realize, hey, why -do- we let him come, when nobody likes him, everyone is leery of him, and not only does he not contribute anything -positive- to the group, he actually makes it downright dangerous and negative?

      I wish so hard that we could all be less afraid of confrontation. It's like..stress-testing. You figure out where the broken spots are, for the express purpose of finding out which weak points need fixing. That's not so bad, right? That's a good thing! Sure, the process of fixing takes more energy and time and effort, but the result is something far stronger and better than it was.

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  17. We had a guy show up to an annual event who is clearly wearing his crazypants every single day. We knew he was crazy; he'd been at the same event the year before, and we'd resolved that he would not be allowed to come again and communicated taht clearly to him in writing.
    But one person in leadership let him sign up to be an exhibitor, so he showed up.
    Another member of the leadership stepped up and made the right call initially, telling the guy there'd been a mistake and he was still not welcome. Sorry about your drive, glad you understand, there's the door.
    He was overridden by the leader who'd allowed the guy to register, who said he felt bad that it'd been his mistake and the crazy guy had driven a long way to be there. We were scattered and busy, and most of us had no idea why he'd been allowed to stay, but I for one thought there'd been a change made by the leadership team and did not question it beyond asking a couple of people informally why he was allowed to stay. Nobody knew, and I went back to work and didn't follow it up.

    That crazy guy ended up trying to pick a wild verbal fight with the organization's spokeswoman while she was being interviewed for local TV, and then trying to intimidate her physically. At that point he was literally surrounded by a group of members who had no idea who he was (they hadn't been asked to take any action, they just saw that something was wrong with the situation as they walked by) and physically herded away from her.

    I didn't know about that last paragraph of ridiculousness until the event was over and the crazy person was gone. At the time, I thought and said, "Man, if I'd known what was going on, I'd have called the cops and let them walk him out." But would I? I'm not sure I would have felt I had the authority to do that when the group was kind of tolerating his BS. But that's the problem, isn't it? The group is just the individuals in it, and if they all think the guy should be thrown out, but they all think the group feels differently . . . .
    The only possible solution would be to get everyone together and talk about it by making words with your mouths. That's too hard to do during a busy, chaotic event, so it should be done before and after.

    When planning for the next event starts, I'm going to bring this up. We won't do it again without a defined set of lines you cannot cross without being removed from the premises, period. You can never take individual judgment out of it, but you can put the group's authority behind the volunteer staff if they know you'll back them up.

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    1. Sounds like the leader who allowed the guy to register needs to be shown the door too.

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  18. This is a pretty much flawless post, and a really great analogy. Thank you for writing it.

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  19. Great post! I'm a bit of an avoider of arguments with people who can't be argued with myself: I once told an - otherwise supersweet - friend who asked why my partner and me don't want to come over for RPGs anymore: "Because it's no fun anymore when everytime things don't go your way and your character isn't the most awesome character ever you get all butthurt and start to argue with the GM until everyone has to go home!" This was the truth, but afterwards several people were angry with me, because I was mean and, you know, everybody knows it's useless to argue with him. Since that time I let off steam about situations like that when the person in question isn't present, but just yesterday someone explained to me how that is mean, too.

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    1. Oh, and: The analogy is fantastic, I will use it the next time I try to explain a situation like the ones you described to people. Thank you!

      Delete
  20. There is this pressure, especially for women and girls to not make any sort of trouble for the people around them. It's a subtle programming that is in a majority of the media and the culture in general. The good girl is the one that doesn't cause waves for her family and friends and is agreeable. Pointing out anyone who is a broken stair or a problem and doing something to fix that problem goes against that cultural programming. It's something that causes a problem because everyone has learned to work around it, and it makes people uncomfortable. It forces people to look at uncomfortable and ugly truths about the society that we live in. :/

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    1. Oh Goddess, I know this pressure so much. My mom is a wonderful person, but she's had the ultimate enabler personality drilled into her. I can't even count the times I wanted to experiment with my clothes or appearance as a teen, and got the answer "What will people think?!" as if someone thinking you're weird when you're in high school is Teh Wurst Fate Evar.

