Revealing MESconduct (pt2 of 3): Creaky Stairs Pool

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TLDRUPFront: In our ongoing series Revealing MESconduct we review the Creaky Stair Pool. This pool describes the warning signs, challenges, and lessons learned from investigations on reported  Weaponizing misconduct that volunteer organizations may face. In the Creaky Stair Pool are 12 investigated offenses across two alleged perpetrators.

FullContextintheBack: This article is a subsection of Revealing MESconduct Part2: Investigations & Lessons Learned. The series is based on two years of volunteer work investigating accusations of misconduct in a volunteer gaming organization, the MES. Part 1 dealt with balancing the tensions between survivor privacy, community education, and community safety. Part 1 also covers frequently asked questions about where the information came from, whether it is publicly available in other forms, and my motivations in doing this.  Part 2 provides an overview of the 180 investigated offenses across 11 alleged perpetrators. The investigated offenses are segmented into six pools examined in sub-sections like this: Weaponizers, Creaky Stairs, Broken Stairs, Violent Actors, Broken Staircases, Serial Predators. Each pool summarizes the kinds of accusations, warning signs, challenges, outcomes, and lessons learned of those accusations and investigations. The lessons learned in each pool aren’t always limited to that pool and alleged perpetrators may have investigated offenses in more than one pool. Many of them apply across pools. In this article I’m focusing on a single type of reported misconduct: Creaky Stairs.

The main article of Pat 2 also covers important information regarding the MES organizational structure, volunteer benefits structure, types of administrative punishment and the blinded names of the 11 alleged perpetrators. This may be helpful for providing more context in understanding this sub-section.


Allegations, Accusations & Investigations

I use terms like the alleged perpetrator and accused for two reasons. First, this was the MES’s requested internal policy during the time I volunteered with the organization. Second, volunteer organizations do not have the resources to make definitive findings to a criminal or civil legal standard. Investigations on received accusations can only identify information that is consistent or inconsistent with the allegation. Often in the process, new allegations surface, and corroborating information from additional sources arises. From this information, the organization must decide on an administrative action: to do nothing, to issue a punishment or expel the member. For the MES punishments range across administrative options such as the loss of accrued membership benefits, prohibition on holding official positions, and suspensions. Motions to expel are handled separately from punishments. And the decision by the MES Board to expel a member can be made in conjunction, or separately, from punishments the MES takes. An organization’s choice to take action doesn’t establish the truth of the incident alleged – only that the organization found the information obtained in an investigation consistent with an allegation. The information presented below is based on this author’s role in the investigation process of the reported, alleged incidents.  Ultimately, the question of whether the information obtained through the investigation was sufficient to substantiate the allegations, as well as the ultimate determination of what punishment, if any, was to be applied to the accused, was made by MES itself and not this author.

Creaky Stair Pool

Not all alleged perpetrators evolved into fully-fledged Broken Stairs with years of significant misconduct in their wake. In this pool are investigations where accusations identified an alleged perpetrator early in the cycle. Investigations found information consistent with the allegation, and based on that information; the MES took administrative action. Not that it isn’t to say these investigations were easier. The lack of a sustained and documented misbehavior pattern can result in disagreement to the extent to which the alleged perpetrator is a Broken Stair in the making or member who could benefit from additional guidance. Often an organization must evaluate investigations as much on warning signs and red flags.

Pooled Creaky Stair Investigated Offenses

There are 12 investigated offenses in this pool. Offenses include 1 Letter of Counseling, 1 Minor Offense, 2 Moderate Offenses, 3 Major Offenses, 3 Severe Offenses, and 2 Extreme Offenses.

Investigations & Consequences

Accusations in this pool ranged across misconduct, including toxic behavior such as misogyny, harassment, inappropriate sexual advances, and stalking that occurred over several weeks or months. Accusations included in-person and online misconduct. The investigations uncovered information consistent with the allegations.  Sometimes more than one investigation occurred in parallel – ours for misconduct and another for cheating at games conducted by the Storyteller organization. During one investigation, information was obtained that misconduct continued on social media during the investigation.

