Unacceptable Obsessions

For the past couple of months my community has been tearing itself up around a guy who is guilty of low level stalking.  A few days ago (after his imminent expulsion was assured) he dropped membership and moved on.  I have wanted to write about this since it got hot here about a month back, but knew it would be better if i waited until it resolved by his departure.

Stalker

And it pointed out some significant holes in our membership process.  Sadly,  it also at least fractured and probably broke at least one of my friendships here trying to push our system faster than it wants to go.  At it’s basis the structure we have makes sense.  Our harshest sanction (and one of the few we have) is expulsion.  Because we have so few sanctions the process for it is quite complete, and it is designed to protect the rights of the member who might lose their home, job and access to their friends.  We have only a skeleton of an internal justice system here, with no police, no jail, no courts.  But occasionally this careful process fails us, as it did with this member who i will call Jack.

Jack started obsessing about a gal who lived here and she then asked him to stop showing up on her doorstep. So he started writing her letters, she asked him to stop this and all contact to her.  Then he started telling other members and visitors and guests how they were in love.  Because he kept moving his attentions away from areas where he had been asked not to focus on them, he was not running over our agreements.  But when he moved on from this first member there was another woman who did not want his attention and he continued to court her. She was friendly but clear to him and he “just did not get it”.  The thing which probably cost Jack his membership is just a couple weeks ago it came out that he forced a friend of his to kiss him at New Years when he was drunk.  It does not matter that he was drunk.  It does not matter that she was his friend (and thus did not step forward about this until it was clear other women were being victimized by him).  This is a clear violation of our non-violence agreements. 33 members voted to start the expulsion hearing.  12 thought other process (mostly a feedback) was a more appropriate next step.

Our planners read our policy carefully before making a choice and the policy says that unless there is  imminent danger, the community should not jump to starting the expulsion process around an individual and should exhaust lower lever tools (like a feedback and one on one conflict meidations) for trying to resolve the conflict.  They looked at the offenses Jack had committed and decided that despite the anxiety of those directly effected by him, there was not an imminent danger.  So they choose to call a feedback on him instead of starting the explusion process.  As you might imagine this enraged a number of people.  In part because it felt like our democratic efforts were being thwarted and in part because there was a disagreement over the issue of imminent danger.  Angie observed “the scariest part of being a victim of stalking, and why tolerating or ignoring it is so dangerous, is that you cant tell if or when delusional obsession will turn into a violent action.”

stalking cat

Collectively, i beleive, we blew it in taking care of those most negatively impacted by Jack’s actions.  The process designed to protect his membership from being terminated forced those ill effected to be with him in community setting for almost a week when he came back from the hospital and his mothers place after recovering for a manic episode he had a month back.   Fortunately, even tho the planers were willing to go forward with the slower process, Jack saw the writing on the wall and left the day after they made their decision which was also the day after the votes to have an expulsion hearing were counted.

Like many healthy systems, we will try to use problems associated with difficult situations to try to repair our policies so we dont have the same problems in the future.  We have already set up a sexual assault advocacy team, which would deal with this type of situation diffrently than our bureaucracies did this time.  But i dont think this is enuf, i think we need a snap poll, which is non-binding but still informative, where members can communicate to our teams and executive planners their feelings about an individual and particularly if there is a need for someone to be off the farm while we are processing concerns about their behavior and membership.  More on this soon.

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

15 responses to “Unacceptable Obsessions”

  1. Mordecai says :

    I can’t help but find this issue interesting, as someone both very interested in issues of security and trust in relationships, and also as someone who lived in a mental health community which had to deal with a similar issue, a man unhealthily fixated on a woman who even more unfortunately, was mostly seeking treatment post a traumatic experience with an obsessive man. The decision making there was non-transparent and top down. The staff made a decision, presumably informed by conversations with the two involved parties and their support network outside the community. And that last phrase I suppose is where my real question comes in. When a member or visitor manifests problems that call for expulsion or these other methods of resolution, is there any thought given to involving outside support networks? Or is the main concern with expulsion whether or not the community will continue it’s inclusion of this person and the difficulties they present?

    I’m aware my comments seem weighted in sympathy towards “Jack” here. I suppose that is because of my history of mental health struggles, and talking from that perspective. I of course completely understand, and share, the primary concern being the safety and comfort of the people he impacted, and I hope they are all well. I’m sorry about the friendship that was negatively impacted by this debacle, and I hope it can find some healing.

  2. Jaz says :

    I admit: the fact that you called this person “Jack” made me LOL. Was that deliberate, or Freudian?

  3. Ian Mayes says :

    I have to say, I find this topic to be quite interesting, particularly because I have to deal with this every day at the intentional community where I live, Camphill Soltane.

