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Rocksteady’s response to sexual harrassment allegations is inappropriate and bizarre

Update: Rocksteady issued a full, proper response on Friday.

Follow recent reports that Rocksteady Studios failed to sufficiently address sexual harrassment, the Batman: Arkham developers have responded in a most curious way. While they have yet to issue a public statement themselves, they have posted an “unsolicited letter” from some of the employees behind the 2018 letter which first raised the issues. The new letter’s writers say they think Rocksteady have been better than was alleged. But without meaningfully addressing the allegations themselves, Rocksteady just casually posted that letter on Twitter. That makes it their first public response and defence, a purpose for which the letter is woefully inappropriate and inadequate. This is: mystifying.

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a letter sent to management in 2018 by 10 of Rocksteady’s 16 female employees, raising issues of sexual harrassment and discrimination. One of the signatories shared this letter with the newspaper, claiming the company hadn’t done enough, that some of the other women left because of these conditions, and that some people at Rocksteady were still suffering. Following the Guardian report, the apparent former senior writer of Rocksteady’s upcoming Suicide Squad game came forward to talk more about alleged harrassment, abuse, and management inaction that led to women writing that letter, and to say she wanted her name taken off the game.

Speaking to the Guardian, Rocksteady claimed they “immediately took firm measures to address the matters that were raised” and have been hunky-dory since then. They have not yet formally made a public statement on the matter. So why did they do… this:

Seven of the eight employees remaining from the 10 who signed the 2018 letter say they think The Guardian did not fairly represent the matter. They think Rocksteady have done well, and say they didn’t want this matter made public. So they wrote a new letter. If their experience at Rocksteady is better now, I’m glad for them. If they want to publicly rebuke the Guardian, it is their right. What’s weird and bad is that Rocksteady leapt to hold these women up as a shield.

While Rocksteady say this letter isn’t their response, the way they share it on Twitter effectively makes it one. Their first public comment on the matter is basically “But some women say we’re better now.” That is so far short of acceptable. The letter does not admit to apparent management failings that led to that 2018 letter being necessary, it does not talk about disciplinary measures or lay out plans to improve. The fact that Rocksteady have hosted “workshops to help build self-confidence within male-dominated industries” is secondary to what they’re doing (or have done) about problems caused by men at their male-dominated company in this male-dominated industry. But the letter doesn’t need to talk about all that. It shouldn’t need to. That’s not the responsibility of these women, it’s Rocksteady’s – and their first response was a deflection.

This new letter’s view is clearly not shared by everyone either. One signatory (it’s unclear whether she is still at Rocksteady) was still unhappy enough with the situation to show the 2018 letter to a newspaper. The former Suicide Squad writer who drafted that old letter has said she believes she lost her job because of this. The Guardian report claimed that at least one person left Rocksteady due to their inaction. And while we don’t know who or why, we should note that one of the remaining original signatories has not signed this letter of absolution.

I will trust when these eight people say management did not push them to write a new letter. While there is a weird energy of urgency coming mere days before the announcement of Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League, of course people want a good reception as they show the world what they’ve been doing for years. I do question the kindness of trying to shut down women who evidently have suffered. But again, I stress that it’s not this letter’s responsibility to express uncomplicated feelings, solve contradictions, or defuse concerns.

By sharing this letter before making their own statement, Rocksteady are distracting from their own problems (be they present or past) by pitting women against each other. That’s shocking.

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Alice O'Connor

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