Monday, April 16, 2018

[D.C. Untied INTERLUDE] Here's what not to do when women report sexual assault and harassment by one of your members...


Ladies, how many of you have had a male friend come and get you out of an uncomfortable situation like this? 

"Is he bothering you?"

"Yes."


This happened to me at the game in Columbus on March 24, 2018, just before kick-off. A male member of the Screaming Eagles cornered me in a way that couldn't physically exit the conversation and proceeded to badger me with aggressive and leading questions. 

Was it the worst thing to ever happen to me? No, not by a long shot. 

Was it extremely inappropriate behavior, especially from a prominent member of the group? Yes.

Was I going to forget all about it? Yes, sadly. Things like this happen to women all the time. 

Then why have I been kicking up a fuss on social media for almost a month? 

Well, let me tell you. After the game, I began seeing things on social media that didn't track with what I had experienced. Claims that my group had harassed the traveling Screaming Eagles when, frankly, most of us had just ignored them except for the guy who'd been harassing me. That guy had been told to back off because he was being a dick. Not because he was a Screaming Eagle.

So, I decided to speak up to set the record straight. I used no names. Just said what had happened to me. You can read the post yourself.

I didn't care about an apology from the Screaming Eagle member himself. I didn't want to talk to him again. What I wanted was an acknowledgment that I had been put in a very uncomfortable situation by one of their members--a situation that may not seem all that bad to a man but carries the threat of violence to women. Have you ever been backed into a conversation with a large, angry guy who won't leave you alone? It's an awful experience.

At this point I received a concerned message from another Screaming Eagles member (not official leadership) who offered to talk to the guy who had been bothering me. That was the 27th of March.



And that was it. 

There was no acknowledgement that any inappropriate behavior had taken place. Nobody else contacted me. Nothing.

I didn't need or want a personal apology from the guy who'd been bothering me but nothing? When one of the Screaming Eagles had experienced bullying they issued what seemed like 10 press releases but for me? Nothing. Crickets.

So, I kept at it on social media, expressing my disappointment at the lack of a Screaming Eagles response to harassment of a woman by one of their members.

That's when the messages began to trickle in. Not from Screaming Eagles leadership but from women. I heard from women who'd experienced inappropriate touching, groping, stalking, one too many horny DMs, and rape. 

What would you do with that information? I decided to fight even harder and we made some progress on certain cases, not much on others, but at least the topic was getting some air.

Then... oh, my friends, this weekend I heard through the rumor mill that the Screaming Eagles had investigated the incident in Columbus and had decided that I was making the whole thing up to cause trouble because I was mad about the Screaming Eagles partnership with the D.C. United front office that gave them sole control of the supporters section. And, yes, I was mad about that but I was far more angry at the callous treatment of women who had reported sexual assault from a Screaming Eagles member and received a non-response. And now... now I was furious at the idea that they were claiming I made it all up to cause drama. These last few weeks have been hellish. I've been anxious and not sleeping. AND THAT I WOULD DO THIS FOR SOME PETTY BULLSHIT?! How dare they.

So I sent an e-mail to James Lambert explaining what had happened and asking for an official response.

Here is the text (names redacted because I don't want the guilty party dragged):

Dear James,

I am disappointed to hear that the harassment I experienced by one of your members in Columbus on March 24, 2018, is not being taken seriously. To that end, I would like to lodge a formal complaint against [SE MEMBER] for bullying me. 

The incident occurred just before kick-off. I was returning to the away fans section after using the restroom when [SE MEMBER] stopped me. He said he wanted to talk and backed me into a row. [SE MEMBER] was blocking the exit to the row and there were men I didn’t know standing behind me. [SE MEMBER] appeared extremely agitated. He proceeded to bully me verbally with an aggressive line of questioning. I tried to express my desire to exit the conversation but he was not listening and continued with his line of aggressive questioning. It is important to note that I could not physically exit this situation. [SE MEMBER] is physically larger than I am and as a woman I felt physically intimidated. The situation made me extremely uncomfortable and I grew increasingly anxious the longer this continued.

Eventually [WITNESS 1] noticed that I was missing. He saw the situation and noted that I was in a state of distress. He got my attention and told me to check my phone where I saw the message: “Is this guy bothering you?” I texted back “YES HELP” and he came and helped me climb down to the row below to escape from the harassment.

I have two direct witnesses to this incident: [WITNESS 1] and [WITNESS 2]. I also have the message [WITNESS 1] sent me with the time and date stamp in Facebook Messenger asking if I needed help.

I was also contacted by [CHARACTER WITNESS] when I shared my story on social media and he told me he’d had a similar run-in with [SE MEMBER] at an American Outlaws event. [CHARACTER WITNESS] said he is willing to speak up on my behalf.

This was extremely inappropriate behavior from [SE MEMBER] and I am disappointed at the way it was handled, especially since the Screaming Eagles organization was so vocal about speaking out against bullying of one of your own members at the game in Atlanta.

At first I was willing to ignore the incident but in the days after the game I began seeing comments online misconstruing what had happened in Columbus. That is when I first spoke up in order to set the record straight. However, I have very recently seen comments online and hearing rumors that I am being accused of making up the incident in order to exploit the tensions between our groups over the partnership agreement. This is extremely disheartening.

I want to believe that the Screaming Eagles as an organization takes women’s concerns about their safety and well-being seriously and is proactively working towards this goal.

Please notify me when this has been received and I would appreciate a response within 24 hours to let me know what steps will be taken to rectify this situation.

Sincerely,

[FG]

And just a few hours ago I received a reply, informing me that they'd already conducted an investigation--without talking to me, the names of the witnesses I provided, or asking me any follow up questions--and had decided that it wasn't a big deal and essentially telling me I was overreacting.

