How gentle classes can fight the power

I was thinking about this this week. When it’s hard for peeps to get to class, if our classes are extra welcoming and embracing diversity, we make it easier for marginalised peeps to get to class and learn to dance.

I think it’s important for us, in this political climate, to do what we can to counter the horrible sadness and anger we feel about injustice. And I think we can do that by doing positive, excellent stuff that makes people feel good and happy. Including us. And lindy hop is just perfect for this.

This is my back story:
Our country is currently embroiled in a very nasty public shitstorm about a survey asking whether or not the laws should be changed to include same sex marriage. It’s not a referendum or a binding vote. It’s just a huge, expensive, shit-stirring survey intended to stir up distress and foment conflict. All because our spineless government didn’t want to allow members of parliament to vote on a new bill according to conscience (rather than party lines).
Last week in class we had a few same-sex couples come to class for the first time. Our door person was wearing her excellent ‘YES’ tshirt*, and I’d reposted this the previous week:

The couples felt a bit nervous about class (usually first time beginner stuff). And today I was thinking, ‘I’m so glad we were making it clear that anyone can lead or follow. I’m so glad we had a same sex teaching couple that week. I’m so glad we have a friendly class that focuses on looking after each other. I’m so glad our usual students are so welcoming and nice to each other.’
It’s hard enough coming to class for the first time as a shy noob. But if you’re someone who’s used to be marginalised, it’s even more important that you’re met with a welcoming class environment.
Because I believe, so strongly, that happy students do better learning. And we can do very good, important things for the world just in teaching dance. It’s not ‘just dancing’. It’s important.

*meaning ‘vote ‘yes’, let’s change the laws.

Why teaching is important to feminism

James recently made this comment in response to some interesting comments by Kathleen in the fb teaching group:

I would do anything for them to let me teach lessons in my scene the way you do up there! When I tried I encountered surprising resistance. People are weirdly attached to their 6 count triple step highly gendered rotation classes.

I think my response pretty much sums up my ideas about the relationship between teaching (which is so central to contemporary lindy hop culture – for better or worse) and the broader cultural and social power structures in our community. I believe that we build cultures of exploitation or empowerment in our classes.

Traditional class models are very easy to teach (because you teach to that imaginary ‘average’, rather than to different students’ needs); very easy to promote (this is exactly what you get *lists moves in sequence*); and are a very powerful ‘add on’ promotional model, where students start at level 1 and then add 2, 3, 4, 5. You keep adding levels/products to retain that market.

As you’d expect, you end up retaining your ‘average’, losing diversity in your cohort, and churn out students who all dance the same way, and can’t count themselves in. Which is ok if you want to build a very big scene very quickly. Not so good if you’re looking for diversity. This sort of approach to ‘scene building’ promotes/builds very clear hierarchies of power and status, and consequently enables sexual harassment, exploitation of labour, and other status-related bullshit.

Also it’s boring to teach.

In contrast the ‘full hippy‘ teaching culture (which draws a lot from things like Montessori thinking and other independent pedagogic practice), hopefully enables personal empowerment and fights the fucking patriarchy. And gives us more interesting dancing and teaching :D

Good peeps are doing good work

I’m back from Herräng 2017, and feeling a bit better about the dancing world’s response to sexual harassment.

