Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Former 'Male Feminist' Columnist Faces Multiple Allegations of Assault

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On October 6, Helen Donahue, who previously worked as a social media editor for Vice and also wrote for the website, posted photos of bruises on her upper body, neck, and face to Twitter. “sux men in media hate women yet write abt feminism n masquerade as allies but its sadder this happens,” she wrote. “2015 i screamed @ my own reflection.”

Shortly after, another writer named Deirdre Coyle quoted Donahue’s tweet, writing “these bruises came from the same guy who physically forced me to do cocaine during sex.” And yet another woman known on Twitter by her first name, Dilara, quoted Coyle’s tweet, writing: “This is the same guy who choked me at the foot of his stairs until I passed out and then repeatedly punched me in the face.”

All three women confirmed to each other privately that the man they were referring to was writer Michael Hafford, a former freelance columnist for Broadly and freelance writer for outlets like Refinery29, Rolling Stone, T Magazine and more. The rapper ka5sh, a friend of Donahue’s, also tweeted that Hafford was the man Donahue’s tweet was referring to.

Hafford’s column at Broadly, Vice’s site aimed at women, was “Male Feminist Here,” a satire of male feminism and allyship that ran for three months in 2015. (Disclosure: I also wrote a piece for Broadly in 2015.) “The Male Feminist knows how much the love of a good woman means. Hell, the Male Feminist would settle for grudging acceptance,” Hafford wrote in the first edition of the column. “Not that he’s desperate. He just loves being around women, you know?”

Donahue was first emboldened to come forward on social media after a BuzzFeed investigation revealed that former Broadly editor Mitchell Sunderland had been emailing stories to Milo Yiannopolous to mock via Breitbart. The day after BuzzFeed’s story came out, Vice’s HR was first made aware of allegations around Hafford’s behavior through these Twitter posts, and “he was banned from contributing to any of the company’s properties,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to Jezebel. “Vice does not tolerate assault of any kind, or behavior that is disrespectful or offensive to any group or demonstrates bias or bigotry, and we took action as soon as we learned what happened. We continue to review the matter.”

Former Broadly Editor-in-Chief (and, previously, longtime Jezebel staffer) Tracie Egan Morrissey told Jezebel that she had never met Hafford or had any communications with him during the three months he contributed to the site, but after editors informed her that “he had become aggressive and rude and difficult to work with,” the column was killed in December 2015. His behavior was confirmed by another current editor who prefers to remain anonymous.

In addition to Donahue, Coyle, and Dilara, Jezebel also spoke to a fourth woman, Abby Carney, who alleges Hafford raped her. Though all women say they engaged in relationships with Hafford at some point, their consent was often eroded during these encounters: kissing somehow became penetrative sex even after protests, sex suddenly included unwanted physical violence. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that 25% of rapes are committed by a “current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.” These women’s stories about Hafford are examples of how sexual assault and physical abuse can occur, even more than once, in consensual relationships, but previous consent doesn’t negate the need for future consent. A “no” can still occur, and should be honored, even after a “yes” has been said.

“We are horrified by the allegations against Michael Hafford. Broadly does not tolerate violence against women of any kind, and we’ve worked hard to report on injustices against women and marginalized communities,” wrote Ciel Hunter, Global Head of Content for Vice, in an email to Jezebel. “The Broadly team is comprised of women who are committed to amplifying the voices of survivors, and we will continue to do the work, both internally and in the field, to challenge the systems and people oppressing women today.”

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein investigation, an increasing number of people, the majority women, have used social media to call out people who have allegedly assaulted them, including via anonymous Google docs collecting allegations as in the case of the “Shitty Media Men” list, a circulated spreadsheet listing journalists and writers for acts such as creepy meetings and full-on physical assault. Model Cameron Russell used her Instagram as a place for models to send her stories about their experiences with sexual harassment, which she posted anonymously, and others have decided to name their rapists and men who harass them outright on Twitter. In one of the earliest and most public instances of this sort, in January 2016, a music publicist named Heathcliff Berru resigned from his company after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment. (He also apologized for his actions, while disputing certain allegations.)

