AWOL statement on sexual harassment in activist spaces

Posted on 13 June 2012 by


*TRIGGER WARNING We, as survivors, opponents of sexual violence, feminists and/or feminist allies have taken the decision to publicly oppose and name a man within the activist and anarchist community who we know to have repeatedly sexually harassed several young women*. This harassment is known to have taken place in person, via social media and/or text message. *All references to women refer to any SI women. The individual concerned, Paul Cunliffe, of Merseyside, has sexually harassed young women within both the local and UK-wide anarchist and activist movement. This has caused varied impacts upon their lives, and the lives of other women who are aware of his actions. One woman for example, quit activism due to Cunliffe’s aggression towards her when she rejected his unwanted sexual advances. Presently we are aware of six different women affected, of the four we have spoken to, two declined to make a public statement- a decision we completely support – with one too fearful for her safety to do so. However another two women have offered brief descriptions of what happened to them:

“My communications with Paul Cunliffe occurred for several months when I was 17 years old. He first contacted me via the internet, where he began talking to me most days, and most of the time I replied amiably, out of a wish not to offend. After a while speaking online, some of his conversations became inappropriate. I told him at this time that I was not interested in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with him, but he persisted in making sexual jokes, which, as he was ten years older than me, made me feel uncomfortable. He became seemingly obsessed with me, made several comments about us having sex, sent text messages referencing sexual acts, and told me that he had masturbated over me. This was all done when he was in full knowledge that I was not interested in him. I didn’t want to upset him if I would have to see him again, as I knew he was capable of violence, and so I didn’t feel able to tell him outright to stop. He apologised several times for his behaviour, but it continued. Towards the end of our contact he was talking to me every day on social media, and sometimes became annoyed or upset if I ignored him. He was also verbally abusive towards a friend of mine. Our contact ended when he sent me a final message, in which he swore at me and insulted me. I would urge all women to be very careful about getting involved with him – I wish that I never had. Having had time to reflect on the events, if anything similar happened again, I believe I would feel forced to contact the police in concern for my welfare.”

A second woman, Romana, who has waived the anonymity we offered her, has told us the following:

It was December 2011 when I started talking to Paul via DM on Twitter. We’d been interacting since November or October, as I was going through a stressful time with both religion and anarchy which are opposed each other. He was polite, joked around and gave me advice. He is an anarchist who tried to explain things which I found helpful and I could also talk to him about problems at home such as violence which built a trust bond. I first put a picture of myself on Twitter in December, after which he contacted me and said it was attractive. I said thank you, as at the time I thought he was saying it in a friendly way because he hadn’t made any advances at this point. He asked for my number and I gave it as I trusted him. He then texted me sexual comments. I said I was 16 and he said he had thought I was older and made another sexual comment. At the time I was going through confused feelings and he being someone I looked up to and trusted, I responded initially. He then started to take sexual comments a bit further at which point I felt uncomfortable but was worried that if I did not respond at least politely that he’d take offence and accuse me publicly of things, as he’d said things about another girl he was involved with that made her out to be a bad person (I later found out that she’d rejected him). I very often would tell him I felt uncomfortable and wanted him not to say things. Quite a few times he texted me along the lines of ‘I’m horny, wondering what you’d do to turn me on’ or ‘I’m so hard right now’ and go on to tell me how he would have intercourse with me. I started to feel very uncomfortable a few days after and told him I’m wasn’t in a good mental state and I’d like him to stop. He continued. I’d say ‘please stop, seriously…I really want you to stop’ and he’d continue to text sexual things or just ignore me and then on the next day/next few days I would receive a text along the same explicit sexual lines. At one point I lost my temper and told him to leave me alone and he got very angry, after which I became fearful that he’d spread rumours about me making me out to be a bad person as he had done with two women by this point, so I apologised. We stopped talking for a month or two after but then he suddenly started speaking to me again, apologised for his behaviour and told me about some stuff he was going through for which I gave him some advice. Towards the end of that correspondence he began to make sexual comments and I ignored him initially but began to feel uncomfortable and in the same position again, I thought he would say that I’d come on to him. As he was friends with James and I have a good friendship with James and I didn’t want him to turn James or any friends in Liverpool against me, I responded, feeling very upset and angry and helpless until he started to mention threesomes. He suggested having a threesome with Anna (Anna is 16) and a 17 year old friend of mine called Holly. He also suggested a threesome with a girl he’d been involved with. I asked him to stop and said I was incredibly uncomfortable with him degrading other women like this. I eventually talked to Anna about the situation as she mentioned he perved on young women. On the same day Holly told me that he’d made sexual advances and suggested threesomes to her in a dm. She felt very uncomfortable and avoided the comments but he gave up eventually after asking outright if she was sexually interested in him. At this point I became very angry as not only had I found he’d been harassing other young women in Liverpool and talking about women as if they were objects for him to masturbate over, but he’d also been trying to put my friend in the same situation. The next day I decided to do some research and told a girl he had been spreading nasty rumours about what he had said, and she was very upset and told me she was scared of him as he’d said some aggressively sexual things and she thought he sounded violent at times. I confronted him that day and told him enough was enough and I won’t allow him to put any more women in positions where they feel helpless or uncomfortable – shortly after this he deactivated Twitter and Facebook.