Just a reminder that there are a whole heap of organisers, DJs, volunteers, and generally good peeps who are watching and acting on information about men who’ve been reported as sexual offenders. Most of them aren’t famous or big names. Almost all of them are quietly squirrelling away on this issue.
Each time I travel I meet people who have incredibly good, well-thought out processes and plans. The international lindy hop community has leapt onto this issue.
They work hard to protect and maintain the anonymity of the women and men who report offenders. They’ll receive threats (physical, legal, emotional, financial), and will be snowed under with paper work and processes.
Almost all of the men who’ve been reported aren’t famous teachers or even well known dancers. There won’t be blog posts or well-trafficked posts about these men. Very few other men will even have noticed them, and it’s unlikely famous teachers will boycott events if these offenders attend. They’re all ages, all ethnicities, all classes, and all over the world. I have not come across a single incident in the last two years where the report has been unfounded. In most cases women are _under_ reporting or playing down the behaviour of these men. And there have been a lot of reports.
These men are almost comically similar in their behaviour and patterns. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so shitty. So offenders are relatively easy to spot. And people are watching, keeping an eye on each other.
These reports trickle in every week, all over the world, and the that network of organisers, DJs, volunteers, and good peeps will be keeping each other in the loop about their movements. Facebook has never been busier with messages organising meet ups and conversations, keeping people aware of which offenders are moving where and doing what.
You can bet your bottom dollar all the people who are working on these reports will get them out their dances and parties.
So if you do report once, and you don’t get a good result, please do try again. There are plenty of good peeps who have your back.
Men: stop that jerky sexist shit. Those sexist objectifying ‘jokes’ in dance contests, the jokes about ‘boob swipes’ in class, the laughing ‘games’ between higher profile men. All of that sends messages to other men that this behaviour is ok, and to women that they need to just tolerate this. Don’t offer to walk us to our cars. Just stop encouraging other men to treat women like jokes.
And all those people working on this issue don’t need your bullshitly immature behaviour muddying the water. Stop being jerks; get your shit together.

Patterns to watch out for. ie stuff I’ve seen or had reported as part of a report of assault or harassment. So many times it’s getting stupidly obvious:

Overly controlling, rough, or sexualised dancing on the dance floor.
– unwanted/non-consensual dips or movements where women are forced into positions;
– ‘blues dance’ moves/styles/steps in a lindy hop context. When women complain about these movements, these men almost always describe them as ‘blues dance’ moves, hence justifying their behaviour and delegitimising women’s complaints;
– ‘teaching’ or ‘telling’ newer or younger women dancers how or what to do during a dance or between a dance. This usually means these women are isolated from other people on the floor between dances as these men mansplain their rough or controlling behaviour.
– targeting younger or less experienced women (of all types of appearance) and asking them to dance repeatedly – they literally comb the room with their eyes.

Stalking:
– constant facebook messages, comments, emojis, photos, tagging in other people’s photos, requests for friending
– repeated requests for phone numbers relatively early in a friendship (eg the day they meet a woman), in person and via social media. Usually for an ostensibly legit reason – to clarify details of an event, find out where the party is, etc)
– constant text messages, phone calls, and pics via phone at all hours and times. Often with emotionally ‘sincere’ or ‘confessional’ tones – eg stories about their emotional vulnerability, their past relationships, etc. Basically, stories about _them_.
– repeated and intrusive invitations to dance – interrupting women’s conversations with other women (to isolate them) cutting in after one dance with another partner, multiple dances in a row at a single party, followed by invitations to ‘private parties
– invitations to ‘private parties’ or events that are presented as group events, but turn out to be just him. These are usually ‘blues’ parties at someone’s house or a secluded venue. The man is usually the only person with the details, and they may collect the woman in their car.
– dropping the woman home after a dance (so they know where she lives), then ‘dropping in’ repeatedly, or making sure they’re the only person who drops her home after a dance. And then keeping her in the car or coming up to her house with long ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations. Mostly about him.

Targets:
– younger, less experienced women dancers
– women with less confidence.
– often have younger girlfriends and keep the relationship secret ‘for privacy’. When other dancers discover the relationship, they are frequently surprised that such a ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ woman is with such a socially outgoing or spontaneous man.