    At my community stalking and obsessions over people is a common occurrence. In the house I live at even, there is one person who is a stalker, and another person who is being stalked by someone. I agree with you that it is a shitty behavior pattern to have taking place, and that is one of the reasons why I am looking forward to moving out this August.

    Personally, I think that people who are stalkers need serious psychological and emotional help. Twin Oaks and Camphill Soltane both are not equipped or designed to provide this kind of support.

    I wish that more avenues existed out there to more effectively give this kind of support to people who need it. But this then ties into the question of mental/emotional health and the support systems that exist out in society to foster this health, which is another topic altogether.

    – Ian

  4. paxus says :

    Dearest Jaz:

    Can’t it be both? The name Jack (which has been reclaimed from a grupmy member now long departed, by a cat called Jack Vanzetti who lives in Tupelo) was choosen for a number of reasons. It is reminscent of another member with a bad sense of boundries and the community could not handle well. It also sounds quite something like the person who i am not naming in the story. Okay, perhaps not Freudian.

  5. John says :

    Interesting topic.

    It’s hard as an outside observer to comment sensibly on an individual case because we only have it filtered through your description and we don’t know the personalities involved. Most disciplinary systems have more than one step, verbal warning, written warning and finally explusion. I hope that there were discussions with all parties and not just those that felt stalked. Does the expelled party have a right to make a case? Or a right to reply? Just curious.

    At the end of the day these are big philosophical dilemmas, rights of the individual versus rights of society, rights of one individual versus rights of another, protection versus compromise. But philosophical standpoints are often hard to reconcile with the realities of living – which is why your community is so interesting in the abstract. I can’t help thinking to really understand it though it probably has to be lived.

    The decision of your community was ‘right’ by definition, that’s the way you choose to live.

    On a side issue. I understand that there are 100 members in your community but only 45 voted or did the remaining 55 vote to do nothing or abstain. Is that normal? Is that acceptable? Again, just curious.

    John

  6. Red says :

    I too find this situation interesting, albeit most unfortunate.

    In my experience working for a domestic violence agency, I’ve learned much about the debilitating and often permanent effects of stalking on survivors.

    I’d be interested to know if “Jack’s” stalking actions were attributed by community members to his state of mental health, or if they were interpreted as willful actions on his part.

    I ask this because I read some complicating information in this post. On one hand he is able to continue his stalking while complying with specific requests for areas to be off-limits. But I read that he also had a manic episode and was hospitalized.

    My interpretation of this (admittedly uninformed) is that while he may have been dealing with a mental health issue, he was able to control and change his stalking behavior, which implies that the stalking was willful and, in most states, an illegal act.

    Angie is absolutely correct in stating the extremely dangerous and volatile nature of a stalking situation. There are far too many cases of domestic abuse/stalking where authorities did not respond to the pleas of victims, many of whom had protective orders and a history of incidents, and the victims were killed or severely injured by their stalkers. Some of those authorities were found to “have blood on their hands” by the courts.

    I think I understand the community leaders’ cautioned response in trying to way the effects of expulsion on “Jack” vs. the harm caused by continuing victimization of the women. I imagine that it was a difficult decision that weighed heavily in their minds.

    While “Jack” has my sympathy living in a country and general culture that deals so unskillfully with mental health issues, his actions absolutely warranted the need to protect the other two members. I just hope that the women were/are able to overcome the psychological injuries inflicted on them by the stalker and (in part) by the community.

    Please do update on how Twin Oaks changes in response to this. It might be of great help to other communities facing similar situations.

  7. Paxus says :

    @John:

    Our expulsion process moves very slowly and carefully. Jack was not expelled. We did not get close to that far. The 33 to 12 input (rather than a vote) was on whether we should hold an expulsion hearing. The decision of the planners was that we had not yet done enuf community wide processing on this issue. Lots of one on one discussions had already taken place. The process team, the membership team and the planners had all acted on this issue before this cmty wide input was take.

    In the first pass the planners decided in opposition to the significant majority and did not start an expulsion process and instead said we should have a feedback. Jack read the writing on the wall and left anyway. Otherwise it would have been at least three weeks before he could have been forced to leave. During which time at least one of his survivors (by my reckoning) would have dropped membership and left the community. In the past two sexual assault cases (over the 12 years i have been here) both times we lost the survivors and only once did we loose the abuser. Both time previously, what was central to the survivors decision to leave was the slow or minimal response of the community to deal with the issue.

