Survivor Support Pod for Reid Mihalko’s Accountability Process: Story Collection Overview and Analysis

Edited to Add: final inclusions to this post made on 2/22/19 and are at the end of the article.

As part of the process of survivor support and solidarity after Kelly Shibari’s disclosure of sexual consent violations by Reid Mihalko, Kelly asked others who had also been affected by Reid to speak out about their own experiences. Aida Manduley, one of the survivor support pod members, created an anonymous google form entitled “Sharing Stories of Reid Mihalko’s Misconduct” in order to assist people who wanted to share their stories and/or ask for accountability from Reid to be able to do so in a way that was safe, affirming, and private.

Throughout the story collection process, Aida and Sarah Sloane (another survivor support pod member) have read the stories, reached out as requested to people who wanted to share their stories or receive follow up, and analyzed the reports in an effort to find patterns of behavior. Aida and Sarah have also been in regular contact with Reid’s accountability pod, and they have received a report on these stories as well, to bring to bear in their work with Reid in his efforts to make meaningful change.

As part of the commitment to the survivors and affected community members that have shared their stories, we have compiled this report sharing information about their experiences, in an effort to ensure that their voices are heard and, hopefully, that healing can take place for every person involved. For more information about the survivor support pod’s history and work, please see this link. (As of 2/22/19 we have also published a wrap-up post.)


Formal Story Submissions Analysis

Overview:

We received 15 total responses, 3 of which are being disregarded as they were not on topic for the request or purpose of the form.

Overall, the stories consistently depict a person who, often while under the influence of alcohol, crosses boundaries in both overt and covert ways, and mingles sexual behavior (including flirting and propositions) with connections with people that are not in specifically sexually-appropriate environments. There were multiple mentions that Reid seems to specifically seek out sex from people who may not have strong boundaries around him, possibly due to the assumption that Reid is an expert and/or has professional influence. A number of people noted that Reid seemed to be unaware of the effect of his privilege & power as an educator / expert in gaining consent. Multiple people noted that they did not feel that Reid picked up on cues that they were uncomfortable with being flirted with and/or that they did not want to engage sexually.

There were also a few specific instances that were fewer in comparative number but of still deeply concerning content, including Reid not appropriately disclosing/discussing STI status to prior to sexual contact (reported by more than one person), Reid violating clearly stated boundaries during a sexual encounter, and Reid specifically offering sex as an option for a person that approached him as an expert in polyamory in order to help resolve an issue with the respondent’s partner.

Note Around Informal Story Collection:

The informal stories (a.k.a. verbally one-on-one, not on the forms) offered directly to Aida and Sarah (usually without seeking them out) have also yielded more information. These people reported they didn’t want to share on the forms because a) they didn’t want to put resources into rehashing their interactions with Reid on the form, b) find it too activating to go back into their stories in any way beyond the basics and sharing one-on-one, c) already found closure through some other process or contact with Reid, d) currently or previously have feared reprisal / loss of business should they publicly discuss their experiences, and/or e) aren’t in the sex ed field per se and feel far enough removed from Reid that they don’t want to get too involved.

As of June 1 2018, there are 8 stories reported in this manner, ranging from “creepy vibes” (never reported in isolation, which is important to note) and repeated sexual propositions from Reid — even after the person had clearly and verbally stated a lack of interest — to direct “violations of sexual consent.” They are all women and femmes, and it seems they’re all younger than Reid, sometimes by quite a large number of years (20+). Of these informal respondents, about half are White, half are POC, and include people who identify as a range of sexualities (including queer, lesbian, and straight). Some of the interactions happened in professional contexts (shops, conferences) and some happened in personal contexts (parties, relationships, hookups, etc.). The stories range from interactions ~10 years ago to as recently as 2017. These informal stories are not reflected in the demographics below, but are still worthy of being included in this overview.

High level overview of formally reported stories:

Note on process: the below categories of harmful actions were determined after reviewing the reports, rather than having people who reported select from pre-set categories that explained their experience. We did not want to lead those people to define their experiences by anything other than their own thoughts and feelings, and inherently this allowed us to read the stories for content and looking for patterns of behavior rather than specific acts (which, in many cases of consent violations, can be individually written off as “unimportant”, “a mistake”, etc.). We used context cues and looked for words that reflected the person’s experience in order to group, rather than our own interpretations of categories. It’s important to note that this also means that, for example, while we identified 8% of respondents that said that they feared reprisals as a result of sharing their story, there may very well be other respondents who also felt that fear but did not specifically state that fact, and so were not included in these percentages. Please keep this in mind while reading and consider the percentages a baseline estimate rather than The One True Number.