      I came out to her as Pagan as an adult, and the way she acted was as if I was playing at having a new religion in order to make a scene. "But people will think X, Y, and Z!!!" No, they won't. Because, like most people, I don't make a huge public deal about my religion. I told her because I trusted her, and she made it out like I was announcing it to every person I passed on the street.

      I can understand wanting to avoid unnecessary conflict, but...what if Dad had been physically abusive?* Would she have covered up for him? Played the missing stair game?

      FUCK not speaking up about dangerous things. That's hurt too many people in my family in the past to be a viable skill. If someone is hurting someone else, I refuse to sit there and let them do it. And if it hurts nobody to say something, even if it "makes me look weird," then I'm going to fucking say it.


      * I consider his behavior toward me as a child to be emotional abuse. I don't bring this up with my parents anymore--guess why?

      Delete
    2. Yes! This! Thank you so much Cliff for this article - it's one of those times where something's been hanging around the back of your mind for a while, but you didn't have enough of a grip on it to conceptualize it and put it into words, and then you see that someone else did this perfectly.

      And to the people above me, on cultural programming and social pressure, and on the 'what will people think' as part of this. Because yes, that exists, and once it's there, in your head, it's so hard to go against even when you know you should. And yes, the 'what will people think' is so much an awful question - if someone is going to judge me by my religion, or judge my family by the shoes I wear, that's a problem *they* have. And while sometimes you have to comply with that kind of thing, because you can't afford the alternative, that's an *emergency survival measure*, and not in any way a good thing.

      Delete
    3. Hey! My mom's just like that - obsessed about what people would think, even though most people just don't give a damn (and those who'd disapprove aren't even interesting anyway).

      I think this is a character trait that used to be drilled into women - to be constantly mindful of what neighbors, colleagues, etc. would think ("you can't go out like that! what would the neighbors think!).

      Delete
    4. I vividly remember an evening when I was out with my mother in a bar near her house in northern Michigan. A male stranger who had been drinking quite a bit kept hanging around our table and trying to strike up a conversation. I'd been living in Chicago for several years by then and treated him as I would have in the city, i.e. tried to freeze him out while he kept saying "what a beautiful mother and daughter" we were over and over and tried to sit down with us. My mother kept smiling and laughing and telling this man that it was okay, and telling me that "he really didn't mean any harm." After an extremely uncomfortable conversation (for me) we were able to get out of the place. The same mother that worried about my living alone in the city and sent me rape prevention articles couldn't understand why this encounter bugged me so much, and chided me for taking the incident "too seriously."

      Delete
  21. This is a great post. I'm trying to work up the courage to tell someone I'm dating that his behavior at kink events is inappropriate. I've considered babysitting, but I'm not able or willing to go to everything he does. When he drinks, he does all kinds of unsafe casual play, and though his partners have never expressed feeling unhappy about it, it's still not okay. Even if they're BOTH drunk.

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  22. The abuse things you describe still enrage me so much, I can't read it. I have low expectations of the kink scene, but that still blasted them. (Now I just have to think about what to do with the kink books I have written by a defender of those kind of social dynamics. The books themselves are fine, but now I'm so skeezed by the author that I don't WANT them anymore. Anyone want some BDSM 101 books?)

    I mean, I'm in a day program for crazy people who are known for erratic behavior, and yet we manage to keep batshit to a minimum with clear rules. Between that and this, I'm realizing that my folks are my broken stair. *sigh*

    --Rogan

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    1. "Now I just have to think about what to do with the kink books I have written by a defender of those kind of social dynamics. The books themselves are fine, but now I'm so skeezed by the author that I don't WANT them anymore. Anyone want some BDSM 101 books?"

