Why I Define My Experience At the Monastic Academy As Sexual Assault
Trigger Warning: This post includes highly triggering details of sexual assault.
***The views expressed here are my own. Hereafter any italics used will indicate that I am quoting another person or source. ***
In December 2021 I published an OPEN LETTER TO THE MONASTIC ACADEMY detailing experiences I had at the Monastic Academy’s (MA) California branch OAK. One of these experiences was a sexual assault, though this was not the sole or even the primary focus of my letter — which was to focus on the MA’s response to the incident; to offer my critiques and feedback on the MA’s programs, structures, practices, and policies; and to express my concern for the safety and wellbeing of current and prospective participants in the MA’s training program. I’d like to follow up on this aspect of my experience, and in particular why I do consider it to have been sexual assault, which is the purpose of this post. This post here will highlight aspects of relevant state and federal laws as well as aspects of my own personal experience so that readers can better understand both the definitions and laws that exist regarding sexual assault and my view of the incident in November of 2020.
This post was written in response to Alex Flint’s post: “Gracefully Correcting Uncalibrated Shame” which I believe to be relevant since it is written in response to my open letter. Alex writes that after speaking to various “spiritual teachers” [none of whom have expertise in understanding sexual violence] he “has concluded that sexual assault is a completely inappropriate way to describe it” and that he believes what I have written about the MA to be “straightforward mischaracterizations.” Notably, Soryu Forall seems to be Alex’s primary source of guidance on this matter. Alex describes Soryu as “shockingly clear in his discernment” [regarding the matter of whether or not Alex is guilty of sexual assault]. In Alex’s post, it seems like Soryu is actively supporting Alex’s denial of responsibility for his actions and his impact. Soryu has direct and obvious conflicts of interest such as himself being directly involved in the covering up of this incident whether intentionally or as a result of negligence — and therefore could directly benefit from Alex’s denial and defense of the MA. It is therefore inappropriate for Soryu to advise Alex on these matters and if Alex were engaged in truth-seeking and understanding the impact of his actions he would be seeking advisement from someone who is not directly involved in the situations and whose expertise lies in the area of sexual violence rather than meditation or spiritual counseling.
The following passage from my open letter describes the incident:
“…later while walking along a beach in Santa Cruz, he asked me spontaneously to go swimming. After which we laid on the beach. Without any conversation about consent, without any kissing or foreplay, or any previous sexual engagement, and despite the boundaries previously stated [that we would not engage in any kind of sexual or romantic activity]; he then jumped on top of me and entered my body. This encounter was over before I could even react. I did NOT have an opportunity to make a choice and I did NOT give my consent.”
It is important to note that the definitions and laws surrounding sexual assault and consent vary widely from state to state and that different sources define rape and sexual assault differently. This can make defining sexual assault and rape even more confusing. Understanding state and federal laws and definitions regarding sexual assault, rape, and consent was an important part of understanding my own experience. While legal definitions and laws are important they often cannot and do not adequately capture the sense of violation, the betrayal of trust, and the damage that is done to victims of sexual assault; or the complex circumstances, cultural attitudes, lack of communication, lack of education and awareness, and toxic environments from which acts of sexual violence often arise. Laws also fail to account for how often sexual violence occurs in the context of relationships with people whom we know, care for, and trust. Statistics about Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics | RAINN.
According to the Office of Women’s Health, “Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact, including rape, that happens without your consent. Sexual assault can also include non-contact activities.
Sexual assault can include:
Any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent
Any type of sexual contact with someone who does not consent
Sexual contact with a child
Fondling or unwanted touching above or under clothes
Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. Not saying “no” does not mean you have given consent. Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault or rape.
Your consent means:
You know and understand what is going on
You know what you want to do.
You are able to say what you want to do or don’t want to do.
You are aware that you are giving consent
Things that are NOT consent:
Having consented to an activity before.
Being in a relationship
Being drunk or high.
