Justice for Debbie Johnson – City Council Woman and Upskirt Photo Victim

debbie-johnsonDebbie Johnson is a City Council member in Port Wentworth, Georgia.  She is also a Black, plus size, woman – in fact, she is the first Black woman in the council of all white men. In 2015, during a closed session meeting Ernie Stanhope, another member of the city council, took an upskirt picture of her and shared it around with men including the city attorney and the mayor (who is aptly nicknamed “Pig.”) Then Eric Steely, a political opponent of Ms. Johnson, upped the ante by posting it to Facebook complete with lies and derogatory statements about her. None of the men told her that the picture was being circulated.

The picture went viral and ended up on the front page of the local paper, and on the evening news. That led to a police investigation in which the mayor (who, seriously y’all, goes by “Pig”) chose to obstruct the investigation by refusing to reveal who took the picture. He finally gave up Ernie Stanhope in a follow-up interview. He said “If this does get out, I ain’t gonna be the one that’s gonna be held responsible for it.” Well said, Pig.

Ernie Stanhope sat with his legs wide open and tried to suggest that it was her fault that he took the picture because she was sitting with her legs wide open.

City Attorney Eric Gotwalt brought his own attorney to the proceedings and when asked about the picture requested to take a break. Then it appears he tried to claim that his looking at the picture was an act protected by attorney client privilege.  When asked if we was representing the mayor or the city he responded “I think we represent both.”  He thinks…I’m sure that’s confidence inspiring for both the mayor and the city.

Eric Steely lied about the picture’s origin and then tried to suggest that it was Ms. Johnson’s fault that the picture existed saying: “I could constitute that as a deliberate attempt at public indecency.” Though it’s not clear by what authority he might “constitute” that.

The investigator then asked “What purpose would it serve for her to do that?”

Eric went with the “she was asking for it” defense, claiming “I could sit here and say she has some kind of perverted sexual fantasy and that satisfied it.” Of course that means that Eric’s response to finding out about what he considers to be a sexual predator out there exposing herself is to post an upskirt picture of her to Facebook, captioned with lies and derogatory statements. What a fine upstanding citizen he is.

Ms. Johnson wants to pursue the matter but District Attorney Meg Heap refused to press charges. Ms. Johnson describes it as being repeatedly violated, at every Council meeting. In discussing Meg’s refusal to press charges Ms. Johnson points out:

I’m a black woman that was violated by all white men. What if it had happened to her and it was Black men?  If Black men were violating her? They would be underneath the jail.

I appreciate her pointing out how systemic racism and privilege are at work here. As a Fat Activist I wonder, too, how this might have played out had she not been plus size?

Mayor Pig said ““When I started thinking, I said well again, Miss Johnson being a big woman can’t cross her legs and the picture says it all. ”

This is an example of what we talk about when we talk about intersectionality as coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Ms. Johnson is being violated and oppressed by white men at the intersections of being Black, plus-size, and a woman.

She is being represented by The Claiborne Firm, which takes on civil rights cases including, according to their website “cases under the federal civil rights statute after excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and denial of medical care by corrections officers and private contractors.”

Her attorneys are asking for our help:

Call City Hall: 912-964-4379

  • Demand the removal of City Attorney Eric Gotwalt and his firm
  • Demand the resignation of  (seriously can’t believe I’m typing this) Mayor Pig Jones

Contact District Attorney Meg Heap: 912-652-7328 mdheap@chathamcounty.org 

Share this information with your community.

You can find more information about the case here and in this video:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fclaibornefirm%2Fvideos%2F401358736863358%2F&show_text=0&width=560

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Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm  Comments (22)  

22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good morning, I just read the article about Debbie Johnson and want to put it on facebook. What is your position on using FB? I will call those people but want to do more. Thanks. Kathryn Moore

    • Hi Kathryn, Please feel free to repost anything from my blog that you think will be helpful. There are buttons at the bottom of the blog (just above this comment section) that will allow you to easily share it.

