Nov. 26: Where they talk about sexual harassment in the fundraising sector

Trigger Warning: This chat will contain talk about sexual harassment and violence.

Today is a different kind of #lobsterchat. November 26th is the National Day of Conversation (#NDOC) in Canada, a way to start and sustain conversations about sexual harassment in the nonprofit sector. Thank you to Liz LeClair and Wanda Deschamps for starting this important initiative.

For #NDOC, we have a special guest, a brave guest lobster who has gone through the process of speaking out about sexual harassment she experienced. She wants to stay anonymous, and so we have been allowed to borrow @MsRuptNow‘s name for her today.

Jen

Today’s chat deserves a trigger warning. We are talking about sexual harassment in our sector, and if you find that difficult, you might want to skip this one. If you are experiencing harassment, know that you are not alone.

Jen

And I want to welcome our very special guest, an anonymous fundraiser here to add their voice. They will appear here as Ms Rupt Now. Welcome, Ms and thank you.

Simon

We thought about getting Mr. Rupt but he was 30% more expensive for some reason

Beate

Hah!

John

welcome MRN

Jen

Simon, getting started like the clumsy jerk

Ms.RuptNow

hi everyone

Beate

Yes, today’s chat is a bit different. Less fun and games, more real life important issues. thank you for coming to share, Ms!

Simon

That’s me. Welcome Ms Rupt, thank you for making time for lobsters

Jen

Ms, can you start by telling us about your experience?

Ms.RuptNow

The #MeToo and #AidToo discussions of last year prompted me to come forward with others for a common perpetrator.

This triggered a workplace investigation (big lesson learned: whether we wanted it or not!)

And we’re now on the other side.

Jen

Did you know what would happen when you came forward?

Ms.RuptNow

No. And nor did the org as it turned out.

Simon

What did you want to happen?

Or did you know?

Ms.RuptNow

I wanted the perpetrator removed from any access to vulnerable people: women and especially beneficiaries

that was my concern. his access to beneficiaries was a worry (though I had no evidence he was a danger this way, sadly there are of course instances of beneficiaries being sexually exploited by aid workers).

#Aidtoo

I wasn’t thinking of myself necessarily when i came forward (which isn’t great)

Beate

I guess this is some of the problem with having this discussion in our sector, right. We know that when we speak out, we risk harming the very causes we care about.

So we (historically) choose not to believe – or act on – it.

Ms, did you have any thoughts in that direction? If so, do you want to share some of your thinking?

Ms.RuptNow

Though that was my thought process (protecting others), what’s the most surprising thing of all this is the impact it had on me.

I’m a pretty resilient person, but this incident with my perpetrator caused years of panic attacks, which I didn’t trace back to it until I came forward. My message to everyone is – men and women – is honour what’s going on with your mind and body. It’s real. Loolking back, it probably was larger than the incident. It’s despair at the system and structure of power and patriarchy.

Beate

How does it feel now that you’re on the other side of it?

Ms.RuptNow

Confusing.

Beate

How so?

Ms.RuptNow

We succeeding in our goal – and it was unprecedented – that we had the perp removed from the wider org

But, here I am, still anonymous. Why? After all, i technically ‘won’. i even remember the phrase used to notifiy me: they (the investigators) used a really rather cold phrase: something like they found “on a balance of probabilities” that i was telling truth

Simon

I’ve heard that a lot – abuse victims seek ‘justice’ but when they get it it’s not the closure they thought it might be

Because I guess that’s not full justice or something?

Simon

Like it never undoes it

Ms.RuptNow

You know what would help? A “we believe you”. Dare I say, “we’re sorry”. #nope

Simon

From the org?

Ms.RuptNow

Yes.

Simon

Yeh…”on the balance of probabilities” is not exactly human

Beate

That is a horrible way to speak to someone who might be traumatized.

Jen

Let’s talk more about the language involved in this whole process

Ms.RuptNow

For one thing, throughout the whole process, he was referred to as “the respondent”. I was “the accuser”. WTF?

Jen

Ugh.

Ms.RuptNow

also, during my time giving evidence to the lawyer the org hired, he was referred to as “Mr. x”

I couldn’t even.

so asked they identify him by his first name

John

WHAT? youre fucking kidding

that’s such a pile of bullshit

Simon

Let me ask what should language have been…in a world of innocent until proven guilty?

I dont mean to sound like a dick

Playing gods advocate

Beate

good question

Ms.RuptNow

in such instances, the starting point for the process should be “trauma informed”

this was the opposite

the cards are stacked against the accuser

Beate

Tell me more about trauma informed – what does that mean?

