A lot of communities today are taking a hard stand against sexual harassment and assault. Using social media shaming, ostracism, professional excommunication, whatever punishment is painful enough to shift the moral code by brute force. Through one incident in the Richmond, Va. hardcore music scene, we chronicle a social media callout and ask what pain can accomplish.
WARNING: This episode contains obscenities and descriptions of sex and violence.
Special thanks to the following musicians:
I.C.E. for letting us use several songs: "Joke's On You"; "Hard Feelings"; "Colder"; "Trust No Bitch"; and "Modern Scum"
Listeners have asked for more information on how communities can handle accountability for harm done, so here are some resources and organizations with strategies. Please note that we are not endorsing or approving ideas or practices of these groups, and that we are relaying how they describe themselves from their materials.
Creative Interventions Toolkit: "This Toolkit promotes an approach called community-based interventions to violence or what some call community accountability or transformative justice as a way to break isolation and to create solutions to violence from those who are most affected by violence - survivors and victims of violence, friends, family, and community. It asks us to look at those around us to gather together to create grounded, thoughtful community responses. It builds on our connections and caring rather than looking at solutions that rely only on separation and disconnections from our communities."
Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Accountability Strategies: "Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) is a grassroots anti-rape organizing project in Seattle, has worked with diverse groups who have experienced sexual violence within their communities to better understand the nature of sexual violence and rape culture, nurture community values that are inconsistent with rape and abuse, and develop community-based strategies for safety, support, and accountability... In the following paper, we discuss these community guidelines and provide three illustrative examples of community-based models developed by activists in Seattle."
Community Accountability: Emerging Movements to Transform Violence: "A special issue of Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order (Vol. 37, No. 4, 2011-2012), critically examines grassroots efforts, cultural interventions, and theoretical questions regarding community-based strategies to address gendered violence. This collection encapsulates a decade of local and national initiatives led by or inspired by allied social movements that reflect the complexities of integrating the theory and practice of community accountability."
Just Practice: A Chicago-based "training series for activists, movement builders, community members, and non-profit workers who want to deepen their harm reduction skills and transformative justice practices."
Restorative Justice Center at Berkeley: "We offer strategies and processes to help individuals and campus communities respond to 'harm events,' including offensive or harmful speech and behavior, that cause people to feel marginalized or excluded based on ethnicity, gender identity or other identity category."
Feminist Action Support Network: "Working to address sexual and gendered violence in Chicago's music, DIY, art, and literary scenes. We look to empower people who have experienced rape and abuse through perpetrator accountability, resources, and support... We respond to sexual and gendered violence with a process of healing from harm and working to prevent further harm. Transformative justice seeks to heal survivors, perpetrators, and the community."
Support New York's Accountability Process Curriculum: "This curriculum is designed as an educational tool mostly to address patterns of consent violations, incidents of sexual assault, and verbal, emotional, and/or psychological intimate partner abuse. We started doing this work because we were concerned about violence occuring in our community, and that the existing systems we knew of to address this violence were not enough. We are not counseling professionals, and this document is designed to be used by people who are similarly doing this work within a community realm rather than a clinical one."
ALIX SPIEGEL, HOST:
Thanks for listening to INVISIBILIA. If you have a minute, take a short survey at npr.org/invisibiliasurvey - that's npr.org/invisibiliasurvey, all one word. Thank you so, so much for listening and for supporting the show.
HANNA ROSIN, HOST:
I remember as a kid, once, my parents watching a documentary about this Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc. His biography starts out in the predictable way. Somber kid moves to a monastery and then a lot of mist and dewdrops and other monks not talking - nothing a kid would find interesting. And then, all of a sudden, we're in a busy city street in Vietnam, and the monk is engulfed in flames. Maybe you've seen a famous photograph or a video of the scene.
In 1963, Thich Quang Duc burned himself to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Two of his fellow monks provided him with a cushion and then doused him with gasoline. And then his whole community sat around in lotus position and watched him burn. That day, I was on the floor playing. But I saw the image of the monk reflected in the glass of a painting hanging across from our TV. The monk in flames doesn't move. He's literally sitting still, like he's feeling the warmth of the sun. I just stared at the image, trying to solve it. How do things get so extreme that a community decides this - this calm embrace of pain - is the only way forward?
The monk popped into my head recently because of the story we're about to tell. It's about a community that also resorted to extreme measures to get justice when nothing else worked and didn't back down even when it meant causing pain to one of their own. It's a version of what a lot of communities are doing today - taking a hard stand against sexual harassment and assault. The system has failed, so communities are doing the work themselves, using social media shaming, ostracism, professional excommunication - basically, whatever punishment is painful enough to make it register that it is unacceptable to talk or act or treat people in a certain way - trying to shift a moral code by brute force and banish people who break the code.
So today, we ask, what is the role of pain in making social change?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.
ROSIN: And I'm Hanna Rosin.
SPIEGEL: And today, we have a story about a community calling people out on social media for sexual harassment and abuse. Hanna, explain where it takes place.
ROSIN: So the story takes place in Richmond, Va., where producer Yowei Shaw and I spent some time in the hardcore music scene. There are these two reporters who live out there. Their names are Nicki Stein (ph) and Laura Kramer (ph). And they witnessed a callout. It totally stuck with them. Laura actually played a small role in the events. So they told us about it and helped us report it.
