Why Didn’t You?

You guys, I am exhausted.

It has been three years since I wrote Tales from the Diner.

Hardly a day goes by now that I don’t see someone new accused of harassment, assault, or rape. Sometimes it’s a celebrity. Sometimes it’s your friend. And with each new allegation comes a flurry of defenses and demands: why are we only hearing about this now?

It took me two years to come forward with my story. My silence didn’t make my experience any less real.

So let me tell you– again— why I didn’t speak sooner:

When I began working at the Route 9 Diner I was eighteen. I came from a poor, broken family and had learned to be fiercely independent. I was willing to work long overnight shifts and endure the difficulties of my job because I considered my ability to do so a virtue.  My grit was what kept a roof over my head and compromising that could have had devastating consequences.

Because I was new to this industry, I took my cues from the veterans. Harassment and assault were commonplace and as such, long-term restaurant employees softened their responses. I learned to do the same. The daily whistles and sexualized comments became white noise. After I left, I found myself telling and retelling my stories to people outside the industry to gauge their reactions.  This became my litmus test and it was through these interactions that I began to regain my horror and realize the severity of the conditions of my former workplace.

Still, for a long time I also felt like I owed the diner’s owners and even managers my loyalty. They had drilled into all of our heads that we were nothing more than expendable labor. For those of us who stayed, it felt like a point of pride: We had proven ourselves good enough. We were the new veterans. We were valuable. We lived off the crumbs they threw us: a seemingly affectionate mori from one of the owners, a drink bought by one of the managers, a smile while others got a scowl. In the end, I felt like I owed them.

Additionally, I had no idea what could happen if I went public with my experiences. I couldn’t stomach the idea of being responsible for someone losing their job or being caught and punished as an undocumented worker.  I wasn’t willing to risk the livelihoods of people I loved.

There are still plenty of people who think I should’ve chosen differently. They say I should’ve gone to the police while I was there and that it doesn’t make sense for me to have stayed. But when you exist in a culture where this mistreatment and injustice is deemed acceptable, challenging that status quo and speaking out can be downright terrifying.

And you know what? It was.

I’ve hesitated to write the next part for a long time. I am afraid of deterring the next person who could call out an abuser and inspire others to do the same. I am afraid of accidentally throwing a wrench in the gears of a movement -even on a microscopic scale- that is contributing to an enormous conversation, if not yet a cultural shift. I am afraid of changing the mind of someone who is on the brink of shouting their story and kicking open the floodgates of their own community.

So those of you who have a story to tell: scream it. We need you.

And to those of you who still wonder why we don’t speak sooner or louder or at all: listen.

Here is what happened after I, and many others, spoke:

The first few days after posting our blogs were exhilarating. They spread like wildfire and supporters popped up everywhere. We received media attention and dozens of people reached out to share their own experiences with us. People lauded our bravery and thanked us for the attention we called to a rampant issue in our industry.

Employees who still worked at the diner were quick to try to discredit and insult us. Once we received the attention of the local media, our workload increased sharply. Our social media accounts suddenly required nearly 24/7 moderation and we spent over a week fielding comments and emails from reporters, supporters, and apparent adversaries of “the bloggers.”

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I don’t think I slept more than 12 hours in the week that followed.

 

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To be honest, the backlash we received is unfortunately par for the course in these instances. Still, knowing that there would be recoil to absorb, we cocked our pens and tried to brace ourselves for the kickback.

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People I had never met relished in their attempts to vilify me and the other women who had stepped forward. Whether or not our accounts were accurate became irrelevant and they sought to damn us simply for venturing into the court of public opinion.

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Eventually the publicity died down and business at the diner continued as usual. A new group of students flooded the area and knowledge of the misconduct was diluted and forgotten. Still, behind the scenes, litigation pursued by both the ACLU and the Massachusetts Attorney General pushed forward. I must have told my story 50 more times, paring it down into short, jargon-filled paragraphs, neat and numbered. Meanwhile, the diner’s owners and lawyers avoided cooperating, even deleting the years of footage taken by the 15+ cameras around the restaurant.