What outing abusers on social media can provide, immediately, is a sense of solidarity. Those who quote-tweeted each other, right in a row to anyone watching on Twitter, expressed a relief in discovering that they were not alone in experiencing this behavior. “I did not realize there were other people going through this,” Dilara says. “My reaction [to him having a ‘Male Feminist’ column was] that he was this fun cool guy that people wanted to publish.”

“It felt very surreal because this is something I had been sitting with for two years,” Coyle told Jezebel.

The women interviewed in this article describe Hafford as charming and funny, and already a successful writer when they first met him. His attire on the day he and Carney met, she says, was “neon colored shorts and Hawaiian shoes.” And Dilara describes him, the first time they met, as “really flattering,” giving her a lot of attention and compliments.

In an interview with Jezebel, Donahue, the first woman to tweet about the assaults, says that she began talking to Hafford on Twitter in November 2015 and first met up with him in person at a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn on December 12, 2015. At the bar, Donahue says she and Hafford were drinking heavily and that, while she does not remember going to Hafford’s apartment, she remembers being in his bed, experiencing physical pain, and aware that she didn’t like the sex. “I’m not sure if I voiced that or if I voiced that loudly enough, but I don’t think that would have stopped him anyway,” she says. (Hafford declined to comment to Jezebel on any of the allegations in this article.)

Donahue says that prior to meeting up, Hafford had asked her if she liked rough sex, but she says that what she experienced was “not rough sex.” “Michael knows enough to be able to differentiate between what is rough sex and what falls into another category,” she says. “If he didn’t like his victims to be expressing physical and mental discomfort he knows one should implement safe words and other rules.”

When she woke up, she says she felt a pain in her chest that felt like “an anvil had been dropped” on her. “It was some of the worst pain I felt in my life,” she says. She got up to use the bathroom when she caught her reflection in the mirror and says she screamed upon seeing the bruises that she would end up photographing and posting to Twitter.

Donahue says she then confronted Hafford about the bruises, who said that this had never happened before and wouldn’t happen again. She says she ended up staying at his apartment that day, watching television with him, before going home at night. “I think I was in very deep denial that somebody who everybody knows and likes his writing would be capable of hurting me that much,” she says about the decision to stay, as well as citing her past experience being in an abusive relationship as a teenager.

“It always sounds confusing but it’s just the weird mindset of wanting the person that hurt you to be the person that’s hugging you and telling you that it was an accident,” she says. “I wanted to feel like I was in control of the situation and not him.”

On December 14, two days after her encounter with Hafford, Donahue photographed her bruises (“I just knew that if this is something I ever wanted to bring to light I [needed] to document it,” she says) and the following day attended the Vice holiday party in a turtleneck she says she picked out specifically to cover up her bruises. A former Vice employee who wishes to remain anonymous confirmed that Donahue confided in her about the incident with Hafford around this time. From late December into early January, Donahue says she visited Hafford in Los Angeles.

Donahue says that after she stayed with him, Hafford texted her and told her their relationship wasn’t working out. The two then didn’t talk again until February, when she says he texted her to laugh about a Gawker article in which Donahue was revealed to be dating Martin Shkreli. By then Donahue says she had already told Hafford’s Broadly editor Lauren Oyler and former Vice culture editor James Yeh about the assault, both of whom allegedly assured her he would not write for their verticals. (Both Yeh and Oyler did not respond to requests for comment on this article.)

Donahue told Hafford over Twitter direct messages on February 15, 2016, that he needed to apologize to her for the assault and asked him not to write for Vice again as a “favor to her.” In direct messages provided to Jezebel by Donahue, Hafford denied ever “beating her up,” saying that she bruised because she was anemic (Donahue says she is not). He told her that he “apologizes for everything” and assured her he would not write for Vice or contact anyone associated with her.