Read for yourself:


[FG] - Thanks for writing me. We do take these complaints very seriously and I want to share our follow up to the incident involving you and [SE MEMBER] in Columbus on 3/24. 

The rest of the board and I became aware of the situation in the week immediately after the match. I had heard on matchday directly from [SE MEMBER] that he felt he had been shouted at and cursed. Neither I, nor any of our board members, were present in Columbus that day. So I reached out to people at the match to get an impression of what happened. I had a conversation with [DU LEADER] over Facebook messenger where we ran over his impression of the events of the day. He shared that [SE MEMBER] was down talking to a number of DU members in an accusatory fashion and that he also approached "[You], who has been hit on by him to the point of harassment before, endured it until [WITNESS 1] noticed and stepped in to ask if he was bothering [you]." So I did want to check with others who were present at the match and see if anyone witnessed the interaction between you and [SE MEMBER]. I did talk with three different women who were present at the match and saw the interaction between the two of you and they were very adamant that what they witnessed should not be considered abusive or harassment and that you did not appear trapped to them or in a dangerous situation. But that [SE MEMBER] appeared to be sad and drunk and perhaps carrying on the conversation too long at an ill advised moment. I want to be clear, I did not take this at the time, nor do I feel now, that you were somehow fabricating the situation. Rather, I just wanted to get as many perspectives as possible before deciding how to move forward and those were the responses I got.
At the time of your first blog post I heard from [Concerned SE Member] that he had a brief Twitter messenger conversation with you. He indicated that you were not "interested in litigating the situation or in an apology." But that you wanted to make [SE MEMBER] aware "that men need to be aware that they can make women feel unsafe by getting too close in our personal space." I realize that I did not hear this directly from you and we still used this in informing how to proceed. In retrospect, this doesn't look like the right decision and I should have asked and confirmed these things directly with you.
Finally I did have a talk with [SE MEMBER]. He did say that it was probably a bad idea to go and press his point at that time with each of you and that he was upset. I did bring up how his size can be perceived as intimidating and he said he realized that was true. He also said that he felt he was already ending the conversation with you when [WITNESS 1] approached and asked if you were okay. But he also said at that time and has always maintained afterward that he didn't want to engage in argument and he wasn't going to go over the point on social media and he wanted to end it and I said I thought this was a very good idea.
So based on all we had heard, the board did not think this warranted any action against [SE MEMBER]. I did think it was important that he had been made aware of how you felt at the time and that it was important to steer clear of these conversations in the future as not to recreate this sort of situation. And as I had heard through [Concerned SE member] that you were not seeking an apology, we took no further steps.
In subsequent weeks, I obviously realize that you have been discussing the incident on your blog and on social media. I completely agree that I don't think you were making something up in order to exploit the tensions between our groups. And, given we were taking no further action, I did not want to say anything in public on behalf of the organization that could be in any way construed as implying that you were doing so. I know for certain that no one directly in SE leadership would be making comments that you were making anything up. And I do believe [SE MEMBER] has lived up to his earlier indication that he wouldn't be saying anything in public on this. If you can point me to anyone that's implying this, I can try to reach out to them and make clear my feelings on this point and try to get them to stop.
Finally, the SE board has realized in recent months that our member code of conduct and harassment or assault reporting procedures and responses are not robust enough currently. We've already begun research into the policies of organizations similar to our to start using as a model to draft new guidelines. When we finish, we will definitely make public announcement of the new policies and reporting procedures.
I hope this provides you a more full picture of how we chose to follow up from the incident during the 3/24 match. I did want you to know that we didn't ignore this or dismiss it. I personally spent hours gathering gathering information to make a fully prepared decision. I also realize we may not agree on the outcome. But that does not mean I am questioning your motives and it is completely appropriate you contact us with the complaint. I'm happy to continue the conversation, answer any questions you may have, or to clarify any part of what I have shared above. 


James Lambert


And for full transparency my reply:

Hi James,

Thank you for the explanation. I do find it interesting you didn't think to talk to me or [WITNESS 1] in your investigation since we were both directly involved and I don't recall seeing [the three SE women] anywhere nearby. They certainly weren't close enough to hear or see clearly my distress. 

It is true I told [concerned SE member] that I wasn't interested in an apology from [SE MEMBER]. I don't particularly want to have anything to do with him anymore. But in your investigation you seem to have minimized how inappropriate [SE MEMBER's] behavior was towards me. And I would like an apology from the Screaming Eagles.

I rode on a number of Screaming Eagles bus trips over the past few years and was even a member last year. I find it extremely disheartening that I am not being taken seriously when reporting bullying. 

Additionally, I think it is a big mistake to use this harassment issue as a weapon to attempt to discredit me personally or the district ultras as a group. 

-[FG]

You can make up your own minds. 

I keep hammering at this not just for me but all the women who messaged me and the women who--like me--rode on the Screaming Eagles buses because we felt safe. And we weren't safe. And we aren't believed and, apparently, our experiences are being "investigated" without directly talking to us. 

The bottom line is that inappropriate behavior that made me uncomfortable is being hand waved away as a guy being sad and drunk. I doubt I'm getting that apology.

I'm a friendly, generally pretty cheerful, 30-something white lady. I'm a librarian who knits and does Japanese calligraphy in her spare time and posts too many pictures of her cats on Instagram. I am a member of the District Ultras not the Green Street Hooligans. Until this drama, I was proud to say I had friends in all three supporter groups as well as friends in supporter groups from other teams. I'm not an unreasonable or aggressive person and I'm certainly not starting fist fights or drama for no reason but I will speak up when people are being treated unfairly and that's what I'm doing now.


(Not a hooligan; just a supporter)

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