Predators in our community – Monday blogging


There is so much to say and so little coherence in me right now. Recent dredging up of past events because of current ones is not a bad thing if used as an example for how to correctly have conversations going forward about abusers in our community. Getting stuck in the quarreling over that past event is counterproductive and rarely moves that conversation forward.

That doesn’t mean everyone should shut up about it. It means finger pointing backwards in time at those you believe didn’t do enough or did too much when there was no template in place for how to speak of abuse in our community doesn’t promote the conversation we need to have. There was no template for accountability when legal authorities weren’t involved (or yet involved)  and the rehashing of blame only stalls the conversation at the point of the past crisis. Stalled means we stay where we were before we started. It is not useful.

We need to find ways to allow these conversations to occur unhindered by kneejerk reactions as the abuse is happening, as the abuse is being addressed (by community and/or legal authorities), and in the aftermath. The only successful way to allow it is to actually allow it.

That sounds so simple. It is not. It means withholding judgment. Not only withholding judgment about the people who speak up about their abuse, but also withholding judgment about people who initially speak up in support of the abuser in words similar to, “But he couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He’s my friend. I’ve circled with him.”

Withholding judgment is not the same as putting on blinders. Withholding judgment is allowing people to be the humans we all are. “Not in my neighborhood.” “Not in my family.” “Not in my religious community.” This is an initial, self-protective response by those who have not suffered abuse when hearing about a horrific thing. If we are going to have truly open conversations in our community about abuse we need to know going in that initial kneejerk reactions are going to happen. We cannot stop them. (How could we?) We need to move past those very common reactions with grace and put ourselves where we should be – at the side of the victims.

Part of what needs to be put in place is clear appropriate support for the victims who speak up. Part of what needs to be put in place is the acknowledgment that the first step of speaking up isn’t the hard part no matter how much it seems to be. The hard part is standing in your truth while the backlash washes toward you. The abused need to know that the community will stand with them not only when they first speak up, but as a deflection wall around them when the naysayers first cry their disbelief. They need to know we will still be there after the cries have died to whispers to silence. Sometimes the silence after being brave is the most perplexing and disheartening phase to navigate.

I don’t have the perfect template. I don’t have the answers for how to address this enormous task at the level of “all of the community.” I don’t even know that it can be addressed at that large a level or if we have to trust the individual communities to hammer out their own templates. I’m thinking the latter with support from media outlets like popular sane blogs, newsletters, and e’lists.

There is no one perfect way. There are many incorrect ways. Let’s avoid as many of the incorrect ways as we can early in the conversation.

Incorrect (not an exhaustive list):

  • Shushing the victim by saying or implying they are traitors to their community
  • Telling the victim they are wrong or they misunderstood the actions of the abuser
  • Interrupting the abused as they tell their story to ask questions, clarify, whatever. (There is time for that after they have finished speaking.)
  • Derailing the conversation with stories of how “good, kind, well-respected” you have found the accused abuser to be
  • Shaming the victim by telling them what they could have done differently
  • Giving advice before being asked for it
  • Trying to minimize fallout by attempting to control the story and who hears it
  • Diminishing victims by classifying them: “the crazy ex”, “the one always in the center of controversy”, “the mouthy/bitchy one”, “the spotlight whore”. Even if all of those things are true.
  • Allowing your previous beliefs about the victim or abuser to close your ears to their story

Correct (not an exhaustive list):

  • Listen
  • Listen more
  • Listen some more
  • Make eye contact
  • Unfold your arms
  • Straighten your face (Feel eyebrows wanting to go up? Pull them down. Feel a frown coming on? Pull the corners of your lips in line.)
  • Let Love flow out through your core and your eyes
  • If they start panicking about the details of the abuse event urge them to stay in the moment of what they are feeling right now. Details of the abuse do not matter in the moments of first telling. The details will come back later. Support through the enormity of emotion that full realization of abuse brings requires staying in the here and now. (Focusing on remembering details keeps them in the scenery and time of the abuse event. The telling phase needs to stay in the present because that is where you are and the only place you can provide appropriate support.)
  • Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Sit in that discomfort. It is minor compared to the discomfort they are in and if you can sit in it they will feel they can, too.
  • Finally, listen

