satifice

operating on the principle of good enough

Time to Talk About Community Accountability

So after @pnkrcklibrarian made a very clear public statement that Joe Murphy, a fairly ubiquitous presence in the library conference circuit, has been continuously sexually harassing women at these conferences (and one imagines pretty much anywhere he goes). This information, apparently, is widely known amongst women (this is the whisper network) and in spaces beyond, yet very little has been done to hold him accountable. He still gets speaking engagements. Keynote invites. Still considered a ‘leader’ or whatever in the field.

She posed a critical and important question on twitter:

Some of you really want to make a change and stop sweeping assholes under the rug.

So the big question: How.

and

How do we curtail the behaviour when it is publicly known, better yet, how do we weed them out so the profession isn’t tainted.

This blog post is part of my answer for how to begin really dealing with this stuff. About how to create both a community wherein accountability is possible, and maybe some suggestions for what community accountability might look like in the librarian world.

Preamble

Can I point out the fact that Joe Murphy’s behaviour is so well known that women attending lib conferences literally have instituted a buddy-type safety system to protect themselves? That – quite literally – they are afraid to be alone with him? Add this to the fact that librarians are mostly women and one begins to truly understand that this is what institutional sexism looks like. This is why issues of sexism and misogyny need to be present even in fields with a numerical majority of women. Because, despite these numbers, we still have a man known to be a predator being supported by the same institutions that employ, fund, etc. many of the women in the field. One last thought: if you think he is the only one… well, you’d be wrong.

And now, steps towards creating community where accountability is possible.

Put Victims First

Frameworks and clear support for victims. One of the reasons why situations like this continue, despite the offendor being known, is that, within our communities (both libraries and beyond), there is little-to-no support for victims and/or survivors. I don’t only mean support in terms of victim services (although these are important as well), but even the very minimal support of the benefit of the doubt.

The problem with habitual abusers/harassers is that they tend to know exactly what sorts of things they can get away with. They know who to target. They know that, even if their targets voice their experiences, that the victim will be doubted (and blamed) or that, in the absence of ‘proof’, nothing much will come of it. And, importantly, they know how to engage in their abusive, harassing, and potentially illegal behaviour in ways that leave very little evidence behind.

As soon as @pnkrcklibrarian made her assertion, people were asking for proof. Some of it, apparently, has vanished. She did provide one link that I won’t bother linking to, since it is besides the point. Many people think that these situations boil down to ‘he said/she said’ and that we can just really never ‘know’ what actually happened. Of course, this generally means giving tacit approval for the predator to continue abusing and harassing people.

In case people have forgotten, we are neither the police nor the judicial system. We do not have to adhere to their evidentiary requirements. We do not have to assume innocence. We don’t have to build a ‘case’ against someone. We don’t, in actual fact, require ‘proof’ that would hold up in a court of law. We don’t need to gather evidence and conduct investigations.

This is about community accountability. Holding abusers/predators accountable to the community and holding the community accountable to itself.

We can and must take a stance of siding with victims. There needs to be a super clear message that whenever someone speaks up about abuse or harassment that they’ve experienced and encountered within a professional space (conference, work, whatever) that this person will be supported and believed.

What this looks like:

  • Don’t ask for ‘proof’.
  • Don’t treat ‘both sides of the story’ as if they hold equal weight.
  • Do not engage in any type of victim blaming behaviour.
  • Listen to the victim. Do it. And don’t judge.

Walk the Talk

@pnkrcklibrarian also tweeted this critical point:

I also need to stress it’s not enough to have CoC, we need to be ACTIONABLE to them. A piece of paper is worthless unless you support it.

If we are going to get serious about making spaces as safe and inclusive as possible, then we need to show commitment to things like codes of conduct and putting victims first through action.

If your conference (or whatever) has decided on a code of conduct, their should also be clearly stated consequences for breaking the code. And, this is where it gets really tough, actually enforce these consequences.

Did a woman just report getting sexually harassed?

Eject the man from the conference. Don’t ‘ask’ him to stop. Eject him and let him know that he can try again next year.

Did a presenter just make a racist joke?

Stop the presentation. Call it out. If this manages to derail the talk (eg, the presenter gets defensive and is unwilling to apologize), then the talk is over.

Does someone have a reputation for being a sexual predator?

STOP INVITING THEM TO SPEAK.

Essentially: hold people accountable for the harm that they cause.

No, this doesn’t mean turning people into pariahs and ruining their careers. But doesn’t it say something about how permissive our culture is when it comes to abuse and harassment that only when a person becomes so known for it or some major event happens that causes everyone to ‘turn against’ the person, is when some action is finally taken?

The thing is, is that if we don’t hold people accountable for small, seemingly innocuous (microagressions anyone?) behaviour, we give them tacit permission to escalate this behaviour. If people are held accountable for their bad behaviour it also gives them a chance to learn and grow and (hopefully) stop behaving that way. If accountability is becomes normalized, instead of silently accepting that abuse and harassment are something that we just need to grin and bear, then accountability doesn’t have to be this big boogeyman. It also doesn’t need to mean that a person’s reputation and career are ruined.

Because if accountability is what gets normalized, then we’ll all eventually have this experience (since there are no perfect people).

Things to watch out for

If your conference (or whatever) has a CoC and no one has yet to report an incident, this means that your CoC has failed to indicate that victims come first and that it will be enforced and that there are consequences. Get any sufficiently large group of people together, and it is nearly impossible that nothing happened.

If you are privileged in a respect and no one who isn’t privileged in that respect has never once confided in you about their experiences, you’ve not done enough to clearly indicate that you are a trustworthy ally.

Next Steps

Start figuring out what you and/or your org will do to hold people accountable for their actions.

Make clear consequnces and communicate this to the larger community.

Enforce the codes of conduct and actually hold people accountable.

Do it even if it is hard.

Do it even if it is unpopular.

Believe victims. Believe victims.

Listen to victims (they may have their own thoughts re: accountability).

Put victims first. Make sure everyone knows that this is your default position.