Featured image courtesy of: eyewave – stock.adobe.com

Trigger warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault.

UPDATED: On Sept. 18, M’coul’s posted a statement addressing the allegations against them on Instagram. Their response and the survivors’ responses have been included in this piece.

It started on Instagram.

Devon McKnight was cycling through users’ stories on the app when she came across a series of written allegations against multiple individuals in the Greensboro community. She watched screenshot after screenshot and story after story document women’s various encounters with the many accused, allegations that ranged from sexual harassment to rape. Almost immediately, she began reposting the stories to her account as well.

“As a person that had been following rape culture and callout culture, these ideas were in my brain,” McKnight said. “I was like, Okay, here we go. I need to support this.”

She shared the stories on Facebook too, and started getting private messages in her inbox from strangers about what abusers had done to them.

That was in mid-July.

Since then, more than 50 survivors in the Greensboro area have shared more than 100 stories on various social media platforms, and at one point, publicly released a list of more than a dozen abusers in the Triad. Individuals, as well as bars and restaurants where accused perpetrators allegedly victimized women, have been called out.

A newly formed group called the NC Safety Alliance is collecting survivors’ stories and navigating the prospect of accountability, what it would look like for a community dealing with sexual assault.

The alliance continues to operate in the same space the movement started: on Instagram. The Greensboro account has more than 1,300 followers and has inspired offshoots in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Durham, Asheville, Wilmington, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. The Greensboro and Raleigh accounts have the largest followings, but all eight follow a similar model: sharing anonymous stories on their profiles and listing demands for accountability from bar and restaurant business owners.

The problem of sexual violence, it’s clear, isn’t confined to a singular place. And often, the movement starts with just one person sharing their story.

Personal trauma spawns a reckoning in Greensboro

After McKnight shared those first stories on Facebook, her friend Alexa Feldman reached out to her in a private message.

“Has Lorenzo ever made you feel unsafe?” she asked.

McKnight immediately knew who Feldman was talking about and began recalling the details of her past relationship with Lorenzo Hall. He was a musician, a bartender in a local restaurant, and she knew that some other friends had been involved with him, too. She then looked back on her interactions with Hall and in hindsight recognized a number of red flags from her time with him. She reached back out to Feldman, and they shared their experiences.

McKnight met Lorenzo Hall around 2009, when she was 22 years old. She was close to graduating from UNCG and encountered Hall at College Hill Sundries, where she went to hang out with friends and drink.

“I remember he was either chasing me or he would come find me,” McKnight said. “If I left the bar, I would get messages from him at like 3 or 4 a.m. like, ‘Where did you go?’”

Eventually, she started a casual on-and-off sexual relationship with him; she would often go to his apartment nearby after they left the bar. The encounters were exclusively at night and never developed into a relationship. In 2012, McKnight left for graduate school in California, returning to Greensboro five years later. In 2017, she said, she did not want Hall to know she was back.

“That told me that my instinct about the sexual relationship that we had before was not good,” she said. “I didn’t know how to articulate that. I knew this wasn’t good for me.”

Despite the fact that she kept a distance from her old friends in the bar scene, Hall soon found out that McKnight was back in Greensboro and messaged her. She ignored him at first but eventually gave in and started seeing him again. But this time it was different than before, she said.

“Because I had matured more,” McKnight said. “I had been assaulted a couple of times in California, I could sense when things were off. Lorenzo had a big penis, so often times when we had sex it hurt. I remember trying to tell him to stop and pushing him away and he wouldn’t heed that. He would push my hands away or he would push forward.”

McKnight also recalled asking Hall to change positions because she was in pain but said he didn’t listen to her.

“I didn’t remember it being that aggressive before,” she said. “I remember feeling scared in that moment. And when I get scared, sometimes I hunker down for fear of more retaliation.”

In 2012, the US Justice Department updated its definition of rape: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The department’s definition also clarifies that “physical resistance is not required on the part of the victim to demonstrate lack of consent.”

McKnight realized she had been raped by Hall, but said she hadn’t known it until her conversation with Feldman.