SPIEGEL: So Hanna is telling the story, trying to understand what the act of calling this person out accomplished and what it cost. Listeners, I've got to say that there are some graphic descriptions of sex in this story and abuse. Also, there is a ton of cursing, so it might not be appropriate for younger listeners. And just so that you know, for this story, we talk both to people who've been abused and to an admitted abuser. We're going to use the first names of certain characters in the story to protect privacy. So, Hanna, take it away.
ROSIN: One thing I learned in Richmond is that a lot of hardcore kids have an origin story - a reason they sound so murderous and angry onstage. That's definitely true of Emily.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOKE'S ON YOU")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) Does it always have to be this way? Talking shit - yeah, they get their say. But joke's on you...
EMILY: I am Miss Virginia Sweetheart, 1994.
ROSIN: Yup - a child beauty pageant winner. And she was 4. It was her mom's idea.
EMILY: It was a lot of pulling of hair and dresses that look like curtains. It was bad.
ROSIN: (Laughter) How old were you when you did this?
EMILY: Like, 2 to 4.
ROSIN: Emily grew up in a small Virginia town, and one of her earliest memories is her mom putting mascara on her.
EMILY: I'm, like, this bleached blonde, blue-eyed girl and, like, to her, perfection. And I think that, like, she has spent her entire life trying to make me be something I'm not.
ROSIN: It wasn't until she was 17 and going away to college that Emily found a place where she could fully be herself - about an hour away from home, the hardcore scene in Richmond, Va.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRIGHTOUT")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) Neurotic voice in a neon din, sycophantic mouth forms a drooling grin...
EMILY: I just hate small talk. How was your day? What did you do? And you don't have to do that at a punk or hardcore show.
ROSIN: Instead of makeup and dainty dresses, it was mayhem.
EMILY: The music was harder and more powerful.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRIGHTOUT")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) D.O.M.
ROSIN: The Richmond hardcore scene was like a tight, little tribe with its favorite tattoo parlors, barbershops and certain coffee shops where Emily and her new friends would hang out nearly every day, like, for hours, sometimes playing games like little kids.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Rock, paper, scissors, shoot.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Yelling) Fuck.
ROSIN: I visited a bunch of times this winter, and every time I got back, I would say to my husband, I lived my life all wrong because here was a tribe that didn't care about other people's rules. They had their own strict rules for sure, like what you're supposed to wear and what you can sing and what you can't drink and smoke. But that strictness - that was what bonded them, defined them as a tight, little tribe and us against all of them, where all that mattered was hanging out and making music and mischief.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Fuck A's, Fuck A's.
ROSIN: And in this family, it was not the dinner table where people gathered around to connect. It was the mosh pit, the space in front of the stage at a show where people kick and punch the air and sometimes make contact and break a tooth or a nose. But that's OK, even expected. They just think differently about pain than a lot of people do. Here's Emily.
Did you ever get hit?
EMILY: Yeah, yeah. There is, like, always the blow to the stomach that you don't expect from, like, a flying foot. Richmond always, like, stuck out to me as being, like, specifically violent. Like, you always feared for your life at shows, but, like, that's a part of the fun.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Someone knocked my hand.
ROSIN: Is your hand ok?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah.
ROSIN: That's me. When we went to a show, I got really into it, too.
They swarm, and then they un-swarm. And they're just like uh, uh.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: Now, when Emily moved to Richmond in 2006, it was mostly guys ruling the mosh pit. That's just how it was. Hardcore was about being hard. And Emily was down with that.
EMILY: I was only friends with guys.
ROSIN: After college, she settled in, got a job, made this her new family. She'd drive around town with the guys and heckle frat boys, tour with her best friend's band. And this was her life - until something happened. She was single at the time and met this cute guy in a touring band, and he seemed really into her. And she was kind of excited and told another girl on the scene, who said...
EMILY: Like, don't hang out with him. He's shitty.
ROSIN: But Emily didn't pay attention to that warning.
EMILY: I didn't believe her.
ROSIN: Emily just figured this girl was a salty ex, as she put it, just sore. So she did see him. His entire band was on tour and crashed at her apartment. And she told him he could sleep in her bed. What happened next Emily agreed to share, even though she doesn't want to put pressure on other women to share their stories if they don't want to. Here's what happened.
They started making out, but Emily said she just wanted to go to bed, partly because his bandmates were outside. So he responded by getting up and locking the door.
EMILY: I hated that. And I didn't say anything 'cause I was, like, kind of uncomfortable.
ROSIN: Eventually, she said again that she wanted to stop and go to sleep, so they did go to sleep.
EMILY: And I wake up to him touching me, like, on top of my underwear and then under my underwear. I pretended to be asleep because I was very uncomfortable with it and hoping that he would just stop on his own. And he eventually did after, like, I guess he got what he wanted out of it. And it's like ruined, like, that - it's just stuck in my head, in, like, my body and my skin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: In the morning, Emily snuck out to work but didn't tell anyone what had happened.
EMILY: My big thing was I didn't want to cause a scene. I just wanted him gone.
ROSIN: But that was a few years ago. And back then, there was no way to make him gone. This band had power and status in the scene, and there was a feeling that well-liked guys were protected from accusations. There was even a saying...
EMILY: Good dude, backed hard.
ROSIN: He's a good dude, and we back him hard. So back off with your complaints. That was the state of the scene until pretty recently. And like most people, Emily had accepted it.
EMILY: Yeah. It's, like, pretty normal.