      Do you mean Janet Hardy? I keep hearing people vaguely referencing her having issues surrounding consent, and I'd really like to hear more concrete concerns than the sideways stuff (the "you know what I mean") stuff that I've heard so far. Naming names -- particularly in this context! -- is a good thing.

      Delete
    2. I'm with Anon here; I'm not defending Janet Hardy, though I know "what, precisely, did that person say that was horrible" is a common tactic of defenders of peopole who say horrible and/or triggering things, I genuinely want (and now feel the need) to know.

      Delete
    3. Oop, sorry about that! I didn't want to derail the post, and didn't know if anyone else cared.

      I'd heard sideways mumbling for a bit, but her comments here are what really enraged me: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/theres-a-war-on-part-6-anti-sunshine-league/#comment-7343

      Particularly:

      Thomas asks And that is what you’re saying, isn’t it? That you can’t know whether to believe them, so they should either go to the cops (we both recognize that’s usually a doomed enterprise) or shut up so as not to make people uncomfortable?

      Hardy responds: Unfortunately, yes, that is what I believe, although I don’t like it any better than you do.

      Thanks, Janet Hardy. With people like you, I am now rock solid in my decision to never enter a public kink space. The place sounds like fucking Abuse Apologist Central.

      Delete
  23. Hey,

    Just wanted to say thanks for this post. It helped push me into realising that it was time to do something about creepy Richard (not his real name) in my choir. He's been around since forever (at least 20 years) and so everyone had kinda got used to thinking of his behaviour as normal or part of the backdrop. I joined two years ago and I was warned that he was a bit letchy and, unsurprisingly, he was. It has since happened to every other remotely young female/perceived to be female member of the choir. I didn't do anything about it due to a combination of it having been normalised within the group and the fact that each individual act was possible to explain away in a innocuous manner even though the overall pattern of behaviour is undeniably skeevy when you stop and think about it. (I feel kinda daft cause I'm normally better at calling people out for stuff but instead I went along with the 'warn new memebers and maybe rescue them from awkward interactions' pattern that had been established)

    I chatted to a couple of other people in the choir and one of the long standing members has had a chat with Richard about it. If they deny/don't change their behaviour then three of us are going to have a follow up conversation with him about boundaries, personal space etc and if that still doesn't work then we're going to involve either the choir leader/the rest of the choir.

    Fingers crossed for rehearsal on Monday! :)

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  24. Shit yeah. I have had similar experiences in my communities (both the explicitly kinky community and to a much MUCH greater extent the burner crowd). While this issue is present in my kink community, the fact that parties are invite-only creates an easy way to regulate attendance; I can think of four people off the top of my head that have earned themselves lifetime "Don't Invite" labels for unconscionably creepy behavior and boundary-ignoring. At least there is a straightforward way to take action once the community gets it's ass around to admitting someone's causing problems.

    The Burning Man community is less easy to deal with, if only because there is this principle of radical inclusiveness. It makes "excluding" anyone a cardinal sin; it's GSF1 but for hippies.

    There is one person in particular whose behavior is consistently manipulative, boundary-pushing, and creepifying, and EVERYONE knows it. I have never met anyone who says "oh, he's fine!" People respond with one of three responses: "God, yes, I try to avoid him whenever possible" or "well, he used to be much better a few years ago, his behavior has gown downhill over the last 5+ years" or "I see him doing that, but I've never experienced it directed at me." The latter is exclusively uttered by male-bodied people.

    Past not-awful behavior is not an excuse for present awful behavior. I am so incredibly disappointed by the men in my scene; whatever feminist game you talk, if you tolerate seriously boundary-crossing behavior in your male friends because it doesn't affect you directly, you're a coward at best and a really shitty ally for sure. I make it a point to confront that point of view whenever I hear it raised, in the hope that at least the guy I'm talking to will know that *I, personally* find his attitude to be super fucking weak with a side of weaksauce.