She said she never confronted Hall about their interactions until recently, when dozens of other allegations against him surfaced on Instagram. One of those stories came from Alexa Feldman.

Feldman said she met Hall around the same time that McKnight did in 2008. She was 19 at the time and connected with Hall through her then boyfriend, who was a musician. Feldman said Hall paid a lot of attention to her after they met, despite the fact that he knew she had a boyfriend, and would often share personal details about his life.

“He’s such a charming person and everyone thought he was a cool guy, so I didn’t have a reason to not be friends with him,” Feldman said. “He tried to make me feel like we were really close. I think he made everyone feel like that.”

They eventually started hanging out one-on-one as friends when Hall confessed that he had feelings for her.

“He said he wished my boyfriend wasn’t around,” Feldman said.

On her 21st birthday, Hall took her out to a field near the Westerwood neighborhood and kissed her. After that they started secretly seeing each other and having sex. When her boyfriend found out shortly after, Feldman broke things off with Hall. She told him she wasn’t going to have sex with him anymore but still saw him at parties and around town. A few years later, in 2014, after a breakup with her most recent boyfriend, Hall messaged her a few times. She didn’t respond. But on one particularly emotionally difficult night, Feldman reached out to Hall as a friend.

“I was feeling really alone and sad and I told him I just wanted some company,” she said. “I asked him if he wanted to come over and watch a movie.”

Hall arrived at the house where Feldman was living off Friendly Avenue and they went into her bedroom to watch the movie on Hall’s iPad.

“At first everything seemed cool and normal,” she said. “I said, ‘Hey thanks for coming over here. I’ve been really sad with my breakup.’”

When she went to start the movie, Feldman said Hall started grabbing her.

“I told him, ‘I’m not trying to do that,’” she said. “But he said, ‘What did you think was going to happen if you invited me over this late?’”

Although she expressed that she didn’t want to have sex, Feldman said Hall held her down and forced himself into her. She said he was strong, and she couldn’t fight him off. When he finished, he left the house. Afterwards, she confronted Hall on Facebook Messenger and told him that he had raped her. A few days later, Hall admitted to assaulting Feldman in his response.

“I’m sorry I wronged you,” he wrote. “I will accept responsibility for pursuing it after you said no. And making you do something you didn’t plan to do…. I’m sorry for coercing you into having sex….”

The series of text exchanges between Feldman and Hall after the assault. (courtesy photos)

For the next few years, Feldman would continue to see Hall in bars, but said she no longer felt comfortable in Greensboro. She moved to New York in 2017. Two years later, she moved back to North Carolina.

“I didn’t know what to do because this person was my friend,” Feldman explained. “I thought that maybe it was my fault…. I had a lot of guilt about this.”

After Feldman and McKnight shared their stories about Hall, they found others who had also been assaulted by him. According to the two survivors, more than a dozen individuals have reached out to them with their own sexual assault or harassment stories involving Hall.

Despite admitting to the assault shortly after it happened, when Feldman shared her story publicly on Instagram a few weeks ago, Hall reached out to her again, asking her why she was accusing him of sexual assault.

“So, you’re accusing me of sexual misconduct online?” Hall wrote in a July 12 text to Feldman. “I don’t understand where that’s coming from. I definitely don’t appreciate it. If you want to clarify why you would say that, I would love to listen.”

Reached by phone, Hall told TCB he didn’t think it was “wise” to comment for this story.

For a while, Feldman and McKnight considered taking their accounts to the police but decided they didn’t want to have the legal system involved. Instead, they chose to pursue accountability in their own way.

“We just don’t believe in the prison system or the legal system, especially with sexual violence,” McKnight said. “And we don’t see pressing charges [as] healing anyone or anything.”

How a network of survivors was born

On July 12, Feldman shared details of her assault on an Instagram story, speaking out publicly for the first time. That set off a chain reaction: messages started pouring into her inbox from individuals with similar stories about Hall and others in the Greensboro community who they said had assaulted them. While Hall is the only individual named for this story, dozens of abusers have been called out by the Greensboro community including men, women and gender-nonconforming individuals of all races, sex and ages. The survivors also range in demographics.