      Thanks!

      ~Ragen

  2. The link for finding out more about the case doesn’t seem to work.

    • I went looking for news stories about it, oh bloody hell, I wish I hadn’t. The calls for Debbie Johnson to just “get over it” because it’s “over for everyone but her” made me see blinding crimson.

      • Thanks for the warning!

        Seriously, some days, I can face the world, and some days, I just want to crawl under a rock.

      • “get over it”- really?

        Geez, if you tell the San Diego Charger fans to just “get over” the team’s moving to Los Angeles, you’d be eviscerated in the media.

        Guess we know what’s more important here.

    • Fixed, thanks for letting me know!

  3. This is so disturbing. It would be disturbing under any circumstances, but somehow that it’s a group of male councilmen who banded together to sexually assault and humiliate a councilwoman as part of a *political delegitimization campaign,* cover up their involvement for months, and now she’s having to fight *just to get charges pressed?* That’s beyond disturbing and into “horrifying nightmare from hell.”

  4. I am incoherent with horror and rage. What the hell year is this–1957? This sort of bullshit was revolting and disgusting sixty fucking years ago.

    • I mean, it has always been revolting and disgusting. But not being able to press charges for such a blatant violation sounds like a horror story from the pre-civil rights era–nay, from the pre-suffragette period.

  5. Even if her size didn’t directly influence their decision to treat her this way – and I think we all know that the less attractive some men deem a woman to be, the less her consent is considered important, because she should be grateful for any sexual attention any man’s bothers to pay her – it plays a key issue in their bullshit defense.

    If you’re a bigger person, sitting with your legs together is extremely uncomfortable. And if you have any hip problems that is doubly so. So now we’re going to say that any fat woman who wears a skirt is inviting this kind of behavior, by virtue of the fact that it may be difficult, if not impossible, to sit with her legs closed?

    Sometimes it really does feel like the hijab is the way to go. Though even then they’d find some excuse to claim we’re ‘asking for it’.

    I’m not going to go read the full story or the fucked up comments. I’m already having a rough week and today is my sister’s birthday so we’re hiding away in a hotel room to get baked and watch the newest installment of the Big Fat Quiz of Everything. And if I read more I’ll spend the evening angrier than I already am. But your overview is more than enough to demonstrate that non-consent culture and sexism are still alive and well.

    • Makes me want to bring back the bloomer as a fashion statement/defence mechanism.

      And that’s not fair, and not right, and not going to happen.

      • Another interesting one, the long sharp hat pins of the turn of the century and mid teens. Women on their own realized what damage those could do to mashers and men with out boundaries.

      • No, it’s not fair or right – or bloody likely.

        I will consider sexism to be a dwindling concept we we stop hearing stories that make us pine, even for a fraction of a second, for a time when women weren’t supposed to show so much as an ankle in public.

  6. Ragen – Ijust shared your article on FB and met with unexpected discontent from the “Solidarity for Debbie Johnson” people. I felt that the facts that Ms. Johnson is female, black, and fat were reasons (plural) to bring awareness and support. Can you let me know if I have misunderstood your message? I’ve been asked to edit my post to remove her color and size from my rant.

    • Hi Rachel,

      I went to their Facebook page, I can’t find how/if they are actually affiliated with Ms. Johnson. I noticed that they seem to have specifically left out any mention of her being Black, and their mission (copied in full below) only includes “fostering discussions about sexism, misogyny, and sexual assault within our culture.” That concerns me because Ms. Johnson herself is talking about the race in this situation. The video that her lawyers created about her case (linked to in the blog and available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LPckfJH_bw&feature=youtu.be) includes her talking specifically about race and racism “I’m a black woman that was violated by all white men. What if it had happened to her and it was Black men? If Black men were violating her? They would be underneath the jail.”

      I tried to make it clear in my blog post that I wondered how sizeism may have come into this, she did not address it in the video.