    55 people giving input is fairly high for us. We have 92 adult members. It far exceeds US voter turnout. In this case, the outcome of the poll was pretty clear. Input differs from voting in that there is no ballot and people are encouraged to write short essays about why they want what they want. Some members choose not to take this step, unsurprisingly.

    @Red

    jacks behavior varied considerably over the course of his membership. Often people unaware of Jacks mental health problems simply were dismissive of his delusional statements. One of his survivors thought that when he told her that despite her saying she had no romantic interest in him that “i know you are interested in me, because i can read your mind” she wrote it off as a failed effort to be romantic.

    We had a community meeting yesterday in which we talked alot about our expulsion process. which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    6 Fukushima Fools and Heroes 2KXI

  8. Ethan Tupelo says :

    Interesting post. I continue to think your position is quite inconsistent with ones you have taken in the past, but I don’t think your blog is the place to hash that out.

    What I do think is important to consider is that the Planner decision may also be saying something else. It may be saying that people need to come forward about incidents like these when they happen, and the community will take some sort of action when this information is brought forward. I realize that part of the problem may be that our systems may not make it easy enough to bring such information forward and initiate some sort of process, and that’s something serious to look at. But I also think that a lot of the time (based on my experience as someone on the team that was point on dealing with a lot of these things) the problem is more that people don’t come forward when something like this happens (or most other types of conflicts as well), and the teams who are supposed to deal with these issues don’t do anything, because they don’t have the knowledge that anything happened. I of course have no idea what people did or did not know in this case, and what they did or did not try to do (which I think is a lot of the problem right now when figuring out what reforms to make, if any), but that’s definitely been true in my experience. When we get information, we should act.

    I’m not trying to defend the Planner decision. What I am saying is that I think a feedback or some other form of process short of expulsion would have been very useful months ago, right after these incidents happened, and I don’t think people would have this perception that “we” simply sat on this issue for months. I don’t think we have the facts of why this wasn’t done. According to our policies, it should have been done.

    I think the idea of a snap poll is awful. It would be a measure of people’s current emotional state around the issue (which is often based on the extent the people involved are in their particular social group), more than a reasoned determination of what happened in these incidents, determining if resolution is possible, and if not, proceeding with expulsion. There are times to run for the pitchforks to force people out (as I myself have [metaphorically] done in major cases of clear violence), but there’s a serious danger in broadly expanding the cases where that is our appropriate response.

  9. paxus says :

    @Ethan:

    i am curious about how you think i am being inconsistent – and i dont doubt you, and we can speak in person, since this media is thin and we do live int eh same commune.

    I think our current policy deals terribly with sexual assault and i think information about Jack’s earliest transgressions was given to teams months ago and they sat on it. And i understand why, but that does not mean we dont need some faster tools.

    Had Jack not chosen to leave, we would almost certainly have lost at least one of his survivors. That is not acceptable to me, especially given our history of handling this type of problem. If you dont like the snap poll, what do you propose?

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

  10. Red says :

    A very complicated situation, indeed. No clear cut answers.

    I guess I second Mordecai’s inquiry. Does T.O. have mental health professionals that live in or work with the community specifically? What kind of mental health support system exists?

    What domestic violence and sexual assault training is available and what is utilized by your community?

    Is the policy definition of “imminent danger” exclusive to physical harm?

    I obviously do not know what information the planners had, but I do know that inadequate context can be an enormous impediment for judges when ruling on things like extended protection orders or bond hearings in domestic violence courts.

    Thank you again for sharing this difficult situation, and your insights in general.

  11. Angie says :

    I’d prefer we avoid snap polls but have better systems for removing members (maybe just the accused, maybe both the accused and the victims) temporarily during situations like this. That to me is the first hurdle, finding a way to help survivors feel safe and protected while we work through process. Ethans’s right that snap polls will likely serve to determine people’s level of outrage and triggering, not necessarily a solution that is fair to any of the parties involved.

    But culturally this doesn’t fix anything- we suck at addressing sexual assault, stalking, and violence that isn’t the obvious punch to the face type. This could have been dealt with earlier, and the way the situation has been dealt with doesn’t seem like it will encourage people to come forward if they do have stalking issues/fears. And (trigger warning) my personal experience of sexual violence is that people who are friends with the offender will protect him and vilify the survivor. This is especially true in cases of date rape or abuse/sexual assault within a romantic relationship. That’s how it goes as a survivor- you get assaulted and eventually have to dump most or all of your friends because you’re sick of hearing about how “he probably didn’t mean to do it, he was drunk” or “she’s really sorry.” I believe (based on my experiences at TO) that this would be the same there as in the outside world. Sigh.

    And I’m on PAL, and getting most of this second hand. So maybe those on the ground feel more hopeful, that would be nice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: