When We Are Silent We Are Still Afraid, We Speak Up to Survive: An Interview with Julie


In the second installment of the “Your Voice is Beautiful” series, Earth First! activist and writer Loki interviews fellow comrade Julie Henry about her abusive relationship with Rod Coronado, well-known animal rights activist and environmentalist of Wolf Patrol.  To learn more about this interview or Earth First!, click here.  Thank you Loki and Julie for letting me share this piece in The Possible World.  Your story will help so many people.

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By Loki of Earth First!

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Backlash, Victim Blaming

2015 is the year that rape culture, a buzz word that has been rattling around in my brain for over a decade, took on a whole new meaning. I watched story after story about rape or abuse unfold. Steubenville. Jimmy Saville. Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Julian Assange. Most of those names mean something to all of the women and femmes I know. Many of us shared news articles, used hashtags, got sucked into furious Facebook flame wars. For once, the mainstream media seemed to be as saturated with stories of sexual assault as my personal world often is. In the midst of all this, I heard that people were coming forward and sharing stories about Rod Coronado’s violent, unsafe behavior. It felt like a familiar tale; I (and many other women and trans folks) had come forward in the early 2000s with our own experiences of being sexually assaulted or abused by fellow environmental activists. Time and time again, the reputations of men are protected at the expense of safety for women, trans, and gender-nonconforming people. All of this is still very present and real inside our own Earth First! circles, as we try to figure out how best to show up for survivors and make our movements better equipped to challenge abusive behavior.

In 2014 a crew of folks tried to call out Rod Coronado, a well-known animal and earth liberation activist. They felt he had been violent and threatening towards his ex-wife Chrysta. They had also heard stories of predatory behavior towards younger women. A movement-wide call-out seemed necessary because they believed he was a risk to women in the environmental movement. The Earth First! activists they reached out to about this in the summer of 2014 didn’t share this information with the wider community. A renewed effort was made later that year, and an email warning people about Rod began circulating in early 2015. Around that time, Julie, a “new guard” EF! activist, came forward with an experience of being sexually assaulted by Rod in November 2014. A few months later, Julie shared her experiences in a statement that was circulated over email and social media. Being open about her experiences was an act of solidarity with all the other women out there who have survived sexual or physical violence. She has received a mixture of support and vitriol, as have others who helped call Rod out.

In the spring of 2015, Julie approached the EF!J Collective about sharing her statement on theNewswire, but they didn’t follow through on her request. I approached Julie because I wanted to help her share her story with a wider audience. We asked the Journal Collective to revisit their previous decision to not share Julie’s experiences on the Newswire. They agreed to do so after hearing input from other survivors and allies in the community. Her interview should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to renew our commitment to challenging cultures of abuse in our own networks and organizations.

Loki: What led you to get involved in Earth First!?

Julie: Before I was an activist, I was a researcher. My background is in biology and environmental science, and I have a degree in wildlife biology and field biological techniques. After I graduated from college, I got an opportunity to do research for a wildlife agency in Vermont. I would spend weeks at a time in the field conducting environmental impact studies. On occasion, I would write environmental impact statements. To make a long story short, I soon became disillusioned with what I was doing, and I came to the realization that Fish and Wildlife is nothing more than a government hunting club on the side of the exploiters. Meanwhile I’m watching as oil companies and corporations are literally eating the planet and destroying what I thought I would be protecting. Fast-forward a bit, I quit and became an activist. 2009 to 2010 I spent in Southeast Asia doing undercover work on the black market wildlife trade. I would love to write an article on that some day. Fast-forward more, I’m back in the States. A year later I’m part of the Tar Sands Actions civil disobedience arrests in DC, which led me to meet more activists, and a year later I’m involved with the Tar Sands Blockade and EF!. Those are the cliff notes.

Why did you join Wolf Patrol?

I first heard about Wolf Patrol in the summer of 2014, and it came at a time in my life when I was looking to get involved in something again. I had just had a split from a partner and lost my community at the same time. I was vulnerable. I had never met Rod before, but Wolf Patrol felt like another chance to protect wildlife where I had failed in the past. I was really looking for a campaign to throw myself into.

The following is an excerpt from the statement you put out last year: “My boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more … for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no. I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on. Then a few nights later, it happened. My most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated.” How did Rod react when you talked with him about the experiences mentioned in this statement?

It took me hours to work up the courage to confront him about it. I really had no idea how he would react. I was completely terrified, so when I finally did have my moment, all I could say was “Why? Why did you do that to me?” What’s strange is that he didn’t even act shocked that I had just accused him of raping me. He pretty much just dismissed it like it was funny to him. He told me that what I was telling him was “impossible.” As if I should have been honored. Then he told me that I was being too emotional and that he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. That I was being demanding of him by taking up his precious time to talk to him about this. Then he left. Left me alone with the only two other remaining team members to finish up the campaign in Montana, while he went home. Twelve hours later he called me to “discuss the matter,” which was really him telling me how I had wanted it, because he would never do anything that I didn’t want. And it was very clear from his tone that me talking about this anymore would not go well for me. Then he went on to tell me that he had decided that we didn’t have good chemistry. I was stunned. I don’t even remember how I responded, if I even responded at all. I wanted to say, “You think, you fucking asshole!?” But I didn’t. Then I felt the most acute loneliness and isolation in the acceptance that I wasn’t going to pursue this matter any more. I knew it would hurt more trying to seek accountability from someone who was so clearly telling me that he would never be accountable.

