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Announcement :: Organizing
Statement on Thefts and Sexual Assaults in Pittsburgh, PA
by pittsburgh organizing group, the big idea radical bookstore, and survivors of khalia's sexual assaults
Email: email@example.com, <books (nospam) thebigideapgh.org>
10 Oct 2006
This statement is the product of Pittsburgh Organizing Group, The BigIdea bookstore
collective, and survivors of Khalia Latte’s sexual assaults. Its purpose is to inform people who come into contact with Khalia to try to make communities as safe as possible. If you have questions, seek confirmation of the statement’s authenticity, or have additional information we should be aware of we can be reached at POG (at) mutualaid.org or books (at) thebigideapgh.org.
Throughout 2006, money and books were stolen from the Big Idea, Pittsburgh’s radical bookstore. In August, money was stolen from Pittsburgh Organizing Group. POG discovered that one individual, Khalia Latte (formerly known as Anthony Foster), acting alone, was responsible for these thefts. Through the course of investigation and discussion about the thefts, information came to light about Khalia’s sexual assaults.
Khalia is a long-time resident of Pittsburgh, an anarchist trans person of color, who has been active in a variety of communities in Pittsburgh. She has a long history of violations, and we can offer no guarantees regarding her future actions. Safety is our highest concern and we encourage people in Pittsburgh and other cities to forward this account as widely as possible. Our intent is to increase awareness so that as many people as possible can make informed decisions upon interacting with Khalia. We wish to be transparent about what has transpired and say to our allies that these are real issues which are not being sufficiently addressed.
Summary of Thefts at The Big Idea Bookstore
Over the last year, a series of thefts by Khalia Latte (Anthony Foster), a former volunteer with The Big Idea Bookstore, have jeopardized the survival of the bookstore. Both merchandise and money were stolen from the store over a series of months. When these thefts came to our attention, we suspected Khalia based on circumstantial evidence; however we did not have sufficient grounds at that time to go public with our suspicions. We estimate that $800 was stolen from the store. After Khalia’s confession to the theft from the POG Legal Defense Fund, a POG collective member suggested that she disclose any other thefts. At this point, she admitted stealing from The Big Idea. Below is the email she sent to a collective member on September 6th:
I am sending you this email as a confession concerning the missing money from the Big Idea. I am the one responsible for these crimes, and am sorry it took me so long to come forward and admit to it. Better late than never I suppose. While I know that you and a few others already know of my involvement I still wanted to come out and say it. The idea of coming clean on all fronts was given to me by someone else who's group I am in a process of restorative justice with, as an opportunity to try to make things right (loosely speaking) with everyone all at the same time, and start from zero all at once rather than in sections. I thought this was good advice and decided to take it.
I wish to pay the money back as soon as I am able. I am still looking for jobs at the present moment, so would not be able to pay the store back immediately, but will inform the collective the moment I have a gig. Paying the money back is the least I can do. I must say that choosing to send this email to you was just a matter of comfort for me, as I have known you longer than anyone else in the collective, and you are a very level headed and grounded person, not because I believe that you will some how go easy on me, because of our time in acquaintance. Well I guess there is nothing else to say for now, and I assume that you will forward this to the rest of the collective list. I will be awaiting any demands that they will have of me. Though I must advise that it is far easier to get in touch with me via phone than email, as I don't have regular email access as of late.
Because The Big Idea is a not-for-profit, volunteer-run operation which re-invests all profit back into the store, the missing money was a major blow to our operations. We are still, however, committed to making this cooperative, consensus-based, non-hierarchical business thrive in Pittsburgh. It was only due to the generosity of our friends within the Pittsburgh community – and in particular Free Ride – that we were able to keep the store open in the aftermath of these incidents. In response to the thefts, we have made changes in financial policies and procedures. Since that time, there have been no additional thefts to our knowledge.
The Theft of POG Money
Pittsburgh Organizing Group’s money was kept in a POG bank account under the supervision of Brian, a trusted member of the group. Upon leaving the country for a few weeks, Brian stored the ATM card in his room along with the pin number in a separate, well-hidden location. It was later discovered Khalia took advantage of the fact Brian’s house is used for Food Not Bombs to access and ransack his room to find the card and pin.
