Over the past day or so, there has been a maelstrom over on a Steampunk World’s Fair FB Group regarding their harassment policy. As is the case in so many of these online interactions, the discussion is dominated by about a dozen people who are spouting The Great Derailers, grossly exaggerating the myriad of remote possibilities of abusing the policy while undermining the important intention behind it, and spreading general fear mongering. Some are even using bully techniques of mocking well-intentioned statements meant to make the victimized feel safer in cases of sexual violence and nitpicking minor semantic issues by using straw man and slippery slope rhetoric.
In the middle of these comments about the wording of the SPWF’s Harassment Policy (which the organizers have said repeatedly is a living document, and they are open to revising it for further clarification) are accusations that The Order of the White Feather is guilty of vigilantism. These handful of people claim the OWF is a vigilante group because of these two things:
- We believe the victim. We question the accused.
- The language around social ostracism for unrepentant rapists and perpetrators of other sexual violence
Some of the comments read as if they think the OWF will have a group of people goose-stepping and waving white feathers who corner and interrogate someone accused of flirting inappropriately under a swinging light bulb in a darkened room, so please allow me to explain further what’s meant by the phrase “We Question the Accused” to clarify this obvious misconception.
Before I go any further, let me make something very, very clear: the OWF is concerned about sexual violence, especially assault and rape. Sexual harassment falls under the spectrum that is sexual violence, and we certainly are concerned about that as well, but the language on this site about ostracism of the unrepentant accused is talking about Sexual Assault and Rape, not botched flirting or taking a photograph without permission. The OWF has no official capacity at SPWF. I’m an invited guest speaker and author who will present on rape culture and hold a white feather creative workshop for those who choose to support our mission. Nothing more. Insinuations that we’ll be policing the event and accosting every accused are both absurd and offensive.
Now that that’s cleared up, I’ll move on to the clarification.
First and foremost, we believe the victim. The traumatized. The person who has been harmed. We believe that they have been hurt by a certain action or behavior. They can come to us because they know they’re safe in doing so. They will be believed. They will not be questioned about details. They will not be forced to justify or explain themselves if they’re not comfortable doing so. We will take them at their word that they feel hurt and/or traumatized without making them “prove” it.
As a culture what we do now is hammer the hurt party with questions. We vow not to do that. Period.
**IF** any questions are asked, they will be asked of the accused. Questions like “What happened?”
Personally, I have no interest in questioning accused rapists or perpetrators of sexual violence or even misogynistic harassers. None whatsoever. I’d rather not have them in my life in any way, shape, or form. When I say “We Question the Accused,” it’s more to emphasize that we DON’T question the traumatized. If, for example, a group of friends had one of their friends come up and say Fred raped her. These friends would believe the accused felt violated and would not ask her for details or justification. As stated on this page, the only question asked to the hurt party is “What would you like to do next?” or “Do you want to make an official report?” If this group of friends wants more information on what their other friend, Fred, did or what happened, they ask Fred. That’s what I mean by “We Question the Accused.”
Remember, these pages were written with Sexual Assault and Rape in mind.
So, before you go jumping to conclusions after reading eight words, read more about how to talk with the hurt party and inform yourselves about the accountability process we’re proposing for the accused.
No, we weren’t there. We won’t even know what *actually* happened in that room. What’s relevant is that this wo/man before you, vulnerable and scared, has been deeply traumatized.
You have a choice:
A. You can either further traumatize her by not believing her, by asking victim-blaming questions/comments like “why where you there?” “that wasn’t really rape” “that’s a very serious accusation!”, or
B. You can start the healing by saying, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I believe you. What would you like to do next? I’m here for as much or as little as you’d like to share. You’re in control. I believe you.”
Number next, re: ostracism.
I have a difficult time with people screaming about ostracism and how wrong and unfair and such it all is because these are the same kind of comments and people who ostracized me and other survivors of sexual violence.
Allow me to quote the great Thomas Millar once again (from the must-read “Cockblocking Rapists is a Moral Obligation, or How to Stop Rape Right Now“):
Some people will say that’s rumormongering. Yes. Yes, it is. If stopping rape isn’t a good enough reason to spread rumors to you, then you and I have nothing further to discuss.
Some people will say that it’s unfair to do that, to simply take the survivor’s word, to say things about people without due process. Well, due process is for the government, to limit their power to lock people up or take their property. You don’t owe people due process when you decide whether to be friends with them. You don’t have to have a hearing and invite them to bring a lawyer to decide whether to invite them to a party. And let’s be honest, most of us repeat things that one person we know did to another person we know based on nothing more than that one participant told us and we believe them.We do it all the time, it’s part of social interaction. (emphasis mine)
All those people who were calling me and the OWF a vigilante group has already done this. They’ve decided, based on very, very little information, indeed, how to socially respond to me and this group. I’ve decided, based also on very, very little information (namely their aggressive comments) that I have absolutely no interest in being friends or even knowing them.
We do that EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. in our communities. That’s ostracism, isn’t it? That’s saying, “you’re not welcome in my circle.”
Now, just imagine the safe places we could create if we used this daily social interaction to ostracize rapists, assholes, bullies, and other horrible people instead of what’s happening now: ostracizing the traumatized and the few who support them all because they’re showing us a painful truth of our culture.
Huh. Imagine that.
As for the Steampunk World’s Fair, they have my complete and unwavering support for their continuing efforts to make the Steampunk Community safer for everyone. Their policy is a strong one, and a strong harassment policy is needed, as confirmed by the very impressive John Scalzi. It comes down to whether or not you trust the organizers to be rational and fair, which I do. For those threatening not to attend SPWF because of the policy, I say it’s a safer event without you there…which means, it will be much, much more fun.
Olivia M. Grey lives in the cobwebbed corners of her mind writing paranormal romance with a Steampunk twist, like the Amazon Gothic Romance bestseller Avalon Revisited and it’s sequel, of sorts, Avalon Revamped. Her short stories and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies, like SNM Horror Magazine and How the West Was Wicked. Ms. Grey also blogs and podcasts relationship essays covering such topics as alternative lifestyles, deepening intimacy, ending a relationship with love and respect, and other deliciously dark and decadent matters of the heart and soul.
Read more by O. M. Grey on her blog Caught in the Cogs, http://omgrey.wordpress.com