Content Warning(s): Rape, Pedophilia, Victim-blaming, Rape culture.
Please note that this post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you.
Submitted to the CSSN for publication:
If you live in or near the state of Ohio, you may have heard about the arrest of a former convention chair for sexually assaulting a fourteen year old girl at a convention in the state of Virginia. Many people were horrified to see his face on the sex offender registry, but far, far too many were unsurprised and especially angry that it took over ten years to convict him.
Since founding Anime Punch (AP) in 2005, Michael Beuerlein became the perfect example of a "missing stair" in the Ohio anime community. From Wikipedia, "'missing stair' is a term used to describe a sexual predator who many people know cannot be trusted, but who, rather than shunning, they work around by trying to quietly warn others. The analogy is to a structural fault in a house, such as a missing stair, that everyone who lives in the house has gotten used to and warns newcomers about, rather than fixing."
Almost everyone knew of his proclivity for "dating" girls barely at the age of consent; he was even nicknamed "Pedo Mike." The longer he was active at conventions in the tri-state area, the more people came forward with interactions ranging from making them uncomfortable to outright violent assault.
It became an open secret that something was off with Beuerlein. Either the man was the victim of an intense, unorganized, and decade-long smear campaign by dozens of unrelated women, or he was preying on young convention attendees, aided by his position of power at the con. Despite the consistent, troubling stories from women who had never spoken to each other, nothing happened. Often, when victims came forward, they were not believed by the community.
It seems hard to understand, from the outside, that anyone could have a nickname like "Pedo Mike," and so many accusations from so many different people, yet still manage to be deeply involved with a con community for over ten years. But the convention community who knew of him were completely unsurprised.
The email sent by an AP staffer to their mailing list after the news broke reveals the culture that protected a predator and prevented his victims from coming forward:
"Some of you are going to hear around that Michael has been added to the sex offender list. He recently pleaded to a misdemeanor charge to due an incident while he was working with *******" [Editor's Note: This is a dealer he was working for, not the victim or location of the event.]
Obviously this is going to cause a lot of strife and a lot of people who like to drag our name through the mud taking this as an opportunity to drag our name through the mud. As per usual with this stuff, we stick to the facts. No, we don't go around advertising this fact, but it is also public knowledge that anyone can see. So its [sic] not worth (nor would we) bother denying it.
Obviously this is a hot button issue that is going to not sit comfortably with some of you. That is understandable. If you want more of the story, I suggest reaching out to Michael directly. It is not my place to share the details of what happened. For what it's worth, it is only a misdemeanor charge and the courts are only placing his name on the registry for a year. Also, people who know me know I've long since been a strong opponent of sex related crimes. I've had members of this organization fired over sexually harassing people. Also for what it's worth and for what I know of the situation, I'm not endorsing the same thing happen to Michael. Still I understand that the nature of the crime will make some people feel uncomfortable.
If you don't feel comfortable talking to Michael, you're welcome to reach out to me, however I can't disclose more details of the incident as it is unfair to him as a person. Still, I'm happy to discuss any concerns you may have or just talk in general.
As a complete aside, you can probably imagine he could use friends right now and understandably his nerves may be more on edge than usual. So please try to understand if you do end up talking to him in the near future."
The above message is not endorsed by Anime Punch, and they stated that they are officially disbanded. There was even a follow-up email from this person that backtracked a good deal.
This is a message that someone felt completely comfortable sending to their entire mailing list immediately following the conviction. This staffer felt secure that it was reasonable to support Michael, who might be "on edge" after pleading guilty to sexual battery; that is was business as usual, not a big deal, nothing about the victim. There was no concern that other people (who might have even been recipients of that email) may have been assaulted and in need of support. The writer dismisses the event as though the crime were still in question, even stating that they've fired other people for sexual harassment. Not even legal conviction and sex offender registry are enough to convince them that Michael is guilty.
That culture enabled Michael to continue preying on the community for as long as he did. People still don't believe that this happened; or if it did happen, it must have been exaggerated, and still isn't reason enough to cut ties with him.
For a young person in the convention scene, making an accusation was getting the attention of people like this writer, who believed Michael can do no wrong. The con scene and its ugly twin, internet callout culture, can be cruel: digging up someone's every embarrassing moment, every mistake, and displaying them for public ridicule all in defense of their assaulter. Even if the victim was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the assault had occurred, the secondary trauma of public humiliation and ostracization may not be worth it. There is so little to gain by making public one's traumatic and personal experience.
This is why survivors need support. Survivors need to be respected. Survivors need to be able to trust the people at the top of an organization.
There are more than enough people who will question a survivor and their story. [Editor's Note: This is part of why our core message at CSSN is "We Believe You."] If charges are pressed, there are trained professionals who will handle finding the truth of a matter. As far as our society is concerned, survivors are presumed guilty of making a false accusation, and must publicly prove their innocence. While a survivor is fighting stacked odds and being called a "liar," our culture pretends it's all about "fairness" and "innocent until proven guilty." The accused is rarely scrutinized so strictly.
If you don't believe someone, you don't need to do anything. You don't need to publicly support or denounce them. Your opinion on the truthfulness of a situation you weren't there for is largely irrelevant and does not need to be expressed. If you speak out incorrectly declaring the accuser to be lying, you've contributed to the secondary trauma of someone who has already suffered. And if you're right, what do you get? A smug satisfaction of "I-told-you-so?"
We need to be willing to listen and believe survivors. We need to create a culture wherein they aren't afraid to come forward with their stories right after an attack happens, rather than years down the line after the assaulter is convicted for hurting someone else.
It's so hard to reconcile that someone who is charming, kind, and respectful to you can be an utter monster to someone else. You may believe there's some kind of mistake or that the person speaking out is lying. Even when it happens to you, it's easier to blame yourself and not to come forward, to let things go on as they always have. It's no wonder it took years of this predator victimizing young people for someone to have the courage to pursue legal consequence.
When we support survivors who speak out, we prevent more victims.
I have sympathy for those in this community who honestly didn't know what was going on at the top levels. Many attendees never interacted with Beuerlein, and only knew Anime Punch as a casual, fun party without restrictions. They deserve a community that will not only provide a great time, but a safe time. They should be able to trust their event leaders to listen and believe them if they are hurt at an event. I hope, after Anime Punch's disbanding, the community is able to heal and rebuild themselves to be stronger and safer.
We can do better. We must do better.
I'll close with the official final statement from Anime Punch.
"Anime Punch is ceasing operations. The unacceptable behavior from the top of the organization has lead to this decision from the staff. There is no excusing what has happened. Anime Punch's mission was to bring together fans to share our passion in a fun and inclusive environment. We hope everyone we've met over the years has had fun with us. However, we have failed to provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.
Many of our staff still believe in the original mission and continue to be passionate about fandom. They may still be part of the community, attend conventions, blog, throw parties, host panels; it is their choice whatever they choose to do. Several events and projects over the years arose out of individual passion and commitment. If any of these continue it will not be in any way related to Anime Punch. As of now there is no Anime Punch."
More information and many personal accounts of survivors can be found here. Please note some of the accounts may be difficult to read.
If you wish to submit a story to the CSSN for publication, please contact our editor-in-chief at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can do this anonymously and your identity will be protected.