These men:
– all nationalities and ethnicities
– not incredibly handsome or attractive, but usually quite ‘ordinary’ or ‘inoffensive’ – ie strangers probably won’t remember them.
– not usually super fashionable, but often reasonably well dressed. This can really vary between scenes and dance styles, though. They tend to ‘fit in’.
– very rarely very high profile teachers or performers
– may describe themselves as ‘teaching’, but only teach privates or smaller events – usually blues or another niche dance (eg fusion, or another blended dance) which doesn’t have a big presence in that city
– may teach at smaller events, but don’t have a high profile, and aren’t terribly well regarded. May eventually become a standard face in a teaching cohort, but never at a highly respected level. May teach interstate or even internationally at very small scale ‘intimate’ events run by less experienced organisers.
– if they don’t have actual teaching gigs, they frequently teach on the dance floor, or offer to ‘work with’ or ‘practice’ with newer women dancers privately, and present themselves as specialists who like to dance ‘their own style’ and have no patience with formal workshops.

These men work the long game. They put in a lot of ‘ground work’ to groom a woman which they eventually sexually assault, or enter a relationship with where they assault their partner repeatedly. Within a relationship they gradually escalate the assaults, as they gain greater control of these women and isolate them. Women may begin by feeling a bit ‘pushed’ to do deep kissing at a party with other people near by, to ‘mess about’ with this man and another partner (often another woman), to have unprotected sex in otherwise consensual situations. But the sexualised coercion escalates and happen in concert with other controlling behaviours – belittling comments in public, isolation, etc. And then they become more clearly assault and often very violent. The women become ‘quieter’ and more withdrawn at social events.

These men:
isolate
(dominating women at dances, taking them out after dances)
doubt (degrade or critique until women question their own minds and decisions)

dominate
(stalking online with constant fb messages, text messages; dancing in ways that showcase his status and ability and allow her zero creative space)

avoid
(more confident women, figures of authority, and legit events)

It’s very unlikely you’ll ever see them offend at a public event. Even if you’re watching closely. If you do call them on a dodgy hand position, they’ll either make excuses or apologise profusely. Then avoid you.

Please note: it’s the relationship between these behaviours that make patterns. So there’s nothing wrong with asking for someone’s phone number, calling them up, having a D&M then getting together and having gloriously consensual sex. All within a weekend.

But the combination of factors is what we should be watching for.

So you can see why it’s important for us to address seemingly ‘small’ issues like non-consensual dips on the social dance floor, right?

Does everyone see that sexual assault isn’t just a random dood attacking a woman on the street, that we can prevent by having a famous dancer walk a woman to a car? Or by carrying bear repellant?

(This post and its comments brought to you by arriving home to yet another assault report, depressing in its familiarity. It’s as though these men have a manual and just follow it. PUA-style.)

In response to a comment from the ever-thoughtful Byron:

I’d like to find a way for that list of yellow and red flags to become something that’s shared readily within the dance scenes at large, maybe edited in a way that highlights what the dance scene SHOULD be like, and how to tell if someone is violating community standards in weird ways.

This is the sticking point at the moment. Most of the people I know are doing this very carefully, and mostly in person. Which of course is a challenge for scenes divided by geography.
But there is the risk of exposing yourself to legal action for defamation if you do share information publicly (even by email).

Yet it is possible: you just need to get good, solid legal advice. Which is what I’m currently doing. Costs a fair bit of money, and the laws are different between Australian states (let alone countries), so you need real, legit legal advice (not internet legal advice). And I certainly won’t advise on it. But lawyers specialising in defamation can simply and easily write up a template letter and advise you on how to send letters or emails to other organisers warning them about these people.

A very very important step: all events and organisers need a policy, a code of conduct (ie a list of rules posted publicly), and a practical process, and then a reporting process. If these are in place before communicating info about known offenders, then organisers can prove that their actions weren’t personal malice, but professional process (hence avoiding some legal action). It’s also important because it helps organisers develop a clear sense of their own values, and become confident in their thoughts and actions. And most offenders rely on a lack of confidence or clarity in people’s thinking.

This is also why it’s essential that we drum it into all dancers that we all have a right to a freedom from sexual harassment and assault, and that we are all the best judges of our own limits and personal space and liberty. Dance classes _must_ prioritise this.