ROSIN: But other experiences in her 20s had taught her something different. Like, she dated a guy who'd actually asked if he could kiss her, a first time for her, and helped her understand that she had wholesale swallowed a lot of the misogyny in the scene. And so she was starting to see the scene that she loved a little differently, focus in on things that over the last 10 years she'd kind of ignored, like...
EMILY: There was a band that made a 7-inch cover of a girl getting ejaculated on her face.
ROSIN: If you opened your eyes to it, a crude kind of sexism was all over the hardcore scene - in lyrics, on T-shirts, album covers, online on hardcore message boards. The online trolls would even say...
EMILY: No clit in the pit.
ROSIN: No clit in the pit. Translation - no women allowed in the mosh pit. So in all sorts of ways, Emily got the message that if she ever complained, the trolls would side with the guys who had power and take her down.
EMILY: Retaliation - they could go on the Internet and tell the Internet how crazy of a girl I am, how much of a bitch I am.
ROSIN: Did you have a sense that there - just like, that guys would do that and there wouldn't be any consequences for that?
EMILY: Yeah, yeah.
ROSIN: Would you guess that most women felt that way at the time?
EMILY: Yeah. Definitely. I feel like a lot of women felt that that was a part of being a woman.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: But then Emily and other people in the scene who'd felt left out, sidelined, hurt got hold of a new weapon to fight back with and make the people who'd hurt them finally listen up.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: Posts on Tumblr or Twitter or Facebook that started appearing about five or six years ago in social justice circles around the country as part of a new vigilance in the air that seeped into fringe scenes like Richmond hardcore, out of a conviction that the police and courts and society in general had failed to respond to things like sexual violence and racism and men abusing their positions of power to do bad things.
EMILY: Harm, abuse, men being rapists. Fuck him.
ROSIN: Call-outs were something between a warning and a wanted poster. A member of the community would name-check someone publicly. That's the abuser.
EMILY: He's shitty.
ROSIN: The person they'd harmed - that's the victim.
EMILY: The victim.
ROSIN: If the community agrees the abuser is guilty, then the abuser becomes the known abuser.
EMILY: Cut him out from your life.
ROSIN: And then members of the community will decide on the appropriate punishment, from gentle rebuke all the way to banishment.
ROSIN: No official sentencing code. No stand up and address the judge, please. This is vigilante justice, which gets the job done in its own damn way.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: And it caught on fast in the Richmond hardcore scene.
EMILY: That's what he deserves.
ROSIN: A guy in Richmond accused of assaulting two women - he was kicked out of his band and disappeared from the scene. And then a case Emily heard about - several young women accused a big-deal West Coast band guy of assaulting them, some when they were underage. Again, gone.
Was that the first time you - it ever occurred to you that a guy with power could be taken down?
EMILY: Yeah. Yeah, 'cause they were a big band. It felt good. Like, it felt like that's what he deserves. Like, that's what he gets. Like, these dudes should be called out. They did shitty things.
ROSIN: That's what he deserves. Emily hadn't seen before that just saying it out loud would crush the bad guys - even bad guys in a big-deal band. It gave her a kind of courage. So Emily started inching towards a totally different position - talking about what made her angry as a woman in a scene on a much bigger stage.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EMILY: Pretty sure it started as a joke.
ROSIN: In 2015, a guy family knew called her up and said he was starting a band. And he needed a frontman, or - ha-ha - how about a frontwoman?
EMILY: And I said yes.
ROSIN: Right away?
EMILY: Yeah. I was like, I want to front a band. Like, I don't see anyone else doing it really, so I want to do this.
ROSIN: So they recorded a demo, named themselves I.C.E. or, to be searchable online, Icy Motherfuckers. She wrote some lyrics testing how far she could go.
EMILY: (Reading) Look to the ground where your eyes belong. Rather be unseen...
This song is about girls feeling like they're crazy and that they're making shit up.
ROSIN: Seeing how much she could actually say out loud...
EMILY: I was so nervous and excited and scared.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD FEELINGS")
EMILY: (Singing) I walk alone. No one in sight.
ROSIN: And then came a test - a hideous one - because to prove her commitment to the cause, Emily would have to consider inflicting some serious pain on someone she loved. It was August 2016, and Emily was in the back of the van with her headphones on doing her favorite thing.
EMILY: We were on our way to Florida on tour with his band, and I was just tagging along.
ROSIN: Riding along on tour with her best friend's band, her best friend since high school - the person she depended on when she was most down, like when she broke up with a boyfriend.
EMILY: I, like, couldn't move. He wouldn't force conversation or force make me laugh. He just knew that I just, like, needed company and someone to be there.
ROSIN: He was in a popular Richmond hardcore band, and they toured a lot. And Emily loved going on the road with them.
EMILY: And we got a phone call in the van, and it was like, y'all can't come.
ROSIN: It was the promoter in Florida. He'd gotten a call from someone who announced herself as the victim of Emily's best friend. She accused him of sending her a sexually explicit photo unsolicited. Emily's best friend in the world was being called out.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: So the band was booted from the lineup. Although behind the scenes, the guys thought they could still save this tour, work something out, which - in Emily's mind - translated to they don't believe this woman.
EMILY: The person, like, on the phone was like, this girl is known for, like, doing shit like this. This is, like, what she does. Like - and I'm in the back like, this is literally happening in front of me right now. Like, they're calling this girl crazy. And maybe she's not crazy, and maybe it did happen. But, like, I'm surrounded by six of the people that are, like, against what I'm thinking. So what do I do?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SPIEGEL: After the break, what Emily decides to do. This is INVISIBILIA.