Years, almost 2 decades now, I have been walking the healing path from (sexual) abuse that began in childhood which was the prevailing form of abuse with me. The above guide works with all categories of abuse. I walked with books, and workbooks, and conversations with other survivors. I walked with the grand idea of trying to initiate a child abuse education program in a religious community. I walked into face-to-face meet ups with survivors. I walked this healing path with many different tools and therapeutic relationships. The most useful, compassionate, and healing part of this path was when I walking with the telling and listening and telling and listening some more. The above partial lists are some of what I’ve learned. I offer them to you. May they be useful.

18 thoughts on “Predators in our community – Monday blogging

  1. It is heart-breaking that these things need to be spelled out. I don’t want to derail the topic from sexual abuse, but I do also want to point out that this is an excellent guide for how to handle abuse in our community, period. I’m seeing a bit more of “this particular form of abuse is deplorable, so let’s use this as our yardstick and not quibble about non-sexual types of abuse” than I’d care to. If someone one looks to as a leader, if someone is setting themselves up as a leader, and said someone verbally or emotionally abuses their students, that is also abuse, and ought not be tolerated. It infuriates me.

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    1. I completely agree with you. That is why I only used the word “sexual” with the word abuse when speaking of my personal history. Perhaps I need to make this more clear.

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      1. No, you don’t. My brain is going there immediately because it’s in the forefront of my mind. You’re post was clear. I was partially venting more than strictly responding to the material in the article.

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        1. I edited for clarity. If one person reads it that way it is likely many are reading it that way and it doesn’t matter how clear I believe I’ve been – I’m in my head, I know what I mean – I also want others to be in my head. For a the length of the post, anyway.

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      1. You’re welcome! I keep forgetting that it leaves the reblog comment behind. 🙂

        I particularly appreciate your point about being patient through people’s initial knee-jerk responses.

        I agree that it’s important not to diminish victims with insults. I find it interesting that you included the caveat “even if all those things are true”.

        What I wonder is how to deal with more sober contextualizing statements. Obviously “crazy bitch” isn’t a logical statement, but “has a track record of abusing others themselves”, or “proven liar” would be cogent, no?

        Or is part of the point that in that moment it doesn’t matter what’s true of the rest of their life, because none of that justifies victimizing them? That would make sense…

        It’s a lot to chew on. What seems incredibly obvious and clear from one perspective seems utterly muddy and confusing from another, even viewing the same situations. How I might respond as a victim is not the same as how I might respond as a victim’s friend is not the same as how I might need to respond as a community leader in a position of social but not legal authority. It seems like all those responses should be on the same page, but sorting through them for any real example it gets very complex and confusing very fast.

        That your post includes concrete suggestions for how to deal with the moment one is in relative to all of this is why I find it especially useful.

        –Ember–

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        1. Ah, a reblog comment isn’t the same as a “regular” comment for lack of a better word. I’ll remember that. Maybe. So many platforms, so many differences. 🙂

          I find it interesting that you included the caveat “even if all those things are true”.

          It’s one of those weird things I do to test a thing, a thought, or an action for how appropriate it will actually be in usage. It probably stems from a quote I am about to mangle from a book by Richard Bach titled _Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah_, “live your life to never be ashamed if everything you say and do is published around the world. Even if what is published is not true.” So, there’s that.

          What I wonder is how to deal with more sober contextualizing statements. Obviously “crazy bitch” isn’t a logical statement, but “has a track record of abusing others themselves”, or “proven liar” would be cogent, no?

          If someone has a proven (as opposed to “heard from a friend of a friend”) track record of abuse I first wonder why they are still in the community. Even though I know why. Abusers are hard to remove when silence is SOP. A “proven liar” falls a bit differently because I wonder what the previous lies were concerning and why they would have relevance to an accusation of abuse. Now, if someone who has repeatedly claimed abuse and every single time the accused had a rock solid alibi it would be pertinent. Otherwise, no. To be honest I would have to bite my tongue harder and control my face with extra force to not act inappropriately if either of what you mentioned were the case. “allowing people to be the humans we all are” thankfully includes me because I would be being all too human when confronted with an abuser claiming abuse, and yet. And yet I would sit and flow Love. I would hear the word Irony bouncing through my brain, yes. Yet, I would send a wish for understanding to come and future abuse to cease (while fully knowing that may never happen). I would sit and do and send these things with the irony reverberating in me because in those moments the victim needs those things and I can give them.

