My husband has a formerly good friend “Paul,” who has a history of domestic violence. The last three of his relationships have ended after violent physical attacks. We learned about the first two accusations second hand over the course of a few years. The most recent incident feels a bit different because it was relayed to me personally by Paul’s ex-girlfriend “Jenny,” with whom I’ve become friendly.
My husband and I are appalled, and have actively distanced ourselves from Paul. It is inevitable though that our paths will continue to cross because we have many mutual friends. Some of these friends have heard the same rumors we did about past abuse, but we have not shared what Jenny told me. Do we have an obligation to make this information known, or to confront Paul about this pattern? I have no desire to ostracize Paul, but if he starts dating someone new, I’ll want to warn her. I have not a clue how, or what I might say. Talk about awkward!
Thanks and please keep me anonymous.
Your anonymity is no problem.
“I have no desire to ostracize Paul.”
How many women would he have to beat up before you & your husband would want to ostracize him?
“It’s not that simple” is the instinctive response. There’s history there. For so long, you didn’t know, or, you didn’t have all the information, or, you didn’t have it from the horse’s mouth.
What if it were that simple, though?
I’m going to yell now.
DECIDE THAT YOU WON’T HANG OUT WITH HIM OR GO ANYWHERE THAT HE WILL BE ANYMORE
OSTRACIZE THE FUCK OUT OF HIM
BLOCK THE SHIT OUT OF HIS FACEBOOK
UNFRIEND HIM…IN REAL LIFE
BELIEVE THE STORIES WOMEN TELL YOU ABOUT HIM
Need some scripts?
- “That’s Paul. He’s an old friend of my husband’s. I don’t have anything to do with him anymore, because [I’ve been told that] he beats women.”
- “We used to be friends but we’re not anymore. He mistreats women, and we can’t have him in our lives now that we know.“
- “We don’t invite Paul anywhere we will be, or go anywhere we know that he will be. His pattern of mistreating women is too much, and we can’t have him in our lives anymore.Your friendship is very important to us, and we very much want to keep spending time with you, but we have to be clear and absolute about this. If you want us to come to something, please don’t invite him, and vice versa.“
If Jenny has sworn you to secrecy, or if you’re worried that he might punish her in some way for disclosure, it’s important to protect her. So, you don’t have to name names or give details. “He has a history of violence against women.” “He treats women very poorly and I just can’t with him.”
You don’t have to nail The Crimes of Paul to the post in your town square. Start one-on-one, with the mutual friends you trust, and see how it goes.
A) You don’t have to be “fair” when you choose your friends. Your opinion, your preferences, your subjective wants and needs are enough to say “I’d like to be friends with that person” or “I’m not interested in being friends with that person.”
B) Your opinion and your decisions about who to associate with don’t have the same burden of proof as a court of law. If people try to argue with you or challenge you to prove it (and nothing brings out the armchair experts on “fairness” and “burden of proof” and “we don’t know all the facts” apologists like a man accused of abusing a woman, so, be ready), remember this: You don’t have to prove your case, you only have to make your choice and stand by it. “I’m not a prosecutor and I don’t have to be. It’s come up enough that I believe it’s true, and I can decide not to be friends with someone anymore.”
You don’t have to confront Paul. You can’t fix Paul. But you can 100% kick him out of your social group and you can be honest about why.
If Paul tries to argue his case, or find out exactly what you know (“Who told you?” = “I’m looking for an excuse to punish Jenny”), a) Let your husband do the heavy lifting and b) His script could be, “Dude, please go get some counseling and figure this out before you hurt yourself or someone else.”
If you successfully disengage from Paul, it’s likely that when he starts dating someone new, you won’t know about it. But say you did know, and you did somehow meet or know his new girlfriend. He will have told her some story about how unfair the world has been to him and how “Those bitches were all crazy, not like you, Babe!” If she’s newly in love with him it will be like she’s under a spell and she won’t want to hear anything bad about him. What can you do, in that case? Maybe nothing. Or, maybe you can say, “Hey, you don’t know me, and you don’t want to hear this, but please hear me out for one minute. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t say something. My husband and I were friends with Paul for a long time, and his relationships with women tend to end violently. I hope that doesn’t happen with you, but if it ever does, please know that what’s happening is not your fault. Know also that we will believe you, no questions asked.”
Letter Writer, I know I am being hard on you. Sorry for yelling, when I know you want to do the right thing here and have already started to do the right thing by believing Jenny and distancing yourself from this dude socially. If this were easy or if we had a tried-and-true cultural script for how to do this you would have done it already. Abusive people poison everything around them. They prey on the social contract and on the instincts of good people to be reasonable and nice and fair and give their friends the benefit of the doubt. They use that benefit of the doubt to create a zone of plausible deniability and confusion in which to operate. They groom the people around them to accept their behavior, and they create a lot of friction and awkwardness for people who rebel against the manipulation. Paul is scary! Of course you’d think twice about courting his ill-will! But…what if…
…what if losing all your friends is a reasonable, predictable consequence of beating up your romantic partners?
What if we could make it so? What if we could support good people like you who are ready to draw a line in the sand and stop the way our culture coddles and supports misogynists? I want you to make it that easy for yourself, inside your heart and inside your brunching circle: Paul hurts women = You are done with Paul. It can be that simple.
- We can stop inviting the creepy guy to play Dungeons & Dragons with us.
- We can block that dude whose feed is one long “that’s what she said” joke, without preamble or explanation.
- We can say “whoa, not cool” when our friends make “ironic” rape jokes and sexist comments.
- We can decide to stop being friends with misogynists, rapists, and abusers.
- We can stop inviting them to our parties and stop pretending that inviting them is a neutral thing to do.
- We can stop letting “Well, he’s always been very nice to me!” be an acceptable reason to silence victims.
- We can tell each other the true stories of what abusive people did and do.
- We can support and believe each other as we go.
We can do these things. I think we have to do these things.
❤ and Awkwardness.
351 thoughts on “#960: “Our friend hits women.””
Depending on where she lives, LW needs to be VERY CAREFUL about slander and/or defamation laws. “I think Paul is a piece of shit”, “I’ve been told he beats women”, “I won’t be around him due to his treatment of women” are all ok. “Paul beats women” is slander if she can’t prove it, and “Domestic violence, assault, battery, intimate partner violence” are all legal terms for which Paul has, unfortunately, not been charged with yet.
Paul abuses women. Of course he’d use the law to hurt a woman who speaks out about him.
Good point, sadly. I’ll edit the text a bit.
Both libel and slander require the alleged abuser to both prove that the person saying the things did so with malice, to specifically cause him harm, AND that the accusations are untrue. He bears the burden of proof, not the people calling him out for his busted abusive behavior.
Sorry, I am an attorney and in just want to clarify that there is a different standard for private and public figures and some.of the standard you are articulating is for public figures. It can vary by jurisdiction so I won’t say anything definitive, but actual malice is often not the standard in this case, where Paul is a private figure.
[moderator hat on]Let’s put a period on the legalities discussion – we don’t even know where the LW & Paul are located.
Three things we know:
Abusive jerks can and do try to use the court system to punish their victims, even when the law is not on their side.
If the LW is worried about this she could consult an attorney local to her.
A legal case is *not* the most likely outcome of telling friends “I don’t like that dude and don’t want to spend any time with him anymore.” We get to choose our friends.
Thank you. I will delete future comments about legal definitions in this thread.
“I’ve been told that Paul beats women” can also cause problems for Jenny. It’s not uncommon for abusers to sue their victims for disclosing the abuse. In the US at least, slander/libel/defamation take into account the direct impact on the plaintiff–what they have lost directly because of the allegedly defamatory statement. Proving that they lost a particular friend/girlfriend/job directly because of the abuse disclosure is pretty difficult, but if someone comes out and says “I no longer associate with Paul because I’ve been told he beats women,” that can give Paul legal ammunition to use against Jenny.
I’ve seen one of these cases drag out for years, in a case where the abuse victim literally had photos of the bruises, but their shitbag ex still got years of additional contact out of harassing them in court.
Everything about it is awful, and it’s especially awful in that it allows abusers to use the law as a cover for their behavior.
It may be worth checking around for local organizations that provide legal aid to abuse survivors. You and/or Jenny might be able to get some legal advice on exactly what wording to use to warn others about Paul while also protecting yourself and Jenny from a harassing lawsuit.
If any of this is in doubt, the LW doesn’t have to give a detailed reason. “I decided to stop being friends with him.” “I don’t like him anymore.” Or even “I find him scary.” “I don’t feel safe around him.” “I don’t like the way he treats other people.”
You can literally not be friends with someone because you don’t like their face, or the shirt they were wearing the day you met them had a band on it you hate. It’s amazing to me that when there’s a legit reason that you shouldn’t be friends with someone suddenly it has to be proved in the court of friend law or something that they’re a bad person. What if they were bad in a way that didn’t involve intimate partner violence? “Oh, I can’t stop being friends with this actual cannibal until the Friend Judge says it’s okay.”
Like, say *anything*. It doesn’t matter, as long as the LW stops endorsing this horrible man with their friendship.
It’s true one does not have to give reasons. The nice thing about reasons in a scanario like this is it makes it abundantly clear the behavior is a problem and there’s a dim hope that perhaps that might alter the pattern. But only when folks feel they can do that.
“He just bugs me, is all.”
I also like “he creeps me out.” Completely subjective and yet anyone who believes women will know it means he’s A Problem.
Annalee, good call with that one. If you can’t (or don’t want to) say outright what the problem is, using coded language will still give everyone a pretty good idea of what the problem is. “He’s creepy” or “he creeps me out” will probably work for women. Is there a similar phrase that would work for men?
‘I’ve heard too many rumours about him battering his partners to dismiss them all’? Rumours can come from anywhere, and that implies multiple sources.
This is where I default to: “He’s not a safe person.”
For guys, how about “he is a dirtbag?”
Maybe generational/regional, but among men in my circle this certainly indicates that the rejection is rooted in specific, despicable behavior.
In my circles “He is a dirtbag” would just imply that he doesn’t have a 9-5 job, lives out of his van, and spends most of his time climbing and hiking. So, that’s definitely not universal.
If there’s a fear of damage rebounding on Jenny, Jenny herself is probably the best judge of what you could or couldn’t do safely. She might feel supported if you consulted her too.
Actually, the onus is on Paul to prove the accusation is false, that you knew it was false and made it anyway *and* that he has suffered as a result. This is to ensure our freedom of speech is not infringed upon by those who can afford to file bogus lawsuits. In some states, we also have additional penalties against SLAPP suits (false accusation of slander or perjury used to silence people).
If Paul is a public figure, he may also be required to prove malice afterthought.
Just FYI – that’s not the law in Canada. Here the defendant can use truth as a defence, but has to prove truth on a balance of probabilities. Just to point out that the legal risks can vary by jurisdiction.
[I am defending a defamation suit where my client spoke about her sexual assault publicly, and has been sued by her assaulter, and our best defence is proving truth [that he sexually assaulted her], which of course is notoriously extremely hard to do. Yes, the whole thing is just as awful as it sounds.]
the burden of proof is the other way around in the UK (but it only counts if it’s published, so if the LW lived here they would probably be fine saying it to mutual friends[?]). we don’t know where they are, so we can’t really say what’s OK.
No they actually don’t have to be that careful at all. With defamation laws the accuser has to prove that he/she didn’t do what they are being accused of. The law of defamation varies from state to state, but there are some generally accepted rules. If you believe you are have been “defamed,” to prove it you usually have to show there’s been a statement that is all of the following:
published – “Published” means that a third party heard or saw the statement — that is, someone other than the person who made the statement or the person the statement was about. “Published” doesn’t necessarily mean that the statement was printed in a book — it just needs to have been made public through television, radio, speeches, gossip, or even loud conversation. Of course, it could also have been written in magazines, books, newspapers, leaflets, or on picket signs.
false (here is where it truly falls apart for most people as the burden of proof is on the ‘defamed’ not the person making the statement) -3. A defamatory statement must be false — otherwise it’s not considered damaging. Even terribly mean or disparaging things are not defamatory if the shoe fits. Most opinions don’t count as defamation because they can’t be proved to be objectively false. For instance, when a reviewer says, “That was the worst book I’ve read all year,” she’s not defaming the author, because the statement can’t be proven to be false.
injurious – The statement must be “injurious.” Since the whole point of defamation law is to take care of injuries to reputation, those suing for defamation must show how their reputations were hurt by the false statement — for example, the person lost work; was shunned by neighbors, friends, or family members; or was harassed by the press. Someone who already had a terrible reputation most likely won’t collect much in a defamation suit.
unprivileged – Finally, to qualify as a defamatory statement, the offending statement must be “unprivileged.” Under some circumstances, you cannot sue someone for defamation even if they make a statement that can be proved false. For example, witnesses who testify falsely in court or at a deposition can’t be sued. (Although witnesses who testify to something they know is false could theoretically be prosecuted for perjury.) Lawmakers have decided that in these and other situations, which are considered “privileged,” free speech is so important that the speakers should not be constrained by worries that they will be sued for defamation. Lawmakers themsleves also enjoy this privilege: They aren’t liable for statements made in the legislative chamber or in official materials, even if they say or write things that would otherwise be defamatory.
Your advice is good because the ultimate point at the end of the day though is you’re not in a court. “he’s a shitbag” is enough of a reason. “I don’t like his face” is enough of a reason not to be friends with someone. The less you act like you’re laying out a legal case in the Seventh District Court of Afeels the less likely your friends are to try to turn it into a courtroom scene.
That said I have literally never heard of private-party slander litigation between non-public figures succeeding in the US. My exposure to Canada is lesser but I haven’t heard of one there either. When it comes to the US (and a lesser extent Canada) it’s often talked about in legal advice forums, of which I participate in several quite actively, but I’ve never heard it actually occurring outside of hypothetical situations.
