The Mr. Roboto Project, a cooperatively run, alcohol-free all ages music and arts venue in Garfield, prides itself on being a “safer space.”
According to the Roboto website, “racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or any other types of oppressive language are considered inappropriate and are not tolerated. Roboto is meant to be a safe, respectful, welcoming space for everyone.”
So when the Roboto board began to review the results of a recent survey of members, they were dismayed to hear that many people did not feel safe there. According to board member Livy Ciotoli, some members said people who had sexually assaulted them or their friends were regularly attending shows, and in some cases were “glorified” by the larger Roboto community.
When discussing how to address the issue, Ciotoli said the first priority was to provide resources and education to victims of sexual assault and to those interested in preventing sexual assault in their community.
“We just wanted to help out people that have been victims of this … and help the community deal with it,” Ciotoli said. “It’s a huge problem that kind of gets swept under the rug, and we don’t want to do that anymore.”
Starting Sunday, Roboto will host a four week series of workshops by Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, or PAAR.
“We want to create an environment where victims are believed and they feel supported, because those steps can determine the potential course of action a victim may take,” said PAAR Executive Director Alison Hall.
The sessions will provide information about what constitutes sexual assault, from unwelcome touching to intimate partner violence to rape. They will also provide resources for survivors of sexual assault and information on how members of a community can create an atmosphere that discourages such behavior.
“And also how to support your friend or your colleague or anybody else that comes forward and tells you that (they were sexually assaulted),” Hall said.
Board member Laura Krizner said the problem is not unique to Roboto, and that American society at large normalizes sexual violence against women, a phenomenon feminist theorists refer to as “rape culture.” She said Roboto members want to see their space reflect their morals, so it’s a question they must wrestle with.
“How does an organization properly respond to rape allegations and potential rapists coming into the space?” Krizner asked.
Krizner said in an ideal world, the victims of sexual assault would feel supported by the community while the perpetrators would feel uncomfortable. The PAAR workshops are the first step to making that ideal a reality at Roboto.
The free workshops run from 1-2:30 p.m. for four consecutive Sundays beginning April 12. People who are interested are encouraged to attend all four workshops, but organizers say those who attend fewer will still get something out of them.