Responding to comments: how do you deal with an offender who’s not committed an offence at your event?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

how would you address eg a DV or restraining order in your creation of safer spaces?

This is a bit like responding to a report about an offender, where said person was offending/had offended in another city. This actually comes up quite regularly, and is the follow up issue to ‘how do we report someone’: ‘what do we do with someone who’s been reported?’

I personally have a zero tolerance policy. If you have committed an offence in my class/event/city, and I have a report, then you are banned from all my classes and events forever.
I know that other people work with offenders to rehabilitate them, but I personally figure I only have a limited about of time and energy, and I’d much rather put that energy and time into supporting the people who don’t harass or rape people, and into my own work (eg if I’m working on s.h. stuff, I don’t have time to DJ, social dance, work on scripting performance, etc etc). In shorter Sam talk, “Fuck that shit. I ain’t got time for that.”

So when someone is reported to me for an offence in another city/country, I take I take it very seriously:

  • I find out as much as I can (though I never ask for the name of the reporting person. I’m totally ok with anonymous reports, because I prioritise the safety of reporters above all else);
  • If I get the heads-up from someone who isn’t in my trusted network, I find someone who is in that network and ask questions;
  • I am very careful to maintain confidentiality, and that means I don’t name the reported offender unless absolutely necessary;
  • Once I’ve got confirmation, I send that person an email telling them that they’re not welcome at my events (I list the events specifically), and that they will be asked to leave if they do attend. If they refuse to leave, the police will then be called. This email is an important part of developing a defence against an accusation of defamation in the future. I send an official email and ask them to reply. I don’t need to respond or follow up on that reply.
  • By the timee I get a report about a person in another scene or city or country, they’ve already committed a number of offences and have assaulted/harassed a number of people.

Note: if you do send someone an email/message/text/letter naming an offender, you may be liable for a defamation case, as it constitutes publication of defamatory comments. So a phone call is better (though it’s still not a ‘safe’ option). I take a calculated risk on this: I am prepared to pursue this to preserve the safety of my myself, my friends, my students, my peers, my teachers, my musicians, everyone. I have clearly set out my own limits, and I stick to them.
I also have a lawyer who specialises in defamation law in NSW, and is very helpful for developing strategies. I speak to her about twice every six months, and this costs me $$, which I’m prepared to spend.

If someone is notifying an organiser in another city/country, they need to be very sure that person will also be working to keep the reporter safe, and won’t tell the offender all the details. They also need to be willing to keep the person notifying them safe (offenders are often aggressive, bullying types who will threaten people who band them or report them).

So I prioritise:

  • Keeping myself safe
  • keeping the reporter safe
  • keeping the person working as an agent/intermediary for the reporter safe
  • Keeping other people in the community safe.

I figure, as with a restraining order, the reported person/offender has proved themselves a demonstrable risk, so I notify them officially that they are not to attend my events/classes, and that the consequences for attending will be X, Y, Z.
I find they often don’t try to attend anyway, because they’ve figured out that I will jump on that phone and call the police immediately.
I will not be bullied or pushed around. And I definitely will not let them threaten other people. Hell no. That’s the stuff that makes me super white-cold-furious.

When will I call the police?

I don’t notify the police about reports of sexual assault. Reporting to the police is a harrowing process for women, and we rarely come out of this well. After the past year of negotiating legal options, my opinion is that the Australian/NSW legal system is not able to protect women reporting sexual assault. So I leave that decision to the woman reporting the incident.

I will hop on the phone and call the police immediately if a known and banned offender turns up at my event, whether it’s at a public venue or a private venue. I have the local police stations’ phone numbers, and I’m more than willing to call 000.

I also have a procedure for responding to these people in person:

  • They turn up at the door and try to pay/enter
  • a volunteer lets me know (they don’t try to confront the person)
  • I tell them that they need to leave: “You are not welcome at this event. You will leave now, or I will call the police and have you removed.” (I practice this little script)
  • Then they either leave, or I call the police. They must leave _immediately_, or I call the police. If they have paid, I hand them their money (to save hassle, though I’m not required to).
  • I do not confront them, I do not touch them, I do not allow anyone else to touch them or engage with them. I make sure they see me watching them. I say nothing more than the script.
  • While we’re waiting for the police, I observe them, and I make sure no one engages with them. By this stage, most of the staff will have noticed them, and are avoiding them, and making sure other people avoid them. If they interact with anyone, I ask that person to come with me for a drink. I have noticed that other people will intervene to ask that person for a dance/talk, whatever.
  • After all this, we write a report, and I notify other organisers.

Note: thinking about all this and working on a real-time script is really distressing and tiring. So I am very careful about when I do this work, and I make sure to debrief afterwards. I speak to a psychologist about this stuff, as it’s highly distressing to deal with in real time, and across a lot of incidents.

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