Not fighting back.
Sexy clothing, dancing, or flirting.
According to RAINN, California defines “consent” as “positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to the exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved.”
It was clear to me at the time — that I did not “act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved”. Still, it took time for me to process my experience. My feelings were complex due to both my romantic feelings for Alex and the extenuating circumstances. For me, the process of coming to terms with what happened has included many conversations with friends and family, and with other ex-members of the MA (some of whom have also experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct being covered up.), It included conversations with a Zen teacher and abbot of an (actual) Buddhist monastery and a retired sexual harassment lawyer who both work extensively on issues of sexual misconduct in Buddhist spiritual communities. It took many sessions with my therapist and with the bodyworker I see for treatment of cPTSD, and multiple calls to a sexual assault hotline and centers in both Washington State and California where I’ve spoken to multiple sexual assault counselors, and with another lawyer who works on sexual assault and rape cases. These conversations took place immediately after the events, throughout my relationship with Alex, and after our relationship ended. This is what it took for me to feel confident that the term sexual assault (which also includes rape) is an accurate description of what I experienced and is the term I feel most comfortable using to describe my experience, to feel confident that others at the MA may be at risk of being harmed, and to be able to share my overall experience and critiques of the MA (not just the sexual assault) with the public.
I define my experience as sexual assault for the following reasons:
1. A sexual act (physical penetration) occurred without my consent and against my free will. Free will is defined as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion”
2. I did not give Alex verbal consent (permission or agreement) to enter my body or to engage in any sexual activity with me. I also do not think that my actions at the time of the event indicated that I was willing to engage in any sexual acts. I am not aware of having given consent to any sexual activity. The only activities I agreed to engage with Alex in were taking a walk on the beach, conversing, and swimming.
3. I was not aware of Alex’s sexual intentions or the nature of the action until after physical penetration occurred. According to California law both parties must “have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved” in order to consent.
4. When Alex decided he wanted to have sex with me he took no steps to determine affirmative consent or to look for signs that I was willing to engage in a sexual act.
5. I did NOT have an opportunity to decide if I wanted to engage in sexual activity. See the above definitions of consent. The sudden and unexpected nature of the act which lacked any kind of lead up (i.e. verbal sexual context or requests for connection/sexual intimacy, nonverbal body language, or acts such as kissing, caressing, or other forms of foreplay) made it impossible for me to decide if I wanted to have sex.
6. I was not able to communicate my consent or my lack of consent. I could not even say “No” to Alex because I was not aware of Alex’s sexual intentions until after penetration occurred.
7. Being suddenly and unexpectedly penetrated sent me into an immediate state of confusion and shock. This was incapacitating (especially as a survivor of a prior rape). I was unable to respond. My lack of resistance and silence should not be confused with consent. I continued to have difficulty processing and responding to the event in the days and weeks that immediately followed the event (partly because I was not in a safe environment and because I did not have support in processing.)
8. Those were not the conditions, timing, and circumstances under which I would have wanted to engage in sexual contact with Alex. Alex through his impulsiveness, indiscretion and recklessness violated my bodily autonomy and agency by bypassing my right to choose who, when, how, and under what circumstances I was willing to engage in sexual activity.
9. We had discussed our boundaries with each other less than 24 hours prior. This included refraining from all sexual and romantic activity moving forward (we had kissed prior to this) in accordance with the boundaries of the monastic container. I also requested that he seek guidance about our connection from organizational teachers and leaders about the most integral and responsible way to approach this connection before anything else happened between us. What this means is that Alex already knew I did not want to engage in a sexual relationship under these conditions.
Other notable factors:
Alex was in an explicit position of power as Executive Director. As an apprentice of the organization, Alex was basically my boss. Initially, the monastic agreements regarding sexual and romantic relationships and Alex’s position as Executive Director were not known to me until shortly before this incident. His actions were an abuse of power and an abuse of the trust that both I and the organization had given him. As Executive Director he should have upheld the boundaries of the space irrespective of anything I did or did not do. Alex should have exercised greater respect, care, awareness, and understanding regarding both the responsibilities of his role and the profound vulnerability, confusion, and intensity that people often experience during intensive meditative states.