That said, it can’t hurt to know your rights. You also are not slandering unless you KNOW it’s false or are acting with reckless disregard to the truth. Statements of opinion and not fact and subjective judgements are also absolutely protected.
Look up the definition of slander and defamation of character. The only way she can be held liable in court is if he can prove, without a doubt, that those accusations are false (and I doubt that can be proven…esp if there are any reports of domestic abuse on record) AND that what she said somehow caused life changing repercussions (i.e. he lost his job from the accusations). BOTH of those conditions have to be met in order for legal action to occur. Not likely to happen.
“We can stop letting “Well, he’s always been very nice to me!” be an acceptable reason to silence victims.”
Can we get this in mile-high letters, megaphoned over every city, written in the sky, *howled*.
This is what I think of as the “Hitler’s paperboy defense.” There’s probably SOMEone who had something nice to say, even, “Well, he always gave good tips when I collected for my paper route.”
Which, I’d like to clarify, is not an adequate defense.
“Hitler’s Paperboy Defense” is the best phrase I’ve ever read. Gonna start using this. 😀
I usually lurk instead of commenting, but I’ve got to comment with one thing that might sound like it’s also harsh.
LW, I need to make one thing very clear to you: if you do not ostracize this man, if you continue to be wishy-washy about allowing him to still have an active social life in your group of friends instead of making it clear why you will not spend any time with or even near him, you will be part of the problem and you WILL be telling women he hurts that you’re more concerned with being “nice”, “fair” or whatever other term you want to use than you are with his abuse of women. I’m saying this from the perspective of a survivor. Do not be the person who gives abusers cover in any way.
Came here to say the same, except you said it better. Yes, to all of this.
This. As another survivor, this.
Ostracizing is unpleasant, but maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to worry about that *if he treated women respectfully in the first place*.
Ostracizing is unpleasant….so is being beaten by your boyfriend. I’m trying not to be irrationally angry at the OP, but seriously…..how……do you NOT have the desire to ostracize Paul?
In a friend group that I am tangentially part of (not so much anymore) three guys were “ostracized” (i.e., no longer invited to stuff) because one of them kept making rape “jokes” and “jokingly” threatening to rape women in the group, and two treated the women they dated terribly (they were those “they’re okay as friends and terrible as boyfriends” guys, which was causing problems because they would start dating someone in the group and suddenly morph into Boyfriend Hyde to that person).
Everyone was finally just like, hey, you know what? Nah.
I mean, seriously. No offense to the OP, but I’m really glad I’m not friends with anyone who “has no desire to ostracize” someone who BEATS PEOPLE UP. What the fuck.
Yeah, more to the point: being ostracized *sucks*, but if you hit your girlfriend YOU DESERVE IT.
I’ve seen folks who were outed as serial abusers being protected with shitty reasons such as “he’s awkward,” “he’s a good guy,” etc. Even in cases where multiple victims came out and told their stories. Hell, for the longest time I was like, “ex is having a hard time and is mentally ill” and only now just realized I have a friend going through the exact same issues WHO TREATS ME LIKE AN ACTUAL HUMAN BEING WORTHY OF RESPECT.
And holy shit, “OK as friends and terrible as boyfriends.” I don’t even have the words for that, except they’re Bad People for treating their friends with respect and not doing the same for their girlfriends. Those poor women. I know the damage that does firsthand.
Yeah, re: those guys….the group is kind of fractured now because of moves/marriage/kids/life, but they were friend groups that sort of coalesced around people being on the same sports teams. I was only tangentially involved because I was a friend of a person on the teams so I would occasionally go to parties or barbecues or whatever.
I really don’t know what it was with these guys, but it was like – they had male and female friends, and they were totally fine/cool/funny with their male and female friends, but as soon as someone became their girlfriend they suddenly were a shitlord to that person. It was like they had this weird compartmentalization when it came to friends versus romantic partners.
It all kind of became officially Too Much when they started dating WITHIN the friend group, so all of a sudden it wasn’t like, this guy is showing with someone and is a dick to her and then they break up and I don’t see her again, it was like, oh, he’s being a dick to someone who is MY FRIEND. So word got around in the friend group that, hey, just don’t date this guy.
One of the ways I was treated poorly was seeing ex bend over backwards to hang out with friends while 1) restricting the time we hung out, 2) canceling an important date last minute because he didn’t feel like it, and 3) suddenly becoming unavailable during weekends, without asking me how I felt. Prior to becoming official, I got a lot of gratitude for deigning to spend my time with him; after, apparently I was worthless.
I wonder if similar treatment is why he decided to start dating outside *his* friend group.
but seriously…..how……do you NOT have the desire to ostracize Paul?
That’s where I got stuck too. I can understand being afraid that Paul will take it out on Jenny if you stop hanging out with him, or he’ll turn his anger on you, or that everyone else will take his side and you’ll lose your whole friend group, or just not wanting to believe that someone you thought was a friend would really do something so terrible (this one applies more in situations where there isn’t a long standing pattern of terrible behaviour), but I just don’t understanding not *wanting* to ostracize him.
Given how women in particular are often treated when they attempt to ostracize a man for bad behavior towards women, I wonder if what really gives the OP pause is not the act of ostracizing Paul, but the inevitable pushback from his defenders?
Yes, very much this. She may fear losing her own social circle, and she may be justified in her fear.
I am also usually a lurker, but I wanted to thank you for pointing this out. I was in an abusive relationship for a couple years, and some of my friends maintained contained with my ex until they witnessed his horrifying behavior firsthand. It didn’t make them seem fair and biased, but it did pretty effectively communicate that they either didn’t believe me or viewed my trauma as insignificant.
I’ve had the same experience, and am so sorry you went through that as well. It’s a helpless feeling of abandonment, and I hope the LW wouldn’t want to make any other person feel that way.
Ugh, I hate hate hate how common this apparently is. I’m so sorry you always experienced it. The LW seems to have good intentions, so I’m hoping they’ll take comments like these to heart.
I had a friend turn pretty nasty [online] stalker; most of my friends circled around me but one decided it was “drama” and they weren’t going to take sides.
I get how abusers can be great at thinking of themselves as the victim (certainly true in my case too) and distorting reality and silencing their victims. But damn it left a sour taste in my mouth for that particular person. Years later I still feel like telling them off now that I can see clearly how @#$@#ed up the situation was.
Same here. It isn’t on the same level as domestic violence, but I was tormented for a year and a half, and it escalated until I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt. I blocked my abuser when I got out of the hospital, and spent the next several months watching all my friends and even my brother, who I lived with at the time, choose to continue to play Pathfinder with my abuser. She was in my house. A month after I got out of the hospital from overdosing as a reaction to her unrelenting emotional abuse, I had to see her drinking a Mountain Dew in my living room.
Eventually, my brother did stop hanging out with her. But it was because she was mean to him and his then-girlfriend. He’s one of my closest friends, but I’ll never be able to forget about that. I’ll never be able to forget that what happened to me wasn’t reason enough to stop playing tabletop roleplaying games with her. I know I can’t control other people’s behavior, and I know it’s unfair to expect someone to rearrange their life to suit me, but at the same time, if someone had abused my brother, I wouldn’t be able to look at their face. I would never be able to be in the same room as them. I would see them and feel venom. I see now that it was naive of me; and the fact that my suicide attempt was because of my mental illness, not exclusively because of her, has not escaped me… but I had really thought that after what happened to me, my friends would have stood up for me, or at least reacted in some way. I really thought that they’d go, “We looked the other way when we thought they were just fighting, but I see now that it was something more sinister.” I really, really thought my brother would say, “You hurt my baby sister,” but he didn’t. It’s been four years and that hurt resonates with me to this day.
When it comes to abuse, neutrality is a farce. “I’m not choosing sides” always, always, always means “I don’t believe you.” It always means, “Sure, but what did you do to make it happen?” It always means, “yeah, but it’s not THAT big of a deal.” The victim hears you loud and clear: they don’t matter to you, and you can’t be trusted.
Like hell is it “not on the same level as domestic violence,” Betsy!! I’ve been the victim of full-scale physical domestic assault… in fact I nearly died from it. But the four years of escalating, nonviolent or not-quite-violent torture — the controlling and demanding and confusing and gaslighting and punishing and everything else that abusers do to keep you off balance — did as much of a job on my mind as the assault did on my body.
You, too, almost died from your abuse. It doesn’t matter whether the abuse was physical or mental; it was severe enough to come close to killing you, just as surely as the woman who smothered me against a mattress came close to killing me.
Please, don’t ever sell yourself short like that. Don’t tell yourself or others that your abuse wasn’t “on the same level” or “not really *that* bad” or anything else that they try to tell you in order to normalize torture and make people tolerate it. Your suffering isn’t any less serious or important just because it wasn’t physical.
You’re right. Thank you, and I’m sorry.
I was sixteen years old when I was introduced to BDSM, by a man in his sixties. He was very careful to only be controlling, to insist that he was just my teacher of BDSM and we were not in a relationship, and we did not actually play until I was legal. (And in the end only actually played the one time; by the time I was 18 my regard for him was disintegrating and he had figured out I was never going to groom into the kind of submissive he wanted.) Never mind that he told me I was not permitted to talk about BDSM to anyone other than those he designated. Everyone in my social circle knows what happened, because they *saw* it happening, and heard me talk about it. He is still welcome in parts of my social circle even though I’ve been years recovering from him. I don’t dare complain of it. And I don’t think I’m his only victim, because the people hosting that party mentioned to me once that there’s someone else who always leaves as soon as he shows up, though they didn’t say what he did to her, just that it was similar enough to what he did to me that I might want to talk to her. (And yet, they still have him at these parties.)
These are people who I had regarded as parental substitutes– in all the emotional ways, they were much better at parenting me than my own. And yet.
“(And yet, they still have him at these parties.)”
Quoted for piercing truth.
They know the history. They know it hurt you, and also this other woman. They can’t say it’s not their business to decide who to invite to their party. What can it possibly add up to except there wasn’t anything wrong in what he does? That they say
They even know he’s a repeat offender (and I’m certain it’s more than two, too) and can reasonably be expected to do his thing under their roof.
Sorry, you’re in a scene where you have party hosts ADVISING you to talk to ANOTHER woman because they KNOW you SHARE the experience of being abused by this man and they STILL INVITE HIM?
Yeah, I live in a town where a couple of prominent scene hosts turn a blind eye to abusers, as long as they’re not making trouble at their parties, and so I don’t attend them. Yes, there’s not much that goes on in this town, but fuck that. And I’m not from this place, know very few of the people, and if *I’ve* heard about certain individuals, it must be very public knowledge.
The biggest, by far, warning sign is when one of these fuckhead “masters” tells their victims not to discuss their activities with anyone else. Huge age difference. Naive victim (yeah, you can read/watch all the porn in the world, but that does not prepare you for a *genuinely* dangerous person). Isolation. Gaslighting. It’s classic.
And it really gets right on my tits when certain people wank on about the BDSM community “looking out for their own” and then promptly demonstrate *they* don’t.
There are excellent BDSM communities – the one I play in most (alas, not in the country I live in now) took swift action to exclude a prominent guy whose abusive activities came to light. I’m so glad for the brave woman who spoke up, and so angry at how many young women he’d abused before it was all revealed. We all thought he was a “good guy”. Well, we’d only seen him in action in public and I for one am not a sub. Never believe a top’s word about another top! We have no fucking idea.
But the crap communities/crap senior players let everyone down. It seems to be more prevalent in small towns (or, probably more accurately, you can find an alternative scene/friends that don’t implicitly condone such behaviour in larger towns)
There are also some excellent community and educational resources online, so I hope more young/inexperienced people are finding these before some revolting “master of the ancient house of abusers” gets hold of them first.
It also angers me because kink is pretty powerful stuff to be negotiating, but it’s so great when it’s done with due care and attention to everyone. But stories like yours makes people reluctant to get involved, whereas they *should* be the people to get involved to avoid normalising the abusers.
“When it comes to abuse, neutrality is a farce. “I’m not choosing sides” always, always, always means “I don’t believe you.” It always means, “Sure, but what did you do to make it happen?” It always means, “yeah, but it’s not THAT big of a deal.” The victim hears you loud and clear: they don’t matter to you, and you can’t be trusted.”
10000 times this.
My parents don’t go out of their way to socialize with the man who sexually assaulted me when I was 15, but a couple years ago they were at an event where he was (which is fine by me because reasons) and next time I talked to them on the phone they just started giving me his news like he was just any old part of my extended family.
One of the worst trigger moments I’ve experienced.
The assault was almost 20 years ago, they’ve known about it for about 15, I’m still in the process of getting over it, and honestly the PTSD and recovery process for me is at least as much about this sense of abandonment as about the assault itself.
@Betsy, thank you for sharing, and please believe that what happened to you was horrific in its own right – there is no need to compare with other kinds of abuse. I’m sorry this happened to you and I’m glad you seem to be better. Jedi hugs if you want them.
I’m so, so sorry this happened to you. I was also in a super emotionally abusive (platonic) friendship. It took seven years of the horrible treatment escalating for me to finally wake up and get out of it. I ended up getting a super expensive last-minute plane ticket to visit my parents and get physically away from the abuser for a few weeks, lots of emergency counseling sessions, new locks on my doors, and waiting ’til I knew the abuser would be asleep to start the process of locking her out of all our online connections because I was so afraid she’d notice one and contact me on another before I reached that one. For months afterwards I would hyperventilate when I saw anyone who looked even vaguely like her in public, and I’d duck behind a corner to hide. For years I’d still flinch. Even now, I’m occasionally nervous when I think there’s a chance I could run into at a certain event or location.
And yes, how my friends reacted mattered a lot. Most of my closest friends were also good friends with her. We were a very very tight group. And while I think they did continue to stay in contact with her for a little while, they were VERY careful to keep that relationship completely separate from me. They never EVER invited us to the same things, would warn me if they knew she might be somewhere I was thinking of going, and even made an effort not to so much as mention her around me unless I brought her up first. As far as I know, they no longer see her anymore either. While part of me wished that they’d all immediately cut ties with her right when I did, I do at least know that they DID all immediately make a conscious effort to keep me safe from her. And for large events like weddings, I was invited, so I know that they did NOT invite her. If they’d been “neutral” and invited both of us to be “fair”, it would have been nothing of the sort.