Welcome back to INVISIBILIA. This is Alix Spiegel. Hanna's in the middle of her story about call-out culture. A woman named Emily has started to speak up about abusers in the Richmond hardcore scene. And she was tagging along with her best friend on tour when he was called out for abusing women. Just a reminder there is a lot of cursing and talk about sex and abuse in this story. Here's Hanna.
ROSIN: Emily felt paralyzed in the back of the van. In her head, there was no easy way out, no middle ground. She felt she had to choose between her very best friend in the world and the cause she was becoming passionate about.
EMILY: Do I remain friends with him? Do I not? He was always there for me, like, (sighing).
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: But then, a more wounded voice inside her.
EMILY: Betrayed. Yeah. Because what he was accused of doing had happened to me.
ROSIN: And then the loudest voice inside her, the one that she now used onstage.
EMILY: As the frontwoman of this band that talks out against the things he has done to women, you have to speak against these things that he did because people are, like, looking to you right now, knowing that you, like - you are his best friend, and people know that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: By the time they got back to Richmond, she knew what to do. She sat down at her laptop and typed up a Facebook post.
EMILY: I disown everything he has done. I do not think it's OK. These are horrible things. These are not OK. I am not OK with it. I believe women.
ROSIN: Emily decided to dish some pain. She felt she had to because there were greater things that needed to be accomplished.
Even when it was your best friend, you didn't back him.
ROSIN: So that meant what?
EMILY: Like, damn. Like, that means something. That's strong, power - like, that's a powerful message.
ROSIN: Was that hard for you to do?
EMILY: Yeah, it was extremely hard. Like, still to this day, I still don't have a friend like him, so I'm still, like, struggling with it.
ROSIN: Did you know at that moment what you were losing?
EMILY: Yeah. But I feel stronger about believing, like, these women over being his best friend at this point. That's, like, how strongly I felt about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: Emily never spoke to her best friend again. He left the band, and he disappeared from the scene. And after that, Emily heard rumors - that he'd gotten kicked out of his apartment, that he'd lost his job, moved to a new city, that he was not doing well. Emily thought about texting him a few times, but she didn't. She felt she was doing the right thing, inflicting this pain even when it cost her.
EMILY: Because we as punks are supposed to be better than that. We're supposed to, like, have better behaviors than that. We are aware of the outside world and, like, what's abusive and what's not. We're supposed to, like, police each other.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: Emily was all in now, no longer a guy's girl. She was there for the women of hardcore. She helped another woman start a band to front, confronted abuse with her voice and her lyrics.
EMILY: Fuck this shitty dude and his band.
ROSIN: I.C.E. shows felt different. Girls swarmed the mosh pit. She toured in Florida, New York, D.C. And onstage, she was fearless.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLDER")
EMILY: (Singing) Live a life of spite and truth, but they just say you're cruel and brute. I never asked to be this way. I can't relate to how I'm raised.
ROSIN: I.C.E. was part of a growing tribe within the tribe in hardcore that demanded space and recognition.
EMILY: The music is for chicks and all the bullshit we deal with on a daily basis - sexual harassment, abuse. I'm singing about chicks being empowered and I feel good about it.
ROSIN: And she kept at it, even when guys made nasty comments about her online.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUST NO BITCH")
EMILY: (Singing) Call me crazy. I'm a loose screw.
Not giving a shit about what anyone thinks.
ROSIN: Once at an I.C.E. show, she saw a dude push to the front of the mosh pit and started belting out her lyrics, which were about guys calling girls crazy for making stuff up.
EMILY: And to see a dude singing along about a song I wrote about them made me want to punch him in that moment. I was just hyped.
ROSIN: And she did - right in his face. She showed us a video.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Oh, my God.
ROSIN: Did you punch him hard?
ROSIN: Did you like punching him?
EMILY: Yeah, it felt good. It was great to see a bunch of women up front singing and finger-pointing.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
EMILY: Chicks to the front. Women to the front. Chicks to the front. Women to the front.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: And then one night, in October 2016, Emily was about to go to bed when...
(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE ALERT)
HERBERT RAFAEL VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Yo, Emily, fuck your band. Fuck you. Whatever lyric was in your band no longer applies. Emily is a pseudo-feminist with a track record of putting women down. I hope to God all of you question your friendship with that scum.
(SOUNDBITE OF CELLPHONE TYPING)
ROSIN: This is Herbert.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Herbert Rafael Vasquez-Castro. I was born in DR, but I live here.
ROSIN: In Richmond, where Herbert had been in and out of the hardcore scene for years. And he knew Emily. She was dating someone in his friend group. And he'd heard this story about Emily that went against her whole crusader for women thing. And he decided people needed to know about it, so he took it to Twitter. Emily was being called out.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: You're fake. Like, you shouldn't be, yeah I'm, like, in a girl band, and, like, I do shit for girls.
ROSIN: The story he'd heard about Emily was that when she was in high school, Emily had been involved in posting a nude photo online of someone she knew. We'll call this woman by her first initial J to protect her privacy. J didn't ask Herbert to call Emily out, but as it happens, she was happy that he did. Here she is remembering that day in high school when she saw her naked body online.
J: And I just remember just immediately having this panic rise up in me because I knew what it was. No, I was not just standing there. And, no, it was not just me in the photo. I just remembered going on, and there it was. And there was Emily right after, posting, like, the crying laughter emojis. She's thrilled that this just happened to me. She's so happy.
