TL:DR version: an over reliance on vetting creates a false sense of security that I believe to be incredibly dangerous. We need to recognize the limits of public vetting, and take our own precautions. There are no life guards on duty. Play at your own risk.
Once again a member of the Calgary community has been identified as a threat, and once again there are calls for more vetting, better vetting, and holding the people who previously vetted this predator to account.
But here is the problem – vetting doesn’t work. Especially third party vetting. At least not the way we want it to.
What vetting can do is help newbies learn about previously identified predators and abusers. It cannot provide assurances that anyone is safe.
In a criminal trial, a defendant is found either guilty, or not guilty. There is a reason we use “not guilty” instead of “innocent”. We can’t prove that a person is innocent, we can only fail to prove that they are guilty. Likewise, when attempting to vet someone we can identify them as Unsafe, or Not Unsafe. We can never declare them to be Safe.
Let me say that again. We can never declare them to be safe.
And that is my biggest issue with vetting people to attend groups or events – it creates a false sense of security, and it is too easy to start to let your guard down.
Abusers are crafty. They pick their victims carefully. And whatever standards you try to put in place to vet attendees to your event, they will meet. Need a reference? Two? Twelve? They can find them. Want them to attend a certain amount of times before they are a member? Attend an orientation? A class? They will sit there happily.
The end goal is worth it for them. They get to come to your event. They get a place to meet their next victim. They get to do so with an official or unofficial stamp of approval that they have been vetted, and now they can use that to their advantage.
We need to be very clear about what information can be gained from checking references and asking around about someone. A reference can only share their experiences and their opinions. They cannot, and should not, make any claims or assurances about future behaviour. They also only know what they know. They cannot be blamed for not knowing what they don’t know.
If you were to ask me about someone, including my long term partners, I can only tell you my own experiences. I cannot make any claims about their behaviour before they met me, when they are not in my presence, or what they might do in the future.
This doesn’t mean that Known Unsafe people should not be banned. This doesn’t mean that I don’t trust victims when they share their stories. It just means that everyone else is merely Not Unsafe.
I don’t care what gender you are, how long you have been in the community, how many friends you have, what your role is, if you plan events, or present at workshops, or teach classes, or, or, or. To me, you are not Safe. You are just Not Unsafe. And I will conduct myself accordingly.
So what to do instead? First, we need to recognize that our abilities as a community as a whole are extremely limited. What we need to do instead is teach people what they should be doing in order to protect themselves as much as they can. (I also want to be very clear here that this is not an attempt at victim blaming, or shaming. Abusers are crafty fuckers. I believe you. It’s not your fault. I just want to do what I can to prevent it from happening to others.)
Trust your instincts.
We often train ourselves away from doing this. We want to be nice, or give someone a fair chance. But listen to that spidey sense. For me sometimes it is as vague as “he hits my radar funny.” Go with it.
Definitely still ask around about someone, just recognize the limitations of this.
They may already be identified as Unsafe, but a lack of negative reports does not make them Safe.
Learn to identify red flags.
Here is a very incomplete list (please feel free to share others in the comments):
• they refuse to attend community events or munches
• they only ever date people new to the community
• if they claim years of experience, but they don’t actually know anyone locally
• their fetlife friends list is almost entirely people of their opposite gender
• they act as if they already know everything
• you catch them in any kind of lie, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential
• they don’t respect your boundaries
• they try to talk you into things you don’t want to do
• they gaslight you
• they attempt to use your role against you (“a real sub would do this….”)
• they want you to make commitments very quickly (such as exclusivity, collaring, etc.)
Put your own safety protocols in place.
Meet in public. Consider having your first scenes at a public party. Set up and use safe calls.
This is probably the hardest one. Take your time getting to know someone. If they are awesome today, they will still be awesome a couple of weeks from now.
Don’t be swayed by a person’s fetlebrity status, group membership, popularity, or perceived community standing.
Still treat them as Not Unsafe. There are countless examples of presenters and event planners turning out to be abusers.
Be aware how New Relationship Energy, sub/top frenzy, newbie excitement, loneliness, horniness, etc., can affect your judgment.
It is way, way too easy to meet someone who seems fantastic and throw all of the above out the window. It’s human nature. Ask me about my own sub frenzy some time. But cool your jets. Your safety is worth it.
This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, and I would love to hear any suggestions on things to add.
If you have made it this far, I am impressed. We all want to make our community safer, and I am no exception – but we need to consider carefully what is both realistic, and effective. Be safe out there.
ETA: For some reason, the inclusion of refusing to attend local events on my list of red flags has touched a nerve for some. To clarify, this list is not meant to be definitive, prescriptive, or exhaustive. You need to make choices that make sense for you. If you live three hours away from your nearest munch, then maybe you don’t include that. It is also a list of POTENTIAL red flags. That doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t go to events is an abuser. But… it is something to consider. The reason I put it on my list is because it could be a sign that a person is actually banned from attending the event due to their past behaviour. They are unlikely to tell you about the ban, and will make up another excuse. It is worth further investigation, and it would be worth your time to send the organizer a quick note to ask.