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    1. Thanks for mentioning the Burner community in this context. Many bad things have happened in the six years I've been in that community-- to me, to my husband, and to friends and acquaintances. I agree that Radical Inclusion is a slippery slope and silences survivors as the ranks of Fun Above All Else close....
      I'm like several of the above posters: i don't really give a flying fuck if people shoot me for being a messenger. I've used my meager influence to oust / shun predators, and I called the cops on the guy in his mid twenties who insisted on secretly dating my teen daughter while she was underage.
      Luckily, we do have B.E.D. (Bureau of Erotic Discourse) and Rangers in our community to help.
      I love my Burner family, AND i am vigilant regarding anti social tendencies! Fix the stairs!
      Much love and light to this amazing blog and its high caliberf commentors! You people rock!

      Delete
    2. Yep, I think that people need to realise more that they themselves are a gateway through which people they know can affect other people they know, and that if you care about the people you know it is your own job to maintain that gateway and be something of a guardian. It reminds me of a time when I had a boyfriend who was friends with some not particularly groovy people, and rather than 'guarding the gateway' he would abandon it and see it as not his problem if through my relationship with him I was vulnerable to crappy actions, attitudes and behaviours of his friends and occasionally even his family. Needless to say, that relationship didn't go too well. But it made me realise that I instinctively try to guard people from the influences I bring to their lives if they turn out to be ungood. It's all about taking personal responsibility, not just for ourselves and our own behaviours, but for what we allow to affect others too. Yes, I've just re-said what everyone else has said!

      Delete
    3. I said this in response to another article today, but here it is again. In a group that has no central or structured accountability, everyone has to be vigilantly accountable, or bad things happen and then brushed aside in the game of "not my responsibility" with a side of "radical inclusion". The result is that good people with integrity leave because they can't stand the hypocrisy or don't want to watch others being hurt, or they don't want to be hurt themselves, and the creeps and predators stick around to keep playing their game to on a fresh audience. Seems like exactly the wrong way to have community.

      Delete
  25. Thank you so much for writing this, the "missing stair" perfectly sums up the man who sexually assaulted me. Pretty much everyone in the scene knew that he had "issues" around women in situations where alcohol was involved, but no one called him out on it or talked openly about his behaviour.

    When I told my (ex)partner who was involved with the same crowd about it a year after it happened, his first reaction was "Ofcourse he did that, everyone knows X rapes drunk girls at parties". When pressed, he admitted that he had seen X rape an unconscious woman at a party, that he and a roomful of other people had attempted to separate X from the victim and that X had sexually assaulted atleast 5 women in the same scene under very similar circumstances. Inaddition to repeatedly raping drunk women, X was also always the guy who got too drunk and groped girls at parties, but everyone kept inviting him anyway. I was informed that there was no need to do anything about X's involvement in the scene, since he was easy for women to avoid drinking with because "Everyone knows he's a rapist, he's been doing this for years". When I pointed out the fact that no one had told me about X's pattern of predatory behaviour because I was new to the scene, his reaction was basically "Whoops. I guess its not really anyone's fault that you didn't get warned X was a rapist. Sux to be you".

    Despite my ex's insistence that EVERYONE in the scene knew that X was a rapist, when I asked friends who were involved in the scene (mostly women, people newish to the scene and/or young), I found that for the most part, they knew that he could be "innapropriate" when drunk and had a "bad track record" but nothing concrete. No one was really suprised when I told them, since alot of people had witnessed him behaving in a "creepy" manner, but no one had ever heard him actually called a serial rapist, despite the fact that "everybody knew". Turns out "everybody knows" is code for "all the senior male members of the scene know X is a rapist, but never talk about it". Several people I spoke to had heard vague rumours or seen him engaging in behaviour that made them uncomfortable, but chose to ignore it since they lacked "evidence". The people who HAD seen him pull the same shit at every party just accepted that X got "a little rapey" when drinking and made half-assed attempts to keep an eye on girls who he targeted. The fucked up thing is that X has been involved in the scene for atleast 10 years now, without anyone challeging him.