Categories of Harm and Percentages:

  • Pressuring for sex / flirting insistently (in general) — 67%
  • Verbal boundary violation (saying something to or referring to someone in a way that violates their personal / sexual boundaries) — 50%
  • General “creep factor” (provoking feelings of discomfort & unease on the part of the reporter) — 50%
  • Physical boundary violation (touching without permission, unwanted sexual contact, or other crossing of physical boundaries) — 42%
  • Didn’t pick up on/ignored cues that sex / flirting was unwanted — 42%
  • Enticement for sex/play as part of/while connecting with others in his professional role — 33%
  • Involving alcohol — 33%
  • Brushing off / dismissing stated needs / feelings — 33%
  • Sexual boundary violation (in negotiated sexual situations) — 25%
  • Witnessed other violations / shared stories of other people — 25%
  • Differential in how Reid treats people who have more power / laid down firm boundaries (shifting to more “professional” demeanor with people who are in positions of greater privilege or who have very strong interpersonal boundaries in place) — 25%
  • Ignorance of power dynamics where he holds privilege — 25%
  • STI non-disclosure / dismissal of importance to the other person of STI positive status — 17%
  • Gender disrespect (referring to or treating someone as a gender that they do not identify as) — 8%
  • Supporting other abusers (explaining away other incidents of abuse / standing with people who have been reported to have been engaged with violations of consent) — 8%
  • Feels fear of reprisal from sharing — 8%

Respondent Demographics (for formal responses):

It is important to note that some people did not select any demographics on the reporting form, and most that did select demographic identities selected multiple options. Additionally, an option allowing respondents to self-identify additional identities was utilized by over 30% of respondents. All categories were offered checkbox-style (and focused on highlighting identities marginalized in society and/or places of power difference from Reid), so people could choose whichever and as many as resonated for them.

  • Woman — 61.5%
  • Femme — 31%
  • Person of Color — 7.7%Younger than Reid — 46%
  • Sex Worker — 31%
  • Participant / Attendee at one of Reid’s workshops or events — 31%
  • Transgender / Nonbinary / Gender Non-Conforming — 23%
  • Disabled — 23%
  • Fat / Curvy / Plus Sized Person — 23%
  • Someone in an indirect business relationship with Reid — 23%
  • Indirectly romantically or sexually entangled with Reid — 23%

Other identities that were noted by less than 15% of respondents include:

  • Older than Reid
  • Intern / Volunteer / Student (for Reid himself, or at an event where Reid was speaking)
  • Someone in a direct business relationship with Reid
  • Directly romantically or sexually entangled with Reid
  • Transmasculine
  • Professional Colleague
  • Privileged person on multiple axes, not dependent on Reid for social or business access
  • Queer
  • Not femme identified but a person who is coercively read as femme

Specific Asks from Survivors:

  • Respondent would like an apology from Reid, possibly anonymously or in a public forum, and wants to potentially go public if they do not receive an ethical response (Note: this person has received communication from Reid, through the survivor support pod and Reid’s accountability pod).
  • Respondent wants to call out harmful language in Reid’s initial apology of “hitting on” other people. (This has been discussed between both pods and named to Reid as well.)

If you have any concerns or comments related to this process, you can email rm.survivorpod@gmail.com. Please be aware that this account is only checked every few days and is accessible by both Aida and Sarah. This means that responses will be on varied timeframes and are not necessarily guaranteed.


Edited to add on 2/22/19:

7 more submissions through the form came through between 5/31/18 and 2/20/19. Three were not answers to our questions (one was spam, one was a thank you for the process, and another was a person’s own feelings about this work overall) but the other four were relevant, and fit the patterns named above in a variety of ways. Some of these folks wanted their stories shared and acted upon, some just wanted to be witnessed and heard. Action has either been taken already by the relevant pods and/or it’s currently in progress. We didn’t incorporate them to the above analysis but are instead doing a narrative analysis below.

While all the stories took place in different contexts, what we can pull out from them all is that many people sharing stories seemed to be afraid of Reid’s reactions or the optics of stating their own boundaries and the ripples this could create in their circles, especially professionally. Some of this definitely has to do with Reid and his social positions, and some of this has to do with the marginalizations those individuals face and their internal—as well as external—barriers to holding their boundaries. An additional layer was that some people felt dismissed by Reid when they did request accommodations or expressed boundaries around their traumas, which demonstrates that Reid was also very ignorant about the impacts of trauma and how his own identities affected his own ability to “just be an adult about things” and not be bothered.

One of the stories in particular highlighted for us a pattern of Reid being coercive around sexual boundaries with younger women with less social capital and them being afraid of his retribution/not being friends anymore/being ostracized if they didn’t comply. This drives home the point that even when “all the right consent words” are used (which the survivors shared he did) it doesn’t ensure consent can be fully attained or harm can be sidestepped, and words are not devoid of tone and insinuations, especially when consent is “requested” over and over and over again even after multiple soft and hard no’s have been given. Consent is not a game of “how much can I push until you say yes.”

Other people also mentioned the lasting, collateral damage of Reid’s actions especially due to his position as an educator, leader, and event-producer. This is a perfect example of how, when public figures—who have taught people important and life-changing information—get named for their harmful behavior, it casts a shadow of self-doubt in the minds of many who found their content useful/helpful. This is unfortunate and painful, and part of this process. That process, though, is deeply complex especially for people who’ve experienced trauma and may already struggle with issues of trust, hyper-vigilance, and so forth. For people who trusted Reid when they trusted few others, or who saw Reid as “one of the good guys,” this has sent them into a tailspin.

As these events unfold, we must question what we thought we knew, and integrate new knowledge. Put frankly: that is fucking HARD. However, holding this complexity is at the heart of the matter: we can learn important and helpful things from people who have caused harm, and even people who are deeply toxic. No one is 100% “bad” or awful…and that also doesn’t mean everyone gets to traipse around like everything is fine because they “made some good contributions to the world.” We hope that these accountability processes make it a bit easier to hold that and see what we can do with it as a community.

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