Following our link at Dispatches to the personal testimony of the falsely accused and cursorily condemned novelist Steven Galloway, former Chair of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, we have received a few queries about the stance of Dispatches toward issues of sexual abuse. Some people have pointed to our recent public support of a group of women writers who accused a contemporary U.S. male poet of abuse. Is it not contradictory, even hypocritical, we have been pointedly asked, to defend a male writer accused of sexual abuse, after having given prominent space to claims of abuse by another?

The question is a fair one, but simple enough to answer. After being directly approached by the victims (and we use the term “victims” because the poet in question has openly admitted serious instances of grossly abusive behavior), Dispatches readily provided space for the women involved to present their claims. It was an act of solidarity partly in response to the barely believable fact that no other venue in the poetry world would extend to them the decency of a fair hearing. Over the course of many months, and in repeated and stunning displays of arrogance and hypocrisy, leading presses and institutions who long promoted the work of the poet at issue—from Wesleyan University Press, to the Poetry Foundation, from Penn Sound, to the Academy of American Poets, from Wave Books, to Omnidawn, to a well-known Harvard Professor and critic who has championed him—the direct concerns and appeals of the women reporting abuse were rejected with dismissive, pro forma replies, or else ignored entirely. Only after the matter was brought forward by Dispatches and then by Outline, a widely read web journal, did some of these parties begin to respond. Some severed all relations with the poet. Others, however, including the Poetry Foundation and Penn Sound, continue to promote his work with special Author pages and links, as if the appeals of the aggrieved parties were irrelevant.

To repeat: a group of women poets whose attempts to be heard had been bizarrely and shamefully ignored, reached out to us for help. Of course we offered our pages to them, given the circumstances. As Galloway himself, in the compelling and chilling memoir of his Show Trial-like hounding at The University of British Columbia, clearly states:

All victims of sexual assault are owed justice. All women should be listened to and all complaints and accusations thoroughly and fairly investigated. Many of the preconceptions we have about sexual assault have been, historically, entirely wrong.

That said, while such accusations must be aired and judged fairly and openly, they are not an excuse for abolishing due process, as certain fanatics have claimed in the Galloway affair. An accusation is not equivalent to a fact, and to act as if it were is no less unjust than dismissing, ignoring, or belittling accusations of abuse. Addressing one injustice does not justify the imposition of a regime of injustice. As Galloway goes on:

But listening, as a default position, should not mean that any accused person is automatically, irrevocably guilty. It is not the case that 100 per cent of assault allegations are true, though that certainly would make the world simpler. Only in fascist states does an allegation equal a conviction, be it in a court of law, a workplace, or a community. Is that how we want our world to work?

As Galloway’s case demonstrates beyond a question of a doubt, not all accusations are true. Read Brad Cram’s meticulous reconstruction of the facts of the case [A Literary Inquisition ] to see how quickly supposedly rational people devolve into a pitchfork waving mob, not dissimilar to the vigilantes in India currently summarily executing individuals accused of crimes on Facebook.

As Galloway goes on:

What I must reject is the notion that I am guilty of appalling crimes because someone said that I am. I am not. I did not commit the crime I was accused of. This is not a question of differing interpretations of events: The events alleged against me simply did not happen.

And because of those events that did not happen, his life was destroyed.

If the U.S. poet who for a long time appears to have conducted his abusive behavior with a regrettable measure of impunity wishes to publicly deny the claims put forward at Dispatches, we invite him to do so here. We are a forum for open and unfettered discussion. In the meantime, the principles Steven Galloway states above—along with those of the women who suffered hurtful rejection from influential poetry interests—are our principles, too.

Dispatches