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    1. That your "boyfriend" didn't go stab the guy in the throat for raping you, is a great indicator that you need to dump said boyfriend, and also call the cops on said rapey dude. What the hell kind of person is so blase about their partner being sexually assaulted? I'm a woman, and when I found out about my husband being attacked, I thanked GOD the person was already dead, because I'd have found them and hurt them.

      I just cannot fathom staying in a relationship with someone who isn't upset when someone else violates or hurts me.

      Please, please, please, call the cops. If he's the rapey broken stair, and he's been getting away with it for 10 years now, it's not going to stop.

      Delete
    2. Whoa there.

      1. Not every survivor wants their rapist stabbed in the throat. It may not bring them any closure, and it may bring massive retaliation upon them. Throat-stabbing badness is not the same as creating goodness.

      2. You know who's morally obligated to call the cops? The rapist. Why don't we start putting that on him for once?

      I know it sounds good to say "call the cops and get this guy put away forever," but that's not a responsibility someone incurs by being raped. I just don't ever want to tell someone "congratulations on surviving, but now you have a special obligation to fulfill..." Especially when fulfilling that obligation is going to require an incredibly invasive investigation, major risk of retaliation, and a piss-poor chance that the guy actually goes to prison.

      Delete
  26. And one person sent several long and detailed messages to the mods of this group that were promptly found to not be enough to address the issue.

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  27. Just wanted to add to those saying what a great post this is. I liked that you included this bit: "This isn't just about sex. Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn't do their job, but everyone's grown accustomed to picking up their slack. A lot of social groups and families have that one person..."

    On the other hand, I do think it's worth emphasising the difference between dealing with an objectionable person in a family or workplace situation, and in a social situation. In the former, the person can't be easily removed: in some places, it can be difficult to fire an employee who breaks the rules, unless those violations are gross and obvious, and of course in families, 'getting rid' of an abusive person may unfortunately be downright impossible.

    But that's not the case (or shouldn't be) in social groups. No one has a legal right to be invited to an organisation of private individuals, and in fact the reverse is true: any private group has the right to determine its own membership. In theory, any objectionable person can be removed at any time, and there's nothing they can do about it.

    In practice, I recognise, that's not always the case: members of the group may not want to 'rock the boat' by raising their concerns and 'making people feel unwelcome', the person may have friends who will protect them and try to stop their removal, and even if they are removed someone else might just invite them back in. Yes, it can be difficult, because people are difficult. All I'm saying is that if you are part of such a group, always remember that you have *no* duties, legal or otherwise, towards the objectionable person, and they have *no* right to remain part of it.

    Finally, I have seen it said in some places that you should avoid trying to deal with an objectionable person until they do something illegal, and then refer them to the police. This seems to me like a really bad approach to take. If things have got serious enough that the police can be involved, things have gone too far already; the whole aim should be to deal with the problem *before* things get to that point.

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  28. I'm a board member of a non-profit organization. One of the founders has been stalking his ex, also a board member. She's stopped attending board meetings, even by Skype, and I suspect part of that is her not wanting to interact with him at all. He has also become increasingly difficult for the rest of us to work with. But... he's a founder, has a wealth of institutional knowledge, contributes a tremendous amount of time and energy to the group. He's always been there, and been very visible. For many of our members and conference attendees, he's the face of the organization and has been for decades.

    I was describing the situation to my girlfriend, and she said, "Hang on, the dude stalked his ex until she stopped coming to meetings, and you had to inform the conference organizers that he was a security risk, and no one likes working with him or being around him--and he's still part of your organization?!"

    "Well," I said, "when you put it that way..."

