Community accountability means we all play a role

It has been a difficult few weeks for many survivors, watching the ways that Tara Reade has been treated in the news, and worse, knowing that it’s exactly how survivors are treated in our communities. Survivors are silenced and dismissed, our experiences are minimized, and our safety and wellbeing is sacrificed so that the oppressive systems and structures that enabled the violence against us may remain in place.

Even in radical leftist spaces.

When our movements for liberation replicate the oppressive systems that we seek to dismantle, we must call for accountability. And right now, for me, accountability from Commune Magazine means shutting down and redistributing funds to Black-led anti-violence work.

I have previously shared my story of navigating healing, safety, justice, and accountability in the aftermath of abuse and assault by a former Commune Magazine editor. In the following account, I offer more specific details about the ongoing work toward community accountability in this situation. I am writing for those who are navigating similar situations in search of more strategies, and for those seeking ways to support me.

I blocked the person who raped me on December 5th, when it became clear beyond a doubt that this person had no intention of accepting the opportunity that I offered for repair. The next day, I saw the notice that there would be a Commune Magazine party at Verso. I thought: If he won’t involve his community, I will. I had 8 days.

I reached out to my community — friends who are mostly organizers, many of whom specifically have organized for gender justice, and I shared the bullet points: I was raped, confronted the person who raped me, raped again, and then harassed across multiple platforms. Most friends had already known about the assault on October 30th, or knew that something had happened. Some friends knew that I had already confronted the person who raped me by email. It took time for me to feel comfortable sharing about the other assaults; I struggled with guilt and shame, feeling like I had allowed myself to be assaulted again. Suddenly, many of the confusing behaviors that I had experienced and shared with friends over the past several months were becoming more transparent as abusive. I shared screenshots with folks who helped me think through a strategy and craft a statement. We talked about the ways that abusers tend to become the central focus of online campaigns seeking accountability, rendering survivors invisible; we withheld his name for many reasons that I have explained before, and also because we wanted a survivor-centered process. I wanted justice defined by my values:

Next, I started to reach out to my broader community — friends, comrades, and grassroots groups that I had organized with in recent years, and I asked that they share the statement on Twitter on December 14th at 6pm, the start time of the Commune party. We offered a sample tweet. We chose this time because we wanted to make sure that the person who raped me couldn’t evade confrontation, and wouldn’t have time to craft a lie that would hold up over time. I offered to answer questions that friends may have had, but no one asked; my community believed me, and wanted to support me. This, more than anything, felt healing to me. I was not alone. In this process of reaching out to friends, I learned from others about members of this collective’s history of gendered violence, anti-Blackness, racism, rape apologism, and protecting rapists and abusers, stemming long before my own experience.

My team had planned to chalk outside the Verso party, but it rained, and so our action was only virtual, although Bluestockings volunteers were able to chalk earlier in the day and share the photos on social media later that night. We publicly shared our statement as a graphic and as a PDF for accessibility, and we created a private version to send directly to the editorial collective at Commune, which named the rapist and extended an invitation to participate in a community accountability process. We sent the direct email from an inbox that we had created under the pseudonym Inez Garcia, in honor of a criminalized survivor who had been charged with killing her rapist in New York in 1974. The PDF version of our statement was slightly different from the graphic: we had discussed whether we should limit our ask to removing the rapist, or call on Commune to take further steps to address gendered violence. We debated: We don’t want to perpetuate the narrative that rapists are simply bad apples. We know that sexual violence does not occur in a vacuum. We know that gendered violence is not an individual problem, but a community problem. And then: What if we turn over a rock and uncover more terrible things? In the end, we accidentally released both statements: The graphic called only for the removal of the rapist, and the PDF called for both his removal and a plan to ensure that the magazine would provide no platform for rapists.

More than 20 individuals and organizations shared the statement around the same time, and others who were not directly connected to the organizing joined in solidarity to share our statement and use our hashtag.

On the night of December 15th, we heard back from another editor at Commune with a message from the whole collective: the person who raped me would step down. The message went on, “his comrades in the Commune community are committed to centering the survivor while also supporting FORMER EDITOR through this process, such that we can collectively work towards true restorative justice.” In the same email, they said that they wrote as community members, not as editors of a magazine. Nonetheless, we knew we were talking to Commune collective members, just as I knew when I was raped that, while my rapist may not have been acting in his official capacity as a Commune editor, this was a community to which he was accountable. We responded to this email with the steps we were seeking of the person who raped me to be able to participate in an accountability process.