Alex’s choice to pursue sexual activity without my consent put me at the center of an organizational scandal. During which I did not have support, representation, or a voice in any of the conversations happening about the incident. I felt further isolated and blamed within and by the community when I most needed support processing the sexual assault. It is unlikely that I could have clearly articulated a complaint at that time without someone who was highly capable of holding space for emotional processing and trained in handling issues of sexual misconduct walking me through the events. To my knowledge, no such person exists in the CEDAR ecosystem and furthermore, no one bothered to ask me for my account of the incident. The organization intentionally chose to handle the incident in ways that excluded me from participation and that they felt would protect them from liability and disrepute without any regard for how traumatizing their response would be to me (or Alex for that matter.) At the time Alex seemed distraught about his own participation in covering up this incident stating to me that “I and this organization have mistreated you”, at another point suggesting we run away together, and at still another point seeming to resolutely believe that he had no choice in his own participation, that he was doing right by the organization, and that this organization had an undeniable and necessary role in “saving the world” from climate change, AI, and other existential threats. This loss of agency and “ends justify the means” thinking is reflected throughout the Monastic Academy’s history, and is a common feature amongst cults.
In the case that Alex may have assumed my consent, which may or may not be true, it’s important to remember that assumed consent does not equal consent. Under the circumstances, in light of the previously discussed boundaries, and without any verbal or nonverbal indication that I was willing to engage in sexual activity I do not think it was reasonable for Alex to assume my consent.
Alex and I were in altered states of consciousness due to intensive mediation (10+ hrs. daily) for the past week including a 16-hour “yaza”. Intensive meditation can induce altered states of mind during which our sense of boundaries becomes blurred. However, those boundaries and bodily autonomy still exist. I believe this may have contributed to Alex’s poor decision-making.
My connection with Alex began when I sought support processing a PTSD-related flashback to a previous rape from 2013. While that was a separate and unrelated incident; it did make his actions several days later all the more egregious and traumatizing. I am confident that my interpretation of this act is not the result of transference or projection. There is a narrative that has been told by some that it was I who behaved inappropriately towards Alex at this time, and it’s important for people to know that I sought Alex ought for support in a moment of crisis and vulnerability. Having held space for me as I processed how deeply traumatic a previous experience of rape was, I feel that Alex should have A) recognized that I was in a profoundly vulnerable state and B) should have been doubly concerned with and aware of the need to seek explicit consent from me and to ensure that I was a willing and consenting participant in any sexual encounter. C) The fact that he then proceeded to have sexual intercourse with me without my consent and then allowed me to be mistreated and forced out of the community as a result of and in order to conceal his actions while simultaneously telling me he loved me and wanted to build a life with me is extremely painful. That is not love -that is abuse.
Prior flirting, provocative dress or nudity, and prior sexual or romantic intimacy NEVER constitute consent. I had never had any sexual contact or a sexual relationship with Alex prior to this incident. I had previously exchanged consensual gestures of romantic affection with him such as holding hands, physical touch, and kissing prior to our discussion of boundaries.
The sexual assault lasted a couple of minutes during which I felt surprised and confused by what was happening.
Alex did not use ANY protection and came inside of me also without my permission. Thankfully, I had an IUD at the time (unknown to him) and the pregnancy risk was low.
During our relationship, Alex disclosed multiple incidents of sexual misconduct which had occurred prior to his time with MA. These incidents included multiple violations of common ethical standards and illegal activities.