There are a few other people, people who never even knew her that well in the first place, and probably never see her now at all because they only ever met her through me, who actually laughed when I said I was no longer in contact with her. Who said things like, “I guess girls’ friendships sometimes get too intense to handle.” Who assumed that it was some silly sit-com style spat and made light of it. I didn’t go into details about why I’d ended the friendship, but I did say it was a matter of ABUSE and I was seriously TRAUMATIZED from the whole thing, so even now that it’s been years since she’s even come up in conversation, I still keep in the back of my mind that the people who reacted that way are not entirely safe, and that I cannot depend on them in a dangerous situation.
I know you’re not laughing at anyone or making light of the situation, LW, but please, go ahead and ostracize this guy, for your sake and for the sake of all the people he has and may someday abuse.
Also, PocketNaomi – YES. I also told myself for ages that it wasn’t as bad as domestic violence (there were actually a couple instances of physical violence, but the vast majority of the abuse was not physical), mostly because it wasn’t a romantic relationship in the first place, and I was somehow convinced that therefore it couldn’t have been as bad. But my self-esteem and mental health were SEVERELY damaged by this relationship, and the trauma lasted (has lasted?) for YEARS, so I’ve finally admitted to myself that it was absolutely as bad as it feels to me.
On another note, I’ve wanted to write about this for years on Captain Awkward, but haven’t because in the back of my head I’m still afraid (even now) that she’ll somehow see this and somehow figure out that this is me. But this site has shown me that I’m not alone, and that I’m not the horrible person I thought I was for a long time for “breaking up” with a friend. That has helped me IMMENSELY in the years after that African violet-ing, even if I was never brave enough to write about it, and that’s just another example I think of how much the reactions of people OUTSIDE the abusive relationships matter. As a third party, you can make a huge difference!!
This could be me typing that out. Mine was a platonic friend and former employer. I waited until I physically moved to another -country- before I removed her online because I was afraid she would come to my house or find me in public.
Yep. I cut ties with a few *long-time* friends (who had also become friendly with my ex during our relationship) because they intentionally maintained a friendship with my ex (by which I mean, they didn’t just “not avoid her,” but actively sought out her company). And that’s exactly what I told them: This means that either you think I’m a liar, or you think it’s okay that she abused me. And either way, I’m done with you.
Also usually a lurker, but I just wanted to chime in to agree with this comment.
By hanging out with this guy, you are signaling to the women he’s harmed (you know about three, but there could easily be more) that you, too, are not a safe person to be around, because you have chosen to prioritize superficial politeness and “not making waves” over protecting the well-being of abuse victims.
It’s like hanging a sign around your neck saying “Don’t expect me to believe you. Don’t ask me for help if you’re scared. I am not willing to stand up to him in even the mildest of ways. Your safety matters less to me than having a pleasant time at this social event.”
Yup! Especially as not ostracizing him effectively ostracizes Jenny (and any other women he’s abused).
Yes, this is key. ‘Neutrality’ in a situation where there is abuse is just a less direct way of saying ‘taking the side of the more powerful person’.
And it’s not just about him facing consequences for his actions.
A social circle in which he is accepted is a social circle in which some other people (his ex girlfriends and whatever other future women) are NOT accepted and not even safe.
Yes! Another survivor here, and nobody believed me or stood up for me either. When I read blog posts like these it reminds me that I’ll never be quite over the whole thing and it still hits pretty close to home, even years later. It is good to read all those comments of people who are actually decent and nowhere as crappy as our social circle was back when it happened.
LW, I have nothing to add here really, but I want to say that all those comments about the consequences of doing nothing and not ostracizing Paul are absolutely 1000% true.
I remember in HS there was a guy in our group who sexually assaulted a girl in the group. We all knew this guy was creepy. Him being rapey was a pretty consistent joke. I knew he assaulted this girl. I still didn’t want to ostracize him. I even FORGOT that he did it! And I liked this girl.
And then he sexually harassed me and about a billion other girls in the school and it finally hit me that we all *let* him get this far. We knew he was creepy! We knew he made people uncomfortable! We JOKED about it all the time! But he was still in the circle, because we were all too “nice” to hurt his feelings. I will never forget how awful that feels. It was a hard lesson to learn.
DO Ostracize abusers. DO “ruin his life”
IF there were actual tangible consequences for abusing women, maaaaybe someday we might actually see abusers stop abusing.
Also, can we stop blaming mental illness every time a guy abuses or murders his partner/family? Thanks.
While we also stop using mental illness to discredit victims? Yes, please.
Yes. Abuse is *always* a choice.
As a DV survivor a thousand times this^. It was the hardest lesson for me to learn, but boy have I not forgotten it.
AMEN AMEN AMEN
“Nice” people who continue to associate with people they know (or reasonably suspect) are abusive provide cover and plausible deniability for the abuser. It’s kinda a weird (not true) innocence by association. Don’t be a storm trooper.
A good friend of mine has a really gross (behaving) acquaintance who I had assumed was a regular-type funny, charming dude that I spent a lot of time chatting with at a party, until that good friend later “filled me in” with a litany of gross dude’s prior bad behavior. She brushed his “antics” aside because he’s fun to talk to (he was!) and she enjoys his company (I did too!).
Because my dear friend had introduced me to him without breathing a word of his tendency to grope strangers and harass girlfriends I went into conversation with him thinking he was a good guy. I gave him the gift of having a fun chat with me and spent my time talking to this gross dude instead of talking to actually decent people. I don’t want to be friends with people who grope women and harass their girlfriends. I don’t want to smile and laugh with people who think it’s okay to harm others in their own selfish quest for “fun”. I don’t think they deserve to have a good time in public until they reform themselves. I think those people need to know their “antics” aren’t okay and they can’t be a full member of society as long as they do those things.
But my nice friend to whom I always attributed good judgement passively vouched for this guy, and he therefore had my own stamp of approval until I learned otherwise. He was getting to pass as a Fun, Nice, Not Gross Guy because my nice friend just shrugged her shoulders and figured it wasn’t relevant.
It was icky, and I told her as much. I’m not super sure she really bought in to the concept of shunning for behavior that doesn’t impact yourself.
This. This this this this this. When you refuse to ostracize abusive people, you’re helping them pull other people into their orbits. You’re the leafy branches camouflaging the pit full of spikes and skeletons.
I once had a flirtation that led to a long weekend in London with a lovely guy, who was totally respectful of my boundaries and with whom I had excellent sex.
*Afterwards*, when I posted about the weekend on LJ (which dates it!), I had three separate people – strangers to each other – let me know that “Lovely” Guy had raped them, or good friends of theirs. I’m still torn between wishing they’d said something before, and knowing how hard it is to tell someone you’ve had that done to you.
I spent six months dating an initially charming friend-of-friends who gradually turned into a self-centred, chain-yanking jackass. Once it ended, the mutual friends whose positive attitudes towards him had essentially vouched for him to me, mostly said “well what do you expect going out with *him*” (turns out they were far more familiar with his tendencies than they had let on) and “well he’s nice to *me*” (conveying that they didn’t consider treating me poorly to matter).
By putting up with people who behave badly, you vouch for them. You put the people who trust you at risk, and you put your own credibility at risk.
*nods* A previous place I lived, a flatmate hit it off with a random friend of a friend type guy and suddenly he was at all the parties and around a lot. I didn’t really care about him either way, but both my siblings passed on entirely different creepy/dickish stories about him (ranging from just general jerkiness to Out And Out Rapey). After that I had great fun actively shunning him (which meant that he stopped trying to talk to me – Win! – and flatmate started sneaking him round us when they started sleeping together rather than just moving him into our space – double win!). I also freely warned other people about him and happily recounted his various misdeeds, so he never really had a chance with any of *my* social group.
In this case, nothing terrible happened, and I never *heard* of him doing anything bad later (but I may not have anyway). But I made it a bit harder to just shrug and move on and smooth over and normalise having someone like that around, and I made MY life a little better (and developed some good skills for future similar encounters that were less clear cut). And maybe… maybe, I helped discourage/reduce the chances of him latching onto someone in my social group and harming them. I won’t know, because ‘hanging out in the same room as me’ and ‘making friends with my friends’ just stopped being an option.
But it required two major components:
1) Someone to actually TELL me specifically what sort of things he did. How specific it needs to be varies, but you need to give a clear example of the type of Bad and that the Bad exists. Bonus if it’s someone trustworthy, obviously. This gave me clear permission to categorise him as Bad without finding out the hard way. (Observing the Bad is just as effective, as long as I trust my own observations and have time to process them before having to react, but forewarned helps me skip all that).
2) Willingness to then *act* on that (scripts and social support helps a lot there too). I am very willing to just Not Be Friends with someone, but I won’t actively cut them out/object to them/warn people about them without something more solid than ‘yeah, their voice is annoying and they’re a bit sexist’ (I’ll *share my opinion*, but I won’t be unkind to them directly).
Vague ‘i don’t like him’ can be personality issues which falls under ‘so I shouldn’t be rude, I just don’t have to like them’. Specific ‘he did this’ lets me go ‘aha, yes, that is an actual Thing and also lets me put him into context/judge what I should react to, I am now going to start Enforcing Boundaries/Protecting People/Whatever’.
So yeah. Please tell people about this stuff and then be willing to put it into action. I’d have put up with being slightly creeped out/annoyed by this guy if I hadn’t had confirmation that the nebulous ick had solid history. I’d have put up with being nice to him anyway instead of making it clear he was Not Welcome In My Presence (I didn’t really have control over whether he got invited to stuff), if I hadn’t already given myself permission to just Not Like People and Make It Awkward (When Deserved).
By her passive behavior, she also put you in a position where you could’ve been a target by this man.
Right — introducing people, bringing them into your social circles, etc. is providing them a reference. We all understand that giving a glowing reference to a bad employee is a crappy thing to do, but people don’t think of their “friendship references” the same way.
Yup. When you go along to get along, even if in your head you “have reservations” or “are only being nice at parties so it doesn’t get awkward”, your refusal to cut them off is read as endorsement.
When you’re a kid and you’re mean to the other kids, they don’t want to play with you. Ideally, you learn how to be nice. This is just the grown-up version of that. There are consequences to what you say and do. Sometimes those consequences aren’t pleasant. LW – stop playing with the mean kid on the playground. If he learns how to be nice and actually IS nice, then you can decide if you want to play again.
LW, think of your own safety. Paul is not safe to be around. If he gets you alone and he is drunk and/or gets mad at you, you could be his next victim. Care to take your chances?
This is the best advice I have ever read about dealing with abusers or otherwise dangerous, manipulative, harmful people. God bless.
I’d like to share my perspective LW, as I was in the same exact position as you except I actively defended and made excuses for my then-friend for a long time. Let’s call him Tom.
Our other friends ostracized Tom but I always listened and believed Tom when he said he wasn’t at fault or the girl was lying or that he changed and won’t be bad to women for the 100th time. I stayed his friend and enabled him, even when he ruined one of our friend’s lives.
I finally came to terms with the extent of his abuse when his then girlfriend (now wife) called me in the dead of the night crying because Tom abused her. Then I told her what he did to my friends and to leave. And guess what, he had already groomed her at that point so she even thought she left she went right back.
There isn’t a day I regret not speaking up sooner and standing up for the women he abused, LW. I was so immature and stupid then but you seem to have much more sense than I did back then. So please, be brave and compassionate share these stories to protect women. I wish I was more aware then so I could have saved people… Good luck.
there isn’t a day I don’t regret* sorry ahh typo in my above comment!!
I’m also astonished that you wouldn’t want to ostracize Paul. Why ever not?
I’ve lost whole friend groups over this. Guess what? That’s the only way to make space in your life for people with a reasonable moral center, painful though it may be.
How is Jenny supposed to feel about your worrying about *Paul*’s feelings and well-being? Why is that even a concern?
ostracize the FUCK out of this dude. ruin his social life. make it so that no woman you are even remotely acquainted with ever dates this dude. stop hanging out with anyone who *would* hang out with this dude. it IS that simple. this dude is absolute garbage and deserves NOTHING, least of all a place in your social group.
“make it so that no woman you are even remotely acquainted with ever dates this dude”
But how can the LW manage that? They can warn others, but it’s Paul deciding to abuse women and it’s other women deciding (without relevant information like THIS IS A DUDE WHO HURTS OTHERS) to date him.
The LW can do a lot of things, but I’m afraid that keeping this dude from hurting others is not one of them.
Right. The LW cannot make anyone do anything. She can decide “I am done with Paul” and act on that. She can prioritize the mutual friends who respect that boundary and who believe her. If a future Paul girlfriend comes into her orbit, she can decide to speak up. That’s what she can control. If Paul hurts more people, that is on Paul. I wish it were different and that we could put a force field around him, but we can’t.
ok. fair enough. LW cannot “make” it happen. i was posting while FURIOUS. a more accurate statement would be: i wouldn’t hesitate to tell every single woman i know that Paul Hits Women.
I hear this! All good.
LW, many years ago my late husband had a friend who was married to a dude. The marriage wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. The dude was annoying, but did not seem actively Bad, and so he actively socialized and was socialized with.
And then one day, he got angry with his wife and he picked up a baseball bat and beat her nearly to death. Then he got in his car and drove around listening to the radio for an hour “to cool down”. When he got back to their home, his wife was still alive so he called an ambulance. She was in the hospital for some months, and divorced him when she got out. I don’t think he ever did a day in jail. He ended up remarrying, to a woman who had been a friend of his wife’s. My husband was one of the only people from that large friend group who cut this man out. His victim, however, was ostracized and eventually moved because she’d lost most of her friends.