I am becoming more and more certain that a student-centred approach to teaching lindy hop is central to this – we have to encourage students to trust their own decisions and thinking. Not just tell them ‘here is the answer’ and then demand they do things one single way (our way). The next teacher who starts a workshop saying “there are lots of ways of doing things, but this is _our_ way” gets a punch: there are lots of different ways of dancing. And they are all worth thinking about. Similarly, I am now 100% absolutely totally angry with teachers who forbid students ‘giving each other feedback’ or discussing how their bodies and they are feeling with their dance partners. It breeds a culture of silence and self-doubt in women.

Korean safe space policies

One of the things I like most about Seoul is the culture of visual information. ie signs with pictures. It draws on comic book culture, but also reflects, content-wise, Korean communitarian ethos and values. So informational signs like this one from the subway focus on individuals doing the right thing not for their own safety, but for the safety and comfort of others. Many of the signs also emphasise on younger people’s responsibilities to older people. It’s a really great discursive tool for peeps to have at hand.

Another thing I really like is the way the Dance Safe peeps in Seoul have used these practices to do some pretty impressive stuff. Here is one of the posters I saw stuck up outside SwingTime Bar in Seoul, above one of the benches where everyone sits to change their shoes (Seoul dancers change shoes before they enter the studio space). So, perfect placement.

The poster itself is solid gold. It has a light hearted, charming feel very much in keeping with Korean visual educational media texts. It uses animals rather than ‘women’ or ‘men’ symbols, which means it avoids gender binaries and norms. Even though I don’t read Korean, I can still get the message.

Dance Safe are a group of Korean peeps (men and women!) who’re working super hard to raise awareness about personal safety, sexual harassment, and mutual respect in the biggest lindy hop scene in the world. This is no mean feat, as the sheer scale of the scene means they need a zillion posters, pamphlets, and people involved. They’re doing some fund raising (with the support of various local organisers) to get $$ together to cover their printing costs.

My media studies/cultural studies brain is super interested in this project. This is almost exactly the sort of work I did in my Phd: how do dancers use media texts within a community so focussed on the body?

These guys are doing things that fascinate my academic brain, but also my activist brain and event organiser brain. How, _how_ are they pulling off this stuff?! I see some racist bullshit coming out of the English speaking lindy hop world about ‘Asian’, and ‘Russian’, and ‘French’ dancers, accusing them of not understanding ‘safe space’ ideology ‘because of culture’. But in my experience with dancers from these countries and other NES scenes, the activism is as exciting and engaged – if not more so – than the English speaking world.

Part of me thinks we need a conference to get all of the safe space activists in dance together to share this sort of information. How exciting!

Stalking is quite common and quite scary

In the past couple of years working on sexual harassment and assault in the lindy hop scene, I’ve realised that online stalking is a key part of male aggression towards women. Endless emails, fb messages, text messages, fb comments… and so on work to bombard women into compliance. All this added to constant invitations to dance and unwanted physical contact on and off the dance floor.

You can say no thanks to a dance with no explanation, and you can just block someone on fb. You don’t owe anyone your attention, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for just blocking Idiot Stalker Dood with no explanation.

More importantly, doodbros: no one owes you their attention. So stop with the weirdarse creepy messages.

White man discovers his experience of the world is not universal

Andy Reid recently wrote this on fb:

