Disclaimer: The main source for this article is Jaquelyn Rieke. This story may have more than one version, and some of the details here could be disputed. As of this publication the VTJL, Vini Kate Divine and Nicole Grenier have not responded or have declined requests for an interview.
Jaquelyn Rieke first heard of the Facebook posts on June 23rd, 2019. Rieke, the founder of Nutty Steph’s chocolate and co-owner of Rabble Rouser, had sat down for a cup of coffee at Bohemian Bakery when her friend informed her of the news.
“I’m so sorry about what Vini is doing,” her friend said.
Jaquelyn was confused. “What do you mean?”
“Online,” said her friend. “I’m sorry, it’s awful what they are doing to you.”
Vini Kate-Devine is a former employee of Nutty Stephs, a victim of Rieke’s sexual harm, and a member of the Vermont Transformative Justice League, a Facebook group.
The Vermont Transformative Justice League is bringing about justice through the court of public opinion, exposing Jaquelyn Rieke for causing sexual harm in the workplace.
There is no question that Rieke has been inappropriate in the past, and that harm has been done, but is this new form of online accountability achieving justice, or is it cancel culture?
How Did We Get Here?
On a recent afternoon sitting at the coffee table in her living room, Jaquelyn spoke about her experience with Kate-Devine and the VTJL.
“I was horrified to learn that I had sexually offended anyone in any way,” Jaquelyn said, “and I didn’t know how many people felt this way.”
Rieke says she had terrible professional boundaries as an employer and has admitted to one of the allegations: appearing nude in front of staff in 2013.
Rieke said she wrote an apology letter to Kate-Devine in 2013, after she learned that her behaviors had triggered trauma for them while working at Nutty Steph’s in Middlesex.
This apology wasn’t enough.
In 2015, when Rieke was trying to do a Kickstarter campaign for a tent on Onion River Campground, in Plainfield, Vini Kate-Devine first publicly posted about Rieke’s behaviors.
Kate-Divine’s posts didn’t amount to anything in 2015, so Rieke thought she could ignore the new posts when they first came to her attention on June 23rd, 2019.
Before anything went public in the summer of 2019, the VTJL tried to achieve justice through Barre Community Justice Center and after that, Montpelier Community Justice Center, but did not like how either group handled the situation.
Ann Wallace Allen, a journalist who writes for the VTDigger interviewed Vini Kate-Devine and Claire Wheeler. They are both associated with the VTJL.
“They felt that they had been unjustly treated and hadn’t been able to progress in any other way,” Wallace-Allen said. (Barre Transformative Justice League) “They also started in Montpelier and didn’t like the way that group had handled it so they felt like their only option was to make a public complaint.”
They decided to make it public after failed attempts to meet with representatives of Rabble Rouser and their belief in transformative justice instead of the criminal justice system, which they believe to be problematic.
Six months after the VTJL’s first Facebook posts, and after failed mediation with representatives of Rabble Rouser, the VTJL posted on Front Porch Forum on January 18th, 2020. FPF decided that they were personal attacks on Rieke and would not be permitted. The posts were taken down.
The next day, on January 19th, 2020, the group posted on Facebook with an “open letter” to the community. Their stated goal was to prevent further harm and hold Reike publicly accountable after hearing about Rabble Rouser expanding into Montpelier.
The Vermont Transformative Justice League on Facebook has gained over 500 followers. Rieke does not know who most of the faces behind the VTJL are.
The January Facebook posts had been circulating Facebook since the previous summer, when Rieke and her business partners announced that they were opening a storefront in downtown Montpelier. They became popular in January 2020 after Nicole Grenier, a director at Washington County Mental Health and owner of Stowe Street Cafe started helping the VTJL.
“Six months ago, signs for ‘chocolate!’ ‘cocktails’ ‘jobs!’ appeared in the windows of a Montpelier storefront,” the VTJL wrote in their letter. “For the survivors of Jaquelyn Rieke’s abusive and illegal behavior, these signs and the announcement that her business was now coming to Montpelier was profoundly disturbing.”
The VTJL released a “statement of harm” with 9 graphic sexual harm allegations and sent it to the other owners of Nutty Steph’s/Rabble Rousers. This statement of harm is not open to the public.
The VTJL also created a list of 10 demands that they sent to mediators, which they feel will bring them justice and start healing. These demands include asking Rieke to leave the company, starting a reparations fund, holding public workshops to explain the difference between real sexual liberation and fake tactics that are actually sexual manipulation. Additionally, their demands include Rieke avoiding certain areas of Montpelier and leaving any place at any time if her victims are there and feel unsafe.
