Not a Witch-Hunt: A Snapshot of Abuse and Disregard in the Animal Protection Movement

I don’t know exactly how to put my thoughts to words here so I will just jump into it.

I could start by saying how sad and disappointing it’s been to see how little some people value the voices and work of women in the vegan, animal rights and animal welfare communities after the revelations in the Washington Post and elsewhere about allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at HSUS. (You can find a timeline of events and published articles here and here.)

I could say that women are the very ones who have been doing the heavy lifting of organizing, activism and outreach on behalf of animals for years. Historically, as with many social justice movements, women are the ones who have been boots-on-the-ground but men have generally been in leadership positions, though of course there are exceptions. It’s been like this since I started as an animal advocate in 1993 or so and it remains so today but I get the sense that the tectonic plates of the moneyed animal protection movement may be beginning to shift, though if so it is not happening without a fight and without some casualties.

I could give you a little background on me as is relevant to this piece. I am a proud vegan and feminist but I am not a scorched earth kind of person. I represent myself, not anyone else’s agenda, and I believe in due process. I also believe there is something redeemable in even the animal advocacy organizations I do not otherwise support. I would not rejoice in the crumbling of HSUS because while I may disagree about many things philosophically and strategically, there is little doubt in my mind under the right stewardship, they could be an incredible juggernaut of positive change for the animals.

That said, there has long been a sense among animal protection activists that there is an exclusive, boy’s club attitude between the various large animal protection organizations as well as a history of — primarily men — climbing the ladder at one organization to leave and resume their ascent at another. More disturbing, a culture of harassment, sexism and gender bias has been alleged that seems more in keeping with the fabled Sterling Cooper ad agency of Mad Men than an animal advocacy organization, as well as apparently plenty of top tier people and boards of directors willing to look the other way to shield their chosen ones from the consequences of their purported actions.

In the wake of these first charges coming to light and the shake up at HSUS, what has emerged as the most painful for me to see is how very little women and our voices are valued among animal advocates and how quickly some of our fellow campaigners default to abusive tactics of silencing and belittlement. What you will see here is by no means representative of all the responses I saw, which included many nuanced views as well as some passionate voices against harassment and gender bias. Am I cherry-picking? You bet, but the following “cherries” were damn easy to find and I picked them to illustrate a point.

Are these the people I might have stood next to at the circus demo? Are these the people sharing videos about cruelty to pigs and chickens? Are the people who tell women to shut up, get over it and stop being selfish the same ones who might be leafleting next to me for a kinder world?

How can we expect to move on if voices — long suppressed and/or ignored — are still conveniently swept under the rug? How can we expect allyship, not to mention fair treatment and respect, from those who consider it “the greater good” if women stay silent? How can this mentality be reconciled with a movement that was created to speak up for the exploited and oppressed?

Instead of entertaining the notion that there is a culture of sexism and gender discrimination at an organization like HSUS, something people have observed for years and was noted by outside research, those who are accused perpetrators are the new victims. And I will let their defenders speak in their own words.

Instead of being upset that a wealthy, powerful CEO might have been behaving like Don Draper on a bender around his dedicated female staff, they are angry at the messengers. In fact, those seeking accountability are demeaned again and again. Can’t your boss press his genitals against you without all the waa-waa-waa histrionics anymore?

Don’t like this behavior? Well, fine, there’s a word for you: Prude. Repressed. Uptight. Take your pick.

Okay, we’re going with uptight.

And what do uptight mobs do to animal protection heroes? We subject them to a good, old-fashioned witch-hunt, that’s what we do. Or maybe a newfangled, imaginary one.

It was just a clumsy pass intercepted by angry witches on the hunt, an innocent game of football being ruined by a bunch of bitter, cackling sorceresses spoiling for a beheading. Let’s never mind that an actual witch-hunt really was thousands of women (usually) executed across the globe — and even still today — for the “crimes” of independence, property ownership, being unmarried, being outspoken, defying conventions and so on. With sexual harassment allegations going back to 2005, disgruntled staff organizing, donors threatening to jump ship and more, I wouldn’t describe the calls for transparency and accountability even a virtual “witch-hunt” but that’s me, presumably a witch on a hunt. Personally, I was looking forward to the results of the investigation but it was abruptly called off by the board of directors and the CEO was cleared of wrongdoing. Due process wasn’t denied by me or those like me, but, yeah, let’s go with witch-hunt.