Dilara says she first met Hafford on Tinder at the end of June in 2015. She says the two of them began a consensual sexual relationship until one night in July 2015 when Hafford, who she says was drunkenly angry at her for not taking off her dress in the stairwell of his apartment building, allegedly choked Dilara so hard she passed out. She came to not long after and, afraid he would choke her again, went up to his apartment. There the two had sex, during which Dilara says Hafford punched her repeatedly, put cocaine in her vagina, and attempted to have anal sex with her without consent. Dilara says he also kept trying to force her to give him a blow job, but when she asked for him to go down on her he said, “Oh fuck off.”

“I woke up in the morning and it seemed like he knew something was wrong, and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t say anything, I just thought things maybe got out of hand,” Dilara says. “We had sex again in the morning and he was like, Did last night turn you on? And I said no and he apologized for scaring me.”

Another night in August 2015, she says Hafford asked her to play truth or dare, daring her to give his friend a blowjob, to which she refused. That same night, before the two had sex, Dilara asked him to wear a condom. Hafford said “too bad because I don’t have any.” It wasn’t until after they had had sex, consensually, that Dilara saw he had condoms on his bedside table. “When he came out of the shower I took them and looked at him and he said, ‘Yeah, okay, that happened,’” she says. “That was the last time I ever saw him.”

“We texted for a bit. He would text me a lot of weekends asking me to come over or for him to come over, just so he could get me to say yes,” Dilara says. “Then [when I] would say yes, he would go ‘never mind.’ And this was just the cycle from September to November. And then he moved to LA.”

In May of the following year, after the two hadn’t spoken for several months, Dilara says Hafford direct messaged her on Snapchat and asked her a question for a story. “He said ‘I’m writing an article about how ghostwriting erotic fiction warps my brain, did you ever find me too dominant?’ And I said yes, I think consent got blurred a lot of the time,” she says. “He said ‘I was really on coke all the time and I’m sorry.’ I didn’t forgive him.” The next day, Dilara says, he deleted her from Snapchat.

Dilara says she didn’t call what happened to her that night in July 2015 rape until this past spring. “It’s been kind of an unraveling for me,” she says. When Hafford reached out to her this past July, Dilara told him that what he did to her was “not okay.”

Another writer who reached out to Jezebel, Abby Carney, says she was raped by Hafford that same summer of 2015. The two had met in Los Angeles one night at a bar in June of that year, she told Jezebel, and followed each other on Twitter. Carney, who was living in Austin at the time, moved to New York for a new job mid-July 2015, after which Carney says the two of them made plans to go to the beach one Sunday because Hafford’s friend was having a birthday party there. “I didn’t really have many friends in New York yet so he was the first person I had hung out with,” Carney says. A picture provided to Jezebel shows the two of them smiling through a cut-out at the restaurant Rippers, where the two ate that day.

Carney says their meeting up felt like “a friend outing” because they were paying for each other’s drinks and food, and she initially thought Hafford was gay. At the beach party Carney says they drank and at one point Hafford kissed her, which she said surprised her but she was “fine with that” because she had “made out with friends before and it wasn’t a big deal.” The two left the party to go home, with Carney planning on just going back to her place, but Hafford invited her back to his apartment in Bushwick.

When they got back to his apartment Carney says they ate sandwiches they had picked up on the way and Hafford made her “either [a] whiskey or vodka with kombucha.” “A very hipster rape story,” she says, laughing. She says Carney started kissing her and she told him, explicitly, “I just want to make out, I don’t want to have sex with you.” She says he started to remove her bikini top and that “it was a struggle but not the kind of struggle that is dramatized on TV, it was more of a gentle struggle.” Carney says he took it off anyway.

“I was pretty drunk, but I know that somehow or another he led me to his bed,” Carney says. “I remember clearly that I said multiple times that I don’t want to have sex, I don’t want to do anything else, and eventually he pressed himself inside anyway.”

After Hafford fell asleep, Carney says she left his apartment around 2 or 3 a.m. and made her way home, crying while waiting for the train. The next day she says she went and got Plan B because Hafford hadn’t used a condom.

