Sexual assault in a "con" community - what now?
March 16, 2015 7:51 PM   Subscribe

I went to a fan convention last week, and was groped at a bar, by someone other than my partner. I filed a police report that night, but am wondering if there's anything else I should be doing to get help.

I went to a convention last week that is centered around a podcast fan community. A group of us were at a bar one night last week. There was a lot of drinking involved. My spouse was not with me at the time (he was at home, sleeping.)

At one point in the night, someone took it upon themselves to lean up against me and put their hand down the front of my jeans. Even though I had a lot to drink, I specifically said, "No," "I can't," and "Stop." A friend of mine at the other end of the bar noticed that I had a look of horror on my face (I don't know if she could see what was going on otherwise) and helped me get into a cab. When I got home, I immediately told my spouse what had happened, and he called the police. I filed a report, although I told the cops the next day I wasn't really interested in pursing legal action. The fan community is pretty small, mostly online, and although this person did me harm, I don't think they meant to.

I ended up unlinking this person's social media accounts, and the next day got a private message from them "sincerely apologizing" if they had done anything inappropriate. They mentioned they were drunk, and didn't remember anything.

I guess my question is... should I just let this go now? Part of me wants to tell other people in our group what happened that night, but I feel like I don't want to start shit in the community, especially because it's mostly online, and things can be copy/pasted all over the internet. I have my spouse's support, whatever I decide to do. Other than having some nightmares about the incident, I am relatively okay.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

IF they had done anything inappropriate? If?! You were sexually assaulted.

Even if it's true they didn't remember anything and were told by others what had transpired, that person should be horrified at their behavior and done more than offer an apology.

I think you'll get more eloquent answers here, but I have to say I have zero tolerance for sexual assault (even if drinking was involved, even if it was "only" a hand down the pants), and am of the opinion that one of the reasons this kind of thing happens so frequently is that victims don't want to stir shit up, feel embarrassed, don't want flak for making a big deal of it, etc.

I think you should tell your group what happened, and make it clear you will not be at any gatherings where this person is.
posted by Specklet at 8:03 PM on March 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. Describing bad things people who are not you might say is not helpful. The question is, what should OP do now, so let's keep it constructive. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:10 PM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

If there is a moderator or leader of the community can you seek them out to discuss what appropriate steps might be? If this were my community I would absolutely want to know and the person would be either banned or on a very, very short leash.
posted by HMSSM at 8:10 PM on March 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

Think about why you would or would not let this go.

Are there more reasons for letting this go, or more reasons for pursuing this?

I, myself, see this as a public health issue...and I would try to protect the community.

Good luck, and I'm so sorry this happened to you.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree you should inform whatever leadership the community has that you experienced this, and ask them to be sure that at future gatherings there is explicit information that assaults won't be tolerated, and a procedure for lodging complaints about them.
posted by Miko at 8:15 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I feel like I don't want to start shit in the community

You will not be starting shit. The person who sexually assaulted you is the who started shit.

the next day got a private message from them "sincerely apologizing" if they had done anything inappropriate. They mentioned they were drunk, and didn't remember anything.

If this person has the reflex of sending out messages sincerely apologizing for whatever happened during their TOTAL BLACKOUT periods, then this person has a bigger problem than what your fan community is going to think of them.

Report it. Spread the news. Odds are this isn't the first time. Maybe you can help make it the last.
posted by Etrigan at 8:16 PM on March 16, 2015 [71 favorites]

On the other hand: How is this person in your other interactions? Does this behavior seem like an extension of an already awful personality, or is this a nice person who got drunk and got the signals very very crossed?
My previous interactions with the person would make a difference in how I would handle it, at least for me.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:20 PM on March 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

Odds are this isn't the first time. Maybe you can help make it the last.

Even if it is the first time - and I doubt it, because regular non-assaulting people don't have to write Facebook messages like that, unprompted, ever - you can still help make it the last by bringing the organizers up to speed. It's not okay. The guy might be a reasonably ok dude who sincerely fucked up and made a misstep, but the point is, it's still not okay, and it's never okay, and there needs to be a mechanism for (a) preventing and (b) reporting such incidents in any officially organized event.
posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on March 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

I suggest you wait. Take a few days and just sit with this. Try to get a handle on the nightmares - and by that I mean, you might want to find someone to talk to about what happened to you like a therapist or a counselor, someone trained in helping people in your situation. I am so glad your spouse is supportive, and I want you to know that there are additional resources you can draw on if you need to that might help, like RAINN.