After sharing anonymous accounts from other survivors on their personal Instagram profiles, McKnight and Feldman found that the volume of stories was too much for either of them to handle individually. They grew anxious reading other survivors’ traumas while figuring out how to navigate their own, all while coping with the pandemic.

“The quickness with which it all spread and burst open really ignited our fire and was like, Holy shit, this is so huge,” McKnight said. “This is way bigger than we could have ever imagined.”

Mutual friends noticed the work that they were doing and decided a single account focused on sexual assault in Greensboro would be more efficient, alleviating some work from Feldman and McKnight. That’s when the NC Safety Alliance was born.

A member of the Greensboro alliance reached out to an employee with the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or NC CASA, and found that other cities were looking to do something similar as well. The Raleigh chapter formed at almost the same time as Greensboro’s.

Now, the organizers of each safety alliance all communicate in a group chat to ask each other questions about how to navigate posting the stories and how to help survivors. The alliance has come up with a list of resources for survivors, and they have a standard Google Form which individuals can use to submit their accounts. They keep the stories for 48 hours to allow those who submit to change their mind if they want, and then they post the stories on the Instagram feed. Some alliance branches post pictures of the accused while others choose to only name them.

For Feldman and McKnight, they said that naming Hall as well as others was difficult and scary at first but ultimately said that they did it to keep the community safe.

“We were threatened lots,” McKnight said. “But we thought it was most important to alert the community of these names.”

And when they are threatened, they try to talk to those who are angry and try to explain their goal and why they are sharing the stories.

The organizers of the alliances also believe that their submission process eliminates those who might try to submit a false report.

The Google Form asks individuals to create a personal passcode if they need to reassess their story or make changes. It also includes a legal disclaimer letting people know that if they choose to seek legal action against their abusers, their stories may be used as evidence. The guidelines for submitting also urge individuals to “tell the truth to the best of their ability,” that “all stories must be firsthand accounts,” and to “avoid exaggeration, hyperbole and speculation.”

An organizer for the safety alliance in Raleigh, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there are four individuals working together on their account and that they are hoping to form a nonprofit. That way, they said, they can raise funds for survivors and provide legal counsel for those individuals who wish to pursue charges against their abusers. Funds could also be used to help survivors relocate out of an abusive home or leave a dangerous job. The Raleigh alliance also wants to have legal backing if any individuals who are accused decide to press charges against the alliance, which almost happened a few weeks ago in Raleigh.

Like in Greensboro, after the Raleigh Instagram account was started, dozens of individuals started sharing their accounts of sexual assault. Many of the individuals named the same abuser and after sharing their accounts, the alliance received a cease-and-desist from the abuser’s lawyer. The lawyer said the published accounts damaged the individual’s reputation and that it was causing him financial stress. A lawyer for the alliance said that they didn’t have a case, but that a countersuit would likely be extremely costly. In the end, the accused dropped the cease and desist.

When that happened, the Raleigh organizer said they didn’t initially know what to do. They work as a bartender by trade and most of the other organizers are also survivors of sexual assault who started advocating for others based on their own experiences. None of them are legal experts who have experience dealing with sexual-assault allegations. But that’s the norm, said Monika Johnson-Hostler, the executive director of NC CASA.

“I would tell you that 99 percent of people who do this type of work are survivors,” Johnson-Hostler said. “The movement of any injustices generally starts with people who are most affected by it.”

The organizer of the Charlotte alliance, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is also a sexual-assault survivor who started working as the sole individual behind the Charlotte account about a week ago. As the only person for the Charlotte area, the organizer said they get overwhelmed with stories but that the organizers of the other alliances check in regularly, reminding them to take breaks if they need to.

“There’s so much guidance,” the Charlotte organizer told TCB. “It already feels like a friendship.”

Most of the organizers of the alliances didn’t know each other before starting the work. Almost all identify as women, and have developed close relationships with each other through constant communication. They try to track the movements of the accused perpetrators and give each other a heads up when it seems like one might be coming to their city. The Charlotte organizer told TCB they have gotten dozens of stories since they started their accounts. They range from one-time assaults to habitual emotional or physical abuse by partners.