 

I can definitely understand why you felt silenced after Rod told you it would be best all around if you kept quiet. I know there’s also been some discussion about why you didn’t go to the police. Did pressing charges feel like an option for you?

Absolutely not. And I’m really glad you brought this up. What has really been hurtful and baffling is some of the responses I’ve gotten over how I reacted in the aftermath of this situation: “Rod is innocent until proven guilty in a court-of-law;” “If this really happened then why didn’t she go to the police?” Or, “You should really think twice about talking about such serious criminal actions without proof,” paraphrasing something from Rod himself. The baffling part is that the people who are criticizing me for not going to the police are people who have been in the movement actively fighting against police and state repression for decades. What would they be saying if I had gone to the police? So my question to them is this: Why do you throw survivors under the bus when movement insiders commit the horrific acts you claim to stand against? In a community where we as survivors are told not to go to the police, where we have a completely different version of “justice,” what do we have to do? What are you bringing to us as an alternative? I’m not supposed to go to the police, but there’s also no safe alternative that I have. I can’t even speak up without knowing I will be attacked. No, I absolutely did not consider going to the police. Of course the whole police/state repression issue was the last thing on my mind immediately after. I had an even greater fear. My team. What would they say? What would they do? I was in the wilderness, alone with these people. I didn’t trust the police, I didn’t trust the community of hunters who had been threatening us, and I didn’t trust my team. By not going to the police, I felt like I was protecting myself from a whole circus of shame. I wasn’t ready to lose control over my situation. By doing nothing I was at least still in control. No, going to the police was just not an option.

It makes a lot of sense that you’d want to remain in control of the situation at that point. It sounds like you might have been in a really vulnerable position. What happened after you confronted Rod? Were you able to talk to other people in the campaign about your experiences with him?

Even before that night, I had confided in one of the girls in the campaign that Rod had been making me uncomfortable. He’d been pressuring me more and more, and when I didn’t give in, he’d either ignore me or treat me like I wasn’t valued anymore. So after I had confronted Rod and had him react the way he did, I was completely devastated and probably in a state of shock. I couldn’t have hidden the fact that I was not OK, even if I was greatest actor in the world. So I confided to the rest of the crew. At first I believed that they were supportive and had my back, but over the next few days, that all changed. Towards the end, the bullying had escalated to a point that I felt so unsafe that I called Rod to get me out of that situation. It was the biggest mind fuck I’d experienced yet. I now depended on him for my safety and well being. That’s when I really think certain parts of me shut down completely. Rod rescued me from them and I was relieved to see him. I went back to his house and spent the next few days there before I left to stay with friends in Kalamazoo. I went back to his house. I stayed in his bed. Sometimes I still hate myself for that.

That sounds like such a tough spot to be in, to have to rely on Rod because you felt bullied by someone else. I wish people would realize how often women or trans people have to make those kinds of decisions when they’re struggling to keep themselves safe and come to terms with the traumatic nature of what happened to them. Were your friends in Kalamazoo more supportive?

I didn’t tell them. By the time I was in Kalamazoo, I had convinced myself that it was my fault, that I deserved it, that I was garbage. What kind of a victim goes back to their abuser anyway? I was traumatized by the bullying and it felt less complicated to talk about that than it did the assault. I still had a lot of shame about it and had now been conditioned to keep my mouth shut. Even for a long time afterwards, I still wanted to organize with Wolf Patrol and was crushed when I was told I wasn’t welcome back. It’s actually hard thinking back to that time in Kalamazoo because I was trying so hard to be OK. My friends there were wonderful but I know I was clearly depressed. Even for months afterwards, I found myself breaking down multiple times a day. I tried to keep it under control. I do remember one specific incident when we were all painting a banner and I just suddenly became overwhelmed. I declared to everyone that I was excusing myself so I could fill up the tub and have a cry bath. (Never underestimate the power of a good cry bath.)

It sounds like it was hard to feel comfortable sharing your experiences. I know a lot of survivors struggle with that, because they are afraid of not being believed or of being judged for how they responded to the abuse. A lot of the survivor advocates I’ve spoken with talk about why it’s important to support and validate survivors who do come forward. They feel that doing this will create a culture where people feel safe sharing their experiences of abuse. Why did you feel it was important to tell more people about what happened?

Not only is there so much fear about not being believed but there’s so much shame associated with it. To make the decision to speak up, you know that all your sins from the past will be thrown back in your face. I had absolutely no plans to come forward, especially not publicly, but it wasn’t until a while later someone approached me and very bluntly asked me if something had happened, if Rod had done something to me. And I broke down. I was tired of keeping it a secret. I feel like I need to say this: I don’t think I ever would have told anyone, had she not directly asked me. And it frightens me to think about that. She encouraged me to reach out to a few former Wolf Patrol teammates who had left the campaign due to issues with Rod. I think she may have told them because it felt like they already knew, which to be honest, made it easier for me.