ROSIN: After Herbert's call-out, Emily had initially defended herself on Facebook. And that put J over the edge. J had also been part of the Richmond scene, and she'd been watching Emily's rise as a feminist, Emily's new platform, all the women cheering her on.
EMILY: The music is for chicks and all the bullshit we deal with on a daily basis. Sexual harassment, abuse. If you want to call that confronting a large crowd of people about seuxal harassment - girl hate - or male-dominated scene - then I'm guilty as charged.
J: Every time I would see a picture of her or see something about her band, it really just pissed me off. It just - I felt like it was very unfair. I really wanted to be so involved in women being a part of hardcore. It was something that I always believed in. And the one person who started it all in Richmond is the person who had done something terrible to me in the past.
ROSIN: So she wrote a post on a page called The Sisterhood Group.
J: At the time, Emily was known for being a hater of women and literally said...
ROSIN: And the members of the Sisterhood immediately recognized the call to action. Victim. Abuser. Punish. Even though Emily was a visible feminist in the scene, good dude, backed hard did not apply. No exceptions. Not even if the dude was a girl. So the comments piled on, in the Sisterhood group, on Herbert's Twitter and beyond.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Completely fucked up and disgusting. Are her friends going to say something, or do we expect silence when a popular, white woman is accused of some serious shit?
EMILY: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: As a member of this safe space, I want to know.
(SOUNDBITE OF CELL PHONE ALERTS)
J: But then there were other girls in the thread that were saying, oh, well, she did this to me.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Like, literally people in different states and shit across the country.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: It was just - started getting retweeted, like, left and right.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: People who don't even know me being like, yo, yes this is, like, totally right.
EMILY: It just wouldn't stop. It just, like, wouldn't stop.
ROSIN: Sometimes, the known abuser tries to deny it or make excuses or somehow make what happened seem small and insignificant. But Emily didn't do that. She didn't feel like Herbert had the right to tell any victim's story. But once J stepped in, Emily committed herself fully to the accountability process. She turned herself over to a panel of peers who interpreted the victim's wishes, which were basically that Emily step back from her prominent role in the scene. And she owned up to sins of her teenage past.
EMILY: I just was a high school bully, like, a slut shamer. It's like it's just - I was just a mean person.
ROSIN: She hadn't actually posted J's nudes. A friend had done it. But to Emily, that was not an excuse.
EMILY: I laughed in the same thread and, like, engaged in the conversation at her expense. And that's what I did. But I - but it's not just [expletive].
ROSIN: There was more Emily did. Every day she would come home from school, get on hardcore message boards and bully and berate other women, slut shame them, just like other guys were doing. But she earned a special place as being among the meanest and the cruelest. We even heard about unrelenting abuse aimed at a specific person that went on for years. Emily confirmed this, but the survivor didn't want to share their story. There were other victims, too.
EMILY: I was at a party, and everyone was drunk. And there was this girl that I really hated there, and I went in the room when she was fucking around with someone...
ROSIN: And the next day at school Emily told everyone about it.
EMILY: And, like, essentially slut shame her for hooking up with someone. And that was just evil. That was just pure evil.
ROSIN: And yes, she'd been a teenager. And she was now almost 30 and a totally different person.
EMILY: Yeah. I'm, like, not that kind of person anymore. That was horrible. But, like, I would never, like - I never apologized to individual women.
ROSIN: And punks are supposed to be better than that. So she did at least apologize to J, sent her an email.
EMILY: You deserve, and have for 10 years deserved, a real and heartfelt apology from me. I belittled you and made you feel unsafe. It has been difficult for me to accept the role I played as an abuser, but I am - understand that I must in order to...
J: And when I read the apology, it's pretty apparent that she cares. She cares about how what she did affected me. And that was the first time that I felt like, oh, wow, Emily has a heart (laughter).
ROSIN: If the story of the call-out stopped here, it would be easy to understand what it accomplished. Emily owned up to J's accusations, and J felt satisfied, like her pain had been finally acknowledged. But vigilante justice isn't tidy and judicious like that. There's no parole hearing. No letter arrives in the mail to declare a process complete. In call-out culture, once you're a known abuser, the community is kind of done with you because worrying about the abuser's pain means you're not taking the victim's pain seriously enough.
Do you know what happened to Emily?
J: I don't. I know a - like, a little bit. But I don't know much about her life at all.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: To her? I haven't seen her. I haven't heard about her. Nothing. She's just...
ROSIN: I mean, do you care?
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: No, I don't care. I don't care because it's obviously something you deserve, and it's something that's been coming for a minute. I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don't care if she's dead, alive, whatever.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RICHARD WRANGHAM: She was feeling isolated, feeling depressed, desperately in need of social contact.
ROSIN: This is Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology. And the person he's talking about is his fellow anthropologist, the late Jean Briggs. In the '60s, Briggs had embedded herself with an Inuit community. The long winter and steady diet of fish really got to her, and she lost her temper a few times. And this tribe was very, very sensitive to displays of anger. So they decided to teach her a painful lesson by socially isolating her.
WRANGHAM: Her tent was not being visited very much. She started finding that the Utku people were no longer wanting to interact with her.
ROSIN: I called up Wrangham because in his career, he's looked at the pain that we humans inflict on people who are brutal or cruel. For an upcoming book, Wrangham traces the long arc of punishment, social and physical, from the very beginning of the human species. And he looks at the purpose of something like ostracism, making someone sit alone in an igloo or leave their community of friends.