Here is the email that we sent, with names redacted, which others are welcome to use as a template:

Hi COMMUNE EDITOR X,

We are grateful for, and encouraged by, this prompt response.

We are wary of REMOVED EDITOR’s perception that he had shown a willingness to participate in an accountability process. The survivor outlined her expectations in a November 14th email, and REMOVED EDITOR has failed to fill any of the expectations, instead setting his own terms for an accountability conversation that did not involve community support. The survivor interpreted his response as another display of seeking power and control within the process itself. This was exacerbated by the rape on November 15th, after having initiated conversations around accountability for the October 30th incident. We communicate this because we recognize it is part of a pattern of manipulative behavior that we hope REMOVED EDITOR’s support team will be able to address.

Still, we feel confident that, with this new context and with community support to ensure a survivor-centered process, there is a possibility for a different outcome.

Our team will identify a facilitator to hold a first conversation in mid- to late-January. We ask that REMOVED EDITOR first create a support team of 2–3 people who will check in with him regularly on his progress. We would like for one person on his support team to be the designated person to communicate with the survivor’s support team and/or the facilitator; we are comfortable with the designated communicator changing during the process as we understand that different individuals will have different levels of capacity to participate at different points in the process.

Next, we are reiterating the requests that the survivor made in her 11/14 email. We are asking REMOVED EDITOR to respond to the following four questions:

What happened?
What were you thinking at the time?
What have you thought about since?
How will we* make sure this doesn’t happen again?

*We, in this context, refers to REMOVED EDITOR and his community. As we shared in our statement, we believe that violence is not an individual problem but a community problem.

This time, we are seeking answers to these questions about the consent and boundary violations that occurred on both October 30th and November 15th. Please let us know if REMOVED EDITOR and his support team have any safety or security concerns about address these questions by email, and we will be open to making appropriate accommodations.

Next, we ask that REMOVED EDITOR read this article, and then read and write brief (1–2 pages) reflections on each of the following texts:

The Will to Change by bell hooks; and
Turning the World Inside Out by Nora Samaran.

Once these steps are completed, we will be able to work with REMOVED EDITOR’s support team to move forward with scheduling the first community accountability session in January, which will involve: setting agreements, goals, and expectations for the process.

We are grateful for the care that is being taken in the response.

The next time we heard from the same editor was on December 24th with an opportunity to review a statement that was shared publicly on Commune’s social media on December 26th. Then, we continued waiting.

On January 12, we received an email from two Commune editors planning to participate in the accountability process as the accountability team for the person who raped me. They shared: “Both COMMUNE EDITOR 1 and COMMUNE EDITOR 2 have known FORMER EDITOR for some time, are central members of the Commune collective, and are personally and politically invested in him treating the need to take accountability and the possibility of restorative justice incredibly seriously.” But, instead of answering any of the questions or providing reflections on the readings, they shared that none of our requests had been completed. Instead, he now had engaged a therapist.

We responded, exasperated. We reiterated our asks. We provided a folder of documentation — signal messages, text messages, emails, direct messages on twitter where he harassed me after I blocked him on other channels. The documentation showed not only the ways that the person who raped me had already been confronted, repeatedly, but also the manipulation, gaslighting, and boundary violations that occurred via messages. We asked that a cis het man also be engaged on the accountability team. We said: “While we appreciate you both stepping in to help with this process, we want to flag that we are concerned by REMOVED EDITOR’s decision to put the labor of addressing his abusive behaviors entirely on women and survivors. We believe that the onus should be on cis men to address the violence of cis men. In order to move forward, we ask that REMOVED EDITOR enlist the support of at least one cis man on the accountability team and/or join a men’s support group.” Later, we were assured that a third person was added to the accountability team. We asked that this person have access to the folder that we shared. The folder was still not shared.

We recommended readings, and expressed concerns about engaging a therapist at this stage. We said: “As you’ll read in Chapter 14 of the Bancroft book, ‘Therapy typically will not address any of the central causes of abusiveness, including entitlement, coercive control, disrespect, superiority, selfishness, or victim blaming.’ Therapy often allows an abuser to focus on his feelings and other people’s behavior when we need REMOVED EDITOR to focus on other people’s feelings and his own behavior. Therapy may be effective after initial steps have been taken in the accountability process, but we are concerned that, at this stage, it may be a barrier to accountability.” We provided scanned versions of annotated chapters of “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

On January 31st, we shared that we had found a facilitator, but I was firm that we would not enter into a facilitated community accountability process until we knew that he was committed to repair. We set a deadline of February 14th to receive answers to the questions I had posed.