Most are stories from the past, but that’s understandable, said the Charlotte organizer.

“That trauma doesn’t just go away,” they said. “It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend. It still hurts. The way we navigate through society becomes different as a result of our of sexual assault.”

Often times, reading other people’s accounts brings up personal trauma for the organizers, which can be emotionally distressing.

“I sit here, and I just want to hug these people,” the Charlotte organizer said. “It’s terrible. It does bring up those memories again, but knowing that I’m helping them, it’s made everything fine. It’s been hard but sometimes we’re the only outlet that these survivors have.”

According to data by the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police. For those who did not report, 20 percent said they chose not to go to the police because of fear of retaliation and 13 percent said it was because they didn’t believe the police would do anything to help.

An infographic from RAINN.

Feldman said after she was raped by Hall, she and one of the other survivors tried to tell others in her community, including some of his friends. They asked for support but because Hall was so beloved, people didn’t take them seriously, she said.

Many of the assaults they’re speaking out about took place before the #MeToo movement, when conversations about consent weren’t as commonplace. Survivors said they didn’t know how or who to tell their stories to — until now.

“This is some of the most gratifying work I’ve ever done,” Feldman said. “To see that other people are feeling the same way and being able to say my name and his name…. It’s the scariest shit I’ve ever done, but it was so freeing…. Once something’s come out, I don’t hold back. It’s like a fucking fire, there is no way we could have done it without this group of people around us.”

The role bars, restaurants and colleges play

In addition to naming individuals on social media, Greensboro’s safety alliance has also been vocal about calling on bars and restaurants to hold them accountable for their roles in perpetuating rape culture. In Greensboro, College Hill Sundries and M’Coul’s Public House have been named repeatedly. The first is a divey bar on the outskirts of the UNCG campus in the Westerwood neighborhood, while the other, an Irish pub, has been a community staple in the heart of downtown for more than a decade.

“At this point, it has to be the establishments, too,” Feldman said. “They can’t just cop out.”

The alliance’s argument for calling out these establishments, they say, is that they either have a history of overserving their customers, of having employed abusers or creating a culture in which sexual assault and harassment were allowed to thrive.

M’Coul’s, which has long billed itself as a family-friendly pub, formerly employed Hall and hosted multiple service-industry parties called “Bang Nights” in which taglines like, “We’re going to bang the everloving shit out of you,” were printed on flyers posted on their social media accounts. During Bang Nights, which took place between August and December 2018, menus featuring cocktails named things like “money shot,” “golden shower” and “pull-out method” were served. Feldman and McKnight said they have called on M’Coul’s management and ownership to explain why they hosted the events and to comment on Hall’s status at the restaurant.

Screenshots taken from M’Coul’s various social media platforms advertising Bang Night. Hall is pictured in all of the posts.

Simonne Ritchy, the owner of M’Coul’s, told TCB that Hall no longer works at M’Coul’s and hasn’t worked there for months. She said she couldn’t say why he was fired, and also said that Hall never worked a Bang Night. She added that she stopped the events as soon as she found out how “entirely off-brand” the events were.

Despite Ritchy’s claim that Hall never worked during the Bang Nights, at least one former customer told TCB that they saw Hall serving customers drinks before the events.

“I didn’t know if he was on the clock or off the clock, but I saw him with trays at different points of the night giving out shots to people,” said Kierra Lang, a former M’Coul’s customer.

Lang said they would visit M’Coul’s around 5 or 6 p.m., a few hours before Bang Night officially started, and would stay until about 9 p.m. The entire time she was at the pub, she said she would see Hall, in addition to the bartenders, going around giving drinks to people.

“At least once an hour I would see employees or Lorenzo passing out drinks,” Lang said.

In late August, the safety alliance called for a boycott of the establishment.

“We reached out to them privately at first,” McKnight said. “It wasn’t out the gate. This is our community; we’re not trying to rip it apart.”