Alex’s relationship history included toxic behavior which he described to me as bi-lateral and domestic violence which he described himself to be the victim of. According to a Nation Crime Victimization study, “About 1 in 7 men ages 18 and older have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.” Alex joined the MA at a time when he was very vulnerable, in the midst of a divorce. habituated to being in toxic and abusive relationship cycles, lonely, in pain, lacking support, and searching for guidance, transformation, community, and a sense of purpose. All of these factors can make otherwise intelligent and goodhearted people vulnerable to cults. Alex continues to both benefit from some aspects of the training and to participate in complex cycles of abuse that are harmful to himself and others through his continued involvement with the MA.
Victims of sexual assault often go into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn — both freeze and fawn responses are common responses amongst victims of sexual assault. This is especially true in cases where someone has previously been the victim of sexual assault. A lack of resistance, silence, or immediate reaction should not be taken as a sign of consent.
My short-lived relationship with Alex was a meditation and trauma-fueled mess of emotions, intensity, unmet needs, heartfelt desires, and romantic passion following a very traumatic experience between two people who weren’t healthy. Conversations in December thru February of 2021 with Alex indicated to me that he understood the non-consensual nature of the encounter between us, that he believed he and the organization had behaved wrongfully towards me and mistreated me, and that he understood and was afraid of the potential legal, social and professional implications for himself and the organization. I first informed Alex of my intention to share my experience publicly in January 2021 to which he responded very poorly by threatening me. He informed me that he had plenty of money for a good defense, that he wouldn’t want to end up in a court with me, and that he “wouldn’t want to see me get hurt.” In February 2021 we had an extensive conversation about the lack of consent in our first sexual interaction before any other sexual engagement happened between us. Alex expressed deep regret and apologized for not seeking my consent. He told me that he loved me and wanted to build a life with me. He promised me that he was committed to transformation and healing, striving for a healthy relationship, and positive contribution to the greater world and that he would show me this. Afterward, Alex sought consent during all future sexual encounters. Both these conversations and others led me to believe that Alex understood the seriousness of his actions at that time. I feel foolish for having believed Alex was sincere and/or capable of living up to these aspirations. I was blinded by my desire for these things to be true. I failed to recognize then the cycle of abuse and unhealthy dynamics between us including the inappropriate and rapid escalation of our relationship. I, unfortunately, did not have a solid support system that I could turn to for support and guidance at that time. All of which contributed significantly to my staying in an unhealthy relational dynamic in which there was no basis for trust.
Throughout our relationship from mid-February to mid-August 2021, Alex and I continued to have many conversations about the MA, the ethics of how I and other past members have been treated, and the impact of his and the MA’s actions. I continued to struggle post-OAK. I was depressed and anxious, and my nervous system was dysregulated due to the traumatic events. At one point in time, Alex told me “I just needed to get over my trauma.” I felt that I could not trust Alex and would not be safe with him as long as he continued to be involved with Soryu or the MA. Alex frequently spoke of wanting us to recreate the conditions and environment at OAK/MAPLE in an AI safety-focused community. While I actively supported Alex’s pursuit of Buddhist practice and AI safety research it was apparent to me that the Monastic Academy was not an appropriate model for a functional nonprofit, retreat center, or community. I also saw Alex displaying many symptoms common amongst people who’ve just left a cult. I worried about his safety and psychological well-being if he continued to be involved with or returned to the MA. I felt distressed and conflicted regarding our relationship, his involvement, whether to share my experiences at the MA, the stories I was hearing from other former residents about past harm, and the potential risks I knew existed to current and future MA residents. I spoke openly and frankly to Alex about these concerns throughout our relationship — which resulted in him shutting down, disassociating, and withdrawing especially towards the end. Despite his “supposedly” leaving the organization to be together Alex continued to financially support the MA, following Soryu Forall’s teachings, and held as his utmost priority in his orientation to the situation his own professional reputation and the reputation of the organization regardless of the negative impact on myself or our relationship.
