On my Recent Separation from VancouFur and Moderation in Alt-Communities
Last weekend I made a decision that it broke my heart to make - I left my position as department lead for VancouFur Art Show.
Those of you that know me well know that for the last several years I’ve staffed VF, and that this year I’ve been extremely excited to graduate to leading the department I’ve been involved with and dedicate a lot of extra effort to trying to reinvent it and buff it up. You may or may not also know I owe a lot to the event - it’s introduced me to a ton of great people (including my boyfriend and co-former staffer Silvermink) and been something of a cornerstone to my personal experience of the furry community. I have a ton of friends who still work as staff -- I wish them all the best. I hope they’re successful, and I hope the event is successful.
But I will not be staffing or even attending the event anymore until there are some necessary changes in perspective on the parts of the leadership in regards to the handling of sexual assault in the community (or rather lack thereof). And, whilst writing this is extremely personally arduous for me, I think it is necessary for me to make my position known because apparently the need for this kind of moderation isn’t immediately self-evident to everyone.
Let me restart, at the beginning: Last Saturday, I got a text from my partner. It said that someone we both know loosely tried to rape someone else in the furry community, and that he was trying to get the individual in question removed from chats and events, and wasn’t certain whether he would get pushback about it. I immediately looked over the substantial evidence and added my support, emailing an additional letter to the board and hoping fervently for a positive resolution. I honestly, naively, thought we had a pretty good chance of obtaining one in spite of some ignorant chatter from what I hoped was the peanut gallery. On Sunday, in a public chat, I let go of that hope when the con chair said our efforts to remove a sexual predator from our community were “SJW bullshit”. I - honestly? I have never felt as disenfranchised by what I thought of as a mostly supportive community. I was in public when I read it and tried to drink a coffee to compose myself while tears streamed down my face… I was literally shaking with rage. I couldn’t formulate a response properly then, which is why I’m writing one now. This wasn’t just failure to handle the situation properly, which the board communicated later in a letter that basically said it wasn’t their problem. It was casual dismissal of any effort to elicit positive change and protect a community and an event that I’d put years into helping with and building up.
There is a certain amount of bigotry people handle, incorrectly or correctly, for the sake of inclusion. This is particularly true in alt-communities that pride themselves as being safe havens for happy misfits. Personally, I’d like to see the inclusion argument used less frequently to safeguard individuals that actively use that kind of rule to try and perpetrate hate speech and other actions that at their core try to infringe on the inclusion of other third parties. That’s not a cool thing. But sexual misconduct is not /merely/ bigotry.
I feel like there’s this conception of, oh, yes - this individual is unsavory, but they just have a gross outlook and there’s not really anything I can do about that. There’s an uncomfortableness to the idea of hard-banning someone, and there’s an uncomfortableness to the idea of “policing” sexual harassment in general. But policing it is exactly what we need to do. Forcing sex on someone isn’t bigotry, it’s violence. If this individual had beat another member of this community and they ended up in a hospital they would be banned right now, it wouldn’t even be a discussion - you don’t want a person like that at your events. But if that’s not ok, why is allowing someone to attend who would do something that could cause serious sexual, physical, and psychological damage ok? This is a family friendly event -There are kids there. There are people people care about. Rape causes damage - serious damage - damage that in many ways you carry with you for the rest of your life. It makes you feel unsafe in public places, and in your own body. It’s not a forgivable transgression in any sense. If someone just casually, for their own benefit, made it where it took you years to get to where you could enjoy sex without having a panic attack… would that be bigotry? If they caused serious physical damage doing so, would that be bigotry? How would you feel if your community told you it was no big deal? How would you feel if the people who were leaders in that community, who had the power to evict this person from it, told you it was regrettable but not their problem?
It. Is. Our. Problem.
This community is not safe unless we make it safe. This isn’t some quibble or moral grandstanding or excuse to pick a fight over something relatively esoteric, it is the difference between an event where people do and don’t have to fear violence, and whether if it happens people will even have their backs.
It is the job of the event to make sure people can have a fun time without experiencing that fear. It is the job of leadership in the community to ban people from events when appropriate, even if acknowledging the existence of the events makes them uncomfortable.
A note on burden of proof: In this particular instance, when confronted with the accusation of being a sexual predator the perpetrator admitted clear and irrefutable guilt for “(having done) something that’s literally the worst thing possible”. There was written evidence which was offered to the board and which they did not decide was worth reviewing before coming to their decision. Obviously, I don’t think we should just start banning people willy nilly or something like that with no proof or reason whatsoever. However, it bears saying that community moderation is not a court sentence and does not require, like, a bullet proof legal assertion of guilt (And for that matter, the tendency of courts to side on behalf of perpetrators in these cases is totally despicable, so frankly using the legal model is not really the best route here). My point is - They are not innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is the moderator’s role to make that call, and moderators are needed for these kinds of communities. Unmoderated, Bad Things Happen. That is literally the main reason leadership is needed, to protect people in situations like this.
One last point. Part of the statement of the board noted that, while they didn’t promise any action with a police report they couldn’t do anything without one. Requiring victims of sexual abuse to bring their case to the police is complex - it initiates a long process that frequently doesn’t have a positive resolution. It’s a very personal decision and requires a lot of the victim. No one should force someone else to make that leap. And having it as official policy is ludicrous, insulting, and extremely disenfranchising. I’d like to note that even most corporate policies do not require police reports in these kinds of circumstances.
I suspect many of the people who take the time to read this are “the choir”, as in singing to. But I hope a couple of people read through it who questioned my decision, or who didn’t understand why it mattered so much to me. Behavior like this can’t be overlooked. And standing idly by, whether those who do so do so fully conscious of their actions or not, is not conscionable. If you were in the room while someone committed this kind of violence on someone else, you’d know it was wrong not to stop it. Creating a situation where it’s unchecked isn’t actually so different from that - the culture it fosters is the same. And it’s not something I want any part of.