    Someone in the other thread talked about "value to the community" and I think that concept is key to understanding why groups keep people like this guy around. I've spent the last few months talking with other board members about kicking him off the board, and it's going to take a really tremendous effort to get past our awareness that our organization would not exist without him. We owe him a great deal. We'd even like it if he could continue to contribute in some way once he's no longer on the board. But there is also value to the community in saying that we won't tolerate this sort of behavior in someone who represents us, and if he won't change, he needs to get gone. No one is irreplaceable. No one is that valuable.

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    1. Very well said.

      If the other board members start to get cold feet about expelling Founder, here's a very practical and cold argument to make: Sooner or later, this is going to come out. Full stop. He's the face of the organization, and if it's not this ex, it's going to be somebody else who raises the alarm outside of your organization's damage control about him.

      And at that point, the rest of the board is like the supervisors at Penn State. Not only will he be outed as a creep and possibly a criminal, but it will (rightly) taint the entire board and the organization. Is that what anybody wants?

      Less coldly, he is using the group as cover. The time and energy he contributes are the currently he uses to buy the board's silence and to buy legitimacy for his creepitude. He's not doing favors; he's manipulating you all.

      Delete
    2. About his value to the community--think about the value of the people he's scaring away. Did his ex have no value? Do the people who found out about the situation in your organization and never joined, or quietly stopped coming to meetings, have no value?

      This isn't a "lose him or don't lose him" situation--this is "lose him or lose all the people he's driving away."

      Delete
    3. THANK YOU FOR THIS.

      I'm involved in my local occupy movement and have had to make this point over and over and over again.

      It feels sucky to exclude people actively. But when you fail to act you are excluding people passively. Usually multiple people.

      Delete
  29. I'm wondering what the proper action is when there's a step that's broken but not missing/broken quite to this level.

    There's in my circle of friends there is a woman who we treat like the broken step. She is very unpredictable, and has physically attacked other people several times over some slight (real or perceived.) She has behaved in an inappropriately sexual manner with other women were scared and unsure respond to her unwanted advances. I was advised of those things verbally, however there are also unspoken rules when she is around as well that makes me even MORE nervous. We make sure she does not have extensive interaction with other group members' pets, some group members do not allow her near their pets at all. We also make sure she is not left unsupervised with any children. No one has accused her of anything inappropriate, but something in her actions is just... off.

    There is a general sigh of relief anytime a party occurs and she is not there.


    She is in a long-term relationship with someone who is very close friends with several people in the core of our group. He knows she's got problems, but knows she would react poorly to being left out, and with her history of unpredictable reactions, no one knows HOW badly she might react. No one has been willing to say, "Male person, we love you, but your girlfriend is unpredictable, scares most of us and makes all the gatherings that she attends very uncomfortable, plus we never know if she's going to hit someone or hit on someone."

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    1. And just to clarify, I feel this is different because 1) she ignores you if you ignore her, so unsuspecting people are not necessary in any danger of confronting her, (indeed multiple people including myself have been surprised when they have been warned about her.) 2) Because it seems evident that her behavior is symptomatic of some kind of psychological disorder rather than just being a raping jerk like in some of the other stories.

      Delete
    2. I'm wondering what the proper action is when there's a step that's broken but not missing/broken quite to this level.
      If you're afraid to let her around children or pets, if she's physically assaulted and sexually harassed people, I don't know what you mean by "not quite to this level." What level would she have to sink to before she WOULD qualify? Killing someone?

      She sounds like a nightmare, it sounds like you're keeping her in the group purely out of fear of what'll happen if you ask her to leave, and that's not something you need to live with. Get a bunch of people together (I'm guessing basically everyone except her partner) and just tell her and her partner that she's not invited any more, no negotiation, decision is final. It's the only thing you can do except keep hiding the kids and pets and hoping she doesn't do something even worse... indefinitely.

      (Also, the psychological disorder thing is kind of a red herring. Her behavior is what it is, regardless of the reason.)