If a witch-hunt isn’t your dialectic style, you can always go with lynch mob. Defenders of the accused weren’t shy about going there.

And sometimes you can mix it up and jump from a lynch mob directly to a witch-hunt.

Just so we’re clear, it’s not really decent allyship to use the horrific miseries inflicted upon oppressed people as a handy tool at one’s disposal for when you feel like whipping it out to make a dramatic point. If you want to use the terms “lynch” or “lynch mob,” though, I’d request that you do a little research into what they actually were/are to determine if you are being both fair and sensitive with your characterization.

And, please, don’t forget that those seeking long-sought transparency and accountability are the ones who are hysterical.

A violent, hysterical mob whose brains have been turned to mush by their pink hats.

This is a violent, hysterical, pink-hatted mob that is also selfish, which is, apparently, the worst thing you can call an animal advocate. I mean, being consistently against oppression is a little clashy, isn’t it? Like mixing florals and stripes.

Selfish agendas of anti-oppression and all that!

Guilty or innocent, who cares? Speaking honestly about the topic of exploitation plays into the hands of The Enemy.

I mean, what’s a little innocent, um, tension relief between stressed out CEOs and their staff if it keeps him sane?

Again, how selfish to deny him the opportunity for “therapeutical escape,” especially if he is tall, good looking, smart and persuasive. Those harlots — who also manage to be prudes — should have been honored. He was a Giant Protector, after all, and now the bitter witches shall be rebuked. Oooooh, it is ON. Let the chips fall where they may because the Great Rebuking is upon us.

Unless defenders decide to take matters into their own hands.

They must take a strong stand against witch-hunts and weak clowns because they are Marines.

Marines don’t put up with that shit and this one really has it out for clowns and snowflakes.

Because — tell me — hasn’t the “pound of flesh” mentioned earlier been exacted? Aren’t we good now? Can’t the aggrieved just, like, visit their counselors and, like, be over it? I mean, if you’re over it, shouldn’t they be?

I guess supporting only male-run organizations is an option because that’s rational and not at all reactionary.

You could also take up the cause of, I don’t know, men?

You big babies blubbering into your Starbucks machine coffees are an embarrassment. An embarrassment! I mean, what could possibly deter a woman from speaking up? Loss of employment? Loss of friendships? Fear of reprisals? Fear of “hurting things” for the animals?

Oh, yeah.

Not speaking up against harassment and discrimination is actually the feminist thing to do.

I mean, c’mon. If it means anything, this person wasn’t offended by the behaviors described here. Isn’t that enough?

Because where would it end? Ass hat scum slime ass women should put a sign on themselves saying, “I hate men, I am a bitch” or something (???) like that. Don’t hold a door for me or call me maam [SIC] because I want to ruin it for real women. Okay, I’ve been outed! Where’s my parade?! Where’s my ass hat?! I thought my hat referred to a different anatomic part. I’m confused.

Be warned: a backlash is coming or comiing or, whatever, it’s on its way.

So if you were wondering why women, POC and anyone but straight white men who want to have their bad behavior excused don’t feel respected and welcomed in the animal advocacy movement, here you go, Exhibits A — X and there is way, way more where that came from, illustrating:

• How animal advocates will gaslight you.

• How animal advocates will demean you.

• How animal advocates will tell you that your voice and your thoughts don’t matter.

• How animal advocates will tell you are selfish for speaking up for yourself and/or others.

Worried that the fallout from this is going to have negative consequences for the animals? So am I. You don’t build a movement on the efforts and labor of women and then walk all over their backs, though, telling them to be quiet while you’re doing it. A true social justice movement based on the principles of compassion, equity and respect would not ask that of us and would, in fact, demand that those principles are maintained throughout.

This reckoning is long overdue but make no mistake that it is unfolding and it is for the greater good of all parties that this is finally happening, including the animals.

Marla Rose is a Chicago-area writer and co-founder of and

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