Telling or not telling - that doesn't have to be a "now" decision. You can talk to some people that you trust and think about what to do before you decide to notify the con leader or anything.

I would steer clear of advice that says "You have to say something" and also advice that says "Why say anything." This is yours. It's your choice. It's not small and it is intensely personal and ultimately whatever you do will be the right thing to do. Taking time to process what happened will likely help you gain clarity about what to do.

All the best to you. I'm so sorry this happened.
posted by sockermom at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2015 [26 favorites]

I think it would be a good idea to report it, to tell everyone about it. Mention that they apologized after, if you want. But if this happened to me, I'd want my friends to know just so they know not to be alone with this guy. I'd want people who have the power to keep this guy on a short leash to do so.

But I also want to say - if you decide not to report it, that's okay. People put a lot of emphasis about the correct way to respond and responsibilities on the recipient of sexual assault, and fuck that shit. You wouldn't be starting shit in the community, but there's plenty of other reasons why you might not want to talk about something that gives you nightmares over and over again, and that's perfectly all right.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:33 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like someone might need rehab. Being arrested for sexual assault might help him find his way there. It's OK if you don't want to press charges, but this seems to be the situation right now.

I'm pretty sure you need to follow through on some level, likely with the event organizers? I'm pretty sure the police report and subsequent apology that arrived in your inbox corroborate your version of events, so absolutely share those with the event organizers and or any relevant parties.

Thank you for speaking up.
posted by jbenben at 8:34 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I keep thinking about famous people (Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi, Jim Frenkel) and not-famous people who were wink-and-a-nod known to pull this kind of thing. I don't know how well you know this community, or how well-known your assaulter is, both of which might play a role in your decision of how or whether or to whom to report this. Are there other people in the community you can talk to discreetly, at least initially?

You don't have to do anything, except the thing(s) that you anticipate will make you feel least terrible in the near and/or far future. I'm really sorry this happened to you.
posted by rtha at 8:39 PM on March 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

You don't have to do anything, except the thing(s) that you anticipate will make you feel least terrible in the near and/or far future.

This, definitely. If I were a member of your community, I would be grateful to you for warning me about this guy. But sometimes in close-knit communities, group members are awful to people who accuse other group members of inappropriate behavior. I don't know the social makeup of your community, so I'm not sure how this would play out for you--it could go very well, or very badly. It sounds like, at the very least, the nice person who got you into a cab would be supportive. If you want to test the waters by telling one person, I'd start with her.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you the best.
posted by Owlcat at 9:08 PM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Just stopping in to offer that many people question whether or not they were "really" assaulted. Its a common result of the human brain trying to make sense of not-okay out-of-the-ordinary experiences. Legally, what happened was assault. I'm glad you were able to get support from your friends and spouse.

Also know that after a traumatizing event, pretty much everybody looks like they have PTSD (same pattern of symptoms) as they work through the healing process. If your distress and any symptoms last longer than a couple months, or are inordinately stressing you, please reach out for support. There are really effective treatments that can keep a nasty event from resulting in long term emotional effects.

I don't want to apply the word trauma to your situation specifically, because what matters is how *you* feel about it. But as a therapist who has worked with folks a few years down the road from this sort of experience, I wanted to take the opportunity to let you know what is typical for people responding to stress like this, as often people tell me they wish they knew earlier what they learn in therapy. And now I will get off my soapbox.
posted by gilsonal at 9:12 PM on March 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

It seems suspect that they can't remember what they did, but they can remember they did it to you. I might be able to get behind a person who owned up to what they did, and apologized, but this doesn't seem to be what they are doing.

And if they don't remember, aren't they curious about what exactly they did? If you happened to have done something inappropriate - and you can't remember - wouldn't you ask?

I was recently watching Daniel Tiger, a kid's show, that had an episode all about apologies. It was clear that the proper way to apologize is it to say "I'm sorry" AND to ask how one could make amends.

So what you have is a person who who isn't acknowledging what they did, is 'sincerely apologizing', but isn't curious about what they did, or asking you about how to make amends. Yeech.

