There is a lot of discussion in the Lindy Hop community about sexual assault — and for a good reason. I have seen accounts from Sarah, Allison, Heidi, Brenda, and Clara about the inappropriate actions of Steven Mitchell, and I am appalled. If you’ve missed these events, you should read Sarah’s post and the subsequent comments (while taking care to avoid the negative, victim-blamey comments). I think the encounter resonates with many of us for many different reasons.
Personally, I am saddened and troubled to know that these things have happened in our scene. I have always felt so safe in the Lindy Hop community. It is my place of refuge, and I feel as if that refuge has been violated. But while I am saddened and betrayed by the actions of a man I once admired, I am also proud of our community. There has been a strong show of support for the women who have come forward.
There is also a lot of discussion about what actions we should take. Unfortunately, a lot of the discussion revolves around what actions to take against Steven. Personally, I think that’s the easiest action to decide: I refuse to attend any event where he is present, whether in a guest or staff role.
At this time, I think the most productive thing I can do is to consider what actions I can take as an individual. Moreover, I would like to consider what actions we can take as a community (and then help make those things happen). In solidarity, we need to take action.
As an individual in my community, I resolve to:
- speak out against and condemn harassment I might witness
- listen to my peers when they speak to me about harassment or violence of any sort; inherent in this, I will not minimize or downplay any harassment they feel
- respond in an appropriate and serious manner when harassment of any type or severity is reported to me
- support my peers when they feel marginalized or attacked based on their age, race, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, appearance, or religion, etc.
As a larger community, I hope we can:
- write and enforce a Code of Conduct for every community venue and event we have
- provide a safe and accepting space for someone to report any harassment they feel
- provide necessary support to those in our community who have been wronged, including access to resources such as the police, a rape hotline, or
- act appropriately in the event of inappropriate actions of a member of our community, which could range from speaking to someone about their inappropriate choice of words or actions up to and including asking someone to leave a dance or an event (whether for the night, until further notice, or permanently).
If you are a scene leader, I hope you are writing a Code of Conduct if you didn’t have one already. Check out the Code of Conducts for Lindy Focus and Mobtown Ballroom if you need a starting point. As a member of the Fog City Stomp team, you’re also welcome to use ours. Once you have a Code of Conduct, you need to advertise it. Make sure your attendees know that you intend to provide a safe community, and then follow through when necessary.
If you are a member of your community and you feel passionately about creating a safe space for anyone to dance in, I urge you to become involved. Nag your scene leaders for Code of Conducts. Be vocal about your thoughts on harassment. Watch out for your peers and support them when needed.
I would like to mention that we should take this opportunity to create policies which address all levels of harassment seriously. The events which have been reported over the last week are not the only forms of harassment and violence we see. There are many small, insidious forms of harassment. If we do not also address these insidious forms of harassment, we leave our doors open to the terrible actions like those we have learned of this week.
For example, I was verbally harassed at a large event while I was dancing with a peer. The details of the conversation aren’t necessary, but this peer tried to force me to admit I was interested in him. When I declined, he began talking about pornography and fetishes in an attempt to glean any information about my sexual life, despite my expressed discomfort. I fled this person’s presence and resolved to never dance with him again.*
In retrospect, I wish I had either addressed the issue at hand in the moment or reported the conversation to a staff member at the event. I think there is a great need in our community for a safe way to report harassment. It should provide a space where young men and women can report inappropriate words and actions, regardless of the severity. Maybe then we will be able to head off or prevent actions as terrible as those which we’ve learned of recently.
One event which is notably leading the way in this regard is Lindy Focus. I did not originally sign up to participate in Safe Spaces, but I became involved in the endeavor as a result of my job at the event. I obviously will not share anything about the incidents in which I was involved, but I will say that it was an eye-opening experience. I am so grateful that Lindy Focus started Safe Spaces and that they are constantly working towards creating a safe, accepting, and harassment-free event.
As a community, I hope we can provide a space to report harassment of any kind and receive the necessary support for that experience. I hope we will take appropriate actions against harassment, because actions speak louder than words. Finally, I hope we can work together to create a space in which anyone and everyone feels safe from harassment of any kind.
I would like to note that we wouldn’t be having this conversation without the brave post from Sarah and the subsequent posts from Allison, Heidi, Brenda, and Clara. I thank these amazing women for their strength in coming forward. I will support you in any and every way that I can.
*It is worth noting that we should also be capable of forgiveness for actions like these. At a later event, this person asked me if he had offended me. When I explained that he had, he apologized sincerely and turned to walk away. I respect his apology, and I am grateful to have had the chance to resolve that interaction.