After returning from his trip, Brian attempted to use the account to donate money to mutual-aid for their generous computer support, to an individual falsely arrested for breaking the door of a military recruitment center at an anti-war event, and to pay the bill for counter-recruitment t-shirts. All of the transactions bounced for insufficient funds; the account had been emptied.
Approximately $1200 was withdrawn in four transactions, starting hours after Brain returned to Pittsburgh. Once the theft was discovered, Brian immediately contacted
the bank in order to ascertain what the options were for recovery of the money. The bank
indicated that Brian could get all the money back if he filed a statement that the money had been fraudulently withdrawn and agreed to cooperate with the bank/police in a criminal investigation.
Within 24 hours of Brian’s realization, another POG member was approached anonymously by Khalia, who claimed to have knowledge about what happened to the money. The POG member encouraged Khalia to write up a statement and send it to the rest of the group. In this statement, Khalia claimed to have been approached late one night while out for a walk. She said a man who had been following her forced her into a car with two other men. At that time the men allegedly gave her the ATM card and the pin number and instructed her to take the money out of the account. She claimed that these men threatened her with arrest for participating in local protests and threatened violence toward her partner and family if she didn’t cooperate. She also claimed that POG was under significant government surveillance, had been infiltrated, and that the purpose of stealing the money was to mess with POG.
POG met to share information and reach consensus on how to proceed. Difficult discussions took place and consensus grew around the idea that the story was entirely fabricated, that we believed the perpetrator was Khalia Latte (because of her inclusion of personal identifying details), and that we wished to formulate a restorative justice program to handle community violations, such as financial “crimes,” outside of the state’s “justice” system. When confronted by POG members, Khalia admitted the story was fabricated and reluctantly agreed to participate in a restorative justice program (to be formulated at a later date). Under questioning, Khalia gave indications that she was responsible for the Big Idea thefts, too.
Khalia’s gross violation of community trust was extremely difficult to deal with. Pre-existing conflict within POG was exacerbated by the stress, communication breakdown and lack of a concrete process plan to deal with possible state repression. POG members feel that Khalia’s attempt to introduce the element of state involvement was in fact more of a problem than the actual theft. Cointel-pro type activities are a historical and current reality. Implausible and seemingly crazy activities have always been part of the state’s attempts to disrupt organizing, they have resorted to far more absurd plots in the past. This was clearly a lesson to our group, and to other radical organizations, that we must discuss and prepare for what to do in cases where state repression is an allegation or reality.
POG approached the BigIdea about handling Khalia’s thefts as a larger community issue. In the course of these discussions, allegations of sexual assaults by Khalia began to surface. POG halted further work on a restorative justice plan and began trying to compile information on Khalia’s actions. In total, four specific incidents of sexual assault or inappropriate sexual behavior over the past four years were brought to light. Additional incidents of Khalia’s theft from other individuals in the activist community were also exposed.
In light of the emerging information, POG sought to bring together all the individuals and groups who had been impacted by Khalia to develop a joint response. As a non-hierarchical, consensus-based group working for progressive social change, POG is
committed to working on issues of sexism and sexual assault. We work to create a positive community that is safe for all. We intend to hold responsible those who abuse the
community’s trust and will not tolerate the presence or participation of known sexual
predators or assailants at our actions or events.
The following are accounts from survivors of the sexual assaults and harassment perpetrated by Khalia. It is important to address that Khalia uses her sexuality, knowledge of radical politics and presence at different actions and in different groups to gain the trust of those in radical communities. Sexual assault cannot be tolerated. As part of the work to building new systems of mutual-aid we must find ways to share, heal and protect each other.
In spring of 2003 I was attending a party being thrown for me at a friend’s house—it was my 18th birthday. I was drinking, as were many of the guests. Eventually, I and several other people were extremely drunk and started making out at random. It was all in good, innocent, teenage fun. One of the people participating was Khalia (then Anthony), who I had know for about a year or two at that point from various social action groups, mostly queer oriented. The details are a little blurry, but at a certain point Khalia pulled me into an empty room and pulled me down with her on a mattress. At first I didn’t think much about it. I was drunk and on the verge of passing out. This went on for a few minutes, when she started taking my clothes off and I began to protest that I was too drunk to participate in any sexual activity. I wasn’t very forceful in my protesting and sort of started to drift off. Again, the details are blurry. What I remember is Khalia getting on top of me, continuing to take my clothes off, taking her penis out and rubbing it on me. I think I repeated that I was too drunk to be doing that and trying to turn away from her. I’m not sure how long this went on for, but after a while, another person opened the door and came into the room. I quickly grabbed my clothes and ran out.