Late on February 13th, we received a statement in which the person who raped me wrote at length about his problems with colleagues at Commune, and insinuated that I said he raped me because he forgot my birthday. I was horrified. Did they even open the folder? How could they send this to me? If the accountability team did open the folder, and did not care about the inconsistencies, this seems much worse. The impact would be the same.

It became clear that the opportunity to engage in an accountability process was being used to continue his abuse, and this time, two Commune editors were helping. We called out the abuse. We set a new deadline of February 19th for the person who raped me and his accountability team to update the responses incorporating the documentation.

On February 17th, the third and only non-Commune accountability team member requested access to the folder. In this time, it seems one Commune editor had recused themself without communicating that. Commune’s then-editor in chief was still involved. The responses in the second round improved, but I noticed that in each set of responses, the person who raped me would mention abuses or assaults on me that I had never brought up in the process. It felt like he was playing a game, to abuse me further and create a puzzle of all of the behaviors that he had gotten away with, both in my experience with him and long before then. He also continued to claim that he was unaware that I was not consenting. He went as far as to claim that he was using dirty talk when he said: “Shut up, I don’t care what you want.” We were confused that the accountability team would read these responses and send them to us.

On February 21st, I said that I would review only one final version of the responses. I also added new requests — graduated consequences for the ongoing abuse that I had endured. At this point, my support team shared that I was seeking a public apology from the person who raped me and restitution. I caution others about the risks of seeking restitution, as abusers and their enablers can use these sensible requests as grounds for a lawsuit, weaponizing the legal system against survivors. Here are the words that my support team used: “The survivor also now seeks restitution in an amount that is personally meaningful to FORMER EDITOR.”

In retrospect, raising the bar was not only important for setting graduated consequences, but it also created a new bare minimum. In my experiences with abusers, they will always do the bare minimum to keep you around and continue their abuse, and over the course of the abuse, the bare minimum gets lowered and lowered until it falls through the floor. Having a support team gave me more power to navigate this dynamic. The final set of responses that we received on February 29th was suddenly much more accountable and comprehensive than anything we had read before. He had read the books and provided reflections. And, there were still mentions of incidents that I had never raised, including another assault that I haven’t discussed with my support team even to this day.

Abuse occurs in cycles, and we had reached the reconciliation stage within the process of seeking accountability. The ongoing abuse was further minimized in an addendum written by the accountability team reiterating that he was not aware of his behavior and patronizing me for believing otherwise. The opportunity for a community accountability process had turned into an opportunity for continued abuse. I needed to get out, again.

My support team offered feedback while I weighed the decision of ending these discussions against my endless hope in the capacity of humans to be accountable and transform. I know that accountability has to come from within, though often sparked by external circumstances. Boundaries can be helpful for sparking behavior change by letting people know that their harmful behavior will not be tolerated. I could not change him; he would have to do that work himself, with the support of his community. But does his community have that capacity?

I wrote to the accountability team on March 7th:

“there is nothing further that the person who raped me can contribute to my healing. this person was never a part of my community; there is nothing to restore. he has always been a part and a product of your community.”

Two days later, the accountability team responded: “We would like to thank you for your patience and kindness, and sincerely apologize for the ways we as a group have failed you. We will work to do better. Should there be any further requests or should you need anything from us in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

Two days after that, I sent an email from my personal email address to one of the accountability team members who continued to be in a leadership role at Commune Magazine, requesting a phone call. On the call, I disclosed the information that I had received about sexual predatory behavior from another Commune Magazine editor in leadership. I shared my advice: Release a statement. Let people know that the accountability process is over. Take accountability for the mistakes that were made. Create a process for responding to the experiences of other survivors — a portal or email address where people can share their concerns anonymously, a timeline for responding, a person or a group of people to respond to those complaints and ideally this would be someone who hasn’t been accused of sexual harassment or assault. I was told that the idea would be brought to Commune’s leadership, and to the other Commune editor who had been involved in the process. Then, to add a layer of assurance that this advice would be taken, I made this a formal request to close the accountability process with greater closure.

There will always be mistakes in community accountability processes. Like Aishah Shahidah Simmons has said, we are building the plane as we fly it. The question is not whether mistakes will be made, but how we respond when they are: own and repair, or dismiss and deny? Only one path forward leads to transformation.

I offered the same guiding questions to the accountability team to encourage the group to take accountability for the mistakes that were made, and I asked: “what will you do to prevent and address gendered violence in your communities in the future?”

For Commune, I had already offered the answer to the question I was asking. A happy ending, designed and packaged for them to use, for us all to point to as success.