I say, with all respect, YOU DON’T WANT TO OSTRACIZE PAUL ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME.
I’m so sorry that lady had to go through all that 😦
OK, let us reason together reasonably.
If Paul’s latest girlfriend, a stranger to you, had accused him of violence (to what degree? did he shove her lightly? did he put her in the hospital?) and you found out about it 5th hand…and that is the ONLY accusation against him…..hm. I mean, it’s an easy accusation to make, you don’t know the rest of the story, and anything that has gone through several re-tellings is probably messed up anyway by the time you hear it. It might be 200% fiction for all you know.
But here we have THREE incidents over a period of time, one of which you heard about first hand.
Like he’s the innocent lamb, right? Wrong. I don’t think we should jump on every bandwagon, but this guy is an entire parade. Maybe it can’t be proven in a court of law (then again, maybe it can, apparently no one has tried yet) but for ordinary social purposes I call it good.
Everyone’s been very patient, too patient, with this guy, it seems to me. I personally would not want to associate with him, and surely you are entitled to preferences in your social life without proving stuff beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, in my book you are semi-obligated to warn the next girlfriend who comes along. You don’t have to seek her out necessarily, and it probably won’t do any good if she is in the flush of first crush, but sometimes you have to do things without any assurance that it will “work.”
As Karen said, be careful how you phrase it. “Paul beats women” is a statement you cannot prove (and do not know of your own knowledge anyway). “I have heard, from more than one source, that Paul beats and otherwise mistreats his girlfriends” is a 100% true statement. Totally unassailable. After all, you HAVE heard this, and no one can claim that you haven’t. Even if the New Girl brushes you off, she will file this somewhere in her head, and the first time he strikes her it will promptly pop out. It may well save her life if it gets her out of there early.
I disagree with the ifs. There is nothing reasonable about them.
You can stop being friends for any reason at any time. We are talking about cutting off social ties, not about execution or even jail.
The only IF that belongs here is something like “IF it turns out this was all a big misunderstanding and you have 1000% evidence that he has never hurt anyone, maybe consider hanging out with him again.”
OK. I believe women, mostly. But women are no more intrinsically trustworthy than men. (Hate to say this, I’ll undoubtedly get flamed for it! Might get banned!!) We’re all human beings. I’ve seen women lie about this just like I’ve seen men lie about it.
But my real point was, EVEN IF you might doubt these stories under other circumstances, we have this Paul creep dead to rights, no reason to even THINK about it. Like it could be that everyone is lying on the poor innocent lamb. Riiiight.
Refusing to associate with him is one thing. Which anyone can do at any time for any reason, good or bad or nonexistent. Running around telling other women (like, a new girlfriend) that he’s a bad actor is something else again. I’d hesitate to do this unless I had more behind me than a bad feeling, and even then I think it’s wise to be careful how you phrase it. Suppose you’re right, suppose he’s a violent, dangerous type. He might sic the law on you, and you need to not put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily.
The reason we say to believe women is because of the *great personal risk* they assume by coming forward, naming names, and talking about what happened. They’re the ones who get ostracized for causing trouble because the abuser’s “such a nice guy” or “it wasn’t that bad,” etc. I’ve seen this happen over and over.
And it’s because of people going “well, I’ve seen women lie about it” that most women who are abused keep quiet.
Given the fact that abuse is incredibly, depressingly, appallingly common, on what PLANET does it make sense to make this about “trustworthiness”? About “Feelings?”*
No, this is about believing the people who had the courage to come forward and doing the right thing by doing your part to remove the cover and the benefit of the doubt that abusers enjoy.
Don’t put the burden of proof on those who speak up. Put it on the suspected abuser to prove they meet the baseline of human decency by not being abusive. To anyone.
You can pretend you’re being rational all day long, you’re actually just holding up abusive patriarchy.
*And yes it is a fact. Educate yourself.
There’s always one, isn’t there? I wish I knew where their magical level playing field was, where women and girls aren’t murdered for reporting abuse.
If Paul were a thief, would you give the same advice? Nobody should warn his potential victims, because while there’s a strong correlation between Paul coming over for dinner and sums of money disappearing, no one can say FOR SURE that he’s stealing?
It’s so terribly brave and noble of you to risk flames and banning to bring us the unexpected truth that, whoops, is the same old patriarchal BS.
Okay, the reason we say “believe women” has NOTHING to do with the assumption that women are naturally more trustworthy than men (because they are not). We say “believe women” because as a society we are FAR more likely to not believe women whether or not they are telling the truth. We don’t believe women when they say they are in pain (numerous studies that women are more likely to receive sedatives instead of painkillers when they are in pain), we don’t believe women’s emotions, we don’t believe women when they are accusing someone of abuse. “Believe women” has NOTHING to do with your personal experience of “lying women”, it has everything to do with this societal shit that makes us not believe women. You (and we all) need to believe women more, because we have been told not to.
This is excellent, thank you
This. I recently had an experience which was nowhere near as serious as Paul”s behaviour but showed me how the default setting is to not believe women who call out abusive men. A guy in an AA meeting was relentlessly staring at me and harassing me, and once followed me after the meeting. Next time I saw him was at a group coffee when he also wouldn’t leave me alone. As the group was saying goodbye he said, in front of another woman, I was being distant with him. I told him straight up he was making me uncomfortable. He said ‘that’s your problem.’ The worst part, though, was that the woman I was with didn’t believe me. I vented after he left that he was creeping on me, but she said ‘he doesn’t seem creepy to me.’ I said he had followed me. She suggested that was a coincidence. She clearly thought I thought I was such hot stuff men harassed me. Thankfully he’s now left town, and he did apologise to me, proving I probably wasn’t imagining the sinister creepiness. I’ll be warning other ladies if he comes back
You nailed it, fantastic comment!
*I’d hesitate to do this unless I had more behind me than a bad feeling”; “Suppose you’re right, suppose he’s a violent, dangerous type”
Did you miss the part where the latest ABUSE VICTIM told the LW first hand what Paul did to her? If you BEAT a person that you are in a relationship with, you are a violent, dangerous type.
Also, tangentially? A bad feeling is usually your intuition trying to tell you something, and the times I’ve hesitated didn’t end well at all.
This is incorrect: “But women are no more intrinsically trustworthy than men.” At least not on the subjects of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment. Let’s look at the evidence.
Your statement proposes that if Jane makes a DV claim against Dick and Dick denies this, then there is a 50% chance of her claim being true. However, we also need to look at the prior probability of a DV claim being false.
According to the Guardian report on false claims of rape and domestic violence (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/13/false-allegations-rape-domestic-violence-rare), only 6 in 111,891 accusations of domestic violence over a 17 month reporting period were found to be false. So, unless you can show that people where you live behave differently in a fundamental way from the people in this study, there is only a 0.005% chance that any given claim of DV is false.
Women selected at random are no more intrinsically truthful than men selected at random, sure, but that doesn’t matter here, because these are not random men and women! Gender is not the only or main difference between a person who says they were assaulted, and a person who denies an accusation of assault.
Because people who state that they are abused are statistically far more likely to be truthful than people who are accused of it.
Not to pile on, but I really like this husband’s take on the problem of men (and society generally) not believing women http://verysmartbrothas.com/men-just-dont-trust-women-and-this-is-a-problem/
Let’s be careful about telling the LW what they’re obligated (or “semi-obligated”) to do. This is a person who’s known to be violent. The LW may have concerns about triggering more violence by tipping off a new girlfriend, maybe even turned towards them. That would be a totally reasonable concern.
All I’m saying is that we only have a tiny picture of a difficult situation. The LW sounds like a thoughtful person and I hope they’ll make a thoughtful decision about how to proceed.
“OK, let us reason together reasonably.” — ah, the mating call of the entitled dudetroll. How cute.
Even took the time to identify as troll subspecies “Hate to say this,I’ll get banned!!”
Because we’re so ~irrational~ when discussing the harm we suffer. Right. Haven’t heard *that* one before.
My further comment explaining the “what if Paul was a thief” idea failed to post. Got it. See you people around.
It was caught in the spam trap and I hadn’t cleaned it out yet, but on reading it, good call. Farewell!
So, if “Paul”‘s threshold to violence with an intimate partner is non-existent, then why would there be a threshold to violence with non-intimate friends, like the LW or even her husband? I guess I find myself feeling more and more that we don’t recognize *ANY VIOLENCE AT ALL* as the gaping chasm that it really is. It’s really a matter of personal safety, but our denial-brains slap “ostracization” onto it (our good friend “rationalization”), and then we feel totally guilty. Is this a reasonable way to think about it, or am I missing something?
While I think it’s wise to wonder “If he’ll do that to someone he loves, what will he do to me?” there’s a level on which, to someone like Paul, the LW is another man’s property, so not his to do scary stuff to, and the LW’s husband is a man, so, not property, but Paul’s girlfriends are his property, so they are fair game. And the culture tacitly supports this view of things. Violence against women is so routine that it becomes background noise. Journalists rewrite situations where men stalk and kill their partners as the guy being “lovelorn” or “heartbroken.” Cops and bystanders will resist getting involved with a fight if it’s “just a domestic dispute.” Men who abuse their partners will tell stories about how they “lost control” but in fact there is a ton of evidence that they can control their tempers in other situations and just lose it selectively around someone they think they should have power over.
You’re absolutely right that we have lost the ability to recognize or have collectively chosen not to recognize certain kinds of violence as the threat…to everyone…that they are. And this is not rational! For example, every time I hear about a mass shooting in the USA I wait for the inevitable reveal that the person had a history of violence against women/hatred of women/angry message board posts about women/domestic abuse complaints and threats. Violence against women is the single biggest predictor and common thread in these cases! But they are all treated as outliers by the media and by law enforcement, when the common element is quite identifiable as misogyny. Misogyny is not rational, but it is the missing link as to why “Paul beats his girlfriends” isn’t an automatic unfriend by his social group.
Yes, you’re missing how social support for the doer of violence works.
Men who beat women generally face no social consequences, or at least none they find significant. The men who do this know that. They know that if they did the same to another man, for example, it would be a whole different story. That’s also why so many men are so comfortable being buddies with men who mistreat women — they know the guy won’t do it to *them*.
And society follows that up by enforcing consequences on men who *do* object to other men’s treatment of women, to set an example for the other men. My (male) partner has come to the conclusion that he’s not misogynistic enough to work in his field, having had a string of troubles at jobs (including actually *losing* a job because he backed up a female colleague’s harassment claim) related to standing up for the women in his workplaces– and you can bet the men who watch him get in trouble over it are getting the message loud and clear that standing up for women isn’t something they should try.
There are people out there who are dangerous and violent towards *everyone* they encounter, but they usually don’t get very far because they don’t have any friends. If you beat up a woman, you can still go to parties; if you attack a cop or a vice principal, you’re going to jail.
Many if not most abusive people select their victims carefully and get along fairly well with most other people. They don’t need to attack everyone; they just need to work out their sadism on a regular schedule. Like everyone else, they also like being liked and valued, and so most of them will work to cultivate positive relationships too. They may seem charming or smarmy or awkward or “difficult” to most of their acquaintances, but most people in their circles will never personally experience the really abusive aspect of their personality. They usually will have the opportunity to witness it, but they’ll have all sorts of reasons to downplay it.
Bullies are consummate politicians, and they know which people to ingratiate themselves with and which people to hurt. They tend to target vulnerable people whose complaints are easy to dismiss – people who can be branded as “crazy” or “troublemakers” or “liars” or “people nobody likes anyway.” Misogyny means that abusive men can apply this profile to about half the population.
I think some of it is that, in friends, you’re often happy to hang out with/enjoy the company of people who you’d never choose to employ/marry/condone in other situations. There’s a separation of ‘do I enjoy this person’s company socially’ and ‘am I responsible for/do I condone their life choices’. Most people have a build in separation there. The curse/benefit of human brain categories.
‘X did Y Bad Thing To Z’ doesn’t *directly* affect your immediate social relationship/move X out of a Friend category automatically. It can only affect it if you choose to let it, either by forseeing future consequences on your relationship or by *choosing* to take an arbitrary* moral stance (‘X stole money, that is terrible but not my problem’. Vs ‘the stress of not feeling like I can trust X around my house is making X an unfun friend’. Or ‘X hit someone. I guess it was a one off, it doesn’t seem to apply to our friendship’ vs ‘X hit someone and this may continuing happening/I may be encouraging this by being nice about it’).
Unfortunately, the whole nasty culture around domestic violence makes it very easy to stick reports about that in the ‘unrelated to our social interactions’ box, which means it requires an against-the-grain decision to throw out your apparently arbitrary moral stance against them. And it’s not a widely acceptable Strong Moral Stance to take, which makes it even harder. The people who are best at following up on this sort of thing also tend to be the ones who have enough awareness to predict Future Consequences (and empathy for consequences that might not directly affect *them*). (So: ‘Yeah, hitting a woman is bad. I absolutely object to that and have dropped that guy forever because [honour/morals/whatever]’ vs ‘yeah, hitting them was bad, but also they may do it again and what I do now affects the person who was hit AND who/whether it happens again’).
*And* there’s no easy middle ground for ‘okay, they’re 30% horrible to play with for board games, but 70% great for random drinks’ the way you’d adjust a friendship with someone with some problematic aspects. There’s no good way to continue *partially* condoning someone who hurts other people while making it clear that you don’t condone their actions. Which leads to ‘easy status quo’ taking/following the existing patterns of just brushing it under the rug.
*Arbitrary: Varies widely from person to person, not directly tied to external factors.
That’s why it’s never enough to ask yourself what you stand for, on an issue; what matters is who you stand with.
Many if not most men in our culture would say they are against domestic violence, that it is never something they would stand for. But when you make them look at who they stand with? They stand with the perpetrators. They stay friends with them. Which tells you EXACTLY who they really are.