Lindy Hoppers: Many of you came to the dance and found a comfortable space where you could spread your wings. You found a place where you could be geeky, nerdy, techy, punky, introverted, extroverted, or whatever. You could be any of those things feel like you belonged. For many of us, we wouldn’t be the people you are now if we hadn’t found a place like this were we could be boldly ourselves. Beautiful, isn’t it?
This is NOT the experience for everyone who comes to this dance. In this case, this is not the experience of many LGTBQIA+ who have come across this dance scene. We are pushing people away. It takes courage to be “out” in this scene. Some utopia.
In the past few years, the illusion that our dance scene is a place free from the dangers of the real world has been shattered. As a result, we’ve done a lot to listen, learn and are making worthwhile changes. Also, we took our heads out of our asses. We can be proud of that. It’s beyond time to do the same here and realize that this haven that we found, is absolutely not a haven for everyone. We have to realize this and change, just like we shown ourselves capable of doing.
We need to open the doors – fucking wide. We need to shout “I see you. You are not invisible. You are welcome here”… just like others did for us. If (part of that) that means we make gestural changes like changing names of cheesily named dance contests, go for it.
But, far beyond that, I suggest you to take a moment to lightly and politely ask someone different from you about their experience in the scene. If they feel like sharing, you’ll learn something. If you think you don’t know any LGTBQIA+ folks in your local scene, either you are wrong and they are hiding (that speaks volumes) or your scene is tragically homogenous (also speaks volumes).
In the comments, I will be posting statements from different LGTBQIA+ people in our dance scene. Straight (and straight-ish) friends, before discussing this with your other straight (and straight-ish) friends, read some of these – including the comments, some of which are profound – no joke.
It takes effort to try to see the world through other people’s eyes, but it is immensely worthwhile.

This is what I started writing in reply, but didn’t leave on fb:

Nice vibes, Andy. And I dig your post.
Here is my rant.

I’d probably rethink the pronouns, because your call does not rework the status quo or question power:”We need to shout “I see you. You are not invisible.”

As though it is only through being recognised by the straight white male gaze that the other becomes real.

The lindy hop ‘we’ already includes peeps who aren’t straight, white guys. The lindy hop ‘we’ is already queer, black, trans…. everything _as well as_ straight white men. The LGTBQIA+ folk in our scenes ARE ALREADY SPEAKING. Maybe the straight white masculine world of lindy hop should _stop_ speaking for a second.

I’m also a bit suspect about “politely ask someone different from you about their experience in the scene.” Are we outing people now? This ‘asking’ is still an act of managing the public discourse. Why is it everyone else’s responsibility to educate the straight white man? Why is it everyone else’s responsibility to make sure the straight white man is looked after? AGAIN?

Maybe you should be quiet and listen and watch for a while instead. Because WE ARE ALREADY SPEAKING. Maybe you should watch for a while, before asking. See when a man gropes a woman on the dance floor, then tell him to quit. Hear when a straight man makes a bullshit gay joke, then _not laugh_.

So perhaps your call should be, “Hey, straight white guys. We’re the numerical minority in this community. So we should ask why we hold the majority of positions of power and influence. Maybe we should cede our place to the rest of the community. Also it’s time for us to stop talking.”
The lindy hop world is not that special or unique: it is within and a part of the wider community in which it lives. Of course sexism and homophobia and racism are here. Because it is in our wider lives as well.

This is how this will have to work: the most powerful people in our communities will need to give up some of that power. That includes the power to ask questions and speak. And they’re not going to be too happy about that.

I’ve also been struck by some of the comments like this from (straight white male) dancers: “In the past few years, the illusion that our dance scene is a place free from the dangers of the real world has been shattered.”
I was especially struck by the recent ep of the Track where Gordon Webster spent quite a bit of time telling us how shocked he was by the Steven Mitchell issue. He recounted some heart warming stories about the safety of the dance scene, and how surprised he was to discover that things Have Changed.
And I got really really angry. YES POWERFUL WHITE GUY, THE WORLD IS A PRETTY SAFE AND LOVELY PLACE FOR YOU. Your being able to leave your envelope of cash unattended, and without any accountability IS A MARKER OF YOUR POWER. Your being able to set aside the responsibility of paying your staff before you go off and get on stage IS A MARKER OF YOUR POWER. Your leaving the door staff to sell your CDs and make change from your band’s pay IS A MARKER OF YOUR POWER.
It wasn’t because ‘the scene is a utopia’ that that envelope of cash didn’t go missing. It’s because you are a powerful, influential person. And it’s good to be king.