WRANGHAM: The social pain is intense. It is an extremely effective way of trying to get other people, someone who has offended the community, to change their ways.
ROSIN: Wrangham says that we register social isolation in the same parts of the brain that register physical pain. And prisoners of war have said something like that too, that solitary confinement is just as tormenting as physical abuse. So from the brain's perspective, banishing someone is in some ways like a physical flogging. It doesn't leave marks on the body, but it can be just as damaging. But communities have always done it because it allows them to reinforce their moral code, to define themselves and to keep the community safe.
WRANGHAM: Keeping the peace. Yes.
ROSIN: Pain. For years, we've tried to tame the infliction of pain, built rules around who can do it, when and how. And a kind of dirtiness still clings to people who take pleasure in the affliction of physical pain. But let's sit for a second with this uncomfortable thought. Maybe we've sold pain short, not given pain enough credit for all the ways it has helped us, because Wrangham says even the most extreme kind of pain was necessary. He told me that to go from early humans to the civilized people we are today, we actually had to kill people. And it was deliberate.
WRANGHAM: Whispers start happening, and those whispers lead to the point where the community decides that somebody needs to be killed, shot in the back, a rock being dropped on his head in the middle of the night.
ROSIN: As Wrangham sees it, the biggest threat to early human societies was persistent bullies who ruled by brute physical violence. So one of the great advances forward in early human history was when subordinate men, with the help of weapons and language, banded together to execute the bullies.
So essentially what you're saying is we became domesticated, we became sort of human, at the point of a spear, basically.
WRANGHAM: We became human at the point of many spears. Exactly.
WRANGHAM: Yes. It's a startling thought.
ROSIN: I mean, one problem is I think we like to think of ourselves as getting better through wisdom and self-knowledge. And we got more intelligence over the, you know, thousands of years.
ROSIN: Could there have been another way, possibly?
WRANGHAM: Well, I mean, I'm certainly not so arrogant that I would say that there couldn't be something else. But I haven't seen it yet.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: I asked Wrangham if he found it depressing when he discovered that our civilization rests on a mountain of pain. But he said, no, he finds it comforting. He says whenever he's felt hurt or ostracized by a group of people, it helps him to think that over the course of history, humans have been vigilant this way. When the group coalesces around a new code, they will crush anyone who breaks it. It's not personal. It's just what humans do.
WRANGHAM: I think what it does do for me is just - it reminds me that everybody is capable of being a victim, and everybody is capable of being the executioner. You know, the human dynamic is so strange because we feel morally uprighteous, and yet circumstances can move us in one direction or another to be on the top or the bottom. So it does, you know, serve to remind me of how arbitrary life can be.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROSIN: When the moral code changes, you can easily end up on the other side of it, facing down the executioners. That's what Emily learned.
EMILY: It just wouldn't stop. It just, like, wouldn't stop. I was scared.
ROSIN: After the break, we'll hear how the Richmond hardcore scene dealt with Emily. Stick around.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. We are telling the story of a woman in the Richmond hardcore scene who got called out for being a bully to other women. We'll now hear how the scene decided to punish her. Hanna picks up the story.
ROSIN: What happened to you? Like, we talked about what you feared would happen. Like, what actually happened as a punishment?
EMILY: I'm not allowed to come to shows anymore. I'm not allowed to participate in anything - not allowed to make music anymore. I mean, it's entirely my life. Like, it's been that way since I was 12 or 13. Like, this is everything to me. And it's all just, like, done and over.
ROSIN: Emily has never talked publicly about what being punished feels like because that's not done in call-out culture. It would signal that she's focused more on herself than on her victims. Even with us, she kept policing herself, saying she had no right to tell her story. But we felt like we needed to know it because it's a part of the call-out
EMILY: I didn't leave my house. I didn't leave my house for, like, what felt like months. I was scared. I did nothing for so long. I hid.
ROSIN: After the call-out, all Emily did was go to work and then go home to her boyfriend in their one-bedroom apartment and hope that no one she knew saw her. One time when she did go out, a woman from the scene grabbed her by the arm. And Emily felt threatened. When Emily commented online about a show, another woman asked if Emily would be there because she feared for her life being in the same space as Emily. Someone else contacted a venue to make sure Emily wasn't going to be there. She said Emily's presence triggered her PTSD.
EMILY: Like, I don't know what to think of myself other than, like, I am so sorry. And I do feel like a monster.
ROSIN: The message Emily got was, we're watching. We don't want you around. As for friends, even good friends, they kept their distance. They unfriended her. They didn't say hi to her on the street, didn't invite her to shows.
EMILY: Because people don't want my name associated with them. It feels like - I think people are afraid to be in a band with my name on it. I think people are afraid to be in a group picture with me. It's just psychologically, like, fucked me up for so long.
ROSIN: Fall changed into spring. The Sisterhood Facebook page went dark. People called out new abusers. No one was contacting clubs about Emily anymore. And maybe no one was even watching. But that did not release Emily from her punishment. Because in call-out culture, it's no one's job to release a known abuser. Mostly, they just forget about you.
EMILY: I just feel like I'm in a limbo. Like, it consumes me. Like, I lay awake. And I'm like, fuck. This is my life now. Nobody's around. I have nobody to talk to.
ROSIN: Emily started to erase herself - no public opinions, no gossip or even jokes.
Like, you truly, honestly feel like you're going to spend the rest of your life, like, proving to some shadowy Internet thing that you are a good person?
EMILY: I don't think I'm trying to prove. It's - I'm trying to be invisible.