          Or is part of the point that in that moment it doesn’t matter what’s true of the rest of their life, because none of that justifies victimizing them? That would make sense…

          Yup, exactly that. I could have just jumped down here and said, “Yup”, but I wanted to state why thoroughly because your points are valid. Your points do happen, can happen when we’re the listener. Considering them before being smacked with those surprises is helpful. You can mitigate any negative impact your internal conversation may have on victims if you’ve already contemplated them. It is hard to be the listener when the victim has no authenticity issues. When they do? So much harder.

          What seems incredibly obvious and clear from one perspective seems utterly muddy and confusing from another, even viewing the same situations.

          It is clear and muddy when trying juggle divergent perspectives and considering next steps. Initial proper responses are pretty clearcut for supporting victims emotionally. Proper actions are muddier and case dependent and can include assisting with reporting to authorities (if desired), assisting evidence collection (drive to hospital), community confrontation (getting the story out), and holding the abuser accountable (even if “accountable” ends up nothing more than removing them from the community).

          I am so pleased you found my post useful.

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      2. Reblog comments are not so different that it’s inappropriate to reply to them. Folks have thanked me for the reblog before, I just forget that they’re likely to see it. Once I put in a whole post-length commentary as part of the reblog and was dismayed to see it added to the comments as well. I would have written a much shorter placeholder that was appropriate to someone else’s journal wall had I realized! *blush*

        To address your questions – in the example[s] I’m contemplating, the abusers are still tolerated for several reasons: 1: They are very good at being a pitiable victim. 2: They are very good at telling people what they want to hear (see also proven track record of lying). 3: Their style of abusing others isn’t physically violent. Transgressive, yes, emotionally manipulative, yes, disrespectful of boundaries, yes. Violent, no.

        I guess the other two things that come to mind…

        1: Most abusers have been abused in the past. It’s not safe to assume they never will be again. That doesn’t mean they deserved it then, or not, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate their own abuses either. That raises the tricky question – how do you support them as a victim WHILE refusing to support them as an abuser?

        2: Nobody should be expected to be directly supportive of a victim who was previously their own abuser. Possibly this is entirely regardless of the rest of the context, but I’m not sure how it balances when positions of authority enter into the picture.

        -E-

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        1. On the reblogging, that sounds like how I would learn about it, by posting a long intro comment of my own and having it replied to!

          In your specific scenario (which I didn’t realize we were speaking of a single person example of abuser, liar, and claiming victim while still actively abusing) it is handled differently for me. So, since we cannot undo the past and go back and listen to the victim I’m going to approach this as a going forward thing. We have an active abuser known to the community. For whatever reasons he is still welcome in our community. Since he is still welcome he feels safe. We as a community make it known that victims can speak up about all types of abuses and they will be supported. Someone tell us about this particular person’s abuse and we react in appropriate ways one of which is confronting the abuser (as leaders, as a community). The abuser (being excellent at manipulation) claims victim because he’d been abused in the past. Now what we do? My answer is a kinder equivalent of, “Sorry Charlie. That was then, this is now.” Probably said similar to to, “I’m sorry to hear you were abused in the past. That is really awful. What we’re addressing right now is the abuse of [victim name] who has named you as the abuser. Your past may have given you reasons for your behaviour, but is has not given us an excuse for what is happening now. As a community …. [fill in agreed upon handling of situation.]”

          From a personal standpoint, me only? If I know they are an abuser and they default to claiming they’re a victim, too, when confronted with abusive behaviour my personal bullshit alarm has sounded. Loudly. And I will let them speak their piece, but I will still continue on the path set out for supporting the original victim. Original being the one who accused the abuser in the first place.