Five months after I first posted Tales from the Diner the AGO announced that they had filed a complaint against the Route 9 Diner’s owners and two managers. The next day, the doors were abruptly shuttered with less than a day’s warning to the staff. For those of us on the other side, it was clear that this was a way to quickly stem their cash flow. It was a smart and sinister way to avoid a larger figure demanded of them in what was becoming an inevitable monetary settlement. Their sole objective was to avoid honoring our deserved reparations. As such, they turned their backs on their current staff, allegedly refusing to do so much as offer them a letter of recommendation.

Across the state, I felt the results of this collateral damage in the pit of my stomach. I had wanted to set justice in motion, if only to add to a greater societal conversation. In doing so, I had negatively changed the lives of people I loved.

They were quick to echo and solidify my fears.

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It would be untruthful to say that on some level, I didn’t understand their desire to lash out at us. Despite the dissimilarities presented by no longer working at the diner, a lot of their anguish mirrored my own. I had my own wounds to tend regarding the diner’s closing and the endless strain that is civil litigation. I was nursing the crumbling of once-robust friendships with women whose abuses and pain I had understood and shared. As the weeks and months went on and the time commitment and load of required emotional labor in moving forward with a formal case never eased or subsided, we became resentful of each other and the time we kept for ourselves away from lawyers and press.

As our fortitude waned, the diner’s former staff amplified their cruelty.

 

 

 

 

I don’t believe these situations are ever easy or free from any complexity. That is simply what is offered to us through human experience and our relationships. To think that one could speak of a community staple and its people in a way that so challenges the public’s perceived truth without being prepared to engage in serious labor thereafter was naive. Still, we had no idea just how much work would be required of us, nor just how far the results would reach.

I would like to say that our allies in the legal field were endlessly trustworthy and supportive. Initially, that was true. But after our case changed hands within the Attorney General’s office, so too did our sense of security. We were introduced to a new woman who made us feel as though we were tedious tasks for her to complete; a stark contrast to the previous attorney who had expressed horror at our circumstances and had worked passionately in the name of justice. Our phone calls and emails went unanswered. Despite our persistence, many of us were left in the dark regarding the status of our own case.

Less than six months after agreeing upon a settlement to be paid out to the women involved in the case, one of the  diner’s former owners filed for bankruptcy, relieving him of any further financial requirement to the women he had allowed to be assaulted. The Attorney General’s office appeared disinterested and waited over six months to notify us. They seemed surprised at our upset, and perhaps more so to learn that bankruptcy had been threatened multiple times throughout the initial mediation between the diner and the state attorneys.

In the following months, the Attorney General’s Office continued to ignore our attenot a to contact them. Even calls from even the ACLU were ignored. When we did finally get in touch, the AGO expressed only surprise at the level of public torment we had underwent. Months earlier, we had sent emails full of screenshots, depicting such behavior.

Last spring the recipients of the Route 9 Diner settlement received an email from the Attorney General’s Office. In a final show of poor judgement and unprofessionalism, the contact list was cc’d rather than bcc’d. I now know everyone who is receiving a check in the wake of this litigation. Some of the names surprised me. Some of the names were people who had publicly mocked, discredited, and insulted me and the other women who dared to speak candidly of our time at the diner.

 

 

 

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I don’t doubt for a single moment that the women who slid under the radar to seek their restitution also shared our experiences at the hands of the diner’s management. I unwaveringly support their right to justice in whatever form by which they feel satisfied and vindicated. Nevertheless, I am left feeling conflicted. The work I, and the other bloggers, put into this case was very real. We suffered publicly, endured sleepless nights, missed work, and lost friendships. It is difficult for me to stomach the idea that someone could willfully add to our distress and workload while quietly profiting in the background. We were forced to relive the pain of our time at the diner and we were left bruised. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office enjoyed their victory march without so much as a thought to our continued suffering.

These days, I am uncertain exactly how I think justice should look. It would be dishonest to say that I am disheartened at the prospect of the diner’s owner’s bankruptcy, knowing that I will never receive my share of the settlement. Although it was never about the money, I learned to be satisfied with the shallow prize of an abuser’s dollar.

When I originally wrote Tales from the Diner, I ended it with a nod to my sister, saying, “I am shouting now that I have the strength to shout… for god’s sake, the lesson I teach her is not going to be one of silence.” I am afraid that through her witnessing the backlash of my actions, I unwittingly taught her exactly that.

The truth is that despite my once-powerful call to action, I have grown weary of what often feels like minimal results. I have ripped my scabs open time and again and sometimes the only shouts I can muster are closer to defeated, hopeless cries. There is no triumph in my scars.

So now, in a sea of #metoo, I again see the rise of #whydidntyou? Coming forward is bleak and without sanctuary or reprieve. Please try to understand.

 

 

Note: The inclusion of these screenshots is incredibly important to me as a means to illustrate what I and others faced as a result of bringing our experiences to light. I have tried my hardest to protect anyone from unintentional revictimization by editing these pictures as necessary. Jane Dover is a fake name and as such I left those images unedited. 

 

 

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The Impostor

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fears that people have and how they tend to govern and affect us. I think it’s a really fascinating question that lends a small window into their motivations and many of the choices they make in their daily lives. This is especially true if you can get to their deeper fears; the first ones they name are often superficial.

For me, most of my fears live under a larger umbrella-fear: Failure. Rejection, certain risks, and (sometimes) death, all point back to that one intense base fear.

Still, there is another constant, nagging issue, ultimately linked with my mental illness, that I will be found out to be the actualized version of my own warped self-perception. And, as it turns out, I am not the only one; this disquiet has already been recognized and experienced by millions before me. They’ve packaged it up among all the other disorders and ailments and given it a cute name: Impostor Syndrome.

Once, when I was living in Israel, Miguel’s dad expressed to me his fascination with a particularly successful, high-power woman in Israeli politics. He had been reading her memoir, wherein she expressed her experience with this particular brand of self-doubt. Astonished, he asked me if I had ever heard of such a thing. Little did he know, this is something I had been dealing with for the better part of my life. It is something that still presents frequent obstacles in my relationships. Little did  he know, it is something that had negatively impacted my relationship with his own son.

Only a few short years before this conversation, Miguel had grown restless in Tel Aviv and was getting ready to leave Israel behind in favor of traveling to India. Instead, he found himself compelled to head west to the stark winters of Boston, confident that pursuing a relationship with me was worth forgoing whatever alluring adventure he had hoped the East may provide.

I bore the guilt of his decision for months after his move. Eventually, he became frustrated with my need for affirmation that life with me was indeed what he wanted. There was an urgency for me to believe his security in the choice he had made and that he didn’t regret the decision he’d made.

One night, the pressure overwhelmed me and I found myself sobbing in a heap on the bathroom floor. As Miguel soothed me once again, I understood that it was the last time I could bring this up to him. Still, the fear lingered.  How could I possibly believe that I would be able to satisfy him with my love or my cooking or my sexual expression? How was I to live up to the life-changing experience of  exploring a new country and culture?

Miguel believed in his choice genuinely and honestly. Quietly, I felt we were on a countdown to the day he realized his mistake. Soon, he would find that the things he loved about me were imagined and fraudulent. How long would it be until he saw that I’d fooled him into thinking I was better than I really was and hated me for it?

I would like to say these fears of inadequacy have dissipated over time, but that is unfortunately not the case. My tendency to believe I am deceiving the people in my life extends far beyond my romantic relationships. I operate in a perpetual state of anxiety, always fearful that I’m going to be unmasked and discovered as someone who is valueless and a failure.

My professional life is no exception. I have worked for my company for two and a half years and steadily risen through the ranks. I now hold a position that previously did not exist; have more autonomy than any previous manager; and have developed and intimate knowledge of our operations. Even so, I dread every single phone call, meeting, and email, afraid that I am in trouble or moments away from being fired. Objectively, I know this couldn’t be further from the truth. My work is valuable and consistent. Even so, I live in abject fear that I will be exposed as a con; a garbage person who forgets to make phone calls or is disorganized or doesn’t really understand excel spreadsheets.  I am certain they will despise me when they find that I have been scamming them for both their respect and my salary. And worse: I know that when their hatred finds me, I will deserve it.

In a rare moment of vulnerability, I confided in my mother these deep-seated issues. I called to update her on the goings-on of my love life– one that seems to always fall squarely into the categories “rocky” or “DOA.” I told her of my friend Tony, who I’d recently met on a dating site, to whom I had quickly become close. We had decided early on that a relationship wasn’t in the cards for us, but our fondness for each other persisted.

“He’s about fifty times smarter than I am, Mom,” I wailed to her one day.

My mother gasped at this, and I smiled and rolled my eyes. I appreciated her confidence in my intelligence, but my anxieties forced me to take her support with a grain of salt; how could I trust her convictions to be at all reliable when they were so clearly biased maternal love?

It is these same anxieties that nearly convinced me to stop spending time with Tony altogether. My profound enjoyment of his company was becoming increasingly overshadowed by the certainty that he would soon learn I was not the person I presented myself to be.

I admitted the same to my friend Harriett: “Every minute more I spend with him is another minute closer to the day he realizes I’m not as smart or as interesting or as attractive as he thinks I am.”

I was frightened that when Tony discovered this, he would immediately revoke both his attention and affection. The thought of prolonging the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence filled me with guilt. I knew that I was tricking him and that doing so proved I was a terrible person.

Most of me knew this was my mental illness talking. Part of me was afraid it was Miguel all over again.

Maybe then, this is why in the previous few months I had opted for someone who wasn’t my intellectual match. I wasn’t satisfied, but I did not feel the angst and the shame of this supposed deceit.

These fears are echoed even in my activism. Every time I agree to speak or write or meet someone I begin to feel overwhelmed. I am one of the most active members in my organization and I am convinced that I am always on the verge of letting everyone down. Furthermore, when this inevitably happens, I have no doubt that they will hate me because I will have fooled them into believing I am something I am not. This organization is filled with some of the most wonderfully supportive people I have ever met. Around them I feel ashamed, as though I have infiltrated, playing the part of a kind and capable activist when in reality my abilities and my goodness fall far short.

At this point, I’ve been coping with my mental illness and all of the ways it seeps into my life for over 15 years. The dysthymia is constant and the suicidality comes and goes. I’m a high-functioning depressive, so unless I talk about it loudly and frequently, most people don’t know. From the outside, I know everything seems pretty okay; I don’t miss work, I find extra-curriculars, and I have an active social life. I know that I do my best to be kind and honest and giving and introspective. But my brain doesn’t like to be objective and often my energy is too used up to fight that fight.

One thing that helps though, is when I see other people talk about this. So for now, I’ll talk about it too. Loudly and frequently. Just in case.

Taking Liberties

It looks like we need to have a conversation about Rape Culture.

Still.

Again.

The truth is that I shy away from calling Rape Culture by name, despite my usual candor, because I find that the term makes people irreversibly defensive and unwilling to hear–much less examine— any point that follows. I find myself sugar-coating my explanations and experiences of daily misogyny and objectification simply to be believed and heard. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m exhausted and I’m bored. And you know what? Rape Culture should make you recoil because it’s disgusting.  Instead of protecting the people who are put off by the term we should take more action to dismantle the thing itself and protect those who are affected by its existence.

This weekend the White House announced that President Trump named April 2017 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.  My Facebook feed was suddenly filled with posts by outraged women and comments by oblivious men asking, “Isn’t this a good thing?”

Because so many people don’t seem to understand, let me give you a cursory overview: Donald Trump has repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted women, even to the point of alleged rape. He has openly bragged about some of these instances. He has unabashedly commented on and criticized women’s appearances and equated their value and skill to these physical evaluations. In the face of all this, he has insisted upon his superlative, unmatched respect of women. Tell me: would Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold be an appropriate person to announce a Gun Safety Awareness Day? Would  Richard Spencer or Stephen Bannon or literally any KKK member be an appropriate spokesperson for Holocaust Remembrance Day  or Black History month? Should we support people who feign to champion causes to which they are directly opposed?

When you refuse to acknowledge Donald Trump’s past actions and their direct conflict with this cause you are perpetuating rape culture. You are allowing a sexual predator to move on with no accountability, claiming he has done something good and right. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are common in Rape Culture and so is your unwillingness to see them.

A few months ago I was assaulted by a friend outside a bar just down the street from my job. I knew I was too drunk and I knew that I was in over my head. I managed to leave during the few minutes he was in the bathroom, but not before we kissed and he choked me so hard I thought I was going to pass out.