They said that they haven’t heard back from anyone at M’Coul’s about their questions and demands.

“We’re not looking for everyone to say they’re perfect,” Feldman said. “Clearly this is an issue across all restaurants. We’re not looking to point fingers, but you gave him a platform. You have more responsibility than you’re letting on.”

UPDATED on Sept. 21: On Sept. 18, M’Coul’s posted a statement on their Instagram addressing the organizers’ and survivors’ concerns.

“We recognize that as a member of this community we have a responsibility to respond to your concerns regarding our business,” they wrote. “First, we want to apologize that we have not taken a public stance on this matter until today. It was not our intention to cause any added distress as a result of our silence. To the survivors, please know that we see you and we hear you. We want to be clear that we believe all survivors, period. In recent weeks, we have made major staff changes, including building a new management team consisting entirely of survivors, and we want to affirm that M’Coul’s is 100% committed to ensuring that our space is safe and healthy for all. We cherish our place in this community and will continue to do what we can to promote its growth and healing.”

In the comments, the individual manning the establishment’s account clarified their statement further after being asked specifically about the “Bang Nights” and what they are doing as a business to reform themselves.

“‘Bang Night’ was a late night event that was hosted by M’Coul’s for roughly four months, two years ago,” they wrote. “It is our promise to you that nothing will be hosted at or by M’Coul’s that supports that message ever again. Furthermore, all former employees that hosted that event are no longer employed by us. We are absolutely open to doing the training for our bar staff that you suggested, and will be looking into doing so.”

Find the full statement by M’Coul’s here.

Feldman and McKnight expressed mixed feelings about the response.

“Personally I don’t think it’s genuine,” McKnight said. “And I don’t like that I don’t know who’s speaking so I still have questions. But it’s a great step in the right direction. We need them to take more initiative in seeking out training resources that we provided. We need action steps now. Not just words. So we plan to follow up and check in. I’m glad they are opening up to us but inside I’m still broken from the EXTREME amount of work it took to get a poor statement.”

Feldman said she appreciated the response but said that she didn’t think the restaurant would have spoken out at all had it not been for the article and for the safety alliance’s work.

“This is why we are calling on community support,” Feldman said. “We were met with silence and even discredited by them until this article and the cries of the community finally broke through to them.”

“It’s a step in a long ongoing process,” McKnight added.

Feldman and McKnight said that College Hill, which has been closed since coronavirus took hold in the spring, also needs to be held accountable

“College Hill was a breeding ground for this behavior because of the bending of the rules,” McKnight said. “You could overdrink very cheaply; you could misbehave. I fell on my ass multiple times there. I know that there were drug deals there, multiple people doing cocaine in the bathrooms.

Interior of College Hill Sundries (file photo)

“I personally always felt supported at College Hill, but I don’t think that was always the case for everyone,” Feldman added. “I witnessed underage drinking when I was younger. I know they started taking it more seriously, but I definitely think that the bartenders overserved in order to get more tips, and that’s common for many bars. I’m not just putting that on College Hill, but because they’re in that central spot, they are right next to campus, I believe they have more of a responsibility to make sure these young people are able to navigate these spaces they’ve never been in.

“It’s not like we have a vendetta and we’re like ‘I hate this place,’” Feldman continued. “No, that was our bar. I’m even hesitant now because I have such a connection with the bar but that’s the reason why we care so much. We’re trying to make these places understand how they can be more safe.”

Feldman and McKnight say the bar’s proximity to UNCG’s campus makes it easy for college-aged kids to get drunk and become vulnerable to predators. Both of them said that the bar had achieved a level of status in the community as the cool dive bar, where everyone went to hang out late into the night.

While the owner of College Hill, Jason Paul, declined to comment for this piece, employees of the bar posted in a College Hill Facebook group in mid-July addressing community concerns.

“I appreciate folks reaching out,” wrote Pam Cooper, a longtime employee, in a post. “We are not dismissing any of you and we are listening. We want to help, want everyone to feel safe. Thought we’ve tried to provide a safe environment; we know we can do more.”