Due to abuse received from misogynists on social media websites regarding this statement, Romana has also written a piece for her own blog which can be found  here The aims and purpose of this statement are three-fold:

  • To ensure that others, particularly women, are aware of his behaviour and thus can make an informed decision about whether they feel comfortable having any kind of relationship with him;
  • To ensure the safety of women, within Merseyside in particular, and to allow those who own or take care of places with a ‘safe spaces’ policy to consider whether they should continue to grant him access;
  • To encourage political organisations to consider their policy on the safety of their female members and how they can avoid compromising this.

We believe that misogyny, sexual aggression and violence are NEVER acceptable and that such consistent harassment shows blatant misogyny and disregard for the oppression that women face under patriarchy. A person cannot class themselves as an “Anarcho-Communist” and then show such misogynist aggression, which is diametrically opposed to the values Anarcho-Communism espouses. We ask that women, men and groups share and sign this letter to create a network of support and solidarity for those involved in exposing Cunliffe’s behaviour and to minimise any potential backlash that may be caused by doing so. Perpetrators of harassment, aggression and violence towards women should not be allowed to continue to do so without repercussions and we urge all feminists, feminist allies and organisations who support women’s rights to endorse this statement.
In solidarity,
Angry Women of Liverpool

To sign the above statement, please email smashmisogyny[at]gmail[dot]com.

Liverpool Solidarity Federation

Brighton Solidarity Federation

Merseyside Anarchist Federation

Edinburgh Anarchist Federation

North London Solidarity Federation collective

Bright Green

Leila Davey (AWOL)

Emma Pooka (AWOL, AFed)

Anna Fleur (SolFed)

Liam O’Brien (SolFed)

Claire Elliott (AWOL, AFed)

N. Gatch (AWOL)

Stacey Long

Hannah Ryan (AWOL, Merseyside Women’s Movement)

James Moffatt (SolFed)

Maria Ng (AWOL, News from Nowhere)

Adam Ford (The Commune)

Sean C (Anarchist Federation)

Jane Nolan

Sam Ambreen

Jane Calveley

Natalie Dzerins (Intersect)

Rhiannon Lowton (LRC)

Sam Talley (ACAB)

Sean Mollan (SolFed/Uncut/ACAB)

Jerry Spencer (Anarchist Federation)

Naomi Beecroft (EUSA Women’s Liberation Convenor)

Matt Moore (Anarchist Federation)

Kashka Georgeson (Merseyside LGBT Student’s Network, SWP).

Nicky Clark

Romana Begum (All London Anarchist Revolutionary Mob/ALARM)

Sam Rabin (ALARM)

Maev McDaid (President: University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine)

Paul Robinson (Anarchist Federation)

Toivo Hartikainen

Helen Sheridan (AWOL)

Andy Meinke (Editor Freedom Newspaper)

Louise Whittle (LRC)

James Cleveland (Brighton Feminist Collective)

Brendan O’Malley

Nyika S

Al Derby (Wolvo Anarchists)

Jacob Richardson

Anna Machell

Sarah Hickmott

Les Rich (SolFed and IWW IU 560 member)

Jasmine Pike

Pierre Lapin (Job Seeker’s Alliance)

Mark Lees

Takiyah Eshe Daly

Martyn West

Andy Bean

Emily Rice

Sean Court

Alison Banville

Jon Squires

Matt Moran

Anna White

Iain Hilton

Phil Dickens (SolFed)

Rob King

Liam O’Donnell

Nick P

Clara Paillard (PCS)

Mike Shaw

Amber Kennedy

Hayrr X

Welsh Andy (Glasgow)

Ivy Jlassi (ACAB)

Bobi Pasquale

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