ROSIN: Emily understood the rules. And she was willing to play by them. But she hadn't yet put together how her pain and the bigger purpose were connected. Do you think the community's safer without you?
EMILY: I don't know. That's a crazy question. That, like, cuts deep, hearing you say that. I don't know. I guess some people think so.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Like, she's like a cartoon, dude, you know? Like, (mimicking crying). Please get that, like, frail, white woman, like, shit out of my face, please.
ROSIN: That guy making fun of Emily - that's Herbert, the person who launched her call-out And unlike Emily, he's not at all confused about what her pain accomplished.
So it's basically like, cry me a river. Like...
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Yeah. Like, cry me a river, you know? Like, yeah. I mean, that's what happens when you learn from things. That's what happens when you have experiences that teach you something - is you keep thinking about it. You keep thinking about it.
ROSIN: Herbert's fake crying is a bit much. But Herbert feels like Emily doesn't deserve his mercy because the way he tells it is Emily hadn't just harmed someone in high school. She had directly harmed him. When Herbert had first started tweeting about Emily being fake, she'd gone to his house to confront him. At some point, she referred to him being a person of color in a way that totally offended him. And he latched onto that.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: She was like, I was initially nice to you because you were a person of color. And I was like, excuse me? And then she said it again.
ROSIN: Emily says those aren't the words she used and that it doesn't reflect how she feels about Herbert. But for him, that was all he needed. In his mind, it meant Emily deserved to suffer. His logic was, Emily offended me. She caused me pain. So in return, I have free license to cause her as much pain as I want. And if you really think about it, isn't that inching towards its own form of abuse?
It feels harsh to me, this whole thing. It feels like a harsh way to go about things. I mean, that's my honest response. It feels rough.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: For sure, for sure - I agree with you. And I knew that this was, like, a very harsh way to, like, just, like, literally just, like, take someone by the shoulders and just put them underwater.
ROSIN: But you're comfortable with the harsh, I think.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Yeah. I'm super comfortable with the harsh because, like, I want her to learn from this - doesn't matter, like, what you're trying to do. If you're trying to progress, you're going to hurt people along the way.
ROSIN: I must've looked dubious. So far in our conversation, Herbert hadn't given me any reason to believe that he cared about Emily's well-being, about her progress on the journey of life. I didn't even fully understand why he was so angry. He just kept coming up with new and contradictory reasons. And who assigned him the role of deciding who's a good feminist anyway? People told us he was barely part of the hardcore scene anymore. He must have noticed because then he told me a story.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: I'm going to get really personal here. But my dad was an abuser, for sure, when I was younger.
ROSIN: Herbert said when he was little, he would go to school with bruises. His first-grade teacher saw the bruises and told the principal. This lasted all throughout his childhood and into his teens. Herbert said his father was just raising him the same way he had been raised. And then, one day, when he was 16, he had this one huge argument with his dad.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: He's like, did you just slam the door? Blah, blah, blah. Then he slaps the shit out of me. Like, his hands are fucking huge. And he just - hard, like, calloused - and he just slaps the shit out of me. And my ear's ringing. And my eyes welt up. And I just look at him. And I'm like, no, fuck you.
ROSIN: It was the first time Herbert had ever stood up to his father, put the full force of his 6-foot-1 frame into resisting.
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: That's when he was like, whoa, like, held onto to his chair, you know?
ROSIN: Wait. Your anger worked? - as opposed to, like, your breaking-down? It was, like, your anger that worked on him?
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Mm-hm. And it's worked out because my parents are, like, the best thing ever - I love my mom and dad a lot. Like, I cry every time I talk about them because they're, like, so important to me and, like, they're literally, like, my light.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: It's just like - I don't know. It's just like - I guess a lot of, like, the way I think about, like, all this stuff and the way that people should just atone, I think of it very, like - very sternly because it took so long, I guess, for my dad to like atone, you know? So I guess that's kind of where it's coming from.
ROSIN: Herbert in his own life had proof of how pain could move you forward. He'd confronted his abuser. It was painful for both of them, but now they were good.
How did you know your dad was really sorry?
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: Because he still says sorry now. I'll call him. We start chatting for like five minutes, ten minutes and then eventually towards the end of the conversation, he's like, you know, I'm really sorry about the past and, like, things I've done to you and blah, blah, blah. But just know that, like, I want the best. And, like, just the fact that he still says sorry, like, means a lot because I guess it's all the times he couldn't say sorry, you know? But, yeah.
ROSIN: If you're an abuser, you should suffer. But in Herbert's view, this wasn't stagnation or pointless pain. It was vigilance, a way of proving that you are owning your sins and would not sin again, like erecting a historical monument to the pain. Never forget. And as for the sinner, it gives you a way to go back into the world even though you still feel ashamed.
A year and a half after the call-out, a lot has changed. Herbert, for example - he shut down his social media accounts. He doesn't regret setting off the call-out But he feels like inflicting pain in the way that he did, the power of it...
VASQUEZ-CASTRO: It's like coming (laughter) - a little bit. Like you're, like (exhaling). And then you're also getting that, like, feedback. That's what I was getting high off of. I fed into it really hard. And I don't like that.
ROSIN: So was it worth it? What did Emily's call-out and all the frenzy around it actually accomplish? Well, if you scrutinize it too closely, it doesn't look like perfect justice. For one thing, the call-out didn't address other victims who'd been harmed by Emily in possibly worse ways than J. And it didn't catch all the abusers either. Emily was one of many. Almost all men who harassed girls in all sorts of horrible ways back then - and most of them were never called out.
