another account of rape involving stephen tully dierks.
The rape culture continues because you let it
When I went to trial against my ex boyfriend, I lost on a technicality. Not because he didn’t admit to: being physically and psychologically abusive to me, harassing me, stalking me, or violating police orders not to talk to me. He did admit to those things- to the police- in his statement after he was arrested.
No, the reason I lost was because, when I was forced to hand over all contact I’d had between us, I failed to share a conversation we had had on gchat with the police. One in which I explicitly stated that I felt he had sometimes coerced me into sex; he denied this repeatedly, stating we had an ‘insanely good’ sex life.
I didn’t hand this conversation over because I thought that the law wanted examples of his abuse, his harassment. I was wrong.
The law wanted me to point out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had done wrong by me and I had never taken any agency to counter him.
And so I lost. I went home for Christmas and I tried not to think about it. I tried to stop labelling what happened to me, I tried to stop reading blogs that illuminated my struggle, I tried to put it behind me.
Every now and then, though, I’d come across something that reminded me. An ad for Mallorca- and I’m transported to a vacation we took together where he had sex with me without a condom (which I didn’t know about) and then ejaculated inside me without my consent. When I asked him why, he smiled- I was stuck on an island that did not offer the morning after pill over the counter, and he knew that. At the time, I knew that felt wrong. Now I know that was something called reproductive abuse.
But I move on, ignoring other memories that come to the surface. “Grey sex” only makes me think of this time, when I was 19 years old, and he cajoled me into making a sex video with him, even though I protested (although not strongly) against it. At one point, he switched me into a position that exposed my body more to the camera. “No,” I said softly. “Come on,” he said. “No,” I said more forcefully. “It’s my birthday video,” he muttered. I relented.
He would play that video sometimes when we had sex with the volume turned up high. I could just about hear myself saying “no, no, no.”
Rainy mornings with a drier chill remind me of a nebulous number of times, how many I can’t tell you because I don’t remember them, where we were lying in his bed. He poked at me, calling me fat- his favorite abuse was appearance-based- and asked me to have sex with him. No, I’d ask. No, I’d plead. More ‘you’re fat’ would come at me until I said yes. Then, on top of me:
"Why aren’t you enjoying this? God dammnit, why aren’t you enjoying this?"
All of these instances are examples of what the law would not hold up as rape. I sometimes even doubt myself labelling them as such; I feel guilty, lesser than someone who has been forcefully assaulted against their will. This isn’t rape. What happened to me wasn’t rape.
What happened to me wasn’t abuse, I say. In the middle of the night, I wake up and feel the overwhelming urge to email him, asking him for forgiveness for taking him to trial. It was my fault- if I had shared that gchat conversation, it would have never gone to trial, and he would just have been arrested, released, and he would have maybe been scared enough to never contact me again.
It was my fault.
It was my fault that, one day when walking down the street, he raised his hand high above my head, and brought it inches away from my face. I cowered; he laughed. “Why the fuck would you do that?” I asked. He smiled, always. “Because you were raising your voice on the street. Why do you have to be so loud?”
I tell myself it wasn’t that big of a deal that he pulled me by my hair, by my pixie cut, and told me I was a little girl. Women suffer worse, people suffer worse. It’s my fault that I obsess about it.
And when he choked me in a bush until I either passed out or blacked out from panic- well, I shouldn’t obsess about that either. I wasn’t killed. I wasn’t even that harmed- just a scraped up knee. I slept the night in a guest room in his house, and his flatmates told me they’d look after me and make sure he didn’t come home. He did, he yelled at me, and the next morning I fell asleep in his bed again while I heard him tell his flatmate, “I think I was just waiting for an excuse to break up with her for a long time.”
I tell myself it’s my fault these things happened because I went back to him. I went back to him so many times; I went back to him every second. Not because I loved him, not because I wanted him, but because I didn’t know if I had the strength to exist without him.
And so you tell me: the rape culture exists because I let it. Because my words are not enough. Because shame is not enough.
I used the law. I tried to get him the mental help he needed. I still lost.
My words to him made me lose.
So what are my words now?
About a month ago, Sophia Katz told me she was raped by a former friend and roommate of mine when she visited New York this past May. Yesterday, she published a piece chronicling the sexual abuse she experienced that week, using a pseudonym for her rapist. I shared the piece on multiple platforms and commended her bravery. I said, “This is very important, everyone should read this.” I said “We need to protect and support rape victims, defend young girls in the indie lit community against predatorial, privileged men.” Other people liked the post, shared it, added more supportive comments. But by the end of the day, there was no further discussion about it. No one asked who he is, even though he is an editor within a community we all participate in.
And then I realized, I hadn’t either.
I had felt afraid of ‘starting that war’ against him. I realized that maybe people were afraid to ask who he was because they already knew. Maybe he was someone they considered a friend. Maybe identifying him as a rapist made them uncomfortable and sad. Maybe they didn’t believe it.
I lived with this person for a year. I listened to the way he spoke about his exgirlfriend after she broke up with him. I listened when he told me he “didn’t see the point of hanging out with any of his female friends” because at the end of the day he doesn’t get to fuck them. I pulled my piece from his magazine that he had solicited me for because I no longer wanted to support the career of a casual misogynist.
We shouldn’t be afraid to discuss this publicly when Sophia has been brave enough to call out her abuser in a community where he has immense support and friendship. Stephen Tully Dierks should not be shielded because he is or was our friend. We should hold our friends as accountable as we hold everyone else, if not more.
Having to cajole someone into sleeping with you doesn’t mean you had consent. Especially if you had power over them (the ability to kick them to the curb in an unfamiliar city, for example).
To all the men out there: Read Katz’s story. Don’t just admonish Stephen, push yourself further. Think about your own past. Think about what consent has meant to you in the past and what it means to you now. Look at the standards you’ve set for yourself — were they enough? Are they enough? Do you need to hold yourself and others to a higher standard?
Trigger warning: This post contains explicit language concerning sexual assault.
We grew up in the YCA community. We attended Louder Than a Bomb, Wordplay, and Check the Method. Our peers at YCA became some of our best friends, the adults became our mentors. YCA was a gathering space for people across the city. A place where we learned to speak to each other, get to know each other, love, support, and respect each other’s differences. YCA was home, a place where we could be honest about ourselves. YCA encouraged us to speak up about difficult issues in our lives—from struggles with our families, to our developing sexualities, and violence in our communities. We never imagined that YCA would foster a culture of silence, replicating the same violence they raised us to fight against.
In the summer of 2013, we started hearing several conversations about sexual violence in the spoken word poetry community. At the National Poetry Slam, we heard tales of people hissing at a poet onstage who was known to be an abuser. At local poetry events in Chicago, we heard poems about sexual violence within the poetry community. In August, we read a Facebook post that named Roger Bonair-Agard as a rapist. This came as a shock to many of the young people who were mentored by him. People didn’t know how to react. Many conversations were held in private. As a community leader, people expected YCA to address the issue publicly, especially as an employer of Roger. That never happened.
In October, a small group of eight young teaching artists in Chicago gathered to discuss their concerns. After sharing our mixed feelings, we decided to brainstorm a list of demands that would shape the type of poetry community we wanted to create. These demands included ways for YCA to create a safer space by establishing a code of conduct for mentors and teaching artists, hiring a counselor to be available at YCA programs, and steps for taking action when breaches of safety occur. When we tried to schedule another meeting to finish the list of demands, we were unable to find a time that worked for everyone. Suddenly, all communication in the group went silent for months. At the end of December, we were finally able to meet again with a smaller group. We decided to write a letter accompanying the list of demands, both of which we sent out in February.
We sent the letter and list of demands to Rebecca Hunter, Executive Director of YCA and Kevin Coval, the organization’s Artistic Director. Over twenty poets signed onto the letter, including current and former YCA employees and students, along with other members of Chicago’s poetry community. We demanded YCA release a public statement by the end of Louder Than A Bomb in March and organize some sort of community event, such as a reading or workshop that addressed the issue of sexual assault.
We received two email responses from Hunter. She explained that YCA decided not to renew Roger’s contract. They sought out legal advice and did not report the allegations to the police because minors were not involved. They hired two circle keepers, who facilitated a closed meeting with members of YCA’s staff in February, over half a year after the allegations surfaced. In the emails, Hunter emphasized that YCA was keeping their process internal, with intentions to open up the conversation in the future.
After more silence from YCA, we sent a follow up letter in late March, detailing our dissatisfaction with their lack of a public response. After threatening to go to the media if a public statement was not released, Kevin and Rebecca met with us in the spring. At the meeting, Kevin and Rebecca stated that they are the only two people with all of the information regarding this situation. We told them that the perpetual silence and consolidation of information made them resemble the kind of institution they had raised us to interrogate.
Rebecca asked us outright if we thought YCA knew about Roger’s behavior beforehand. Given Kevin’s considerable prominence in the national poetry scene, Roger’s history of allegations stretching back at least a decade from Chicago, to Michigan, to New York, and perhaps beyond, and the fact that we had heard of Roger’s inappropriate behavior even years before, we found it very hard to believe that Kevin was not aware. They assured us of their prior ignorance.
They also claimed that the survivors did not want the allegations made public. However, we’ve been in contact with a survivor who told us that this is not true. Hunter also claimed that YCA contacted their partners to inform them of the situation. A few weeks later, we came across a Facebook post that showed Roger inviting a teacher to an LTAB poetry slam event at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. At the end of the meeting, they once again assured us that they intended to open up the conversation to the community in the future.
In late June we were contacted about a second staff meeting being held and facilitated by circle keepers to discuss Roger and steps for moving forward and possibly involving the community. At the end of the meeting the development of a statement and comprehensive organizational response was again promised. This meeting was the first YCA directors had held with staff since the initial one in February. Only two staff members were present.
To this day, Young Chicago Authors has made no public acknowledgement of the fact that they employed a person accused of being a serial rapist over the course of several years. They have taken no public responsibility. Anything that could be considered transparency has come only as a result of our repeated inquiry. Friends of ours and mentees of Roger do not know what happened, they just know that something happened. Many of them have expressed doubt at the accusers, and maintained their serious emotional attachment to Roger, even while acknowledging the fact that he should take responsibility for what happened. Roger continues to find work in the city, to show up to events, and be awarded on a local and national level for his work.
When sexual violence happens, there is a veil of silence that often permeates the whole community. Sometimes it comes out of respect for the survivors, or confusion. Very often, the silence is perpetrated by those who would be held accountable for the violence. It is very easy for the latter to co-opt and benefit from the former. The crossroads of this tension is where we find ourselves. We do not want to harm the survivors. We want to end the silence around sexual assault in our community, a small step in ending sexual assault in all communities.
I, emanuel vinson, am responsible for the release of this statement
By John Dodge
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