Moderation Guidelines for Sexual Assault
A lot of people have started to talk about their experience being sexually assaulted. Socially, I was raised not to talk about abuse & especially not sexual abuse because those topics make people uncomfortable & because they make people uncomfortable they should remain private. The problem is people who commit sexual assault often push other boundaries, hurt people in different ways, or possibly even sexually assault another person. This is something that we should be taking seriously in our communities for the sake of protecting the community at large, not depending on only one person at a time to be brave enough to report an issue like this.
Say you’re a community organizer & you’ve gotten a report that one of your members was sexually assaulted by another member of the group. What should you do?
Thank Them For Telling You
It’s really difficult to report & have to relive the experience by telling that story. Be thankful that they choose to spend energy on sharing their story with you & that they trusted you with it. A lot can go awry when reporting sexual assault. That person must be willing to trust you a lot in order to disclose something like that.
Handle The Story With Care
Make sure you ask if you can talk with particular people about the story they shared with you. Make sure that you ask what their comfort level is around sharing details of their story with others. Be respectful of what they tell you. Reporting is difficult & mishandling that information can lead to unsafe situations for the person reporting.
Make Sure You Get The Whole Story
This can be tricky because traumatic events can cause people to not recall information clearly. If they seem to be not calm when they are reporting, allow them some time to collect themselves & suggest that they write down their story so that you can reference it if need be. Also allow them to follow up with more information later if they can’t talk about everything right in that moment.
Ask For Preferred Outcomes
There are many different outcomes that a person that has been sexually assaulted might want. There isn’t one correct path. Talk with them about it & figure out what their reason for reporting is. Remember too that people can change their minds & that people may not know what they want. Be patient & be willing to be flexible & offer options as you see fit. (Depending on the situation, it might be better to wait some amount of time before taking action to allow the reporter to process more & consider what they are hoping to get from reporting.) They might be seeking safety in the group, they might be reporting to protect others, they might be looking for some way to take legal action & need your help. Help them get those needs met. Possible options might include:
- Talking with the accused & seeing about mediation or counseling
- Removing the abuser from the group privately
- Removing the abuser from the group with a public reason
- Talking to law enforcement/medical professionals/lawyers
The route you choose to go down should match closely to what the reporter has requested & no more than the seriousness of incident requires. I personally believe that people have the capacity for change & try to go down the route of talking with the accused person first. If they have a history of this bad behavior, an unwillingness to change, or there is no doubt that the incident happened & the severity demands it, then I suggest escalating appropriately to the next 3 options, not necessarily in order.
Don’t make the reporter talk to their accused abuser.
Don’t suggest that the reporter has to talk to the police.
Don’t tell the reporter that you will require evidence before you will take any action.
This puts undue burden on the person reporting. It’s highly unlikely that they are lying. If you’re concerned about that then tell the reporter that you are not the right person to talk to. Ideally though, you should have someone visibly handling community moderation that is available to talk to directly so that you don’t end up in this situation.
If your community is known for not handling violations like this seriously you will certainly lose out on great members & you will almost certainly build a toxic community known for tolerating bad behavior. I really wish that this didn’t have to be the job of a community organizer, but there isn’t a way to effectively punish and/or rehabilitate bad actors in our society as it stands now. It’s possible you might mess up & ban someone who didn’t do anything wrong. That idea is terrifying. If you’re concerned about that please reach out to an organizer that you trust, with respect to the guidelines listed above, & see if they can weigh in & give you guidance based on what they would do. Preserving good communities can be tricky & sometimes we have to deal with these sorts of situations, but I think it’s worth it to provide safe, healthy places for members to interact with one another.