      Delete
    3. You know what's funny is I read your new post before I read this reply and it was the exact answer. Sometimes it just takes repeating it to someone else to make you realize how bad it sounds.

      Delete
  30. A bit late, but I just read your two posts about this. As you know, we've been dealing with this crap here in the Boston scene for a while now, and there is no shortage of excuses from old timers about why nothing can/should be done to handle these predators. My favorite is the "we're not a jury!" excuse. Yes, because being banned from a munch or play party is totally the equivalent of going to prison and having a charge on your permanent record that could influence your career and housing.

    I had one old timer tell us we were playing "judge, jury, and media" because we dared to warn other event organizers via e-mail about someone who everyone damn well knows is a repeat offender in the community. We were later informed that apparently it is OK to partake in the usual event organizer gossip, word-of-mouth, telephone game, but it is NOT OK to be totally transparent by e-mailing all event organizers at once to keep them in the loop about someone's inappropriate and criminal behavior. Oh, and that you can have a ban list, but that you can only keep it in your head. Once it's down on paper, it's automatically awful. Because, you know, if there is a paper trail that you actually do ban people, then you can easily be called out as a hypocrite when you yell at people for daring to ban predators from their events.

    A lot of the politics I've been involved in after standing up for getting rid of these rapists has left a very, very foul taste in my mouth for these "esteemed" leather leaders. Every time I see another one of them presenting at a major kink event, I have to roll my eyes. I'm glad to say I can at least have *some* sort of power over my own events, where I do choose to ban predators and all of the whining in the world will not change my decision. I have cut off a lot of my ties with these individuals, and per my usual big mouth, I have been quite vocal about my distaste for their organizations and rape apologist policies.

    Oh, and that serial offender I mentioned earlier? She wrote a nice, long post about how she was a predator but that it was all because she was bullied as a child and that she was going to get help and take a step back and blah, blah, blah. The same song and dance she has been doing every time she has been called out for her behavior, except this time it was published online. Of course, the usual commending for being "so brave" posts came out in full force.

    A few months later, she is back in the scene and RSVPing to events. When she RSVPed to a friend's event and he explained to her she was not welcome because some of the people she had abused were going to be there, she threw a hissy fit. Yup, she's totally sorry about what she did and is quite interested in changing and amending her ways! Barf.

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    1. I have opted out of participating in the Boston scene - and a scene in another city as well - because I heard about these concerns through the grapevine and observed dangerous behavior once I began meeting people.

      Personally, I have this message for the community leaders who are silencing the discussion: by choosing inaction, you are ensuring that healthy people who want to have safe relationships will opt out of the scene and tell their friends to do the same. And, by the way, this has an impact beyond the cities where it happens; people in other states who are not in the kink community are noticing that this is going on. The reputation of the community is being affected by this problem.

      I'd like to ask the leaders in the community - what kind of reputation do you want your community to have? Do you want people advising their friends to opt out of the scene? Or do you want to create a community people can actually be proud of?

      Delete
    2. Yeah, seriously. I'm into kink but I won't go to any group in any area because there are just too many of these, and I'd rather be safe than play around.

      Delete
  31. "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are." When talking about online harassment, the response I've heard far too often in the last year is, "Well it's the internet, what do you expect?" I expect to not have a stranger threaten to rape me. I expect not to be called a stupid cunt. I expect to be treated like a fucking human being. Is that really so much to ask?

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  32. Great post.
    At a place I frequent who has a horrible co-ordinator. This "wonderful" person let not ONE but TWO mass inconvenience's with MAJOR emotional issues, stay for period ranging from 1 year to 2 FULL YEARS of their various and MANY issues.
    One was basically a rapist and a sociopath, the other one simply couldn't handle his own feelings and got fridayitis and started fights almost to clock work, every week, FOR A YEAR!
    "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are." is probably his justification for being so behind on acting to crimes and actions people did repeatedly in his presence.
    I just think he's pathetic!