Ms.RuptNow

1. that the org takes less than a month to acknowledge a letter of complaint. That was the worst part – wondering what was going when i didn’t hear back

Jen

Trauma-informed, survivor-centred… even that language is jargon but means that at least you shouldn’t need to hear your abuser referred to with his honourific

Ms.RuptNow

I was always referred to with my first name. Not Ms [Last Name].

Beate

😬

Simon

Woah

Ms.RuptNow

2. the very fact that the organisation was the client, not me

Beate

So it was you against the organisation all of a sudden?

Simon

Businesses behave in the way that’s best for the business

Board members are lovely warm human beings until they sit around a boardroom tale

Tabel

Table

Fuck

Jen

Such an important part of this whole conversation. We are told to “go to HR” but HR serves the corporation, not the employees.

Simon

YES!

HR tells you they’re there for staff welfare. They are there to minimise damage to employer

Ms.RuptNow

so complicated. Yes, the org hired a third-party, impartial law firm. This gave me great great great comfort.

Simon

A lot of these abuse issues stem from us giving organisations…businesses…the church…more rights than humans

Beate

I’ve told that bit about to many and it’s almost funny – responses always fall in one of two categories: “Yes, xxx happened to me/my friend and HR screwed me/them, never go to HR”, or “What? I never even thought of that. My god that is so true”.

John

💩

Ms.RuptNow

This law firm had recently gotten a high-profile case in front of the highest judicial body in our country

So: good.

Bad:

It was some of the angriest, hopeless, painful four hours of my life to be questioned by the lawyer.

Simon

I always wonder whta they think you’d gain by lying about that

Jen

“She’s just doing this to get attention” Motherfucker PLEASE!

Ms.RuptNow

I was offered to bring a support person, but declined.

I stand by this, because I thought having a support person would make me soft-pedal my responses. That’s what women do, right?

Beate

Yeah, you might not want to hurt or disturb the support person

Ms.RuptNow

correct

Beate

which is riddiculous but hey, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to.

Jen

Oh man that truth hurts… You wanting to make your support person feel better… minimizing for the people around you

Simon

Oh!

John

soft pedal your responses? is that really what women do?

Beate

ALL. THE. TIME!

Simon

Me and John are like what??

John

do i sound like a big white privileged dude for even asking this?

fucking hell

Simon

I’m on same page as you John

Beate

Have you ever heard a grieving woman on the phone with someone who called with their condolances?

She will spend all her time on the phone trying to make the person who called feel better.

Simon

I’m lying in bed with a sniffle, and just told you guys that I’m dying

Men ham it up

Ms.RuptNow

I came out after four hours into the sun. Full panic attack. Swooning.

The org did offer psychotherapy which I took. So there was good responsibility there.

Simon

I’m glad you did

Ms.RuptNow

I was so angry at the female lawyer!

Beate

Did they treat you as a suspect?

As if you were lying?

Ms.RuptNow

always with respect (except for not acknowledging my original letter) but with indifference. This was problematic because of the relationship I have with this org. I fervently believe in its mission, as do they.

And another note on how this was not a trauma informed process: I was told by the lawyer that the perp would have his questioning done in the town I live in (he does not). I was so afraid to run into him!

So tie up this thread, I commend both the org and the lawyer for accommodating a support person, if wanted. I didn’t want. I know myself. I wanted to speak unhindered.

Simon

Can I ask why you’re still anonymous? I spoke to Liz LeClair and she said sometimes she felt frustrated (my word, not hers) that there were so few people who were public.

I mean I know there’s lots of reasons. But what are yours?

Ms.RuptNow

I’m wrestling with this.

I’m ashamed of this.

why am I anon?

1. afraid of repercussion

2. afraid – as women are – of “taking up space”

3. I’m a person of privilege. I believe others should have the voice.

4. I want to continue my voluntarism with this org: would I be black-listed?

Jen

When I asked Ms. to join us, we talked about this at length. And I see a real strength in the anonymity here. I don’t think it’s cowardly or shameful. I think it removes the ability for anyone to comment or judge why you are coming forward or what your agenda might be. You could be anyone, from anywhere, and the focus should be on your lived experience, not on why you are public or private…

Simon

I’m sorry you’re managing all of that

Ms.RuptNow

5. I’m ashamed for people to know that I was the inspiration for an “obscene sexual act”

Jen

oh my goddess. point 5 breaks me

Ms.RuptNow

that’s it for all of us, isn’t it..

no question mark.