In response to the Facebook posts and 10 demands, Rieke published a letter to the community in the Times Argus on January 27th, 2020. This was an attempt to make peace and share her own story.
“In my journey to becoming more sensitive to others’ experiences, I learned that misunderstood and non-recognized power dynamics cause vastly more confusion and pain than we understand or express,” Rieke wrote. “And so I talk about these things readily and urgently.”
Rieke said she tried to get help from the Montpelier Community Justice Center and was denied. She said that the MCJC told her that because her victims did not want to speak with her, there was nothing they could do.
“Assuming that I had caused that kind of problem for multiple people in a systematic way, it’s an appropriate thing to humiliate me,” Jaquelyn said in our interview. “But for me I was very sad to learn that I had hurt them and I was very eager to deal with that in some way.”
Now as the Facebook campaign continues, there are real costs for Rieke.
“I hear that Vini believes that they are a victim of sexual harm of mine,” said Rieke, “but I am now a victim of Vini’s bullying.”
The Public Debate
The community had a lot to say about Jacquelyn’s story. After VTDigger published Allen’s article on January 29, 2020 the comment section was overflowing with opinions.
Some voices supported Rieke.
“She apologized publicly, admitted she was doing the whole being a boss thing absolutely wrong, and changed her behavior…The fact that this wasn’t good enough for a few who are now pressuring the community to squash this woman into the ground is absurd.”
Others believe what the VTJL is doing is just.
“What a double standard! If a man was appearing nude in front of employees and selling chocolate shaped like male sex organs, there would be a huge uproar from the entire community… Amazing that people are actually making excuses for Mrs. Rieke.”
Grae Frechette, an employee at Nutty Steph’s/Rabble Rouser, has worked with Rieke since June of 2019.
“There are immigrants who work here, people of color who work here, people like myself, queer people, and trans people who get to come here everyday and actually bring ourselves to work,” Grae said, “and then there are these people saying the person who founded this company needs to leave.”
Nicole Grenier and Rieke have worked together in the past. Grenier has supported people with disabilities finding employment at Rabble Rouser. Grenier is a mandated reporter for the community through her role at Washington County Mental Health.
Rieke said Grenier sent out a private email to vendors of Rabble Rouser in September informing them of Rieke’s behaviors. Rieke said this email caused some vendors to stop doing business with her, including Red Hen Bakery, a long time collaborator. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Rabble Rouser had lost a lot of business, as well as a business partner who quit and gave up her share of the company a month and a half before they opened the Montpelier space.
For Rieke, Rabble Rouser, and its employees, these past months have been catastrophic, from opening the new storefront while handling the public humiliation, to rebuilding trust and relationships, and dealing with their own lives and triggers around talking about sexual harassment.
“It is this thing I have learned to realize, the power of winning hearts and minds,” Rieke said, “of just sitting and reminding them of my humanity.”
In spite of Jaquelyn’s efforts, the VTJL, as they reported on their Facebook page, “…asked that Jaquelyn Rieke would not directly engage in the process unless asked by VTJL.” Jaquelyn says she still hasn’t been contacted.
“When I think about this it’s interesting,” Rieke said. “It happened all about me, and around me, but it virtually doesn’t involve me.”
“That’s the problem with public opinion,” she said. “There is no process. No hearing, no listening to be done, and certainly nothing fair about it.”
The VTJL has received a lot of support from the community, allowing a place for victims of Jaquelyn Rieke’s sexual harm to be discussed in a safe, and designated environment online. They have created “solidarity postcards” for community members to send to Rabble Rouser, stating “Justice is Better Than Chocolate” with the intention of showing the urgency of this situation.
The league posted on March 19th, informing followers that the VTJL has been meeting over Zoom due to Covid-19 and the importance of social distancing. Their plan for the future seems to be online webinars/workshops about transformative justice.
As for Rieke the consequences are still very real, for her business and for herself. On top of the loss of the business partner, the humiliation from the VTJL, opening the new Montpelier space and now Covid-19, Rieke’s business has been hit hard. Rabble Rouser is determined to stay in business and keep supplying their products to our community. Rieke said they have closed the Montpelier and Middlesex stores but expressed that their main goal is to keep all their employees economically sound and safe during this time.
“It’s like waves crashing… as a small business it’s a miracle to stay in business every year,” Rieke said. “If we were any less of a persevering company, the combination of those four waves of losses would have really buried us by now.”