Updated April 24, 2020

About Accusations

How Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) Has Handled Sexual Misconduct

Intro

DxE is an open, grassroots network that has inspired thousands of activists to take action for nonhuman animals in over 30 countries and has saved hundreds of nonhuman animals from nightmarish abuse. In the process, we’ve gained an incredible following and put pressure on corporations and governments to stop torturing and killing nonhuman animals.

We also have a motivated body of detractors. Some are well-intentioned people who have genuine disagreements about tactics; others are former members who didn’t find DxE to be the right place for activism and left feeling discouraged and hurt, in some cases partly due to our own mistakes in resolving conflict. Still others, more troublingly, may be state or corporate infiltrators who seek to undermine the animal rights movement. While the latter suggestion may sound outlandish, the fact that the history of social causes is rife with examples of such behavior, including in the animal rights movement, prevents us from dismissing the possibility.

The obscurity of detractors’ intentions is only one factor that makes assessing claims difficult. Many conversations about DxE take place over social media, where the absence of vocal tone, facial expressions, and other conversational cues allows undue tension to arise; facts often blur with assumptions and opinions; and algorithms elevate inflammatory content over sober, truth-oriented dialogue. Supporters often feel confused and upset at allegations made about us, particularly those dealing with how we have handled sexual misconduct. We created this page because the seriousness of those allegations merits a response.

The DxE decisions described here were made by members of the SF Bay Area leadership. We encourage anyone with further questions to bring them to us at a weekly Meetup or a monthly Chapter Meeting.

FAQ

What is DxE’s sexual misconduct policy?

Our sexual misconduct report and response policy is laid out in our Code of Conduct, in points 4-6, and in our supplementary Harassment Policy. This Code of Conduct, which was the result of a community-led discussion, has been listed in official DxE SF Bay Area events since November 2016.

In addition, pursuant to our relationship policy, approved in May 2018, community members must follow a “one-ask” rule wherein a community member may not ask another community member out on a date or otherwise express romantic interest if they have already done so for that individual and not received a clear affirmative response.

Have organizers been accused of sexual misconduct? If so, how has leadership responded?

Yes. Since DxE’s founding, members have brought accusations of sexual misconduct about several organizers, or individuals who claimed to be organizers, to leadership. Descriptions of most* cases, and our responses, follow. (Note that privacy concerns limit what we are able to say, and names have been changed.)

  • Numerous women accused a member in the SF Bay Area, “Henry,” of inappropriate touching and unwanted sexual advances in early 2014. We confronted Henry, and after he reacted with anger, we permanently removed him from the network. The DxE Core circulated an email to the local community describing his removal. Henry subsequently impersonated DxE organizers on social media and authored, in full or in part, many social media posts attacking DxE, including the “Dismantle DxE” blog which, ironically, accused DxE of harboring predators.
  • A former organizer in Chicago was immediately, indefinitely removed after he was accused of revenge porn and sexual harassment in April 2015, pending an accountability process that required him, at the survivor’s request, to undergo professional counseling. We disclosed his removal on Facebook within a few days of the first report. He failed to meet requirements and was permanently removed from the network.
  • A former organizer, “Mary,” accused another former organizer, “Mark,” of misconduct on social media after Mary left DxE and ceased contact with DxE members. Mary’s allegations were inconsistent with statements she had made to a Core member about Mark prior to ceasing contact, and she declined to communicate with us about those allegations. We did not take disciplinary action against Mark. Approximately two years later, Mary emailed another Core member, unprompted, apologizing for trying to “discredit DxE.
  • A former organizer in Chicago, “Robert,” was immediately, indefinitely removed in November 2016 after his previous partner, “Susan,” also a former organizer, accused him of lying about a past sexual experience and making persistent requests to engage in specific sex acts. The same day the DxE Core learned of this misconduct, we canceled Robert’s fellowship grant recommendation and his plans to move to the SF Bay Area, barred him from contacting any women in the network, and immediately, indefinitely removed him from the network.