This might be true if abusers were abusive because they were completely oblivious to all social constraints and just don’t understand what “don’t hit people” means. However, most of them completely understand exactly what they can get away with. As the good Captain says, hitting another man’s partner is generally not acceptable socially so he’s unlikely to do that. In our society we often go around *saying* “hitting your partner is bad”, but there are rarely any consequences for the people who do (plus we undermine that statement with lots of other terrible social messages about masculinity and relationships).
Ostracize the violent jerk.
Note also that people in the periphery of your social circle are watching, and some no doubt are noticing that you are NOT ostracizing someone known to have beaten several people. I cannot imagine they would be thinking kindly of you for NOT distancing yourself from a known bad person. People are known by the company they keep (and cover up for). Don’t get stuck with “happily supports domestic abusers and eagerly socializes with people who violently beat other people” as part of your own identity within your wider social milieu.
The longer you continue to smooth things over for a person you know (or strongly suspect, with excellent evidence to back that suspicion up) of being guilty of doing horrible, abhorrent deeds, the less likely your desire to “keep things friendly and civil” will be seen as obliviousness and the more likely it will be seen as AGREEMENT WITH and APPROVAL OF those horrible, abhorrent deeds.
My best friend just got out of a nearly decade-long abusive relationship (I hope to god for good this time) and I think it would have helped if everyone around her ex hadn’t treated what he did like it was normal. She was friends with his mother and sisters; he used to work with her mom. Somebody knew. Somebody saw. It’s easier to believe what is happening to you is okay if the person seems normal and has all these friends and close family relationships. You convince yourself that this is just how things are, that this is the best it’s ever going to be for you.
Great comment. If everyone else acts like everything is OK, it can undercut your sense of self-preservation!
[CONTENT NOTES for abuse]
I know a lot of people who are still entirely happy to socialise with my shitty ex. Their reaction to “he [tried very hard to make] me sleep downstairs in an unheated house in winter on a surface I was allergic to without anything apart from my underwear, having shut my wallet and keys into the room he was in” made it very clear to me that I didn’t want to risk watching them shrug off “… and he hit me, but it was only once, and he kind of had a reason” too.
LW, please think hard about what he’d have to do for you to decide that Paul had gone too far and you didn’t want to spend time with him any more. Please remember that if your reaction to “he often beats women” is to shrug awkwardly, you’re never going to hear the stories about the even worse things he’s done.
You have no obligation to confront Paul and no obligation to tell other folk about what he’s done, but if you keep socialising with him what you are doing, as plenty of others have said, is sending the message that you don’t actually have a problem with him beating people. You’re telling him that it’s okay; you’re telling him there’s barely anything he could possibly do that you’d disapprove of badly enough to call him to account; you’re encouraging him to do this again.
(You don’t have to ostracise him. But if you don’t ostracise him, and you don’t confront him, you are encouraging him. I struggle with living up to ideals of rehabilitative justice, but there is — potentially — an ethical option for you. Just… please, please don’t kid yourself that warning the next girlfriend will keep your conscience or your hands clean: it won’t. If you actually want to help prevent him doing this again, rather than just washing your hands of it, you are going to have to do more than sigh “well, we did everything we could” when you didn’t..)
I’m so sorry that happened to you. My old friends reacted the same way with my ex until very recently. Also, I agree with you. LW doesn’t need to actively shun Paul, but they do need to stop socializing with him.
I am so sorry he abused you. There’s no such thing as having a valid reason to hit your spouse. He was terrible, and your former friends are terrible, and I am so sorry.
this made my head explode. YOU DO NOT WANT TO OSTRACIZE PAUL? WHY DO YOU NOT WANT TO OSTRACIZE PAUL? OSTRACIZE PAUL. HE BEATS WOMEN. OSTRACIZE HIM. WOMEN BEATERS DO NOT GET FRIENDS, DO NOT GET TO COLLECT $200, AND DO NOT GET TO PASS GO.
So, LW, I used to date this rapist.
A good handful of people knew that he was abusive to his girlfriends, that he’d tie them in knots for his own amusement. That he liked making them cry, liked making them anxious, that he thought it was funny if he knocked the pins out from under them in public places.
People knew this, and they were still his friend.
Good people! Shining, intelligent, charismatic people! People you’d meet, and you’d think “Wow, these guys are great company, which means that if they think this guy is worth their time, he’s got to be pretty cool.” By virtue of being around them, he slipped under the cover of their reputation.
And because of this, he got access to, and raped, SO. MANY. WOMEN.
Early warning could have saved me a great deal of pain. But better than the warning would have been if I’d never met him, if our mutual friends had turned their backs on him the minute they knew what a monster he was. Instead, they’d tell him “Hey, you should maybe be nicer to your girlfriends,” and he’d say “okay!” and keep on with the stealing and the gaslighting and the endless, seriously staggering amounts of sexual assault. There were no consequences.
There should have been consequences. People should have turned their backs on him. I wasn’t the first person he abused, and I was *definitely* not the last; more than one woman came up to me, in the years following, and said “He always told us you were crazy, but then (story of assault) and I just wanted to say sorry.”
What do you get by keeping this guy in your life, what do you get that is worth the fact that you’re his shield against accusation, and the knifepoint he uses to get through innocent women’s defenses?
canisfelicis, your post brought back a gut-punch of a memory:
I, too, used to date this rapist. He was my first, in fact – boyfriend, first sexual partner. I was in early high school. He traumatized me for a year, drove me to self-harm, the whole nine. He didn’t have to beat me up, I’d do it for him. That sort of thing. The kind of trauma I’m still getting over, 15+ years later. The kind of mind-fuck that led me to a second abusive relationship, and then a third, and then a slightly-less-abusive marriage. (And then the blessed relief of divorce.)
Some amount of time after I broke it off with him, I was sitting in the car with my mom in a parking lot, trying to explain why I thought I needed therapy, and I alluded vaguely to some of the things I had experienced with him.
She replied, “Your dad and I always thought there was something going on there. We just didn’t want to interfere.”
suspected I was being abused, and said….. nothing. Nothing to me, nothing to him, nothing to my friends that hung out at our house and considered them a second set of parents. Nothing to my sisters. NOTHING BUT TO EACH OTHER. NOTHING.
It was then that I realized that they would rather have avoided momentary awkwardness, an uncomfortable conversation, than try to stop their daughter from being abused.
It was then that I stopped trusting my parents.
LW, be someone trustworthy. Have the momentary awkwardness. Have the uncomfortable conversation. It’s far less uncomfortable than the abuse these women have experienced.
I dated a much older guy in high school/college (I’ve mentioned it on other threads) and while the relationship wasn’t abusive it was still entirely inappropriate for a 17 year old to be dating a 29 year old.
Years later when I asked my mom why she never said anything (or gave me any help in picking a college, or did any number of things one might reasonably expect the parent of a 17 year old to do) her response was “well you seemed to know what you were doing.”
Cool, Mom. I was 17. I can assure you I did not in fact know what I was doing, because 1. I was a child and 2. I had no experience with things like picking a college BECAUSE I WAS SEVENTEEN AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE TO HAVE AN ADULT.
But, like your parents, my mom would rather have avoided anything momentarily uncomfortable than do some actual parenting (my father was on the other side of the world in a war zone so he got a pass for those four years).
I’m really sorry you experienced that. It’s such a betrayal, when the people who should be better for us allow us to be hurt.
You know your own parents; if you say that was their reason, I believe you. It doesn’t always have to be the only reason someone — especially a parent — would decide not to interfere, though. My terror as a parent in that situation would be, “What if I try to interfere and it drives her to defend him, even to the point of shutting me out? What if he uses my attempt at interference as an excuse to persuade her to stop speaking to me altogether, or to run away? Will that leave her in an even worse position, isolated from parents whom she could at least reach for when she’s ready to leave if I don’t burn that bridge with her first? And what if I’m wrong about what I think I’m perceiving… and it causes her to lose trust in me so completely that someday, when she’s *actually* facing abuse, I won’t be believed because she’ll remember the time I got it wrong?”
There’s a lot of reasons — some of them rational, others shitty — why a parent might be afraid to interfere in a situation where they suspected their child’s partner of abusing them. I still think it’s usually better to interfere, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be terrified about *how* to interfere.
All of those scary possibilities are why I’m trying to set things up in advance to make it somewhat more likely I’ll be listened to if I do bring up the topic. My daughter’s just entering her teens, and I have an agreement with her that if I bring up the possibility of her being abused (or abusive) she will get at least three other opinions from members of her “team me” before deciding that I’m wrong. We both know that children of families in which there was domestic violence are more likely to be abused as adults because they don’t always have as clear a sense of what’s normal and appropriate behavior within a relationship. I’ve worked hard to get my kids a clear understanding of what is, and made sure she had models of healthy relationships all around them, even if those relationships weren’t always mine. But I’m trying to hedge my bets anyway… because I remember a time when my brother *did* try to interfere and tell me that some of my partner’s behavior toward me seemed abusive. I was too busy defending my partner from such an accusation to think about whether or not it might be true.
That was my mom’s stated reason, after the fact, for not saying anything about my ex, and all the ways in which I ended up deferring to him when I shouldn’t have, abandoning my own opinions to agree with his, and so on. That I might shut her out.
Of course, my mom also used the exact same disparagement and dismissal of my opinions and preferences, and insistence that I was overreacting or oversensitive, as the ex did. She still does, actually. I don’t tell her much anymore, because I don’t care to have my opinions disparaged and dismissed where they differ from hers.
I just had to reply, because I was reading these comments and yours hit me like a ton of bricks. I instantly started crying. I experienced exactly this, and never had the words to put to it.
A similar thing happened to me- first boyfriend, first sexual partner, early high school. I was with him for 6 years, managed to escape when he moved across the country, and then ended up in more abusive relationships. I finally have been doing therapy and trying to get well. But the same thing happened to me: parents, friends, boyfriend’s friends, all knew things were going on and didn’t seem to care or think it worth their time to rock the boat.
He screamed slurs and insults at me, at the top of his lungs, in front of mutual friends. People didn’t even look at either at us, and ignored the situation. His best friend told my brother “he sees es09 like something he owns, like a pet, not a person” and both shrugged like it made sense. I told my mother how bad things were, that he was stalking me, that I was scared, and she said it would be best if we still commuted to college together, because it was easier on everyone, and I was just overreacting.
I guess I never stopped to think: those people aren’t actually trustworthy. It puts it all in a new light. Wow. Just… wow. This stuff runs so deep, I never even saw it that way- just that these things will happen.
LW, I’m assuming that you’re a woman, and like all women, you were socialized from birth to be caring, nice, etc. and not to make waves. I get that this is uncomfortable for you, because, I’m assuming, you don’t want to get ostracized yourself for not wanting to hang out with an abuser. I’ve seen women who speak out against rapists and abusers get tagged as difficult and be cut off.
My BIL has this awful friend who I hate. He’s an MRA, and he’s a disgusting human being. He hates women in a way that reminds me of Eliot Rodger or George Sodini. He can’t get the sorts of women he likes to date him, because he’s over 40 and not even remotely attractive with a shitty personality to boot and he only wants to have sex with 21-year-olds with tight asses. So, long story short, he gets escorts in his desired age range with his desired appearance and then hates them, too, for taking his money instead of wanting him. Whatevs.
A long time ago, after he wished rape on Sandra Fluke, I decided that I was done, and would no longer attend any events that Friend was invited to. I stuck to that, LW. After I made a stand, and Booth made a stand … some of our other mutual friends admitted that they, too, were uncomfortable with Friend showing up places. It took Temperance being Temperance for others to get the courage to honestly admit that they hated the guy, too. BIL then admitted that he just sort of felt bad for Friend, who “wasn’t a bad guy”, he just was unlucky with women (lol) and needed a friend (lol lol). I pointed out that men like Friend kill women, and that he makes us feel unsafe, and then BIL finally stopped including him.
I was the long term partner of a guy who was abusive. He only hit me once – in a joking/not joking way – but this dude messed up my LIFE.
I take issue with how Paul’s behaviour is not named for what it is: abuse. Abuse can run the horrible spectrum from “jokes” to isolation to sexual and physical assault . Saying that Paul “mistreats” women is wishy washy and doesn’t name the problem. “Paul is abusive” says what Paul is, and what Paul does.
When I disclosed my abuse to people who I thought were friends, I had a bunch that wanted there to be this concrete line that when my ex made physical contact with me – THAT was when the “real” abuse started. Not the years of psychological terrorism, financial abuse, sexual coercion, threats and social isolation. Then several of these dudes told me stories about how they had an ex-girlfriend who was “abusive”. Like the 6’4″ dude who said his ex girlfriend hit him (but this didn’t send him to the hospital, make him miss work or rob him of his self esteem, or have other effect on his life whatsoever. The missing part of the story is probably that HE HIT HER FIRST and she responded by hitting him in self defense. Also she was not a 6’4″ man. Also dude in question has a LONG history of keeping women on a string, and being charming but also very manipulative = not benign behaviour. See the section in “Why Does He Do That? ” by Lundy Bancroft about men who claim to have been abused by a female partner. There are a few men who are – but many, many, many more abusers who distort and project about who is abusing whom).
My ex had an established pattern of treating the women in his life a certain way. His family knew – and kept silent. The people who worked for him knew – and kept silent. His clients who could add 2 + 2 could connect the dots to see that there was a problem with how he treated women – but they kept silent. Not a single person spoke up about this person’s long history when I became involved with him. When things became really frightening I called his mother across the country to speak with her about this. His parent’s response: they never spoke to me again.
Look, I don’t care how Paul’s new girlfriend(s) get told – graffiti in the bathroom at the pub she goes to, an anonymous note, a very specific “hint” posted on Craigslist “Missed Connections”. If you believe Paul has the capacity to be litigious then cover your tracks.
Also – the dudes around Paul should SPEAK UP. Paul does a shitty thing to his new girlfriend – it should be pointed out how not okay whatever the thing was. Paul is probably not hitting women on the first date. I do expect that his abusive and entitled behaviour slips out in the stories he tells about his new girlfriend, and that his disrespect towards them is obvious.