I sometimes stumble over people's intentions when I've been harmed. But I find it helpful to think about 'What mature adults can do'. You were with a whole group of mature adults who are drunk and managed not to put their hands down any one else's pants - except for this guy. I note you say that they didn't mean you harm, and that seems to be a key point for you. I wonder what you think they did mean, and why that was notable for you. Because there is this piece about being an adult, which means owning up fully to what we do, regardless of what we mean. And that we are resilient enough to endure the consequences for our actions, regardless of our intentions.

But you asked about whether you should tell someone else in the community, like the leader of the get together, or the host, etc.. I suppose one question that might help is if this did not happen to you, but to some other person in your community - would you want to know? If you were leading the community, would you want to know? Does this gathering have any common principles that might guide you?

Whatever you decide to do, I just wanted to acknowledge why you'd be totally pissed.
posted by It's a Parasox at 9:22 PM on March 16, 2015 [23 favorites]

God, I'm sorry. That's awful to go through. And now you are the one who has to think about how your actions will affect your community, when you haven't done a thing wrong. How unfair!

In the interest of outing the predator in your midst, I think I would tell a couple trusted friends in the group, but then I am not in your shoes so this is easy for me to say. I would let the grapevine do its thing and I would confirm the facts of the case if asked directly. I would try to find a way not to care if some people blamed me or didn't believe me, probably by relying on those friends who did believe and support me.

I'm thinking a guy like this has crossed others' boundaries before and his other victims have suffered in silence.

I'm thinking he apologized because he knows exactly what he did. [On preview, right on, It's a Parasox.]
posted by kapers at 9:23 PM on March 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

There seem to be a lot of angry "shoulds" upthread. As someone who was assaulted, I feel I'm in a position to say with some authority: Do what will help YOU HEAL. You recognized it. You shared it with the most important person in your life, your spouse. He's not blaming. He's got your back. If you feel a pressure to share it with others, to continue to talk about it, then do so. If you don't want to keep going over it, then for God's sake don't talk about it anymore. This was a drunk in a bar, not a pedophile in a schoolyard. You have no public obligation to do or not do anything. I know it's sometimes hard to know how you really feel in a situation like this, but I hope you can be clear that what's best for you is what you should do. Good luck.
posted by kestralwing at 10:33 PM on March 16, 2015 [13 favorites]

Honestly, this looks to me like he does this regularly enough to warrant a practiced arse-covering response.

Nothing you do now is "causing shit". As was mentioned up thread, he's already started causing shit, and will likely continue to cause shit later.

Do what you have to in order to heal. But I would suggest letting the organisers know, even via an anonymous message, so they can have a record of the incident and come up with policy to prevent it happening again.
posted by Jilder at 12:00 AM on March 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

As someone who looks after a community and deals with such issues I'd be pleased that someone came to me with a complaint that we could act on - often this won't be the first time something like this has happened but we are powerless to take action on hearsay other than have a few words.
posted by ozgirlabroad at 1:16 AM on March 17, 2015 [15 favorites]

The fan community is pretty small, mostly online, and although this person did me harm, I don't think they meant to.

I ended up unlinking this person's social media accounts, and the next day got a private message from them "sincerely apologizing" if they had done anything inappropriate. They mentioned they were drunk, and didn't remember anything.

For what it's worth, this kind of "apology" -- the "I'm sorry if I did anything that you got upset about while I was blackout drunk and not responsible for my actions" apology -- is pretty common among individuals who pull this kind of shit. Once people report it, it's generally found that they have pulled this shit more than once, often while staying juuuuuust visibly drunk enough to give them this cover for their actions. (I'm not linking to anything here, but this is a pattern of behavior familiar to anyone who tracks con harassment reporting.)

And honestly, even if they were drunk -- this person is a grown-ass adult. If you get drunk enough to black out and get non-consensually handsy (which, as noted above, is sexual assault), then it is your responsibility, as a responsible adult, not to drink.

All of which is to say: I am of the opinion that you should proceed in whatever way feels the best to you, and completely disregard the perpetrator's feelings in the matter.