I was especially angry about his reluctance to believe that HIS friend could possibly be dodgy as fuck. When even I, who’d only met Mitchell once or twice and live in another hemisphere, could tell he was a pain in the arse and well dodgy. He didn’t see the problems with Mitchell, because they didn’t affect him directly. He WASN’T LOOKING FOR THEM.

The rest of the dance world (who aren’t straight, white, or male) were already quite sure that the dance world wasn’t a utopia.

News at 5: ‘white man discovers his experience of the world is not universal.’

Because the women, POC… pretty much most of the peeps who aren’t representing hegemonic masculinity in our scene know that it’s not a utopia. And we’ve always known that. And we’ve been talking about it for years. Hell, even Norma Miller’s been shouting it at people for years, and not even she’s been listened to!

Dance invitations are asking permission to touch

Asking someone to dance is also asking them, implicitly, if you can touch their body.
If you insist that we must always say yes to all dance invitations, you are also insisting that we can never say no when someone wants to touch our bodies.
Because we live within patriarchy, where men occupy positions of power and privilege, and women’s bodies are considered objects for male desire, we are talking about women giving permission to be touched by men.

It is important for us to make it clear to all dancers that they can say no to any and all invitations to dance, with no excuse or reason.
Because we do live within patriarchy, women and girls are trained to avoid conflict. They are trained to say yes and nod, whether they mean it or not.

So we must also allow women and girls time and opportunities to practice saying both yes and no. Giving and withdrawing consent.
We must also allow men and boys time and opportunities to practice saying yes and no, and to practice being denied something they want.

This last is, of course, most important. Women are not the problem in sexual assault and harassment. It is men and their behaviour. So men must learn to ask, to accept refusal gracefully, and to relish and take conscious pleasure in the acceptance of an invitation.

When and why to ban offenders, and when to commit to rehabilitation

Another post growing from a fb discussion.

I’m not the hugest fan of Clem Ford, but I’ve mulling over this very point RE offenders in the dance scene:

…people with criminal convictions have the moral right to reintegrate into society once their sentence has been served. But being entitled to access basic needs like employment, housing and amenities is starkly different to being supported to re-enter spaces that automatically confer privilege and power (Clementine Ford, What it means to be a good bloke).

Thomas pointed out in response to this,

This thread’s on point. If a criminal conviction can limit someone’s ability to travel, it’s difficult to see how they shouldn’t be limited in their access to positions of power as well.

and Liam replied

Agreed, but Ford is confusing criminal punishment and social shunning, which are both at work, or not at work. Shunning of transgressors is a social punishment there aren’t any rights against (which is why it’s so powerful/dangerous, and sometimes called for).

The issue within the lindy hop world (and the wider world implicitly), is that most rapes don’t go to court. More precisely: very few of all rapes and assaults go to court. So in most cases there aren’t any criminal charges to enforce or take into account. In the dance world the nearest equivalent is a public report and then community-based action.

The modern lindy hop world has a very strong (certainly evangelical) ethos of ‘growing the scene’. This is rooted in the myth that lindy hop has ‘died out’ and needs to be ‘revived’ or ‘kept alive’. The specific reasons why it should be kept alive are harder to pin down.
But this push to ‘grow the scene’ is often employed by less ethical organisers to justify everyone supporting their events or classes (eg ‘we should support all the classes because we want to grow the scene‘). And it plays a very important part in many community members’ refusal to ban or blacklist offenders: we must ‘keep’ big name/talented/famous dancers (especially ones who were involved in historical research, people like Steven Mitchell) because we have to ‘keep lindy hop alive’ and honour these roots.

This last point is the most worrying for many of us. We are encouraged to venerate original groovers and historians because they are so important to a preservationist/revivalist project. Many dancers resist blacklisting or shunning these dancers because there is a sense that… fuck, it a clear belief that ‘preserving the dance’ is more important than women’s safety.

Steven Mitchell’s systematic grooming and assault of a large number of women and girls was facilitated by dancers who excused his behaviour because he was important for ‘reviving lindy hop’.