By everyone around Paul being silent and afraid to speak up, only the needs of Paul are being served. Abusive men are also known to select other abusers as pals – so their abusive behaviour is normalized. I observed this again and again with my ex. There was a particular type of dude he selected to associate with, and almost without exception these dudes were a mirror image of him when it came down to their behaviour towards the women in their life.
Abusers will always escalate their abuse. Paul has several girlfriends who survived and spoke out about his abuse. The next girlfriend might be a fatality.
Hi, thanks for your comment.
I deliberately put “mistreats” in the scripts and I see I should explain. It is not my intention to apologize for, dilute, or downplay what Paul does. You are 100% right – his behavior is abuse and should be named as such.
But…it’s also a word that can make people have a knee-jerk “but that can’t be right!” reaction. It raises the spectre of the Straw Man Abuser aka not My Friend Who I Just Had Brunch With, Who, Sure He Has Some Problems, But He’s Not, Like, An, ABUSER-abuser.” I’ve read hundreds of letters and comments on this site where the victim themselves will list 10,000 abusive behaviors and then start defending the person as soon as the A-word comes up, like, “sure he’s awful, but he’s not an abuser, probably I should just give him another chance to explain.”
If the LW is not sure how the people in the social circle will react, or what things will get back to Paul, and this is the first time the topic has mutually come up, it’s possible that starting with the word “mistreats” is a way to test the waters and see if this person is safe to even talk to further. Another tactic is to mention specific behaviors – hits/stalks/screams at – etc. I could be really mistaken about this, of course, but in my experience, people (including the victims themselves) sometimes react so strongly when the word abuse is used (even when describing classically and obviously abusive behaviors) that it can be, hrm, not a good idea, but a persuasive idea, to keep that word in reserve. Not forever, but, until you know it’s safe.
“but in my experience, people (including the victims themselves) sometimes react so strongly when the word abuse is used (even when describing classically and obviously abusive behaviors) that it can be, hrm, not a good idea, but a persuasive idea, to keep that word in reserve. Not forever, but, until you know it’s safe.”
Can confirm–I was in disbelief the first time a friend brought “abuse” up. It took a lot of time with the books Why Does He Do That, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, and a therapist confirmation to get it to sink in.
Seconded. I was in a verbally abusive relationship with a manipulative shitbag, but for a long time it didn’t feel right to call it that, because they had problems, and I didn’t communicate well (see also: being in a verbally abusive relationship with a manipulative shitbag), and it wasn’t _that_ bad, just soul-destroying and fucked up my life for a good while, and…
“I don’t like Paul’s behaviour towards women” might work better here. (I’m not that keen on ‘mistreats’ because that’s a word I’d use towards animals, not people). ‘I don’t want to hang out with Paul’ is something nobody should try to argue you out of.
I’m real sorry to hear that. Swap out “didn’t communicate well” with “assumed the worst” and that’s what I went through. I stayed because I genuinely thought it was my fault and that some of the problems were temporary, and had promises that we’d both work on communication. It’s still guilt-inducing, but thanks to therapy at least it’s recognizable that the actions/words were designed to make the victim feel that way.
True fact: no one has ever told me it’s over the line to call someone a motherfucking asshole, but I have been accused of demonizing someone* by saying his behavior was emotionally abusive.
*Someone who had threatened suicide if his partner left him.
Yeah, there was only one friend who used the word “abuse,” but phrases from others like “what happened to you was really not normal” and “I’m so glad you’re away from him” began to start that process of me going “…maybe I should talk to someone.”
Sympathies, though. I was told “the dumpee always feels like the wronged party” when trying to explain to someone how messed up mine was. It’s really frustrating.
I certainly had the experience that when the word abuse was used that it made certain people FREAK OUT and go into paroxysms of denial, explanation, rationalization, minimization and outright suspicion of why I was telling them this “now”. I lent “Why Does He Do That ?” to a couple of people and it was like garlic to a vampire – complete revulsion and recoiling. One said – and this woman was going through fucking Gestalt training to BECOME A PSYCHOTHERAPIST (fuck you Gestalt institutes and your lack of educational pre-requisites or psychological screening or any effort to discipline or reject those are unfit to be therapists because $$$$ !) said this about that book: “It’s not very sympathetic to men.”And you know what : so what. Their reaction is about them. Naming the problem is the first step in actually DEALING with the problem.
Talk to my ex – he would tell you that I was “impossible to get along with” and that I was always “fighting” with him. Talk to me: my “fighting with him” was attempting to address how his behaviour was frightening and/or hurtful and/or oppressive. Like having to plainly state “Please stop swearing and shouting at me” after ex has erupted like a staph volcano over some triviality = “fighting with him”. Being scared and very sad because a close family member across the country had terminal cancer = “impossible to get along with”.
People are really freaked out by the concept that a person they know, and socialize with, a person who looks like a normal human being is actually an abusive POS. Most people want to believe they are above that sort of person, and would somehow instinctively know. Because they didn’t detect this somehow makes the person who discloses as suspect. It’s so much easier to blame to victim for not being the right kind of victim, or not being properly hurt, or for stuttering out the story of years of trauma in a manner that is confusing and unsettling. Or for holding it together for so long then falling apart.
Sad truth: abusers can be attractive, charming, helpful, funny at parties, artistic, left wing, unconventional, vegan, ride bicycles and do yoga, whatever. However – their abuse is 100% the same as that doled out by any polar opposite stereotype. Abuse is abuse is abuse.
Yes, my ex helped me with some stuff but he was also vindictive, petty, cruel, obstructive, manipulative, dishonest, spiteful, mean, withholding and loved to use misogynist slurs. He infiltrated my friendships to better isolate me. My friends, who thought they were being “neutral” felt they had to hear both our stories separately to untangle the “truth”. It wasn’t enough that I was extremely hurt, and beginning to be seriously concerned for my safety, or in a precarious economic situation. They gave him a nice evening at their house to listen to his thrilling stage performance of my failings as a girlfriend, and why his behaviour was completely acceptable ! This was after I spoke to them about what was happening to me. This was after they witnessed one of his major meltdowns at at me, in their own home, complete with shouting, swearing, blaming, slurs, and incoherent rage.
In the fallout from the disgusting chapter in my life I lost most of my friends. I couldn’t be friends with people who did not believe me, or comprehend that his abuse was abuse. It wasn’t some differences of opinion, or misunderstandings or intrinsic incompatibility, or that we had “grown apart”. I was being hurt and controlled by a person who was doing this on purpose = abused.
When Paul’s behaviour is not put in a specific context, saying that he “mistreated” his exes could mean anything, from being flirty at parties to leaving her in a coma.`
Talking about abuse, using that word to name the problem makes people really uncomfortable. And they should be !
As devastating as it was, it was better to lose 90% of my friends than to suffer through my awful situation with people pretending to be supportive who were actually apologists and enablers. If using the word abuse scares them away: good riddance.
I think the value of using the softer phrasing vs. calling it out as abuse depends on your goal in saying something. If your goal is to get others to hear that he’s doing something not OK, whether they get the depth of it or not, then they’re more likely to hear you with a euphemism, even if they aren’t hearing the whole story. But if your goal is to determine who will be on your side when they have to choose between you and the abuser, calling it abuse forces that decision earlier.
Based on the letter, I think LW’s situation is closer to the first–LW wants the abuser out of their social life first and foremost, and is less concerned with whether others get how bad he is than with getting others to accept that LW wishes to avoid him. For that case and that goal, I’d tend to recommend explaining it however gets them to listen, whether that’s calling things what they are or using euphemisms.
If someone has to actively consider whether they should be friends with a person who abuses, then perhaps that person is not good friend material ?
(Shakes head and sighs).
Why sugar coat facts ?
There’s a whopping difference between a person yelling at me to let me know my house is on fire v.s. an abusive person yelling at me because a household thing isn’t as clean as he thinks it should be, yet the yeller won’t do housework.
Paul has abused three girlfriends. What more is there to know ?
Here’s a thing my ex said about his previous ex, who he sure sounded like he abused (but she was across the country and we had no friends in common = who could verify this ?): “She didn’t like how I was being .” Translation: he saw no problem with his behaviour even when it made his girlfriend unhappy, frustrated, scared and/or angry. The problem was her reaction.
Thanks, Jennifer. That was a thoughtful thing to do. A friend once tried to suggest to me that my partner was abusing me. She was, as it turned out; but I wasn’t able to hear it at the time. I don’t *know* whether another term might have gotten through to me; but I do know that I was pretty well conditioned to defend her against judgments, whereas naming specific actions might not have triggered the same reflex. I’m not sure.
I, a female, struck a male partner once. For years I felt that I was the abusive one, and for sure he used to bring it up any time I complained about his behavior — “I would never hurt you, and that’s not something you could say.”
But the reason I struck him was because he said “I can do anything I want to the kids and you can’t stop me.” I hit him — not hard — because I was speechless with rage and wanted him to know I wasn’t totally powerless — that if he went for the kids I would TAKE. HIM. DOWN. For a long time I was sorry I had done it. Now I’m not … maybe I shouldn’t have reacted that particular way, maybe I should have used my words, and years earlier so it had never gotten to that point. But I can’t quite be sorry for standing my ground and sticking up for the kids.
It can be hard for an outsider to say who’s the abuser. But who actually hit the other one is not always a perfect proxy.
Even if, for some reason or another, you are not sure you believe Jenny (at this point though, with his history, why wouldn’t you?), you can still cut him out.
I can say with absolute honesty that I have never regretted cutting out a dude who was accused or rumoured of abusive or even just merely skeevy behaviour. Most times it ended up being true.
LW, I’m not going to tell you that if you don’t shun this man you’re condoning his actions; you’ve already heard that, you’re kind of already thinking it, and it’s not perfectly true (but kind of? Pretty true, but easy to say from the outside). What I will give you is a nice selfish perspective: if you don’t shun this man, you’re going to continue to have to be around him, knowing what he does; you’re going to have to watch him in a new relationship, stressing and anticipating the signs of trouble; you’re going to have to hear from yet another woman that he beat her and treated her horribly and she didn’t see it coming.
I second every word the good Captain has to say here, in both the main post and comments. Unprovoked non-consensual violence* against romantic partners and women in general is a hard line for me that is not crossed. I have not and will not hesitate to ostracize violators, physically removing them from the premises if necessary.
* By “unprovoked non-sensual violence”, I mean to specifically exclude consensual fetish play and outright self-defense in situations where escape is not possible.
Can we please, please, just say violence? There’s another word for self defense and consensual fetish play, it’s called ‘force’. Or ‘use of force’. Or ‘impact play’. Otherwise you might as well go on to clarify that you didn’t mean grappling during the process of learning a martial art, or god knows how many other things. You do not need to worry here that your use of the word ‘violence’ will have people popping up like ‘oh but what about BDSM?!’ even though I would wager there are quite a few BDSM enthusiasts here, including me. Everyone knows what you mean.
I actually appreciated that David Lawson made the effort to make it clear that he was specifically not talking about BDSM.
I’m afraid that the choice in front of you is not “ostracize Paul or not”. It’s “ostracize Paul or ostracize Jenny”.
You mention that you’ve become friendly with Jenny. She can’t be part of a friend group that has Paul in it. That’s not going to work, and it’s not something you should put her through. Please carve out a space where Jenny can meet you and your friends without running in to Paul.
That’s a very good point. ‘Shared Friend, please be aware that if Paul is invited to The Thing, we will not be attending’, if it causes Shared Friend to reconsider including Paul in the future, doesn’t just mean LW gets to be in a Paul-free space – it creates more opportunities for *Jenny* to be in a Paul-free space without putting all of the responsibility on her shoulders to demand that space.
This is exactly what I wanted to say! There is no neutral here, if you don’t ostracize Paul then you’re ostracizing Jenny, the victim, the one who doesn’t have a history of beating women.
I am someone who was abused by a family member, and my family’s failure to take my side and block him from social events was more traumatic than the initial abuse.
The initial abuse was just one dude who I didn’t like anyway, and who I’ve not missed since dropping him from my life.
When my family failed to respond, I was suddenly alone in the world, because everyone who I thought cared about me and would protect me, turn out that they would rather take the path of least resistance by not getting involved.
And the fact that they would chose an abuser over me made it all the more painful.
LW, please understand that there is no neutral in these situations.
BlueCat, I’m so sorry that happened to you!
I think it’s important to keep in mind that bad people can still have good qualities. You can be fun to be around, tell great stories, and be a rapist. You can be a literal pastor who does charity work and helps his people, and beats his wife. It is possible to be both good and bad at the same time.
No matter what qualities you see in Paul that make you think it is wrong to ostracize him, they do not excuse him abusing women.
More importantly, people who get away with their bad behaviors have no incentive to stop them. Every person who gives him a pass is making it easier to continue in this pattern. You aren’t just condoning it, you are complicit in the lie that he is a normal person who deserves a normal life.
He should be in jail, you shouldn’t even have to make the choice to ostracize him.
I think there is a pervasive idea in society that all abusers must always be awful people. I mean, sure, they are, because abusing is shitty … but they are also fun to be around, charming, and often really likable if you’re not the victim. If someone was always angry, abusive, and mean, they wouldn’t have victims.
The frog in the pot slowly coming to a boil is a really apt metaphor, especially considering some abusers make you feel safe and comfortable with them before starting to hurt you. (in addition to being fun, sweet, and kind-appearing)
I am finally, blessedly, getting to the point where “CHARM” does not work on me. It makes my skin crawl to hear that note in their voice, that creepy grin, or the pity play of someone trying to shove their obligations off on me. Their smarm goes along with a certain smugness they present with. There’s this certainty that I’m going to fall for their game.
Real people are just present in the moment, making mistakes and being awkward. Real people don’t leave me feeling I want to shed my skin where they’ve touched me.