In his post Alex misrepresents our open relationship, naming a one-time failure on my part to check in while he was out of cell service on a backpacking trip and at a time when our relationship was already on the rocks as the reason we broke up. This mistake on my part was followed immediately with full disclosure and an apology to Alex. After discussion, he shared that he had forgiven me and didn’t hold it against me. Extensive conversations over those weeks centered primarily around our divergent views of Soryu and the MA and his continued involvement after the events at OAK along with discussion about differing relational goals/needs/issues/fundamental disconnects between us which were the real reason for our relationship ending. If Alex’s primary motivation for breaking up was that I failed to check in it was not at all apparent to me. For weeks prior to this Alex was not showing up with supportive actions or choices for me or the relationship despite his declarations of love and commitment. Alex also distorts the timeline of the events by claiming we were together for most of the year and by saying that he returned from a backpacking trip “near the end of the year.” It was July. He says I posted my open letter shortly after our breakup, but by the time I posted my letter we had not spoken in months. Alex presents these events as if they are casual — as if one thing led to another — so as to imply my reasons for writing are nothing more than personal retaliation against him for breaking up rather than a valid and real representation of my experience and critique of Monastic Academy. His presentation of the information surrounding our relationship and breakup intentionally omits relevant information so as to create a false narrative and is a classic example of DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender) manipulation tactics.
I posted my open letter in December after considering sharing it for almost a year. Alex had known for a long time that I felt like sharing my experience at the MA was the most integral thing I could do in light of the damage caused to myself and others, the lack of appropriate response from the MA, and the potential risks to current and future participants. The decision to tell the full truth about my experience was a very difficult one. My open letter makes clear that my primary focus is not on Alex. It’s about the Monastic Academy’s operations, my experience there which of course he was a big part of— and most of all the concern I have for the safety and wellbeing of other people who choose to become involved in this organization. Unfortunately, Alex had a long history of dishonesty and/or omitting the truth in his interpersonal relationships long before I met him or the MA. It’s clear to me now that throughout the time I’ve known him he has always told me what he thought would benefit him most and that he has always made the choices that would benefit him most regardless of whether they were ethical or the harmful impact they might have on somebody else. Which is something others might want to consider in their dealings with Alex. His views and rationale on the “expected utility maximization” and benefits of lying and/or truth-telling can be found in his post Rational lies — LessWrong.
It would be inaccurate and dishonest for me to characterize my experience as anything other than “sexual assault” or rape because I was not a consenting and willing participant. Since it would be considered sexual assault if a coworker approached me and groped my breasts without my consent it also stands to reason that if a man suddenly and unexpectedly sticks his penis inside me without any warning and without my consent that is also sexual assault.
California Penal Code 261 PC defines the crime of rape as using force, violence, threats, coercion, or fraud as a means of having non-consensual sexual intercourse with another person. For a full definition of how California State law defines rape and sexual abuse.
This incident of sexual assault meets the federal definition of “rape”, but may or may not meet the definition of rape in California. This sexual assault did not involve physical violence or threats, and I am uncertain of how California law would define or evaluate force, sexual coercion, or the ability to give consent in this situation. Therefore I generally use the term sexual assault when writing. Whether it was an unintentional mistake made in the heat of the moment or Alex knew exactly what he was doing beforehand what happened on that beach that day was not love — it was sexual assault and it was a deeply traumatizing experience for me compounded further by the way he and the organization treated me in the aftermath that continues to impact me to this day.
The best way to avoid sexually assaulting another person and accusations of sexual assault is to seek affirmative consent. The relationship between California state laws and federal law regarding sexual assault as well as the precedent for “affirmative consent” has been established by California’s “Yes means Yes” standard which establishes the standards by which colleges and universities must evaluate sexual misconduct cases. “Affirmative consent is a conscious, voluntary, mutual, and enthusiastic agreement to engage in sexual activity. Each person must be fully aware, equally free of coercion, communicating clearly and unambiguously, and sincere in their desires. Consent must be ongoing, and can be revoked at any time.”