Afterwards, I shared this story with a few people. There was next to no response from anyone I told. It’s easier to ignore these sorts of difficult occurrences than to acknowledge and work with them I guess.
This was about three and a half years ago. Since then I have made an effort to avoid Khalia. I have never confronted her about it, although she has tried to talk to me a few times and often stares me down when we encounter each other in public. I am extremely intimidated and freaked out by Khalia. I do not want an apology. If Khalia truly regrets her actions, she will show this by staying as far away from me as possible and not moping around me and giving me fliers to dyke marches.
Good luck and thank you for hearing me out. I really appreciate that this community is finally taking actions against this and letting Khalia and, hopefully, other people who may perpetrate similar crimes that it will not be tolerated.
It was December 31, 2002, also known as New Years Eve Day. I left work in the afternoon and went to the South Side Beehive to play pinball. There I ran into Anthony, a young man I knew from feminist events on Pitt campus, mostly Take Back the Night (yes, a sexual assault artist with a sense of irony, go figure). We played pinball together, and after a while I was ready to go back to my Uptown abode to get ready for New Years Eve. Back at my place, several people were hanging out and smoking reefer. I was trying to put together a "hot" outfit for the holiday, and Anthony followed me from my closet to my room to the mirror, telling me I was "thick" in a complimentary way. He kissed me, and I wasn't that into it, so we went back to the group. A little while later, he got my roommate alone and tried to kiss her, but she did not cooperate either. Anthony got sleepy pretty early on (maybe he was more affected by the smoking than the rest of the group?) and was basically asleep in our living room by 9 or 10pm-ish. that's my best guess, it was long before midnight. I told him that we were going to go to a party, and he was welcome to come with us, but if he needed to sleep he was welcome to go to sleep in my bed. He said that he wanted to sleep, even though it meant he wouldn't know when it was midnight on New Years. I took him up to my room, and he laid down in my bed. My roommates and I went out to a party.
I came home around 2am, moderately drunken, and went to sleep in my bed next to Anthony. He didn't appear to wake up when I came in, and I went to sleep. At some later point, I woke up to realize that Anthony was using my hand to fondle himself -basically, he was using my hand to give himself a hand job while I was asleep/drunk. When I realized that's what was happening, I got angry and told him to leave. A few weeks later, I ran into him at the Beehive again, where he stared at me for a while, then came up to me and asked me "what's your name again?" and "can we spend a little more time together sometime?" At first, I was too freaked out to express anything other than "no," but when he kept staring at me and staring, I finally went to him and told him that #1 it is not okay to do ANYTHING sexually with someone when they're asleep or drunk, even if they let you sleep in their bed and even if you felt you shared a moment earlier in the evening, and # 2 I trusted him because we met at Take Back the Night and that is so fucked up. He appeared confused and walked away. A few weeks later I saw him at the Beehive again, and he asked me if I would want to have a group meeting with the community where we could discuss what happened and he could publicly apologize to me. I said no, that I didn't want to discuss the whole thing in public, but I appreciated and respected that he was trying to make matters better. And I did respect that, until last winter (2005) when I was visiting Pittsburgh and somehow that story came up, and when I said that I was asleep and someone used my hand to jerk himself off, the guy I was talking to said "really, that sounds familiar, are you talking about Khalia Latte?" because he had heard that same story from someone else.
Khalia (formerly Anthony) also tried to keep me out of the radical cheerleaders in Pittsburgh by telling a mutual acquaintance that he wouldn't be comfortable with me there. And he's come to activist events in Philadelphia and stared at me with that same creepy across-the-room stare.