Within the dance scene, social shunning is almost the only response to assault by community members. And it is super powerful, because it’s usually achieved by:

  • Blacklisting teachers and DJs (so they don’t get gigs and aren’t put in a position where they can hurt people);
  • Blacklisting/boycotting organisers’ events (if they offend or hire offenders, or don’t ban offenders);
  • Banning offenders from attending big events, and smaller local classes and parties;
  • Excluding offenders from fb groups and discussion lists (which are really super important for community participation where the dance floor itself precludes a lot of talk).

…and so on.

The issues within the dance scene at the moment are:

  • Who carries out and enforces these bans, boycotts, and blacklists;
  • When and who decides it’s time to lift these bans;
  • How to organisers share info with other organisers and with the general punters about who’s been banned (and do they have an obligation to share this information);
  • Who will share information about offenders with whom, and which of these sources is ‘reliable’;
  • What role women reporting offenders should play in this process. eg are they obliged to forgo anonymity and risk physical danger (this seems to be a preponderant view among male organisers, and more conservative organisers);
  • Organisers’ not knowing how, or when, they should enforce bans, and being faced with financial loss and face when discovering a contractor is an offender.

I must point out, that while there’s quite a bit of chatter on the fb about how we should act on these issues, the vast bulk of the practical work is being done by women.
Which brings me back to Ford’s original point: why aren’t men stepping the fuck up on this?

My final points: if we are supposed to commit to rehabilitation of offenders within the community, who exactly is going to do this unpaid labour? And why is their rehabilitation given great value than the mental and physical wellbeing of the women who survived their criminal violence?

What if that teacher you’ve hired is reported for assault?

I think that a lot of organisers are currently terrified of this scenario. What if the teacher you’ve booked is reported for assault before your event? During your event? What do you do? You’ve invented $20 000 in an event, you’ve never had to face this issue before, you’re upset, stressed, and kind of freaking.

The best option is to plan ahead. Don’t ‘wait and see’ or deal with it ‘on a case by case basis’. Plan. Develop policies.

And of course, before you hire someone, find out about them. Ask other teachers, experienced and well-known, well-travelled dancers and DJs. Develop networks before you start booking people.

Make sure you’re known as someone who will listen when an assault is reported. And you do that by having a code of conduct, by speaking often and quite confidently in public about your position on this issue. This sort of reputation (for being a good egg rather than an enabler or apologist) will encourage people to speak to you about known offenders.

Get your priorities right: protect the reporter’s safety. They are putting themselves in physical danger by reporting. So you need to be on their side.
Protect your employees, your contractors and volunteers, your friends, your family, yourself: having a known offender at your event is placing all these people at risk.

So let’s look at a pretty shitty situation. It’s a month out from your event, and you discover (privately or publicly) that one of your headline teachers has been reported for sexual assault by a number of people in different countries.

Here’s a tip: don’t try to hide it. That’s stupid and it endangers other people. Make a plan, so you can respond sensibly if this happens.

I really don’t know how I’d deal with this issue, so I’ve started doing some thinking. Here are my first thoughts.

What I’d do in this situation (and I’m living in dread of the day it’ll be me):

  1. I’d cancel that teacher immediately;
  2. I’d get the teacher’s partner to get another partner stat, or decide to cancel them as well (they may, after all, have been enabling their partner);
  3. I’d make a public announcement that we are not hiring the teacher for this gig. I’d think about whether we announce why. If we did announce why, I’d have a fallout plan in place.
  4. I’d develop a fallout plan. ie a way to handle the financial loss, the PR shock, and my own personal worry and distress.

And I’d just deal with the fact that I’m $2000 worth of airfares out of pocket.
To be honest, I occasionally drop an extra $1500 on an event for things like extra live music, so it’s not that far out of the realm of budgetry possibilities. $2000 seems like a massive amount of money. But it’s a much smaller price than the inevitable PR wreck you’re left with when your covering up this incident is discovered.