I spent the next few days emotional and unnerved. Other than a few close friends, I told no one. Despite knowing otherwise and my consistent advocacy to women in this situation, the truth is that I felt like I only had myself to blame. I was in this situation with someone who was much stronger than me and who made me fear for my safety; his choice to pin me down and wrap his hands around my throat until I couldn’t breathe was his own. Rape Culture tells me that I was Asking For It, and despite all my advocacy to reject this, I still find myself internalizing it.

I broke our month-long silence and told my ex boyfriend about this encounter. I sought our old familiarity in an effort to comfort myself after a harrowing experience with a new man. He suggested I go to the police and seemed impatient when I tried to explain the nuances of my hesitation and the complications that course of action could present to me. Finally he gave up saying, “I don’t know, Marie. You’re smart and have a good head on your shoulders. That’s why I always liked putting my balls on you.”

A couple weeks ago I told a new romantic interest about the night outside the bar in preparation for the possibility of the two of them meeting at a social outing. I looked for outrage in his face and found none. If there was concern in his voice I did not hear it. We didn’t talk about it further.  I didn’t press it, suddenly anxious that I was overreacting.

These are symptoms of Rape Culture.

A month or so ago I was talking with a friend about various sexual experiences we’ve had in previous relationships. I mentioned that my most recent ex had a habit of “taking liberties” when it came to certain aspects of our sex life. I expressed this casually, as though it were acceptable for him to assume access to any part of a lover’s body at will. My friend stopped me: “Taking liberties? You mean partner rape?

And he was right. He named the thing I had been silently mulling over but had been unable to admit. For months I thought back to the instances of anal sex I didn’t want and wasn’t prepared for and that caused me pain. I thought of the countless times he woke me up by mounting me or jabbing me with his erection in pursuit of a late-night fuck and how much sleep I lost because of it. Then there were the times I was made late for work because he insisted I perform oral sex, even just for a minute, before I left. I thought about how irritable he got when I resisted, sometimes inconsolably so. I thought about the times he posted pictures of me during these acts that showed my face, despite agreeing not to. I thought about the times he broadcasted us having sex without my knowledge.  But mostly I found myself wondering, “Was that rape?” 

Sexual abuse has been wholly accepted by our culture and the blame placed squarely on victims. I am not the only woman who, after months of being violated by the men we love, have tried to package it up tidily with a cute bow and a nice name: Taking Liberties. I don’t want that job anymore.

This is a symptom of Rape Culture.

So, with all that in mind, for National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention MontI’d like to say this: I am intimately aware of sexual assault and of Rape Culture. We all are, including those who benefit from it. We know well to be suspicious of both lovers and authority figures who attempt to tout their desire to protect us but act otherwise. So if you’d like to prevent it? Please stop assaulting us.

 

 

 

I didn’t ask for it

I never meant to be an activist.

Even now, I have trouble thinking of myself in the light. The word activist has always conjured up a certain image in my mind: someone in the thick of the battle, shouting, unwavering. All I’ve done is write.

A couple weeks ago I was honored with an invitation to speak at a summit for the Restaurant Opportunities Center in Boston. They are currently campaigning not only to raise the minimum wage, but to abolish the substandard minimum wage for tipped employees. I was there to add my own testimonial to the ways in which server’s incomes are unreliable, citing my own experience with sexual harassment and the effect that had on my tips. Despite having written extensively on this subject, I had never spoken on it publicly, save a few phone calls with local reporters two years ago. This time my voice shook.

There is a difference between the carefully crafted words I can lay on a page, chosen for their power, and the words I try to speak, my voice trembling, to a room full of people including lawmakers and press. As I stood among my allies, I realized that my story no longer belonged to me. And perhaps, in some ways, the specificities of my experience aren’t even important. Instead, I have unwittingly taken on the burden of sexual harassment and assault in the restaurant industry as a whole. The details of my account matter – but only as a corroboration and testament to the existence prevalence of such a culture. My story isn’t about me; it’s about everyone who’s faced the same hardships.

I have begun to feel this pressure immensely. I felt it especially as I recounted my history as a server, hoping to play a role in changing the laws and tradition of an entire industry. What I was doing was activism.

The issue with being an activist is that it is so much messier than anyone realizes from the outside.

