On 22nd Nov 2020, Aaliyah Paris, a sexuality & anti-racist educator, and birth doula in training turned to Instagram to share her story of narcissistic abuse at the hands of self-proclaimed polyamorous guru Jeremie Saunders. She called on the polyamorous community to stand in solidarity with her. She demanded accountability from her alleged abuser(s) — a clear request for acknowledgement and apology from Jeremie. Although many polyamorous and sexuality educators have echoed her call for accountability, they have been met by silence from Aaliyah’s accused abuser. Now, as Jeremie Saunders prepares to leverage the moment for his personal gain, by releasing a podcast episode about the ‘call out’ which does not feature Aaliyah, the polyamorous community is faced with deja vu. And this time we can do better.
A ‘Call Out’ is the use of social media to publicly criticize behavior perceived to be oppressive to marginalized people. As a social phenomenon it is understood to function by appealing to the morality of an online audience to subvert power dynamics within a discourse. In plain speak, calling out someone for shitty actions is a method by which online communities and collectives manage themselves.
The call out of Jeremie Saunders
Jeremie Saunders, along with his wife, are the creators and hosts of the Turn Me On Podcast — a podcast which claims to allow no holds barred conversation about what it is to be a sexual being in the world. The podcast launched the self-described “polyamorous and adventurous” couple from Kjipuktuk, Canada, into low level Insta-fame, garnering Jeremie a 5k following, a number of speaking engagements, including interviewing prominent Canadian politicians, and allowing Jeremie a platform to direct and produce a biographical film about his struggles with cystic-fibrosis. But now, in the relatively small dating pool of his hometown, an accusation of a pattern of maltreatment, coercion and abuse has emerged. A ‘call out’ has been made (CW: full account below, or found here)
When I was 18 I was trapped in a cycle of narcissistic abuse, after I moved back home… I got on Hinge. That’s where I met and spoke with Jeremie Saunders, At the time I didn’t know what the Sick Boy Podcast was. I spoke with Jeremie for awhile on the app, before moving to sms messaging. At this point, I didn’t know what I was looking for. And I excused a lot of things due to the abuse I had experienced, Jeremie had made it known he was in a poly relationship. I had no problem with this, keep in mind I had just turned 18 not long before this. Jeremie aggressively insisted on threesomes with his partner Rebekah, Rebekah sent me nude images that I didn’t expect or ask for. I expressed and made my hesitation known yet was consistently pestered into having one with them, have I had threesomes before? Yes…am I straight? No. I’m queer, I had that on my profile. “Unicorn hunting” is where a male/female couple look to find one person who they can permanently or casually invite into their relationship. They form a “triad” with the couple and the three people having group sex. People who go “unicorn hunting” are specifically looking for a bisexual woman. I was 18, after I expressed my discomfort…each time. I would be left on read until Jeremie and/or Rebekah felt like fucking. I’m not an object, and I know I am NOT the only woman in Kjipuktuk who has been on the other side of his inappropriate behaviour. Jeremie uses his status as leverage against young women, I stand by that. And this is my warning, if you see him or her on an app? Swipe left, walk away, block, unmatch, delete. Jeremie Saunders is a predator, don’t get it twisted. I have no respect for anyone who uses what they go through as leverage to pressure others into having sex with them. He will deny this, and I will stand my ground.
Thank you for listening.
Aaliyah is no stranger to using her online following to address harms done in her community of Kjipuktuk. Aaliyah has turned to Instagram to detail and name another abuser — with a previous post in July detailing the abuse she suffered with a different partner, prior to her contact with Jeremie. An in an interview for this article, Aaliyah explains that as an anti-racist educator, her activism includes calling out businesses and individuals for behavior that is oppressive or harmful; and that this has usually been met with positive engagement and change.
At time of writing, however, Jeremie Saunders has not issued a public statement about the accusations, and did not respond to requests for comment for the purposes of this article. Instead, Jeremie has he removed Aaliyah’s comments on his online personal platform, and has limited the ability for accounts to tag his account and others associated with him in stories or feed posts, by turning on the manual approve setting on Instagram.
Aaliyah says it is ‘running and hiding’. Although privately, Saunders has extended an invitation for 3rd party mediation, it is unclear how this would be anything other than a continuation of silencing and gaslighting behavior he has so far demonstrated. Aaliyah has thus far refused to engage in this process — stating that the process picked by the accused can not be one that can center the survivor.
Instead, Aaliyah is demanding direct response from Jeremie Saunders: to make a public statement and to de-platform. “He needs to make a statement, there is no turning the comments off. He needs to be fully transparent in a way that doesn’t make money off of other peoples pain. He needs to, at this point, de-platform ”. When asked what de-platforming would look like Aaliyah points out that Jeremie has positioned himself as a relative authority through his podcast and public persona, and this gives him spaces in which he has power to target and prey on younger, vulnerable people in the polyamorous community — “people who wont have community support, who won’t be believed if they come forward; people who can be ignored”. De-platforming would mean Jeremie remove himself from those spaces.
Call Out Culture in Polyamory
The call out is not a new phenomenon in the polyamorous community. Last year, polyamorous writer and speaker Franklin Veaux fell into infamy when several of his long-term/nesting partners, including his co-author Eve Rickert, called him out on long-standing pattern of emotional abuse. The accusations were difficult to read, especially leveled against a “Professional Poly Person” who had been held up as an exemplar in the polyamorous community at large for years. In response to the allegations accountability pods were made, tracking documents detailing Franklin’s responses were shared, invitations to speak were rescinded, meta-analysis of the accusations by prominent academics were published; and the previously well-regarded book More than Two, has fallen off many must-read lists.
The accountability process in the wake of Franklin Veaux’s abuse, was one of the first of its kind, and was not a seamless process. Dicey internal politics and miscommunication marred the process, and eventually those involved in the accountability pod publicly stated they were no longer consulting with or acting line with the survivor’s wishes and removed themselves from the process. Now, an account has levelled squarely at one of the self-branded polyamorous couple vying for social media fame in the emerging polyamorous Instagram landscape. And with it is the opportunity to do much better in the process of accountability — to take the lessons learned following Franklin Veaux’s case and apply it here.
Read More on rise of Instagram’s polyamorous community here
Unlike previous ‘call outs’ in the polyamorous community, Aaliyah does not seem to have a preferred accountability pod set-up, nor have other women publicly come forward with similar accounts (although Aaliyah claims there are many more in Kjipuktuk with stories like here). Instead she is looking for support from other polyamorous and sexuality-educators like her. She believes that if the polyamorous community stand with her, other women who she believes have stories about abuse will come forward.
Polyamory is not an organized movement, and has no board of directors or compliants mechanisms. As Franklin Veaux’s survivor pod wrote: “we must rely on a loose network of organizers, spokespeople and other “leaders” to hear the women’s voices, amplify their stories and prioritize actions that moves us all toward greater healing and safety”. We therefore must ask our fellow activists, speakers, organizers and leaders, as individuals, to support the call for accountability. So far, indirect responses have been made by the polyamorous Instagram community to Aaliyah’s call, with a number of posts can be found from influencers and educators using this moment to write or speak about abuse in polyamorous dynamics and ‘ethical unicorn hunting’. But a call out has been made, and the polyamorous community have to decide how to respond. In Aalyiah’s own words “if we as communities are trying to steer away from the systems of oppression, we have to recognize community…requires accountability”.
Please check out www.itrippedonthepolystair.com for information on FV survivors.