In response, I received an anonymous email from a proton mail account letting me know that the accountability team was going to disengage. I followed up with Commune on Twitter and received a bizarre graphic letting me know about the internal changes that happened at Commune, and asserting that Commune was never involved in the process, that Commune collective members participated in their capacity as individual community members and not on behalf of Commune. The person who raped me was just a bad apple, who has been removed, they seemed to say. Although they say they were confused about my request, I know that, when I am confused, I ask for clarification instead of shutting down dialogue.

I released my open letter on March 28th, focusing on my journey of seeking safety, healing, justice, and accountability. The collage art is clipped directly from the pages of Commune.

Commune editors did not acknowledge my letter, but both chief editors reached out to me, gaslighting me and telling me that I had somehow made them unsafe by not revealing my rapist’s name publicly — a choice that I made to avoid replicating carceral systems, but never a request that I made of others. Commune independently chose to conceal my rapist’s name, even going as far as to remove their masthead and delay the announcement of the new editors.

I waited to see action steps from Commune over the course of April. Surely, they were concerned about a second potential sexual predator. Perhaps they would create the kind of process that I had described. Perhaps the ways that I had been abused, assaulted, and then retraumatized would create some urgency. Throughout April, they did not create a process for responding to survivors, but they did create a SoundCloud to read their articles.

In recent weeks, a Commune collective member who had not been involved in the process reached out to me and shared personal experiences that resonated with me, that I will not share here. I learned that the person who had abused and assaulted me had been involved in multiple accountability processes in the past, and that the Commune members who had been involved in the accountability process had known and neglected to disclose this information to me and my support team. For me, this adds layers of horror to the ongoing abuse that I experienced through March of this year, actively enabled by Commune collective members.

This collective member, who I communicated with only through her Commune email address and by phone, was set on getting justice for me, she said. We spent hours on the phone discussing my concerns. On May 4th, I was forwarded something that I was told was an apology from a Commune editor who had been involved in the process. But, it wasn’t an apology; it was a long list of excuses. Retraumatized, again, I requested that myself and my process not be mentioned in any public statement. But, the next day, they released a statement directly violating this clear request, while gaslighting me and retraumatizing me, again. It included information about a portal to share and access accountability for experiences, but it doesn’t share what happens when that information is received; there is no transparency about who serves on the accountability council; and worse, the information is included only as a statement that has been shared to Twitter as a blurry graphic with small font. There is no information about this portal on Commune’s website.

And I feel like I’ve ended up in an ongoing abusive relationship with a leftist magazine where I have experienced cycles of violation and reconciliation similar to what I experienced with their former editor in chief — who seems to have created in this structure the perfect context to protect, enable, and cover up abuse, hidden behind revolutionary language.

“If it is bad ethics, it isn’t good politics. Revolutionary politics is ethical or it isn’t revolutionary.” — James and Grace Lee Boggs

It has taken time for me to be able to both process my experiences with ongoing abuse, and write this statement to provide clarity to those who may be paralyzed by the bystander effect, and offer more resources and information to others who might be navigating these kinds of dynamics in their processes of seeking community accountability. I am incredibly grateful for the ways that my community has continued to support me. I wish this level of support for everyone.

In addition to my experiences, Commune Magazine has been criticized for its anti-Blackness, in both thought and behavior of its collective members. Its collective members have previously been called out for rape apologism, for terrorizing women of color, and for gendered violence. I add my story to the stories that came before, and in the hopes of breaking the cycle.

I believe that the right thing to do next is for Commune to close, and redistribute its funding to Black-led organizations working to address gendered violence, such as Collective Action for Safe Spaces, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, Project NIA, and Survived and Punished. I don’t believe that we can count on Commune to do the right thing alone. Some people are committed to dismissing survivors, protecting sexual predators, and upholding white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal oppression. We have to work around them to create a context that promotes safety and accountability, and demonstrates that oppressive behaviors will not be tolerated.

To the surrounding community: will you be in solidarity with me? Together, we can build accountable communities where we take collective responsibility for keeping each other safe.

The revolution starts with all of us.

Addendum: It is my understanding that Commune does not intend to respond to the call to dissolve and redistribute its funding to Black-led anti-violence work. The happy ending would never come from a group committed to anti-Blackness and gendered violence; it came from community. I invite this community to join me in contributing to the following groups:

With no more moves left for the opponent, it is now safe to say: checkmate.

queer mama. prison abolitionist. community organizer. reader of Black feminist theory. lover of dance cardio.

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