Over the next few months, gradually, Carney “convinced [herself] that she had a crush on him.” The two continued to text and Carney saw Hafford again, and they kissed, in early August 2015 while he was dogsitting for a friend. Another night in late August, Carney says they met up for drinks in Bushwick and she planned to tell Hafford that “what happened before could never happen again” and that she did not want to be “casual” anymore, but she says she “chickened out” about what she wanted to say when she saw him.

That night she did tell him, on the walk back to his apartment, that she did not want to be a “fling” anymore, and the two had consensual sex that night. The next day she says they also had consensual sex but, she says, “I kind of felt like he was kind of pushing me out and wasn’t really talking to me so much anymore.”

“[What happened to me] just really bothered me and the only way I was going to feel okay with what had happened is if we were friends in a weird way,” she says. Carney says that gradually, following his “Male Feminist” column, his social media presence and the way he “played games” with her in conversation, and a “slowly sinking in [of] what really happened” led her in the fall of 2016 to unfollow him all on social media.

In addition to Dilara, Donahue, and Carney, there was also the writer Deirdre Coyle, the woman who had tweeted that Hafford had forced her to do cocaine during sex.

Coyle says she met Hafford in person in the spring of 2015 after they had been following each other on Twitter since early 2015.

The two were just friends, until they hooked up one night in the summer of 2015 in what was, in Coyle’s words, “not the most consensual experience.” “We were making out and I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him yet and then he just, like, was inside me without a condom,” she says. “I told him to stop and then he did. I was just kind of shocked and I said okay, you have to use protection.”

Coyle kept seeing Hafford over the course of the next few months. One night in the late summer of 2015, Coyle says that while having sex with Hafford he hit her in the face. “I very explicitly said don’t do that, I don’t like that,” she says. “In response he hit me harder and I just kind of gave up. He was stronger than me.”

Coyle recounts another night in the winter of 2015 in which Hafford allegedly told her to close her eyes and forcibly inserted cocaine into her vagina during sex. “All night he had kept trying to get me to do coke with him,” she says. “I didn’t want to, I didn’t really care what he was doing so I kept saying no, no, no.” And right before Coyle decided she couldn’t have sex with Hafford anymore, she says she fell asleep at his house one night in the winter of 2015 and woke up to him trying to initiate sex with her while she was asleep.

“For me that was kind of the last thing I was willing to put up with because he would apologize and then I would think ‘Oh we’re still friends.’ I thought maybe he was just too drunk, you know, excuses one can make,” she says.

Coyle says she was with Hafford when Broadly accepted his original “Male Feminist” column pitch, which was “the Broadly guide to male feminism.” “I helped him with it, though that’s not documented anywhere,” Coyle says. “I remember trying to explain ‘bioessentialism,’ a concept he was shocked by, when part of his article originally implied that all women had vaginas.”

The tone of the column, which satirized a sort of doting, Male Feminist Ally behavior, didn’t sit well with the women who say they were assaulted by Hafford, considering the alleged inconsistencies between his personal life. Even as satire, its existence seemed to feed into the stereotype that men who position themselves as male feminists are overcompensating for their misogyny. “[The column] really irked me because the tone of [the column] is satire, so it’s making fun of male feminists at the time but in such a way that it was just mocking feminism,” Dilara says.

Dilara and Coyle had previously met each other through Hafford, but reconnected at a party in New York City last May. And when they began to talk to each other about their experiences with Hafford, they realized they had been assaulted. Sometimes women don’t initially believe they’ve experienced assault because it doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a stranger rape (or to quote Carney again, “not the kind of struggle that is dramatized on TV”). But in those instances, it doesn’t erase the fact of an assault even if the woman realizes later that her initial consent had been transgressed.

“When I first talked to [Dilara] about him, it felt like such a relief to talk to another woman who had similar experiences,” Deirdre says. “It makes you feel less crazy. Like, oh, this really did happen.”

This post has been updated to include a piece written by the author for Broadly in August 2015, and to include that Tracie Egan Morrissey was, before Broadly, employed at Jezebel.