When the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office announced its plan to pursue litigation against the Route 9 Diner, it initially felt like a victory. After nearly six months of late nights; tearful, exhausted skype calls; a barrage of personal attacks; and a move back to my home country, I exhaled thinking I could rest easily for the first time in months.

But within days the owners of the diner closed their business without warning. They gathered their employees in the dining room to break the news, where they insinuated that the AGO had forced them to shut down. Cruel messages on social media from the diner’s most recent servers began to pour in, attacking me and the others who had shared the abuses they endured at the diner.  Soon, it became to difficult to feel uplifted by the progress we had made since writing our initial blog posts.

From the other side of the world my ex boyfriend told me, “This may not feel like it from the frontline, but from home, we see this as a victory.”

The problem was that the diner was more than a building; the consequences were reaped by more than the owners. We were not all immune to the struggles we had caused our former coworkers; people who, despite their aggression toward us, were people for whom we still cared. Fierce debates broke out within families and many of the girls began to quietly delete the blog posts that had garnered so much attention. Though the community rallied behind us, it was impossible to ignore the fallout. As Elizabeth Adams, former coworker, wrote: justice doesn’t always feel just. The aftermath doesn’t always feel like a triumph; there is almost always collateral damage.

This became obvious even among the women who had once so bravely spoken out against the treatment of women at the Route 9 Diner. While we were once a closely knit group of endless support, our individual ideas of what justice should look like began to clash, and slowly we unraveled. I lost friends on both sides of this fight. Some hated me because they had convinced themselves I was overreacting to the trauma I had endured and blamed me for the accidental and unfortunate consequences they now faced.  Others told me I was weak when I gave in to the need for self-care after an emotionally charged fight I never truly intended to start. Was this what justice was supposed to look like?

Now, two years later, I have picked up the fight again. Whether or not I want it, I have a platform to advocate not only for victims of sexual violence in the restaurant industry, but for those who have experienced it at any point in their lives. It is my good fortune that people have been willing to listen to my words and hear my voice, small and trembling as it may be, and have continued to give me the opportunity to speak on the issues about which I am so passionate. It is both humbling and gratifying that despite the backlash and self doubt, more and more women have said, “me too,” and added their own cries to the ever-growing chorus of resistance against a culture and society that allows our experiences and our stories to be considered negligible and normal.

Last week I had the pleasure and honor of posing for Anja Schutz’s photoseries #GrabHimByTheBallot. It is a response to Donald Trump’s casual lewd remarks about sexually assaulting women without consequence. Like me, Anja stumbled into activism accidentally. I cannot speak for her, but I can identify with the overwhelming feelings of gratitude and validation that come with numerous women standing beside you, gratefully empowered by your work.

My own empowerment doesn’t always emerge in the form of the written word. My activism is not always a battle cry.

Today, they look like this:

 

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#PussyGrabsBack

 

A Letter to Mohawk

Below is an email that I wrote to Mohawk Trail Regional High’s superintendent and co-principals. I am posting it publicly because I think that it is critical to remind the community that the latest accounts of abuse by Colin Garland are actually not unusual. Unfortunately, he is the third in a string of predators affiliated with Mohawk to have such testimonies brought against them in recent years.

Together, we must reevaluate the policies in place and hold our community accountable for the safety of our children.

Note: One former teacher’s name has been redacted, though not in an effort to protect him. Unfortunately, addressing my experience with him more explicitly than this requires more emotional labor than I able to invest right now. If you are from my small town, you can probably guess to whom I’m referring. You’re probably right.

 