Other instances of inappropriate sexual behavior and assault have also come to light. One case involved aggressive, repeated, and inappropriate sexual advances towards a 15 year old girl. Another case involved repeated sexual advances and sexual harassment toward another woman. Khalia's behavior culminated in an incident in which she physically pulled the woman into a bathroom and proceeded to pull her own penis out at the woman. The woman was able to successfully extricate herself from the situation.
Those of us who gathered together to discuss this situation have come up with a number of steps that Khalia could take to be more accountable for her behaviors. We encourage her to undertake some or all of the following actions.
1. Seek counseling regarding sexual assault, uncontrollable theft, anger management, violence, and other possible psychological concerns.
2. Apologize to the victims of theft, survivors of sexual assault, and people who have lost trust in her.
3. Publicly take responsibility for her actions. Write something that confirms our statement.
4. Explain what she did with the money.
5. Pay back money to the organizations and individuals from whom she stole (and not with money that is stolen in turn).
6. Not enter The Big Idea or events organized/sponsored by POG or The Big Idea.
7. Publicly accept responsibility for other incidents of theft or sexual assault.
8. Write a letter explaining her action and sending it to other groups she works with in Pittsburgh and in other cities.
9. Not engaging in sexual activities without expressed (non-coerced) verbal consent.
10. Until she has a better idea of "consent," make an effort not to be alone with people to whom she is sexually attracted or to try to get them alone with her.
11. Disclose completely and truthfully what she did when she is asked about it.
12. Apologize to the community for everything she did.
13. She must respect the fact that doing everything we require of her will not automatically repair her relationships with groups and individuals in the community.
14. Keep us up to date with her contact information.
15. Make a list of what constitutes "consent" and what it does not entail.
Resources For Survivors Of Assault And Their Allies
Khalia Latte has repeatedly assaulted members of our community. This section outlines resources for those who have been assaulted, by Khalia or by others and for the community at large.
When it comes to assault, there is not consensus in Pittsburgh’s radical community on how to best address the needs of survivors, perpetrators and the community as a whole. In other cities, including Seattle, Philadelphia and Portland, groups have formed to explore various community-based methods of supporting survivors, preventing future assault and developing options for accountability. Pittsburgh does not have a similar group currently, but we hope the information below will give survivors of assault and those grappling with these issues options for personal healing, community education and local organizing.
We realize that there are many different strategies for healing from assault. These can include psychological/therapeutic/peer support, legal action, medical care, bodywork, direct action and community-based responses. For many individuals, a combination of these methods is necessary. Each person’s path to healing is different and we support the steps one must take to regain a sense of safety in his or her community, in his or her relationships and in his or her own body. There is no one right way to heal, nor is there is any timeline by which you should have “gotten over it.”
For many of us, the revelations of assault by Khalia have triggered our own abuse and assault histories or caused us to remember our own sense of anger and powerlessness when those we love had been hurt. We realize that this is not the first time a fellow radical activist has committed assault. While these past few weeks have been very difficult, we are moving forward the best way we know how. We will continue to listen to survivors and learn from previous mistakes. We hope to continue taking steps to insure that we keep each other safe, facilitate the healing of those who have been hurt and develop communities free from abuse and assault.
Resources Available to PGH Assault/Harassment Survivors:
- Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) www.paar.net friends (at) paar.net 24 hour hotline: 1.866.END.RAPE Main Office: 412.431.5665
- PERSAD Center (LGBTQ counseling & other services) www.persadcenter.org (412) 441-9786
- Teen Hotline-Contact Pittsburgh 412-361-TEEN
- Womansplace (Counseling and emergency help for women & children who are victims of domestic violence) (412) 678-4616
Information About Radical Community Responses To Sexual Assault:
o Support Zine, available at the Big Idea or through Microcosm
o Philly’s Pissed and Philly Stands Up http://www.phillyspissed.net
For Information About Assault, Trauma Or Abuse:
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape www.pcar.org
- Teen PCAR www.teenpcar.org
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center www.nsvrc.org
- National Center for Victims of Crime www.ncvc.org
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network www.nctsnet.org
- National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children www.tlcinst.org
- Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse www.malesurvivor.org
- Voices in Action (Incest/Multi-Lingual) www.voices-action.org
- Traumatic Stress Institute www.tsicaap.com
- National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder www.ncptsd.org
This work is in the public domain