As far as what you should do: I think it will depend on your community. Some will be good about this; some will not. You probably could start by feeling out the friend who got you into a cab. You say she responded because she saw a look of horror on your face, but I have to wonder if she was also (on some level, possibly not even consciously) watching for perpetrator to pull something like this.
posted by pie ninja at 5:43 AM on March 17, 2015 [15 favorites]

So much good advice here. I came to say basically what Miko said both times. Even if it was the first time he'd done such a thing, and I doubt that, he fully deserves to reap the consequences of his actions -- including being excluded from the community, or having his conduct subject to extra scrutiny -- so he doesn't do it again to someone else down the line. He may be counting on you not to report it.

You don't have to, of course, but I would recommend you tell someone. Don't forget that you have a witness; even if that person didn't see where the dude's hands were, it was obvious you were upset by something he did. I'm so sorry you experienced this. Sexual assault is horrible. But it's fully on him; you didn't start it; he did.
posted by Gelatin at 6:07 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

You were sexually assaulted. Unfortunately in situations like this we're conditioned to try our best not to rock the boat and you're feeling responsible for what he did, instead of seeing that it was his actions and his disgraceful behavior.
I'm so glad your partner was supportive. Too often the people we turn to are conditioned to blame us. Rape culture's a bitch.
Who knows what this guy has done before or could do again, if you feel strong enough to be more open about what happened then do it. Other people could do well to know what he's really like. But you are under no obligation to do so. Whatever you feel comfortable with is what you feel comfortable with and that's most important. If you feel up to taking it further with the police do so as well.
Who knows if he were really too drunk to know what he did, it could easily be an excuse and he may be manipulating you to get out of the situation. He is a pig.
I've been through more situations like this than I care to remember but just know you're not alone. People are there for you. Your spouse loves you and cares for you.
If you want to private message me then do. I hope you're ok.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:51 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Step 1: Report the perpetrator, by name, to whoever is in a position to do something about it, whether that be the convention organizer or their designated head of security. Describe the assault in specific detail. It is their job to ensure that this person is never a threat at any event again.

Step 2: If the event organizer does not respond appropriately, publicize the perpetrator's information, including real name, any handles or pseudonyms used, and photograph. Destroy their reputation. At the same time, publicize the same information about the event organizer and destroy their reputation as well. All of these people have forfeited the privilege of existing as a respected member of any community.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:08 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you do talk to the con organizer, point them at some resources that'll help them set up the organisational infrastructure for dealing with this kind of thing. Every conference/convention should have, at minimum, an active and enforced anti-harassment policy.
posted by zamboni at 8:34 AM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Coming in to add my voice of support as someone on staff at a convention--we absolutely want anyone who's been harassed or assaulted to tell us, so we can take steps to make the convention safer in the future.
posted by telophase at 9:24 AM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hm. The exact same thing happened to me in a nightclub when I was 22, and I was really surprised by my own reaction. I am a lifelong feminist, and even so I spent a few days blaming myself -- second-guessing what I'd been wearing, and stuff like that, blah. I say that because 1) it sounds like you are reacting in a way that's more healthy than I did, yay, and 2) if you do find yourself feeling self-blamey, well, I'd say that's unfortunately normal. In my case it was a stress reaction, and I got over it.

I couldn't have reported the guy who assaulted me: I didn't know his name, and he disappeared before I could react. But here's what I think about in your situation.

First, I think we all have a tendency to imagine the most extreme outcome. But you are not balancing here between silence versus a jail term or utter ostracism of this guy. There is no world in which he's going to jail, or will be publicly shamed and have his life ruined. Over-punishment is really, really unlikely.

The most common pattern in this kind of situation is underreporting, which often --at best-- results in a "missing stair" type situation. Most people do not get drunk and put their hands in women's pants. People who do stuff like that tend not to do it once. It's a pattern. And most people, when it happens to them, either say nothing, or tell a few friends. Sometimes a whisper network develops, and people are informally warned to avoid the guy. That is bad for people who aren't part of the whisper network. Ask yourself how you'd feel if dozens of people knew that guy assaults women, and you are the only one who didn't know.

In saying that, I'm not saying you should report him. And sadly, the people in this thread saying they are conference organisers and would like to know -- they are not necessarily the norm. In my experience when women report something like this inside their social community (fandom or other) they get a wide range of responses. Sometimes things are handled very well. Sometimes they are ignored. Sometimes they are handled clumsily, and everybody feels bad, and nothing is resolved. The upside is that there's at least a little bit of a record, so if there is a pattern it makes it likelier that people in the future can connect the dots.