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  33. Hey Cliff,
    Just wanted to post to say that I've linked this post to quite a few friends, and that it has been very helpful in conceptualizing how to deal with some less than charming individuals floating around my social circle. Thank you so much for this analogy.
    - Trinity

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  34. just wanted you to know that this post and the "Just One Ally" post from July helped me find the resolve to start spreading the news that someone in the brony group i'm in admitted to raping a 16-year-old and still has apparently free reign at our upcoming convention

    i have no idea what's going to come of it, but thank you either way

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  35. "Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn't do their job, but everyone's grown accustomed to picking up their slack. A lot of social groups and families have that one person. The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to. (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.) The person you don't bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants. The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they're perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry."

    I was bullied for several years because I got sick of picking up this other girls slack. Unfortunately she was really popular and I was bullied until High School, which is when I went to a totally different school than my class mates.

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  36. I agree whole-heartedly with this, and have quoted you in a number of conversations about the kink community and regular life. My question, however, is if I know of a person in the kink community that qualifies as a "missing stair," but have never personally been a victim of abuse/neglect/hurt from them, how can I play a part in making sure that this person is dealt with in the community? I want to see them acknowledged as a dangerous opportunist and make it so that he is not in the position to hurt anyone else. I don't feel that I have the social standing in the scene, nor any first-hand experience with abuse to speak to, which would allow me to catalyze change in how this person is dealt with. Thoughts?

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  37. I'd like to add to the point that you do need to *confront* people, and especially in kink and other "special rules" environments. Because it's not just about ingrained abusers, it's also about the ignorant and untrained.

    Many years ago, I ventured into a sexually-open subspace of a larger Pagan community, where I had various interaction with someone else. I was told much later, "under the table", that she'd actually been unwilling... I'd had no idea, mostly because I was young, naive, and somewhat obtuse. (Incidentally, the "space minder" -- a prominent therapist in the community -- hadn't said anything at the time.)

    The circumstances under which I was told made me feel that I couldn't ask about it openly (I'm also shy), and no-one ever spoke to me about it. But... there was a whispering campaign (which I only heard about indirectly) and future iterations of the space were quietly restructured, to exclude not just me, but other unattached people.

    Needless to say, that made me feel pretty damn unwelcome in the larger community, when if someone had come to me and actually discussed it with me, they could have taught me the rules i wound up learning on my own, years later. I'm still very distrustful of sexual and kink spaces in general because of that experience: not because I'm afraid of being hurt, or (now) of overtly hurting someone, but because I have no confidence that if I do transgress -- some local rule or something I haven't learned yet -- I have no confidence of being taught better and allowed to redeem myself, instead of just being quietly ostracised within the group.

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  38. You know what's awesome? I've seen this article doing the rounds again recently via FB and the like. I read it a while back and it's still amazing and powerful. To show just how powerful it is, it's prompted a whole load of people I know to start talking about we can fix the broken stairs in our particular sub-culture/community. Within 24 hours of re-reading this article, there is a FB group dedicated to discussion about this, about how to call it what it is and do something about. It won't change over night, but if nothing else whole bunch of people in my own little corner of the world are now in touch with each other, know that if they speak up there are people who will listen, support them and have their back. Who will try and address the issue, rather than ignoring it. And that's immense. So I know it's a while since you wrote this, but I wanted you to know it's still reaching people and it's making a difference. So thank you for writing it.

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  39. This is actually a pretty useful analogy for a whole bunch of things, good shout!

    While the stair is missing, by all means jump over it (rather than pretend it's there and fall through the gap), but make sure that you're also taking strides outside the climbing process to get it fixed, replaced, solved, etc. A woman out late at night in an unfamiliar environment should take all precautions she deems necessary, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't continually protest that such precautions SHOULD be necessary, and continually fight to make them not so.

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