I used to look right past this “charm,” as it was the dynamic in my family and I’d been groomed. This vulnerability lead to a couple savage attacks on me. I figure now that I can see about 80% of this awful attack pattern. I’m still vulnerable to more sophisticated long cons, and that frightens me.
I gotta be honest; in my case, the charm had just enough realness/awkwardness that I classified my ex as “safe.” It wasn’t until 8 months or so in that I noticed completely unacceptable behavior, due to the very subtle grooming he’d done.
It can be a really convincing act, even to people with really good instincts like mine.
People who make the “good qualities” excuse mistake the benefit that *they* get from the abuser’s public behavior –
fun, laughs, good times – for the abuser’s character. “He’s fun” /= “he is a good person.”
An abuser’s charm, fun, romantic attention, etc. are not positive attributes; they’re bait.
They’re even really likeable if you *are* the victim… just not all the time. That’s how they hold onto victims in the first place; we stick around through the horrible parts in hopes of getting back to the good ones, and they dole out just enough of the good ones to keep us trying. It’s still shitty behavior, of course — it’s using all their good qualities in the service of something horrible. But they’re often much more charming than typical, decent people, because they’ve had to learn how to hook their victims fast and thoroughly… and they also use that charm on their friends and non-romantic social connections, to make them think such a nice guy/lady couldn’t possible be doing anything terrible, and there must be some mistake. (In other words, “We don’t really believe her.”)
Issendai’s LJ post on sick systems really struck a chord with me, since the abuse could be somewhat justified by my ex’s issues, one of which was temporary. So I’d figured that if I stuck around and waited until that issue was resolved, things would go back to the way they were. Except, y’know, there was also gaslighting/deflecting/blame-shifting and words not matching actions.
Luckily, I have no mutual friends, so I don’t have to worry about that part, but they would never, ever believe me because he comes across as an adorkable nerd, not someone who would perform the Ultimate Neg on his partner for no reason at all. It’s one of the worst bits, that he was lovely and kind and sweet, and gradually eased off as I got more attached. That’s unforgivable.
I’m sure you know this and/or are working on it, but in case it helps to have random internet strangers repeat it:
Abuse Is NEVER Justified.
I guarantee you large numbers of people have exactly the same issues as your ex and manage not to abuse anybody.
Abuse is -always- a choice *by the abuser* and it is never ok.
Very aware, yes. I apologize for misspeaking–I should have said, “at the time, the abuse *appeared* to be somewhat justified,” considering I was under the impression I was in a healthy relationship that had just hit a rough patch and not, well, one where I was either a beloved accessory or an emotional punching bag. That’s the reason I brought up sick systems; that I believed, at the time, that as soon as that temporary issue was resolved
I’m definitely working on it, but it’s very slow going. I just realized I had a friend who had *exactly* the same issues, and they’ve never, ever treated me like I was worthless, a burden, or someone whose feelings just plain didn’t matter.
@codenameminali, oh, do I relate to this. Because even good relationships do hit rough spots, and even good partners say mean things or behave selfishly sometimes, and the line between ‘good relationship with a nice person who’s just experiencing a rough spot right now’ and ‘my partner is an abuser’ is… really easy to see in retrospect.
Yup. Good partners who do mean things or behave selfishly tend to apologize and try their damnedest not to Do the Thing again.
Abusers come up with excuses, guilt-trip you, blame-shift, and gaslight. Sometimes there are “sorry”s but they’re not really offered unprompted, but as a way to shut you up.
I think it’s an unintended side effect of, almost, over-demonizing abusers/bigots/what-have-you – like we tend to portray them as so completely, obviously evil that they become a caricature. And since that caricature is presented so much more often than the more complex reality, people go “Abusers are literal monsters, and this person is clearly a human, so he must not *really* be abusive.”
Agreed. I’ve noticed that in portrayal, the mask has usually come off by then, or stays on only for a short time while the audience is aware that he’s an abuser underneath. I think they’re never really shown the grooming process, that insidious mix of kindness to gain the victim’s trust, combined with sneaking in pellets of bullshit that have somewhat plausible justifications.
(Also, it’d probably help if they also showed how abusers take any and all forms, because I really, really didn’t expect to find it in the nerd circles.)
I’m afraid that the corollary is that if an abuser isn’t presented as an inhuman monster, the audience wont see him as one and will take his side. Consider Twilight (where, come to think of it, Edward isn’t seen as an inhuman monster despite literally being one).
The movie that IMO shows the grooming phase most clearly is the 1980 movie Labyrinth, with David Bowie as the goblin king. He has the charm, the gaslighting, the oh-so-reasonable disagreement with the overly emotional girl. And yet, most people I’ve talked to didn’t see it until I put it in those terms. That’s how well it works.
Do people have script recommendations for talking to Paul/telling him you are no longer going to be friends with him? I’m in a somewhat similar situation as the LW– I recently found out some similar stuff about someone I’ve been friends with for the past eight years and now want nothing to do with him. We’ll likely run into each other at a social event in the near future, and if I ignore him (which is currently my plan) I know he’ll ask what’s up. I’m kind of bad at social interaction in general and have no idea how I’ll handle this. (For reference, I’m a trans dude who is consistently read as male, but have a lot of the ‘gotta please everyone’ mentality from being socialised as a girl.)
I feel you on the “gotta feel everyone” front. Also, I think how you respond ought to depend on how direct you feel comfortable being. I was say something succinct but relatively generic like, “Some of your behavior has made me uncomfortable and I think it’s best that we no longer socialize.”
Ugh, that was supposed to say “gotta please everyone.” Words are hard.
Depends how cool you are with being a bit confrontational, but I’d probably say something like, “I’m not interested in getting into it here, but I’m not interested in chilling with you rn. Let’s go our separate ways and enjoy this [event].” Then if he presses, broken record the “I’m not going to address this here,” and try to physically remove yourself from him. If you want, you could agree to talk about it later and never follow up if you don’t feel like it.
If you don’t want to confront him, you can just say coldly at the event, “I’ve learned some things which make me not want to hang out with you anymore. Please leave me alone.”
If you *do* want to confront him — you want to get across what it is you disapprove of, or you simply don’t think he’s likely to leave you alone based on that little information — you will probably want to do it by some other method. Social events are really bad places to have that kind of conversation, which means I would probably just freeze him out at the event. When he inevitably asks what’s up, the answer can be, “I am not having that conversation here. I will email you with the information if you like, but I’d like you to leave me alone for the rest of this [insert type of occasion].” After that, if you get the But Whyyyyys, you can go into broken record mode and just keep repeating, “I am not having that conversation here.”
In emailing him as promised afterwards — which you don’t actually have to do, I wanna be clear; but it might help in order to avoid having to keep hearing from him at every social event thereafter — you can decide how much info you want to lay on the table. You definitely should avoid giving him information which would let him figure out who told you, because they might be in danger. But you can still say what you might have said at the event, “I’ve learned some things about your behavior which make me not want to hang out with you anymore,” or you can say, “I’ve learned that you have behaved abusively to women on at least X occasions. I am not interested in spending time with somebody who would do that.” You can even name some of the behaviors specifically, unless you have reason to think they’re confined to one victim (for example, if he’s hit three victims you can say “I’ve learned that you have hit several women,” but you don’t want to say, “I’ve learned that you broke someone’s arm,” when there’s only one person that could be).
In either case, you should make very clear: “While I am keeping my word by emailing you this information, this is not the start of a conversation, and none of this is subject to debate. Please do not attempt to reply. If you do, it will be auto-deleted without my even seeing it, and the same with any other sort of message you try to send. I’m not interested in getting into a discussion with you, about this or anything else.”
Then make sure you’ve set up all of your email, social media, phone, etc. so that it’s *true* that any attempt to reach you will go direct to someplace you never have to look at it. Because he’ll try.
If confrontation really freaks you out, it’s OK to be vague. Especially if you think he’s the kind of person to get really upset or cause a scene and litigate all your choices among your friend group. Like, it’s OK if he thinks you’re irrational and capricious if that keeps you safer. In which case you can do the ‘slow fade’ and just stop accepting invitations or engaging with this person (and walking away when they approach you). I know people hate to be faded or ghosted or whatever the kids are calling it, but it has a purpose.
Or you can say, “I just don’t want to hang out with you anymore.” And then when he demands to know why, say, “I just don’t.” And then repeat that like a broken record. In this scenario, a mysterious force has descended upon you that makes you just not want to hang out with this person. It is random, and it is irrational, but it is absolute. Sorry, man. It is now a law of nature that I don’t want to hang out with you. It’s just the way reality works now. Nothing either of us can do.
If you WANT to have a more direct confrontation over this (and sometimes I really do want a person to know what the problem is), then I’d go with something like, “I don’t like the way you treat people, and I don’t want to be friends anymore.” Just be prepared for an interrogation, if you give this or any other reason. Don’t take the bait and start litigating specific incidents or who told you what. The most specific you want to get would be something like, “I’ve noticed the way you treat [group of people]. I’m not OK with it, and I can’t be around anyone who does that.” Keep your reasons focused on you, and how you feel, and what you want. If the confrontation gets to be too much, then say “I need to leave now,” and get yourself out of the situation. Only you can say if this is the safest or most effective alternative.
Your second paragraph is going right into my Awkward Life Skillbuilding Scrapbook. Because it is perfect. I also got a good laugh out of it.
“What can we do? Fate has intervened.”
Thank you all for your replies! How confrontational I end up being will probably depend on my overall stress level at the time the conversation happens, but having these scripts will be very helpful.
So I have some specific experience here, and the Paul I knew never directly confronted me about me stopping talking to him, though there were a few flying monkeys amongst the people who asked me why I had abruptly become a Paul-free zone. Paul knew exactly what he’d done. Paul knew that he’d lied to my face about what he’d done, and when I stopped talking to Paul, he knew why.
This wasn’t about spousal abuse, although in the months and years following, it became obvious that he *was* abusing his wife emotionally and verbally (I think she left finally, thank god). I was unfortunately forced to be in his presence on a few occasions after I declared him persona non grata (my late husband refused to cut him out) but I didn’t speak to him, instead focusing on his wife. Who was, on one occasion, so grateful to be paid attention to at all that she pulled me into a washroom and told me miserably about his attempt to engineer an opportunity to continue the horrible things that made me cut him out.
So here’s my prediction: if he knows exactly what he’s done, he’s unlikely to confront you although he might send flying monkeys. If he doesn’t know what he’s done, he might confront you. However, once it’s obvious to everyone else that you are done and your Paul is dead to you, you are probably going to find out more things about him than what you know now, because you will suddenly be a safe person to tell. It might get ugly, depending on your Paul’s predilections.
It’s interesting, because… all friendships are based on judgments. Right? Unless you literally just make friends with the first 10 people you meet or whatever, you are using some kind of selective criteria for picking friends. Usually it’s some combination of interestingness (whether that’s “they’re really funny” or “they share the same hobbies/interests as me” or “they tell great stories”), personal charisma/likability, and shared experience (“we went to school together”/”we grew up together”/”we work together”). But unless you literally live in a cave with only three other people and so you’re friends with them because you have no other choices, you’re using some kind of selection criteria to pick who you want to be friends with.
This is true, I believe, of everyone. (Hell, even if you really are living in a cave with three other people, I betcha you’d actually like one of them more than the others!). We have a huge number of humans who could potentially be our friends, and even the most extrovert-y of extroverts still has limits to time and energy, so we filter. And the way we filter is we make judgments about people: is this person interesting, likable, convenient enough to stay in my friend group?
So it’s interesting that so very, very many of us feel weird judging people for genuine moral/ethical breaches. Like, many of us are much happier saying “we’re not close friends anymore because she moved to Albuquerque and we never see each other anymore” or “we drifted apart because she can’t stop talking about monster truck rallies” or “she goddamn bores me to tears, okay? that’s the reason” than to say “I can’t be friends with someone for this ethical reason.” They’re all judgments! They’re all a way of saying “you must be this tall to ride this ride,” right? But for some reason we’re more okay making the bar be “you’re boring me to death about monster trucks” than “you abuse women.”
(You run into this a lot with politics: someone who would be totally chill with “we drifted apart because she moved to Albuquerue” often gets all het up about “we drifted apart because she’s a Trump voter.” On the face of it, it makes no sense! Surely it’s at least as fair to drop a friendship because someone acts in a way that you feel is unethical as it is to drop a friendship because someone moved. And yet….)
Let’s be honest: we’re all judging people when we make friends. Because friendships aren’t made by picking people at random, they’re made by making assessments of people, of whether they’re people we want to spend time with, support, care for. That is completely normal and unexceptional… except when people cling to a need to preserve the unjust status quo. And then it’s suddenly The Worst Ever.
It’s not The Worst Ever, LW. I promise you, it’s not.
Oh man, this comment is great. I feel like it articulates something very well that I’ve sort of been searching for the words to describe for some time.
Thank you. You’ve pinpointed so many truths here.
“I this person interesting, likable, convenient enough to stay in my friend group?”
I find it really depressing that, in this world, victims and women are so much more inconvenient to be friends with than abusers and men.
I think the two situations are different types of judgement. If I’m saying “I don’t want to hang out with X anymore; he always goes on and on about sports and I’m not into that”, it’s a judgement on our compatibility. X may be a perfectly great friend for someone who shares his interests. But if I say “I don’t want to be friends with X because he abuses women” that’s a judgement on his worth as a person and I’m pretty much implying that nobody should be friends with him. And it SHOULD be a judgement on his worth as a person! But I want to be sure of what I’m saying if I make that kind of judgement, whereas “eh, we kind of drifted apart” or even “we kept arguing about stuff every time we hung out and it just doesn’t seem worth it” I shouldn’t even need to justify.
I have a very good friend who was married to a “Paul.” We and our spouses have been friends for many, many years, we’ve vacationed together, our kids have grown up going to each other’s birthday parties, etc.