      The picture of the Solidarity for Debbie Johnson folks that I found included 11 adults and two children, a number of whom are People of Color. This makes the situation difficult because I don’t want to talk over POC. That said, I think that the victim’s voice is the one that should be centered here and she is most definitely discussing race. I will not be removing discussions of racism in a situation where the victim is talking about racism, unless I’m asked to do it by Ms. Johnson and or her counsel, or an organization that she has specifically asked to represent her.

      I acknowledge that, because no community is a monolith, any time we do work to be in solidarity with an oppressed community/communities, we will do work that some members of the community want us to do, and that other members of the community don’t want us to do, and I sit in that discomfort because it’s part of working in solidarity.

      Here is their full mission statement:

      “1) To offer sisterhood and community support to Debbie Johnson 2) to vigorously pursue avenues for fully resolving her case and achieving justice for her 3) to be advocates for changes in Georgia laws which will criminalize upskirting and the distribution of images obtained by upskirting and which will include penalties severe enough to act as a deterrent 4) to bring national attention to this case in order to expose the practice, methods and the uses of images from upskirting 5) to support advocacy efforts in other states without upskirting laws or in states whose laws are not stringent enough to be efficacious and 6) to foster discussions about sexism, misogyny, and sexual assault within our culture.”

      Hope that helps,

      ~Ragen

      • You are the best! Thanks for the through and thoughtful reply. Hooray!

        • Glad I could help. I went to your FB wall to leave a comment but I couldn’t find the post. If you want to send me a link (you can message me or e-mail ragen at danceswithfat dot org) I’ll be happy to leave my thoughts.

          ~Ragen

  7. The ick factor and unfixableness and assumption ad determination of the bullies to “Just get over it honey.” Is sick making in the extreme and it is meant to be. These men really wan’t to stick it to women, black women women of color. Inter-sectionalism does not dismiss any individual aspects of bias, if anything it enhances them. Are they gonna make a play to segment the issue and take it on a piece by piece basis. Did they do it because she is fat, black a woman? How can we be sure. If a thin white man had been sitting with his legs open (asking for it) would it be O.K. if i took a photo put it on the internet and made derogatory statements about his penis size and possible poor functioning? And if he respond, would it be OK for me to say he needs to “move on” because the rest of us are “over it.”?
    It is interesting that the same people who want t paint everything and everyone with a broad (if it is good for me, it is good enough for you) brush are ready to pick this to bits to distract and lessen it’s impact.
    It has impact on me. I am a hugely fat woman who doesn’t own a pair of pants and I am very careful how I present myself. I wonder how freeing it would be to simply b able to sit in a chair and not be constantly concerned about how I look, how much space my body is taking up, if I am showing “too much” skin, if any one is looking at me etc. I am pretty sure I am supposed to be thinking these things. It sure makes it had to think about anything else…
    This one truly falls under the personal is political. How much more personal can you get than a man taking a picture of your crotch and posting it on the internet.
    And if she satisfied her issues to show it, what issues of his was he satisfying to crow about it?
    I am not black. I do not come from the South, but I have heard of the treatment black, (often poor) women receive. We’re talking less that second class citizenship here. Ms Johnson is right about the pay back a group of black men would have had in the same situation. I was wrong when I said we are NOT going back to 1952. Some of us never left!
    Article in The Inlander this week touched on the Women’s March in Spokane, Wa and quoted a woman who was looking for work and working in the 1950’s. She said men would grab her buttocks, her breasts and it was not something you talked about, you just put up with it. Sounds like the White House 2017. Let’s just not!

  8. This is so inconceivable …Is it really 2017? REALLY? Because I swear we’ve gone incredibly far backward and we’re headed even farther back at break-neck speed. And now we have a bully for a president these pigs will be more and more emboldened to do these disgusting things.

    • Right? One step forward, two steps back. Most children wouldn’t even go that far. What pathetic scumbags.

  9. Her experience is why I have never worn skirts above the knee. I have never experienced this personally, but the idea of anyone trying to look at my crotch upsets me, so I have never given anyone the opportunity.


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