It was during a conference call with them (former Wolf Patrol team) that they asked if they could talk to others about what happened. I was hesitant for at least a week, knowing that once it was out, whatever amount of control I had would be over. That itself was terrifying. I knew I was going to be attacked if it was public, and I needed time to consider all the ramifications.

That week I came across an article about a woman who’d been assaulted and she never said anything. Then later a woman in her town had committed suicide, and in her letter she implicated the [same] person who had been assaulting her. I called them immediately after and told them, “Yes, you can share my story.” Silence helps no one. Silence protects abuse. I was helping no one by staying silent.

It sounds like you were afraid of the negative repercussions of speaking out, but you wanted to warn other women about Rod so that they wouldn’t have the same experiences as you. That feels like real bravery to me! I know that there has been backlash against you and people supporting you. Do you have any examples of that?

Besides being called a liar, crazy, psycho, I’ve been labeled a snitch, an informant, accused of using COINTELPRO tactics, and at one point Rod even accused me of being an agent directly working for lawmakers “targeting my work.” That one was actually kinda cute. There’s now a rumor going around that I recanted the whole story. There’s also an attorney who’s been actively creating a climate of fear and threatening others who wanted to talk about it. Not only was I being labeled all these things, but so was anyone who supported me.

Are you aware of other people who have had similar experiences with Rod? And have you been able to connect with any of them?

Chrysta (Rod’s ex-wife) is the only one. So far. And it was probably the most validating experience, not that I needed someone else to validate what had happened to me, but just having her reach out to me and tell me that she believes me. She’s really been an angel to me.

Many survivors talk about having to leave their communities or organizations after they’ve been assaulted because of the backlash they experience. In activist communities, this means that we are losing a lot of really powerful, outspoken activists after they are assaulted. In this sense, the abuse itself, and the backlash that these survivors (the majority of whom are women and/ or trans people) and their allies get in the aftermath is a form of repression. It deters them from staying involved, just like state harassment or violence deters some people from getting involved with or staying involved in grassroots activism. Has what happened with Rod impacted your ability to continue to organize with Earth First!?

One of the first consequences was being kicked out of Wolf Patrol, a campaign I really wanted to be a part of, because Rod wields so much power. But I’ve been more afraid to organize anywhere, because Rod has so many friends and supporters. I live with that as a constant fear. Certain Wolf Patrol members have been virulently, actively trying to destroy my reputation and it’s scary. It’s really really frightening.

Have there been any attempts to hold Rod accountable or do any kind of accountability process with him?

All I have is secondhand information. I want to make something very clear, because there’s been a lot of different stories: When asked if I wanted to pursue an accountability process with Rod, I said no, because number one, he’s not going to be held accountable. I believe he will continue to deny it, and I’m not going to put anyone through the abuse. Nobody’s got time for that shit! So I made it clear that I wasn’t actively seeking a process, because his first response was to make me believe it was my fault. He’s also extremely manipulative.

Are there any final thoughts you wanted to share?

Yes. Sexual assault and harassment have been something I’ve dealt with most of my life. I’m sure this is something that many womyn can relate to. It became normalized. I handled it by trying to ignore it and move on. But this is not a single horrible event womyn suffer once in their lifetime. It’s an epidemic. Something I started to notice after speaking up about what Rod did to me is that men hate rape. Let me rephrase that: Men hate the word “rape.” It takes the onus off of survivors and points the finger directly at who is responsible. Men who commit rape. Rapists.

The problem with our culture is that people—men, and even some womyn—believe that rape is a very specific crime. Rape is only rape when a survivor is abducted against their will, by a stranger in the dark. It can’t be rape if they knew their rapist. It can’t be rape if the survivor had consensual sex any other time in her life. These lies are damaging, but they stem from misogyny and patriarchy that still leads our culture. These lies take someone who is already traumatized and dumps the shame and guilt on them when it belongs to the one who committed the crime. To everyone who has supported me (and there have been many): a huge thank you! I could not have ever done this without you! To those who would rather I not have spoken out publicly, I’ll make you a deal. Get off of your computer and do something to stop these crimes from happening to womyn. Call men out when you see sexist behavior. Call your friends out when they participate in it. Make it socially unacceptable for men to abuse and oppress us. If you do that for me, then I won’t have to. Until then, I won’t be silenced. To anyone who has ever been hurt by Rod or men like him, you have a voice. Abuse and oppression thrive on silence. People like Rod thrive on silence. Fuck them. Fuck him. Speak your truth.

Please visit youcaring.com/support-for-julie for more informationon how you can support Julie.

Loki is an artist-storyteller and PhD student currently residing in unceded Coast Salish Territories. They have a background in forest defense and feminist/queer community organizing. A central focus of their research and praxis is the history of anti-oppression and safer space organizing within forest defense in the early 2000s. Contact them via their website or twitter at lokiera.wordpress.com or twitter.com/kjandersons

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