And some people told us that call-outs have actually created a culture of fear. Especially if you call yourself a feminist, you're held to a higher standard. And you get scrutinized more closely. But maybe this is just what people do when the house is infested and nothing else seems to have worked. They burn the house down to start over. And it's not a careful, controlled burn. But it still sometimes works because if you zoom out, the scene in Richmond - it looks different now. It doesn't make news when there's a female-fronted band, and sexual assaults don't as easily get swept under the rug. Now, whether call-outs were critical to the progress - people debate that. Some say the change was happening anyway.
EMILY: You can take the first right, right up here.
ROSIN: And what about Emily? When we caught up with her in January, she was sure she'd never have her old life back. But she was testing the waters, going to shows here and there, not standing on the stage or anywhere near the stage. What she would do is stand by the door and sell tickets, something concrete to do with her hands so she wouldn't feel nervous. And seeing the new scene blossoming, she could finally start to see beyond her own pain.
If you could choose the world after call-out culture or before, like which world would you choose to live in knowing everything you know about it?
EMILY: Wow. I want girls to feel safe. And, like, not just girls but, like, anyone that's, like, outnumbered and not normally welcome to, like, the outside world of punk. Like, that's why we're all here because we're not welcome. I want everyone to feel safe and welcome. So if that's the price of call-out culture, then, yeah, I prefer that world.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRAVE GOODS & LUCY STONE SONG, “WYGCMA”)
SPIEGEL: That's Hanna Rosin and producer Yohei Shaw.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WYGCMA")
GRAVE GOODS & LUCY STONE: (Singing) When you're going to call me again? When you're going to call me again?
SPIEGEL: Stay tuned after the break for a few moments of non-Zen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WYGCMA")
GRAVE GOODS & LUCY STONE: (Singing) When you're going to call me again?
SPIEGEL: That's it for our season. INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel.
ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin.
SPIEGEL: Our show is edited by Anne Gudenkauf. Cara Tallo is our executive producer. INVISIBILIA is produced by Meghan Keane, Yohei Shaw, Abby Wendle. Woot. Woot. Woot. Our project manager is Liana Simstrom (ph). Lulu Miller is a contributing editor.
ROSIN: A huge, huge thank you to Laura Kramer and Nicki Stein, who brought us today's story and did so much reporting and editing and were our guides to the hardcore scene in Richmond.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Oh, the gym is another thing, actually.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Oh, yeah. The gym's huge.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: The gym's huge.
ROSIN: And speaking of Richmond, thank you to the warehouse, to Darcy Myers (ph), Valentino Lopez (ph) and Zephyr Acosta Lewis (ph) and all the people we talked to in Richmond, also to David Auerbach (ph), Chris Bome (ph), Josh Foer, Rayl Griffin (ph).
SPIEGEL: We had help from Alex Cheng, Rebecca Ramirez, Mark Memmott, Micah Ratner, Rachel Brown (ph), Sarah Knight, Meredith Rizzo and Andrew Flanagan.
ROSIN: Special shout-out to Jason (ph) for mastering all of our episodes this season.
SPIEGEL: Neva Grant, Jon Hamilton, Michael May, Vikki Valentine, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Colin Dwyer, Nicole Kligerman (ph), Lauren Ober, Eliza Dennis, Catherine Whelan and Daniel Running (ph) helped with the editing. Our technical director is Andy Heuther and our vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann.
ROSIN: Special thanks to Zachary Acosta-Lewis for composing a bunch of original music for this episode, his band Division Of Mind for the song "Brightout," the members of I.C.E. for letting us use several songs, the band Peals for the song "Become Younger" from their album "Honey" from Rough Trade Publishing, Blue Dot Sessions and Ramtin Arablouei for other music in this episode. Ryan Schwab (ph) for his good taste and to Lucy Stone and Graved Goods for letting us use this awesome song "WYGCMA" to close out the show. For more information about the music and see original artwork by Sara Wong for this episode, visit www.npr.org/invisibilia.
SPIEGEL: And now for a few moments of non-Zen hardcore parking lot edition.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Did you ever get hurt?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: No.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Like, come home with the show. Like, your nose is bleeding, everything.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: I mean, my nose is crooked, as you can tell.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: A friend of mine has lost a few teeth. Passed out on the ground. Somebody hit me really, really hard. It was awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: It's like every other show he goes to, it's like he gets less and less real teeth.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: What's the percentage of real teeth versus fake teeth at this point?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Well, by now probably about 50-50 (laughter). Nah. Nah. It's not that bad.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: It's not that bad out here.
SPIEGEL: See you next season for more...
ROSIN: I wish we could have someone punk out like INVISIBILIA. You know how they talk that.
SPIEGEL: ...For more INVISIBILIA.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WYGCMA")
GRAVE GOODS & LUCY STONE: (Singing) Always on my mind because she's always on my mind. Because she's always on my mind because she call me all the time. Tell me when you're going to call me again.
SPIEGEL: Just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you so much for listening to the fourth season of INVISIBILIA. We literally would not exist without you. So from the bottom of all of our hearts, thank you. If you want to stay connected with INVISIBILIA in between seasons, plus get updates about us about what's coming up next, you should subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/newsletter/invisibilia. We promise we're only going to send you an occasional update and not spam your inbox. So sign up now. That's npr.org/newsletter/invisibilia. See you soon.
Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.