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It started with a flurry of accounts of sexual harassment and abuse on social media against employees, managers and the owner at downtown’s Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana.
Over the summer, it grew into an avalanche, encompassing restaurants like Neomonde and Ashley Christensen’s Poole’s Diner, tattoo and piercing shop Blue Flame, Red Hat’s HR department and bartenders, musicians, tattoo artists, body piercers and other men—almost exclusively men—about town.
Raleigh is having a #MeToo moment, with survivors recounting stories of their abuse anonymously, naming the perpetrators, and a new third party platform, the Raleigh Protection Alliance, emerging on Instagram (@raleigh_ncpa) to give them a space to share their experiences, connect and document it all.
With new posts from survivors popping up on the group’s page daily, the #MeToo avalanche is growing, not slowing. “The purpose of our organization is to shed light on issues of abuse and assault,” the volunteer-run group says in its mission statement. The group, which has similar affiliates in at least five other North Carolina towns and cities, says it is working on forming as a nonprofit while continuing its mission. “[NC Protection Alliance] considers itself a space for survivors to come forward, share their stories, receive resources and, most importantly, create dialogue that fosters support. It is our hope that by amplifying voices, accountability and change will happen.” (The group wrote it is “flooded with new tasks currently” due to a surge in new followers and is “putting a hold on media interactions” until it adjusts in messages to Raleigh Magazine in response to an interview request).
Survivors and their advocates say the NCPA and similar platforms are helpful for those who have experienced abuse, providing a safe and cathartic way for them to speak out.
“When we first started seeing survivor stories on social media almost a decade ago, there was far more easily targeted victim blaming against survivors,” says Monika Johnson-Hostler, the executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NC CASA), a nonprofit that works statewide to end sexual violence through education, advocacy and legislation. “Now, allies are shutting down victim blaming in a way I don’t think existed before. The victim blaming was a part of why survivors didn’t come forward and because it wasn’t public, there wasn’t a space for other people to see how nasty it was. I’m watching people step into the space, advocating and calling out horrific, vitriolic victim blaming and seeing more people step in as allies to survivors.”
As to the second part of the group’s mission statement—the hope for change and accountability to happen—there has been change, to be sure.
Last month, Vanvisa Nolintha and Patrick Woodson, the owners of Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana, announced they were stepping away from the company following outcry online and in-person protests when the restaurants tried to reopen with curbside pickup service. They issued an apology on Bhavana’s Instagram page and announced the hiring of a new CEO. (The company’s original owner and manager, Van Nolintha, left and divested his ownership following allegations of abuse and mismanagement, in June). Christensen released a lengthy letter apologizing for abuse alleged to have taken place at Poole’s (though received swift backlash online for naming the survivor and not contacting her before re-sharing her story). Blue Flame Tattoo scrubbed its social media presence and has reportedly closed its doors following the departures of several employees. And a new local service, Harassment Free NC, is working with businesses to help them assess their policies, evaluate their workspaces and company cultures and train business owners and employees on how to create safer, harassment-free work environments.
“We fully support survivors speaking out,” says Amy Circosta, who co-founded Harassment Free NC this summer. “Their stories are crucial to raising awareness and accountability and having businesses inspired to make substantive changes to prevent harassment is where we see ourselves being useful.”
Johnson-Hostler says she supports NCPA’s approach but acknowledges that how much real accountability there will be as a result of online callouts, and businesses responding to them, is still an open question.
“It is yet to be seen if this is going to make the community safer,” says Johnson-Hostler. “I certainly believe in systemic work. I absolutely believe we should be saying, ‘here are some policies and practices to put in place to create a workspace that is preventative to sexual violence and the culture around harassment,’ and then, ‘here are ways to support survivors as they come forward.’”
Then, there’s the question of the potential for collateral damage. It’s one the NCPA has already had to grapple with following accounts of rape and other instances of sexual abuse the group shared on its page that were made against a local tattoo artist, who formerly worked at Blue Flame and now owns Raleigh Tattoo Company, as well as allegations made against a piercing artist who recently worked at Blue Flame.
“Just to clarify—we never encouraged any business to close up shop, nor did we demand any particular response from them,” a post on the NCPA’s Instagram page reads in response to reports of the artists leaving Blue Flame and the business reportedly closing. “We’re not privy to the process of the decision for these individual artists to quit …We can only trust that these steps were the ones that the artists and owner felt were right, even if they were heartbroken.”
Johnson-Hostler says she shares the view that the outcomes of survivors publicly sharing their accounts on a third party social media platform shouldn’t be a consideration in whether they decide to speak out.
“There is always going to be collateral damage but that is not a reason to silence survivors,” she says. “As a survivors’ advocate, I cannot raise my hand to silence survivors in any way, shape or form. I am not going to say [speaking out] couldn’t shut down a business or cause major damage to a business that could be ‘undeserving,’ but the damage to survivors is centuries old.”
Johnson-Hostler says she is interested to see what the NCPA and its role in shaping Raleigh’s #MeToo movement will look like going forward.
“We don’t really know what the evolution of this group of survivors will be,” she says. “My hope is major change in our communities. And for those survivors, healing.”
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