Superintendent Buoniconti and Co-Principals Dole and Mendonsa,

I am writing to you in regards to the recent publicization of the abuse perpetrated by Colin Garland, owner of Raven Adventures and Global Classroom. I, like many other students at Mohawk, was introduced to Colin via Will Kiendzior, who allowed him to come into the classroom and tout his trips to remote parts of Africa and Central America. If you have not heard the accounts that recently came to light, I highly encourage you to do so, if only to understand the type of person that has been allowed not only into your school, but permitted to take your students to secluded areas of the world. I truly hope that this man is no longer affiliated with Mohawk, or if he is, that you will immediately cease allowing him contact with your students. Although I did not personally experience assault at the hands of Colin Garland, I can attest to his other manipulative and abusive behaviors. I detailed them in my personal blog here: https://lustyglutton.com/2016/09/11/shaman/   Included in that post are links to two other testimonies of young women who were groomed, manipulated, and raped by Colin Garland.
There is no question that these accounts are disturbing. However, it is not as alarming when one realizes that allowing this is not the first time Mohawk has allowed these type of predators close daily interaction with their students. As I said to [former teacher]after he confided in me that he had slept with his third former student: this is now a pattern.
I have grown increasingly concerned when considering Mohawk’s relationship with Colin Garland, especially as I took into account the past actions of [former teacher] and of the recent news regarding Ivan Grail, the former social studies teacher who is under investigation for his inappropriate conduct with his students. I am puzzled as to why the amount of predatory men allowed such close contact with your students has seemed to remain consistently high under your watch.
I was personally groomed by both [former teacher] and Colin Garland as a student at Mohawk and it has taken me years to realize the severity of these situations. Although it was common knowledge that these two men would meet with students outside of school hours or property, their actions were never questioned and certainly never put to a stop. It is disturbing to me that it was only my guardian, a lawyer and former social worker, who seemed suspicious of [former teacher]‘s actions. She believed that he was ultimately interested in developing a sexual relationship with me and the other young girls to whom he paid such special attention. Unfortunately, she was right. How can an institution charged with the welfare of so many children overlook so many warning signs?
I ask you to seriously consider the manner in which you are vetting your prospective teachers, faculty, and chaperons. It appears that whatever systems you have in place at the moment are simply not working to the extent that is necessary for the safety of your students. Furthermore, I ask that you make public a written policy regarding appropriate conduct for your staff and chaperons in terms of their interactions with students, including any revisions that may be needed. I also ask that you write and make public a list of what  constitutes these inappropriate behaviors to be distributed to students so that they may understand what is unacceptable and unethical coming from staff. Additionally, students should know their rights and resources should they ever encounter such issues.
I am hoping that you take these suggestions to heart so that we may see a change in the environment at Mohawk and change its reputation. It has been truly heartbreaking to realize that although I was initially dismayed that my little sister did not attend the same highschool I did, I believe she was ultimately safer for not doing so. Please: attend seriously to this issue.
Sincerely yours,
Marie Billiel
Class of 2007
Superintendent Buoniconti has invited me to call him with my proposals for policy revisions. I urge you to address this grievous issue as well and to make your suggestions and concerns heard. Matters like this reach much further than just a few; their effects bleed into the entire community. Let the reflection of who we are come from the steps we take to mend.

The Shaman

I recently came across an open letter to a man I once thought I knew. His name is Colin Garland, the owner of Raven Adventures/The Global Classroom.

The letter, written by a woman only two years my senior, details the multiple encounters she had with Colin, all of which were manipulative and abusive, and many of which involved rape.

It was a challenging read. However, the difficulty did not lay in struggling to believe the author’s account of her experience with Colin. Instead, I was forced to sit with the pain that came with remembering my time with this man and how all of his actions fit so neatly into the pattern of abuse described by the author. There was no relief in the realization that my gut instinct over our last few interactions had been correct.

I met Colin through my highschool ecology teacher Will Kiendzior. We dedicated a class to showcase the myriad adventures Colin had been on in Costa Rica and Mexico. We were invited to embark on his annual trip with students from my highschool to Central America to explore and learn about his conservation efforts.

Yesterday, before his website was taken down, I scrolled through all the pictures of former students, all about 16 years old. Some I knew personally. I wondered how many have had similarly alarming and abusive experiences with him. I felt sick to my stomach.

Admittedly, it was not my time spent with Colin in Mexico that makes me uneasy. Though tainted now, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Still, I have a distinct memory of affection and praise with which he showered my best friend. He marveled at the symbols she drew in the sand, saying they were rich with meaning and that she was clearly in tune to something greater. After we got home, she spent weeks corresponding with Colin through email. I was envious of the attention she received. I was frustrated that he didn’t see that I too felt I had something deep, primal, and attuned to something beyond myself.

Six years later I was in Israel when I received a message from Colin, telling me that I had been on his radar. He told me that he had been thinking of me for a long time but had hesitated to reach out. We made plans to see each other the next time he was back in Massachusetts.