          Most abusers, especially emotionally manipulatively ones, don’t preemptively claim abuse when a community changes their template for how abuse is handled. They don’t because they believe they are immune to being caught (ego and power dynamic in that type of abuser). They may try to claim it when being confronted (see same ego/power thing), but that is a different thing than coming forward first. That is a wholly different scenario for me than someone who has been whispered about, who’s behaviour may have been questioned yet no actual accusations made, comes forward and speak of a different person actively abusing them in the here and now. That is where I say withhold judgment and refrain from dismissing them via previous notions and listening even if all the things you’ve heard of are true.

          So how do you support as a victim while refusing to support them as an abuser? I say you don’t. You don’t support them as a victim if their previous abuse is being stated as a reason for their current behaviour. Current active behaviour is what is being addressed. Past/childhood/early Pagan experiences falls to the realm of a therapist for support, not to the realm of the community.

          Nobody ever should be expected to support someone who abused them. They are not even required to listen to their (current) story of abuse. Nobody should re-victimize themselves that way or be encouraged to do so. And no healthy community should hold an expectation that a victim should support a previous abuser. It get tangled and hard in the Pagan community when we’ve set ourselves up as “the community that welcomes all the outcasts”. It gets harder because we operate (here in the USA) within a society where institutionalized male privilege exists and forces still push to give men a pass on behaviour: “But he’s a nice guy!” “He’s just socially awkward, you should cut him some slack.” Really, really, hard. Even in my tradition of Reclaiming where we tout ourselves as the “social justice trad” we can get caught in the overarching societal structure of privilege.

          It is good we welcome the outcasts. That is not the same as allowing abusers freedom to abuse in our midst. It is difficult, and tangled, and long hard work to set the necessary boundaries in the in-between stage that is moving from how we were (Everyone is welcome! So are all excuses!) to who we want to be as a community (Weirdos are welcome! Abusers are not!). And we will stumble. And some abusers will slip through, anyway. And we will fail some victims along the way or alienate ones who tried to speak in the past and were ignored. All of these things will be problems for us. But if we don’t agree to a plan, if we don’t start correcting it now, we will end up with no community, or worse, we will end up with a community that has become a safe haven for abusers of all sorts and the abusers will know it.

          I think now is a good time to start. I think now while the arrest of Kevin Klein is current is a good time to begin. I think now while people talk about Sabre being up for parole next Spring is a good time to make a plan. I think now while victims have the courage to speak of other abusers because of these current things is the exact time to implement a new template. If we wait until the high emotion dies down to begin we risk falling back into the complacency of believing that we’ll do better next time “just because” without having changed a thing to support that belief.

          I hope this clarifies what scenarios I was speaking about in my previous comment.

          (****For the people reading along: Yes, I know women can be abusers, too. I also know the percentage is much lower so I defaulted to the majority and used men/male/he because of the additional weight of institutionalized male privilege in my country that works to keep male abusers hidden, supported, and actively abusing. No, I do not think women abusers should get a pass. Yes, I do think women abusers should be held accountable in the same manner as men abusers.)

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      3. > That doesn’t mean they deserved it then, or not, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate their own abuses either.

        Blarg. That should say “That doesn’t mean they deserved it then, or NOW” -E-

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      4. Oh, you’ve been quite clear all throughout. I’ve just really appreciated a chance to muse on some of the kinds of complications I’ve seen arise in particular cases, and experienced firsthand, that have made it harder for me to navigate all this.

        Thank you very much for helping me take a look at this stuff from another angle. 🙂

        -E-

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        1. Thank you for bringing up actual scenarios that do not fit an easy action plan. No one template or plan will suit all situations. The community can come up with one or two that suit most and thinking about the others that have extra twists and turns in them like what you mentioned is a good exercise to engage in beforehand.

          It seems to me any template or plan will need altered for specific encounters, or at least have the ability to be altered if necessary. As a leader in my local community I know if a known abuser came to me to speak of being abused, even if his being abused was present tense and his abusive history was years ago I would have to pass him off to another community leader. Because of my early history of being abused I would not trust myself to be his listener. I don’t know that I could be appropriately empathetic and I really have no desire to find out. I am okay with knowing my boundaries and holding them. I expect other leaders will know and hold theirs, too.

          Anyway, thank you for this conversation. It is an important one.

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