    Robert subsequently accepted responsibility for his actions, expressed remorse, and entered into an accountability process structured in consultation with a third party professional. Pursuant to that process, Susan alone framed the narrative; Robert was allowed only to agree or disagree with Susan’s assertions. Susan expressed approval of the process at the time. In February 2017, Susan, the accountability team, and an all-women group of organizers in the SF Bay Area all agreed to Robert’s return to the network and move to the SF Bay Area, though Robert’s proposed fellowship grant was never made.

    Susan subsequently objected to how the process unfolded, expressing, among other things, that she was pressured to move through it too quickly. We have since apologized to Susan and made changes to our accountability process, largely in light of her concerns. See below. Neither Susan nor Robert is presently in DxE.
  • A former organizer outside the United States, "Michael," was immediately, indefinitely removed in November 2019 after an organizer outside the United States, "Therese," reported that Michael sexually abused her. (DxE had previously received reports that Michael posed for photographs with others in a sexual manner; we did not remove him then because the others were consenting adults, and none reported a Code of Conduct violation.) Therese expressed the hope, which we conveyed to Michael, that he might be considered for future involvement with DxE, provided that he would accept full responsibility and demonstrate genuine remorse for the harm he caused; seek out, and complete, a rehabilitative process with a third-party professional specializing in sexual harm (which such process would not involve DxE), where the professional would give the opinion that he was safe to consider for reintegration; and obtain permission from Therese and anyone else he had harmed. Shortly after being removed, Michael changed the name of the DxE Facebook page he had run; he cited a technical reason but failed to disclose that he was removed for misconduct. As a result of that action and other behavior that indicated Michael was unwilling to accept full responsibility, Therese named him publicly and described the abuse she endured.

* In several other cases involving sexual misconduct with organizers in the international network, the individual who was harmed requested we not share details of the matter publicly. In all such cases, the accused organizer either stepped down or was removed following the allegations. Some details of those matters have since become public.

We have also removed multiple non-organizing community members for instances of unwelcome touching, using our spaces to try to get dates, or failing to respond positively to feedback on any behavior that made community members uncomfortable, and we have warned other animal activist groups about particular individuals with problematic behavioral patterns.

Has DxE ever taken legal action against survivors or required confidentiality agreements of them?

No. DxE has never taken any legal action nor made any legal threat against any person who has reported sexual misconduct, nor have we ever required any sort of confidentiality agreement of any person victimized by sexual harassment or misconduct.

In the above-mentioned instance regarding Henry, a number of women, including both current and former DxE members, represented by outside counsel with assistance from DxE co-founder and former Lead Organizer Wayne Hsiung, sent cease-and-desist letters to Henry as well as three other individuals who had also harassed and cyberstalked those women. None of the four recipients of those cease-and-desist letters had ever reported anyone in DxE for sexual misconduct. The harassment and cyberstalking ceased, and no lawsuits were filed.

In the above-mentioned instance regarding Susan and Robert, Robert later sued Susan, claiming that, subsequent to DxE’s accountability process and Robert’s restoration to the network, Susan falsely accused Robert of rape. DxE had no involvement in the case. Wayne Hsiung provided an affidavit, in lieu of a subpoena and deposition, that provided a statement of facts and did not take any position in the litigation. While the lawsuit was ongoing, Robert left DxE, and the parties subsequently settled under confidential terms.

Has leadership covered up allegations?

No. We have made reports of sexual misconduct as public or private as the reporters have requested, aiming to create environments conducive to reporting and to respect survivors’ wishes. We have brought instances of sexual misconduct to the attention of all SF Bay chapter members, had multiple all-chapter and all-network open forums where specific instances of misconduct were discussed, and have been supportive of open letters admitting misconduct.

How has DxE’s approach to sexual misconduct changed?

We have made two major changes to our approach to sexual misconduct. First, we no longer perform accountability or restorative justice processes in house. In a case involving sexual misconduct of a DxE organizer, we refer the matter to an external professional and remove the accused organizer from the network pending guidance from the survivor and the external professional. Second, we make consent trainings mandatory for all organizers.

We regularly consult resources outside of the DxE network on our sexual harassment policies to ensure our policies are consistent with best practices.

If you observe a DxE member violating the DxE Code of Conduct, you can report the violation to report@directactioneverywhere.com