Dealing with it promptly = good PR. And there’s a chance you’ll pick up extra registrations from people who see you do take this position, as you’re saying, quite clearly: “I am serious about safety.”

And think about this very carefully: if you still bring a teacher into the country under a visa like a 408, you are bringing a known offender and criminal into the country. This is a very serious issue in Australia, and Border Force will discover this. You are breaking the law. You are also breaking industrial relations law, which requires you to actively work to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

Not to mention the fact that if you don’t act on this, you are placing your friends, family, and employees at risk. Making you a dickbag.

What if one of your teachers is reported for sexual assault during your event?
This happened during Swing Camp Oz a couple of years ago when Steven Mitchell was publicly reported for sexual assault. And Joel Plys handled this issue very badly.
Firstly, Mitchell was allowed to speak to the dancers at the camp, going to each class individually to ‘apologise’.
This is unethical: you are allowing a known offender to make direct contact with your punters and staff in small groups.

Secondly, Mitchell was sent to the airport and out of the country.
This is not only illegal, but also dangerously unethical. You are aiding a known offender in crossing an international border.

What should have happened?
I’m not entirely sure. But one of the clearest options would have been to contact the local police for advice.

One of the most important measures this organiser should have taken was to be sure that all the teachers and the organiser had current, appropriate visas for working in Australia, and had a clear and well thought out code of conduct and OH&S policy. Clearly none of this was the case.

Finally,
who should you tell about this?
This is a tricky one. Since I’ve started being pro-active in speaking to other organisers about known offenders (ie sending emails to organisers making them aware of persons X, Y, and Z, what they’ve done, and what my response is), I have received personal threats of physical violence and legal action. The former really doesn’t scare me that much: what’s new about being threatened with violence? Rape is violence, and I live with that threat every day. By acting on this, speaking out, I’m actually reducing the threat of violence in my community.
The latter scared me at first, as I had no legal experience. But I spoke to some experienced journalist friends (who are used to dealing with threats of defamation), and found a lawyer. The threat of legal action did not eventuate, and an initial letter from the ‘lawyer’ of an offender I’d reported turned out to be an empty threat.

I also saw some of the local organisers being openly resistant to and highly critical of this semi-public discussion of sexual assault. A large number wanted to talk to the reporting woman (I would not put them in contact, as her anonymous safety was more important); wanted to speak to the offender first (like they didn’t know what he’d say); and openly dismissed my efforts as a ‘witch hunt’ or ‘Sam being a bitch’.
This response was what terrified me: so many Australian organisers who openly defended a rapist, publicly questioned a woman’s report, and my acting as her agent in this issue, and made it clear that they thought it wasn’t ‘that serious’.
What was interesting, though, is that I received a large number of emails from women organisers offering support, and saying that they did not agree with the critical comments. In fact, most of the Australian organisers were feeling the way I was: that this shit cannot be tolerated.

All this in addition to the usual round of hate emails, fb messages, and blog comments.

Would I do it all again?
Yep. Because even though this shit scares and upsets me, it’s nothing compared to what these women are dealing with every day. And it makes me SO ANGRY that these men get away with it, and that other men protect them.

But now I am far, far more concerned about the people who protect known rapists. And if you’re not acting on reports, you are protecting and enabling men. Which is why, when you discover one of your guest teachers has been reported for assault, you need to act on it. Because ignoring it will not make it go away; it will enable that man and tell the world you’re ok with it.

How to run events

Here’s my general tip for running events: if you know someone’s a rapist, don’t hire them for gigs.

Doesn’t matter how hard they’re trying to ‘reform’, by hiring them you’re:
– telling other offenders that getting busted for rape isn’t career-ending;
– telling rape survivors that rape isn’t bad enough to stop a guy getting gigs;
– telling your punters, volunteers, other teachers, staff that having a known rapist on your staff for PR status is more important than their safety.
There are a lot of good teachers. You don’t need to hire a known rapist.

Also

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!