The challenges of these investigations were that unlike Broken Stairs, there was no prior documentation of wrongdoing on these individuals. They were either newer to the MES or had only recently returned after a prolonged absence. There were less accumulated warning-signs than in other pools with more established patterns and less established whisper networks. Although it is impossible to tell for sure, the accusations identified them early in the cycle of potentially becoming a Broken Stair.

Another challenge was on how to apply punishment for “first-time offenders.” Based on the investigations, the MES moved to expel one accused while only using administrative penalties, suspension, and binding-guidance to the other. When the alleged perpetrator violated that guidance, the MES took action to expel them.

Alleged Perpetrators in this Pool

Gamma and Pi are in this pool.

Lessons Learned on Creaky Stairs

Get comfortable acting on red-flags and warning signs. Volunteer organizations provide services as a privilege, not a right. Organizations waiting for “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” can’t prioritize community safety given the challenges already described in obtaining such. Organizational leadership and membership need to frankly discuss the tension between community safety and individual membership rights, determine where the organizational values fall, and ensure processes reflect value.

Creaky Stairs grow into Broken Stairs and there will always be more Creaky Stairs. Misconduct is an ecosystem, not an incident. Without fixing the system removing Broken Stairs and Creaky Stairs will not prevent new ones from replacing them.

“Document early and often” only works when it’s remembered, findable, and acted upon. Documenting early and often has become a useful motto in dealing with misconduct. But it overlooks turnover in volunteers, lack of institutional memory, limited technical resources for retaining information and leadership changes. When deciding between one-more-chance in binding guidance and expulsion for a Creaky Stair, organizations must weigh that conditions in the future may be worse than they are now or needed records simply go missing. Can they sustain the risk to community safety if there’s not strong confidence in future capabilities? Or should they act now? In the Broken Staircase pool, repeated warnings were ‘lost’ over time leading to years of misconduct.

Did you mean ‘Zero Tolerance,’ ‘We Always Investigate,’ or ‘One Last Chance’? Organizations must back their rhetoric with procedures that reflect their values. Although Binding Guidance can be useful – it is different from Zero Tolerance. Creaky Stairs under binding guidance may offend again. Even if that results in expulsion – that’s one additional harm an organization might have avoided. Organizations should be more transparent about disclosing the use of binding guidance and how binding guidance interacts with a zero-tolerance policy. Only then can they make informed decisions on what events to attend or the relative risk to them in the organization.

Request to the MES to Confirm these Accusations & Investigations

In keeping with the final general lesson learned in the main article, I am calling upon the MES to do the right thing. Follow its procedures to release limited information found in “Notifications Regarding Officers” of their handbook (see MH2018Q4 p70-74 and 2020 MES HB, p95) and apply it for the alleged perpetrators of the Creaky Stairs Pool. This information consists of:

  • The name of the alleged perpetrator.
  • The rule(s) or policies that were found to have been violated (e.g., Offense Levels).
  • What Disciplinary Action the MES issued.
  • What penalties were levied (e.g., loss of prestige or MC, suspension, etc.).
  • The current status of the alleged perpetrator in regard to the MES (e.g., Member, Non-Member, Non-Member with Do Not Renew.)

If the MES declines to produce this information within a reasonable time period following the publication of this article or offer a suitable compromise confirming these are real investigations with real consequences, the InfoMullet reserves the right to take further action at a later time, though we will not disclose survivor information without prior consent.

I can assist the MES with information to validate these allegations and their investigation records for each alleged perpetrator. I will provide this information to an appropriate officer on request to facilitate proper identification.


Navigate between Six Pools of Accused Misconduct & Main Article

You can follow the links below to navigate to other misconduct pools or the main article. Each pool describes the warning signs, challenges, and lessons learned from the investigation of the type of reported misconduct volunteer organizations face.

Revealing MESconduct Part2: Investigations & Lessons Learned


Creaky Stairs

Broken Stairs

Violent Actors

Broken Staircases

Serial Predators



MH2018Q4: MES Membership Handbook 2018 Quarter 4 Update

MH2020: MES Membership Handbook 2020