Beate

It really is. I think most women, myself included, have stories we don’t tell for that exact reason. Somehow it feels like our fault. When it is really not.

What you say about shame for staying anonymous though, that’s another one of these things women are conditioned to I think; feeling bad for not doing more when you have MORE THAN done enough! Don’t be ashamed please. You don’t owe anyone being the public face of something like this. It has to be wholeheartedly by choice if you do

Jen

well said Bea

Ms.RuptNow

I’m proud that we removed this horror from the system. The bigger challenge: how to fix the system?

Jen

I’m also proud. Very proud.

Simon

If you keep picking pieces of shit out of your sandwich eventually you have a sandwich

Ms.RuptNow

I literally have no idea what this means

Beate

hahah

😂

John

youre trying to hard simon…

Simon

lol

Beate

On fixing the system: Based on your experience, what advice would you give to anyone who’s in charge of handling this in an organisation?

To make it easier for people to come forward?

Ms.RuptNow

well, I came forward and it worked!

Simon

And people see that it worked

Ms.RuptNow

NO

they did not see that it worked (except for this chat cast)

Simon

Wow

Jen

That’s the real kicker here. Ms. got the outcome she wanted. But no one will ever really know.

Ms.RuptNow

I chose to have one tangible outco me: remove this person from the system. I stand by this, but I’m also also human and compassionate.

I don’t talk about it or who or what happened, that’s out of character for me. As i said, i’m ambivalent about this. I feel like a shitty feminist.

so the thing is, in the end, the org had to announce that “sanctions” were brought against one of its members because of an investigation.

that (understandably) rattled the members who don’t know who it is and why

Simon

Sanctions

Ms.RuptNow

Sanctions

Simon

Inhuman language

Jen

Right? The cold dead truth of the language we use…

Ms.RuptNow

You know, I’m a year out of receiving the findings. I thought I would have (as I normally do) built upon this experience with more advocacy etc.

from an impact POV, it’s been the opposite.

I stopped the psychotherapy bec I felt guilty that the org payed for it. I’m a donor too!

Beate

oh my god, that is …such a profound example of why this is so difficult!

Ms.RuptNow

I’m also usually an outspoken person and I’m afraid – to my core – that as a female outspoken person I would do great disservice to #MeToo if I talk about this now. It’s been so long, and I don’t want to be seen as adding more noise, you know? It doesn’t make sense, i know

we’re supposed to just get on, ya know?

Jen

I know you and I love you, Ms, and I also know that it came at big personal cost

John

Beate

Isn’t the whole point of #metoo (or some of the point at least) to disprove that though? it happens to the strongest of us, and it affects them to!

Ms.RuptNow

I’ve never felt old before. But as a middle-aged fundraiser, I straddle those days when I wore pantyhose (!) and these days where I have no fucks to give.

Jen

I want to acknowledge the emotional labour, re-traumatization and triggering impact. We are grateful for your honestly and your candour. You are opening doors for others. Thank you.

Beate

Thank you❤

Simon

Thank you 🙁 xxx

Ms.RuptNow

I too have been that major gift fundraiser that went on all those lunches because that one donor kept inviting. It was good for the activity reports, right?

John

thank you Ms. Rupt… im sorry that YOU or anyone has gone through anything like this… but thanks for sharing your story

Jen

So, no easy way to segue into our weekly lobster fact — so here’s the awkward transition…

Simon

lol

Read the room Jen

Beate

haha

Simon

But this is first and foremost a lobster fact chatcast

Jen

anyway

John

here we go

Jen

Did you know… that when boiling lobsters, if you boil only male lobsters, you have to use a lid because the males will climb on each other and build bridges so that some of them can escape

Simon

We totally do do that

Jen

But if you boil only female lobsters, they hold each other down, so that no one will be able to escape

Beate

is this for real???

John

🤯

Ms.RuptNow

if we eliminate the species, we eliminate the bullshit

Beate

I am shook. That is too symbolic

Jen

BAM

Simon

That’s going to haunt me

Beate

So, wrapping up – Jen, do you want do say something about #GDOC and how people should get involved?

Wait

#NDOC

Simon

lol

Google Docs

Beate

fuck

Simon

Well done to everyone involved with #NDOC

Jen

Thanks friends!

For #NDOC, what anyone can do is learn more about the Rosa Project by visiting wearerosa.com

And anyone who wants to join the Agents of Good in making a donation to support this amazing work, go to canadianwomen.org/rosa

John

Jen

And keep the courageous conversations going!

Simon

Lots of love to all of you x

Did this chat make you laugh? Or think? Find us annoying? You should totally share that with your friends.

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