In another post from July 15, Cooper posted about the possibility of a community forum for individuals to express their concerns to management. No such event has taken place so far.

“They are refusing to speak on the safety of their patrons because they don’t want to lose future business,” McKnight said. “It’s holding people accountable…. I think people can have a viewpoint that we’re attacking these establishments. No, we just want people to be safe and we want to educate our community on what’s going on.”

For Feldman and McKnight, accountability from establishments looks like managers and owners admitting what has taken place in their businesses in the past and promising to correct those behaviors in the future.

After tagging multiple businesses in their posts, regardless of whether they were involved with abusers or not, some owners and managers began to respond.

Jake Skinner, the manager of 1618 Downtown said that after the business was tagged in a post, he reached out to the organizers and asked them what they wanted.

“I felt the requests were pretty straightforward,” he said. “They just wanted businesses to acknowledge that this culture exists, and to make sure this doesn’t happen in their establishment.”

Skinner said that he had a past instance in which one former employee sexually harassed another employee four years ago. Neither of the employees currently work for 1618, and according to Skinner, the company is involved in a lawsuit with the survivor.

It was after the incident that the business started to require sexual harassment training for all staff. Skinner said management is also organizing a training from an alcohol-safety instructor and try to use employee reviews as spaces for employees to speak up about problems they are experiencing.

“If you work in this industry for a long period of time, you kind of see just how awful people can be,” Skinner said. “A lot of it can be boiled down to restaurant and service-industry culture as a whole.”

Another establishment that was tagged in the Greensboro Safety Alliance’s posts was New York Pizza on Tate Street. The restaurant’s new owner, Jessica Gramisci, said she reached out to the alliance’s Instagram immediately after she saw that her business had been tagged. Gramisci said she and her husband, took over the business in May and renovated the interior. She said she wants the business to return to being more of a family-oriented restaurant. Her husband owned the restaurant from 2000 to 2015, and they rebought it when it went up for sale a few months ago.

“We’re going to make it the New York Pizza that is used to be, a family restaurant with a bar,” Gramisci told TCB. “We want people to come here…. We want people from UNCG to be able to come and walk in and do homework here.”

She said in order to achieve their new aesthetic, they are doing away with the late-night loud live music and only have sets featuring live jazz or solo guitar.

She said that the establishment has at least two cameras trained on the bar at all times, and maintains strict policies on overserving and training for bartenders.

“I feel like I would like my daughter when she is of age to go to a bar and be safe,” Gramisci said. “I prefer to feel the same way here. Like you can have your drink and go to the bathroom and you’ll come back and your drink will be there untouched.”

McKnight and Feldman said they’re happy with the responses they’ve gotten from 1618 and New York Pizza and want others to follow suit.

“With 1618, I would say that it’s because they have been through this before, it shows they learned this lesson,” McKnight said.

“It shows that they learned that, and are open to taking on other things that we suggest, which we think is a really good teachable lesson,” Feldman added. “We all need to learn from these mistakes and learn from them and grow from them together.”

“It kind of showed me how easy it can be,” McKnight said specifically of Gramisci’s response. “As someone brought it to their attention, they were like, ‘Of course, we totally don’t condone that behavior.’ So why would other places resist?”

Monika Johnson-Hostler said NC CASA has been doing work with bars and restaurants to try to keep people safe for years.

“We’ve had a lot of communities ask for bar-and-restaurant training,” she said. “Many are college towns. We know that where there are college campuses, there are bars. A lot of the training was with bartenders like how to pay attention to people at the bar.”

She said things to look out for was multiple drinks being bought for the same person. She also said she wants bartenders to be active bystanders in situations of sexual harassment.

“Bartenders see everything,” she said. “They have relationships with the patrons…. It’s not just rapists who change the culture. The people who assault are able to do so because the culture allows them to do that. Being a bystander means, ‘I’m going to tell my manager.’”

The safety alliance organizer in Raleigh has worked as a bartender for more than a decade and said the nature of the job breeds a culture of drinking and drugs.

