Erin (aka SophiaSunday), an out-of-town woman, was visiting friends in the Baltimore area last year, including a well-known man who is a community leader and teacher at events. One night, something went very wrong. Later, after Erin’s attempts to deal directly with the man were not successful, she posted in the community online forum a recounting of the events. She alleged consent violations and described events that can be characterized only as sexual assault. Erin took down the post shortly thereafter and did not file charges. The man did not provide any factual rebuttal of her allegations. Some event organizers and community leaders banned the man from their events and groups after reaching out to him unsuccessfully to invite him to share his side of the story.
The man filed suit against Erin for $1.5 million, alleging defamation. Erin was served in May. The suit lists Erin’s real and screen names. The man also sent letters from his attorney to local event organizers and community leaders demanding public apologies and threatening suit against them if they do not comply. The man is also now threatening anyone who talks about the incident.
Why should we care? We weren’t there that night and Erin doesn’t live here. It’s just one incident. It doesn’t affect us.
We should care because filing public lawsuits against people who allege consent violations is a good way to ensure no one complains, regardless of merit. Even assuming this suit is unsuccessful, likely it will cost Erin tens of thousands of dollars for legal expenses, travel, and missed work.
And we should care because event organizers and community leaders must be able to make difficult decisions on the basis of allegations; rarely is there definitive proof of anything. Do you want your event organizer or community leader to make decisions based on the financial means and threat capability of accused consent violators?
If we do not actively reject this approach to settling community differences, we are leaving room in the community for this type of public and expensive retaliation against people who dare to talk about consent violations. When people are not free to complain and organizers and community leaders are not free to make attendance decisions for their events, everyone is less safe and fewer people will organize or attend events.
This is bullying. The implications of this on the continued viability of the Baltimore and D.C. communities cannot be understated. Not to mention the implications for potential sexual assault complainants of any stripe anywhere.
You don’t need to have met Erin or know anything about this particular case. The broader implications to the Baltimore/D.C. community, and to victims in general, affect all of us. Your donation is not about who is right or wrong on the merits. Rather, your donation says that it is not OK with you when someone tries to silence or retaliate against a person who has complained of a sexual assault. Your donation says that you would like to promote a community environment in which people are free to make complaints and organizers are free to make attendance decisions that take into account those complaints. Your donation can be anonymous.
We have set an initial fundraising goal of $20,000 for Erin’s legal defense, but anticipate that the legal and travel expenses associated with this matter may be much higher. We will make adjustments to the goal as the case proceeds.
- Daniel Burke
Organizer and beneficiary
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