In the time before he made his return I began to confide in him about my history of depression and the difficult childhood that had led me there. In fact, I later posted a short series on this blog entitled “Letters to Colin” that I copied from those letters that unreservedly and unapologetically detailed my disjointed upbringing and early introduction to mental illness. It was clear that I sought to heal in some way and Colin appointed himself the one who could do it.

It wasn’t long after that that he told me I was a woman coming into my power. He told me tales of my psychic ability. He urged me to travel with him, to allow him to teach me the ways of a healer. He spoke of Native American customs, of the medicine wheel, of shapeshifting. He told me that I simply hadn’t made love until both me and my partner had shifted into the form of a dolphin. He of course, was the one to teach me.

I remember that he was hesitant that I wanted to bring my boyfriend the night I agreed to come to his house for a healing session. I remember that up to that point, and for some time after our messages on Facebook somehow made me uncomfortable. In nearly every message he told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. I pushed my misgivings aside. After all, Colin was a Healer and wanted to help me. I was certain that the issue lay within myself; I wasn’t used to being loved so purely. I wasn’t being open. I needed him to heal me. I thought of the time I had heard that Colin had slept with a former classmate of mine, nearly 30 years his junior. I pushed the thought out of my head, convincing myself I did not understand the experience or the depth of Colin’s love and shamanic powers.

Now, when I reread our messages and see how I exposed my vulnerability to him I am uneasy. I realize now that this was not a safe place; his intentions were more sinister than I initially knew. While I thought I was seeking solace in a wizened old friend, I was playing squarely into the grooming tactics of a well-rehearsed predator.

I believe that as humans, we all have a deep-seated desire to be seen. We feel that there is something more we can offer the world, if only we had the means to let that part of us out. And I imagine this is particularly true of women, as we frequently have to prove ourselves as worthy and capable in ways that men do not. Colin Garland, pseudo spiritual leader, has found the perfect way to prey on young women and girls via this innate human condition. He fancies himself a shaman and uses his influence to create a harem of women to exercise his manipulation, abuse, and assault.

There are countless women who have had similar experiences with this wannabe cult leader. I am fortunate that my own did not escalate past this degree. Please consider the ties you have to this man and others who exhibit this behavior within your community.

 

A page has been set up as a platform for other victims and their supporters. Please share widely.

UPDATE: Another woman has written of her abuse at the hands of Colin Garland. TW – sexual assault

 

I have regrets

Don’t tell me you’re one of those goths.

I don’t know what it meant to him, but I remember what it meant to me. I was in the height of my teenage angst and experiencing, perhaps for the first time the depths to which my depression could bring me. To cope with my distress I resorted to cutting myself; I was compelled to see the blood well up in the canyons I carved deep in my thighs. I listened to dark, brooding music, and I surrounded myself with people who did and felt the same. And though it may have been for lack of better word or explanation, we identified as goth.

At 14 I still had no relationship with my father and had long since given up expecting one. But maybe in some last ditch effort to find myself in him, or perhaps simply to spite my mother, I picked up the phone and called. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those goths;” my father rejected me once more.

I think it was that visit, where we sat in silence and discussed nothing meaningful, where we shared nothing at all, that I decided the rejection was mutual.

Over the next few years I visited him sporadically at his rundown apartment on the bad side of town.Once I knocked on his door and asked him for percocets. He raised his eyebrows, but invited me in and let his buddies offer me hash. He reprised old stories of snorting cocaine and staring out the windows, paranoid the cops would find him.

I refused to kiss him goodbye. I scoffed when he requested my phone number. I gave it to him anyway, though I was certain he would not call; I was right.

I brought a boyfriend or two to meet him. I referred to these rare introductions as “showing them my dad.” His absence still made me bitter and the sight of his worn face did not soften me.

I joked that I was  stopping by to make sure he was still alive. But I said it curtly. I thought that my  flippancy and steeliness were a sign of my strength; that my unaffectedness was warranted and just.

But now, two years after his sudden death, I am afraid that I hurt him.

The last time I saw him I flew 5,000 miles across an ocean to tell them to pull the plug. I am no closer to understanding him now than I was the day I signed his body away.

I do not know the last time I told him I loved him.

I do not know if I even did love him.

I do not know where his ashes are.

I have regrets.