“Our schedules dictate our entire lives,” they said. “When we go into work, it’s daylight and when we get off work it’s nighttime. We can’t run errands, the only option left for us is the last hour at the bar to blow off steam from a high-pressure night. These instances lead to late-night parties and access to alcohol and drugs because the culture itself provides that. There’s not a lot of room for anything else.”

They said increased mental-health counseling and work-related healthcare might solve some of the problems.

“There’s no substance-abuse counseling,” they said. “Relationships are isolated. Families never see us.… It becomes a breeding ground — like if you’re going to socialize, you’re going to be around alcohol and drugs. Our livelihood revolves around that.”

In order to make sure patrons stay safe in their establishment, the Raleigh organizer said they try to stay hypervigilant when on the clock by watching patrons closely.

“I think there’s a huge responsibility on behalf of bartenders to take care of people who are becoming inebriated,” they said. “But I think it’s problematic because we don’t have the resources to deal with that.”

Having clear protocols and rules in place at businesses is a good start, they said.

“Get rid of problematic people in your system, and enact direct steps in a handbook so your staff knows what to do,” they said.

What does accountability look like?

In addition to calling out establishments, Feldman and McKnight said they want to hear from the abusers themselves. Rather than going to the police, which they don’t believe to be productive, they want to engage in community accountability so individuals can change for the better. That’s different from how rape and sexual assault has been treated traditionally. But with national calls to defund the police and the country’s massive state of incarceration, Feldman and McKnight said they don’t want to participate in that system.

“I don’t think that healing happens in prison,” McKnight said.

“There’s no transformation,” Feldman added. “It’s not transformative justice. I just don’t think that a court telling this man that he committed a crime is going to change his mind. In our case with Lorenzo, we have multiple accounts against him.”

Feldman also pointed out the fact that despite having admitted to assaulting her after it happened, Hall recently acted confused when Feldman shared her story publicly.

“He’s basically saying he has no idea why I would be accusing him of sexual misconduct,” Feldman said. “He’s trying to deny what happened. This is how these abusers gaslight their survivors into invalidating their own experiences, which is why it takes so long for survivors to come forward sometimes. He thinks he can manipulate me into thinking that I didn’t accuse him…. Also he didn’t really apologize and he continued to rape my friends for years afterwards.”

Both survivors say they want Hall to admit what he did to all of his survivors, and seek help like mental-health counseling.

Even though they don’t believe in going to the police, they don’t want to keep other survivors from reporting their assaults to the police, they said.

“It’s personal to each survivor,” Feldman said. “We don’t want to invalidate different things. We just want to show that there can be a different way…. We don’t know what this looks like without police, but we’re doing our best to keep people safe. We want him to actively engage in some sort of work that’s going to transform him and keep him away from people he’s hurt.”

Feldman and McKnight said they also want Hall’s friends to understand what he did to them and to speak out against it. They want his friends to analyze their own behaviors and to think about the ways they might have harmed others.

“We need them as men to do work to stay on him,” McKnight said. “We’re seeing that none of them understand what that means, or they’re abusers themselves.”

“This shouldn’t fall on us,” Feldman added. “We’re living with this trauma. I get that they don’t know what to do. This will be setting some sort of precedent for community work.”

Johnson-Hostler with NC CASA added that change happens at the individual level and that it’s up to every person to call out when they see something wrong.

“Making sure friends aren’t using rape at the end of a joke,” Johnson-Hostler said. “Or using language that doesn’t hypersexualize girls. Those are all ways in which individuals should be engaging in speaking up.”

She also said individuals can create change in their immediate sphere of influence, whether in families, at work or in social networks.

“The large part about this is that sexual violence has been perpetrated in this country for centuries because we don’t talk about it,” Johnson-Hostler said. “Silence perpetuates violence.”

For Feldman and McKnight, staying silent is no longer an option.

“All it takes is one person saying something, and it opens a floodgate,” Feldman said. “We’ve just heard the tip of the iceberg, and I’m sure there’s just so much more to uncover.”

To learn more about NC Safety Alliance Greensboro, follow their Instagram at @ncsafetyalliance_gso.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