I'd like to say if it were me I'd report it. But honestly I'm not sure I would. If there was an organiser I trusted, I might. If the community had any indications they were sophisticated about this kind of thing (a code of conduct, feminists in senior positions, anything like that), that'd make me likelier to report. If I felt safe and valued in the community, I'd be likelier to report. But it's a judgement call.

Do what's right for you. Whatever you choose to do, don't berate yourself. You didn't cause this problem. It's not up to you to solve it.
posted by Susan PG at 10:53 AM on March 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Also: if you want to talk this through with somebody, feel free to PM me. I know lots of people with experience in conference anti-harassment work: I'd be happy to introduce you to somebody who could help you confidentially think through your options.
posted by Susan PG at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2015

I would report it to the community and cite it as my reason for "leaving" the online hangout.

If the community is a constructive place for you and other women, the perp will be ostracized and you will be invited back to teh community withthe assurance that people who sexually assault are not present or welcome.

If you do not hear from them again, it's better not to involve yourself in a community that brushes unwanted fingering under the table.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:11 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

You will not be starting shit. The person who sexually assaulted you is the who started shit.

It is a valid concern that asshats in the community will take it that way though, in a shoot the messenger kind of way.

Do i think you should bring this up? yes. But i think several people here seem ignorant of the way people act about this, or just seem to be disregarding how you might be treated.

I've been around for the fallout after this kind of stuff. I've known people on both sides of it. I'd list this kind of behavior in the top 5 reasons why i completely disconnected from "con culture" which i used to be really involved in(hotel room bullshit, being involved in booths at the cons themselves, being a panelist/performing artist, cosplaying and getting involved in huge groups of people going, bla bla bla... for like one year shy of a decade)

I think you should call this person out. I think it's very likely other people will privately contact you, and possibly even publicly reply saying they've had similar experiences.

I also think there's going to be a decent sized group of people who think you're "gross" for bringing this up, or "making drama" or whatever since you brought it up and that this like "between you and them" or just generally brand you as a dramagirl. I don't think that should stop you, but you should be ready for it because it's very likely to happen.

For what it's worth, this kind of "apology" -- the "I'm sorry if I did anything that you got upset about while I was blackout drunk and not responsible for my actions" apology -- is pretty common among individuals who pull this kind of shit. Once people report it, it's generally found that they have pulled this shit more than once, often while staying juuuuuust visibly drunk enough to give them this cover for their actions. (I'm not linking to anything here, but this is a pattern of behavior familiar to anyone who tracks con harassment reporting.)

Pretty much this x1000. I've seen this in and outside con stuff. It's a common way for a certain kind of sexual predator to act. It's both to instill doubt in whoever they assault, and to give them a certain amount of cover. Plenty of people will side eye you a bit when you call out someone and they respond like this as "oh they were just being stupid". It's very VERY hard to get some people to accept that this is well, unacceptable. Sometimes it takes multiple people coming forward to get a majority of people on board, and it's even more frustrating when those not initially on board people are in charge.

Nothing they said excuses their behavior, and you shouldn't believe for a second that they didn't know exactly what they were doing. They just knew that a lot of people would accept this response to at the very least, plant a bit of doubt and temper their anger if not just push fence sitters in to the "eww gross this shouldn't be a public thing" or you're-trying-to-destroy-that-good-guys-reputation-omg camp.

This person knows how to play the game though. Be prepared for shittiness, and for this to be re-litigated.

As i said before, i think you should do this if you want to and that it's not the wrong thing, but just be ready for how nasty it's going to get. Only very recently, in my surviving group of friends from that shit i still talk to who have seen this song and dance way too many times, has it just started to automatically shift gears to "ok fuck that person". It really took years of it being a "but what about..." bullshit thing when someone was called out, with plenty of pushback every fucking time. And i mostly escaped that by just disconnecting from people who didn't take this bullshit behavior seriously.

I also want to be clear that you don't HAVE to do shit. You are not morally obligated to be the person to take this guy down or try to if you don't want to. You are not responsible for his behavior or anything he does in the future. Other people DEFINITELY know he's a shit already. If you just want to be done with this, you have the Internets permission. I, personally, would want to light this person up though.
posted by emptythought at 4:39 PM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

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