The first time “Paul” hit her, she said she was going to give him one more chance. He’d already done some horrifically abusive things to her, things that appalled and disgusted me. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that the person I knew was actually this monster deep inside. It made me not want to be around him. But he was still living in her house, and when I went over to see her and their kid, there he’d be, joking with my children and acting like nothing happened.
It made my skin crawl.
The violence escalated, and was documented by the police. She’s divorcing him now, but she’s still in a headspace where she wants him in their child’s life. I will drive an hour plus to see her and his car will be parked outside, and I feel sick to my stomach. He comes to holidays and the birthday parties she throws for their kid.
My partner dropped “Paul” like a hot potato when the abuse came to light. Now “Paul” uses the fact that we’ve ditched him to hurt my friend. He tells her, “You’ve turned all of my friends against me,” and she believes that, and she occasionally accuses my partner of not being a good friend to “Paul.”
I’ve asked her how she wants me to behave around “Paul”, what will be safest for her? And she says, “Act like nothing happened.” I’ve tried it and it made me feel dirty. I want to be there for her. She needs me. She needs voices in her head and in her life that are not his. I know it’s going to take her awhile to truly get him out of her life. She’s terrible at boundaries. But I WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS GUY. And FFS, I don’t want him anywhere near my children.
OP, there may be people in your friend group who feel this way. You should ostracize Paul. Paul deserves to be ostracized.
I grew up with my dad and all of my grandparents in my life. As a kid it meant learning to walk on eggshells and read people’s moods from an early age, and listening to stories from older siblings that came across as simultaneously “this is weird, right?” and “oh but that’s just how our wacky family is!!” As a precocious teenager who was also “absurdly responsible” (per one of my mom’s friends), it meant learning more about the family history behind those eggshells: my dad’s abuse of my mom and my older siblings (who were not his kids)… how my mom was abused by her parents… how my dad’s parents abused his generation… and, of course, witnessing and normalizing verbal and emotional abuse throughout the family.
My mom did a _hell_ of a lot with the cards she’d been dealt, but I wish she’d never been fed the lie that “children deserve a relationship with their .” It would have saved us all a lot of pain, especially for my sister and myself as we came out as queer.
(PS I haven’t had contact with my dad or most of my grandparents in years, and my life is so. much. more. peaceful. for it. When I visit family I sometimes get the rundown of what’s been happening with various family members and it always feels like watching a wreck in slow motion: the tension, yes, but also the relief in knowing that _it’s not actually my problem._)
Also, lost something to formatting — should be:
My mom did a _hell_ of a lot with the cards she’d been dealt, but I wish she’d never been fed the lie that “children deserve a relationship with their (blood relative of your choice).” It would have saved us all a lot of pain, especially for my sister and myself as we came out as queer.
I’m so sorry you had that experience. I know that walking on eggshells feeling; it’s awful, especially when you’re too young to understand why you’re picking up those vibes.
In my friend’s case, her dad abandoned her when she was small, and she’s never really gotten over it. And she’s never been good with cut-offs; she was always the one who’d reach out to other friends’ Darths because “there are two sides to a problem,” etc.
I know her ex has done a number on her, so I try to tell her that I trust her to do what’s best for her and her family, even though I feel in my heart of hearts that she needs to change the locks and keep their kid the hell away from him. Every instinct I have tells me that he’s probably going to hurt the kid next. She’s made certain comments that lead me to strongly suspect that he’s hurt the kid already.
I agree with you – the “preserve the relationship with both parents” ethic should go by the wayside when one of the parents is abusive.
If you strongly suspect he has hurt a child, should you report your suspicion to CPS?
Given the particulars of this situation, that would not be a good idea. They’re in the middle of a custody battle right now. He’s already trying to paint her as an unfit parent who is slandering him and attempting to alienate their child from him. My friend reported the incident that set off my Spidey senses to her lawyer and they’re presenting it to a judge. I just wish she could do more to keep the kid away from him in the meantime.
That’s really awful. I hope you can find ways to support your friend without putting your children in harm’s way. Your children are more vulnerable than your friend is, not just physically but emotionally and psychologically. You may need to draw some boundaries like “Please bring your kids to our place for play dates” or “Come to our holiday party but I’m afraid we can’t go to yours”. Your friend is terrible at boundaries, so help her by setting a good example.
If your kids are older, this may also be a good opportunity for a conversation about how people who act nice in some situations can do awful things in other situations, and to be prepared to believe someone if they say “This seemingly nice person was actually awful to me”. (This is a useful reminder to me as a parent; I learned it firsthand as a kid but will need to explicitly educate my own kid, since we don’t have any Jekyll-and-Hyde people in our lives anymore.) At the very least, “If this guy is ever the slightest bit not okay with you, please tell me right away, I promise I will absolutely believe you” is warranted.
Thanks, those are really good points. I’ve been trying to do that – having her come here – but she usually flakes when the plans are at my house. I’ve definitely been having those conversations with my older kid, who’s old enough to get it.
One of the reasons I like reading Captain Awkward comments is to see choruses like these, where “this guy abuses women, therefore DO NOT TREAT HIM LIKE A FRIENDLY NICE PERSON” is the norm.
I particularly feel the need for this recently, since a few months ago a male relative physically attacked me (punched me repeatedly, chased me when I ran) and even though cops were called, the events are not in doubt (he admitted to it!), and I have adamantly refused to allow people to erase the whole thing… they’re still trying. I’m still getting pressure from family to “reconcile,” people are describing the incident as a “fight” (I deliberately didn’t hit back or pick up a weapon because I knew that would be an instant ticket to “it was her fault really”), people who *claim* to love me and want to protect me keep framing my anger at him as the real problem, instead of his violence… it’s a nice antidote to all that poison, to come here and see people being angry in defense of abuse victims and unwilling to make excuses for abusers. Thank you all.
On topic to LW: I have watched and listened to people engaging in friendly chit-chat with my abuser, while claiming in private that they believed me and that what he did was unacceptable. It burned like acid. Don’t do that to Paul’s victims. You say Jenny is your friend – do you want her to feel safe with you?
Also, you could ask Jenny how she feels about you mentioning what she told you, with or without names attached. If you’re her friend, supporting *her* should be your priority, not protecting Paul’s reputation. Ask her what would make her feel safer or more supported. (If Paul or his allies start a whisper campaign framing her as a crazy bitch who can’t be trusted, which is entirely possible, she’ll need people who are firmly in her corner. Are you willing to be one of those people? If so, make sure she knows.)
Oh dear! I hope you have friends/chosen family who support you. If you’re not in therapy, I recommend seeing someone.
A Darth I’ve been distancing myself from still has an active presence in a social circle I used to cherish. Unfortunately, those who know about his behavior still choose to invite him to things (after privately lamenting to me about specific scary behavior THEY CAUGHT HIM DOING), and seem fine to allow their friendships with me to wane as a result. As much as this hurt- still hurts, if I’m honest- this is the only option to keep me safe, because as long as he is around and celebrated, that group is a hostile environment for me. Please don’t stop at just believing her. Quietly whispering about a missing stair may be a passable Band-Aid, but there will always be potential targets you haven’t talked to. Reach out to friends to hang out in smaller groups, without Paul.
It can be very instructive to actually use the word “abusive” in your group of friends, when it’s legally and personally safe to do so.
You can learn a lot about who is willing to say, “Well, yes, he’s abusive, but I like having him around to parties,” and, “I don’t see why I have to take the side of EVERY abused woman.”
I am not the abused woman in question. But it was very instructive that some people I had thought were kind and reasonable people were willing to say those sentences out loud. Were willing to just not dispute the abuse. Were willing to roll with it and still say, sure, yes, but game night! Yes, but fun times!
The composition of my group of friends is different now. But you know, as much as those people have said “fun at parties”? I have more fun at my parties knowing that the people who felt that way aren’t in my house.
(Oh, you are damn right I am signing my actual name to this. If there was anything on the internet I would put my social security number on, it’s this comment.)
I wish I didn’t know how true this was first-hand. (Or, maybe second-hand? I’ve never been abused, just friends with someone who was; I definitely saw this go down).
I feel like there’s a lot of missing the actual question of the letter happening here. Nowhere does the writer say they are including Paul-quite the opposite. Nowhere do they say they don’t believe. The question was literally how to warn future women away from Paul. Which didn’t get touched. And an acknowledgement that the lw and her husband don’t control mutual friends guest lists.
Okay, but, the thing is, “how do I warn her” is kind of “how do I put the responsibility on her shoulders.” Which is definitely not something that LW should be aided in.
Believing the women is insufficient if you continue to hang out with their attacker.
This reads like a bit of rules lawyery dancing around the actual answer?
If it is meant in good faith, maybe a read through archived posts about missing stairs and believing vitcims is in order.
Believe the victims and ostracizing the abuser naturally go hand in hand.
That means: Refusing to go where the abuser is invited (NOT “oh well we don’t control the guest list”); Telling people they believe he is an abuser if asked; Making it clear LW and her partner won’t stand for this shit; and everything else that is already in the Captain’s original answer.
But that isn’t in the original answer. Just a long yell begging the lw to single handedly make him ostracized. From the letter, the writer and her husband don’t invite him anymore. Yes, theveryone could make giving up all contact with Paul a requirement for them to speak to mutual friends. But anything about how to do that isn’t in the original answer. So I mean, I guess rules lawyery in the sense of answering the question as a rule, I suppose.
If you read through the archived posts about missing stairs like Nanani suggested, I think you’ll find those methods.
OK, when you’re done tone policing try to actually read the words that are being yelled.
I am. I don’t disagree with them, but I think they solve a problem for a different letter.
See below for what I mean about the content of the advice.
You sounded like a troll but upon reading your other comments it seems not to be the case, more a question of different background reading/history with this site.
I apologize for sniping at you, Ainomiaka.
Honestly, now that I can take a minute to breathe, thw atiitude behind this comment annoys me more than anything else. My expeeince has been that apologies without any sense of future change are just emotional manipulation.
Unfortunately, I only *wish* that believing the victims and ostracizing the abuser went hand in hand. I had a ton of people who believed me, but continued inviting my abuser places anyway. She was a semi-star in our small musical world, and people kept sending her guest of honor invitations for conventions, or begging her to play in their sets. They knew what she’d done; they didn’t think she had not done it — they just thought that it was more important **to them** to have a great flute player in their set that weekend, or a big name that would draw members to their convention.
A lot of people don’t believe us, that’s true. A lot of others believe us and don’t care, because what the abuser did to us isn’t as important to them as what the abuser can do *for* them.
Dude, this is so, so true. Even if the “thing they can do for you” is, like, make you laugh or make you feel good by flirting–which is literally an abuse tactic called a “charm offensive” (I think? Apologies if I got the term wrong). Like I think the main reason I have seen abusers be allowed to stay in friend groups, even to the point where the VICTIM loses their friends, is because the abuser if more cool or fun. It’s so shallow.
I meant that comment as “morally, logically, and practically they SHOULD go hand in hand” and ought to be treated as necessary parts of the same whole when deciding what to do. Perfect world phrasing.
I absolutely did not intend to tell anyone that their experience of being believed or not is regulated by some outside force.
Ah, gotcha. Yeah. If people were consistently making sense, they *would* go hand in hand. Unfortunately, it takes three separate factors to make someone ditch a friend who abused their partner: believing that the action really happened, believing that the action is a big enough deal to be worth serious consequences, and having the combination of integrity and get-up-off-your-ass-iveness to actually follow through and MAKE some serious consequences.
Most of the people I knew at the time my partner assaulted me were lacking in the second and third categories. They believed me that it had happened. But because they didn’t want to go through the awkwardness and inconvenience of kicking a friend out of their lives, or finding a new bandmate who could play flute and improvise harmonies, or get an equally effective draw for their GoH slot, they convinced themselves that it wasn’t all THAT bad, and really, she was being punished enough by the court system, so they didn’t need to bestir themselves to do anything differently from usual.
Question: Do we have an obligation to make this information known; answer: ostracize the fuck out of him by making his actions known when asked, yeah.
Question: Do we have to confront Paul about this pattern; answer: “You don’t have to confront Paul. You can’t fix Paul. But you can 100% kick him out of your social group and you can be honest about why.”
Question: How do I warn new girlfriends?; answer: “If you successfully disengage from Paul, it’s likely that when he starts dating someone new, you won’t know about it. But say you did know, and you did somehow meet or know his new girlfriend… [advice on that topic for an entire paragraph goes here]”
I’m not really seeing where you think the Captain didn’t answer the LW’s questions?
I think the issue here is the line ‘I have no desire to ostracize Paul’. That is an unnacceptable thing to say, even if you are ‘actively distancing’ yourself from Paul. Notice also that LW and their husband appear to only have become ‘appalled’ after Jenny, someone LW is friendly with, told LW what had happened to her. The two (!!!) 2nd hand accounts, over a few years (suggesting they did not distance themselves from Paul over that time) were not enough, it had to ‘[feel] a bit different’ first. Even if LW is an extreme rules lawyer about not accepting 2nd hand accounts, when you have TWO of them, before the big game changer (for LW) of Jenny, that should tell you something about how LW is thinking. Even if LW believes Jenny, they certainly did not believe those two people over a few years enough to become ‘appalled’ and distance themselves from Paul.
The scripts section does indeed have some things LW can say to warn women away from Paul. Not just women but friends in general (a lot of people meet potential romantic partners through a friendship circle, people introducing their friend to their other friend, stuff like that). I think the LW is saying they don’t want to ‘ostracize’ Paul where ostracize actually means ‘I don’t want Paul to be lonesome and never know the sweet touch of a woman ever again!’ Which, boohoo. Cry me a fucking river if Paul is lonely and is never gets a date ever again. If that did somehow happen he had kind of dug his own grave there. (Though as others have rightly said, the LW unfortunately does not have the power to arrange this.)
Even if LW is an extreme rules lawyer about not accepting 2nd hand accounts, when you have TWO of them, before the big game changer (for LW) of Jenny, that should tell you something about how LW is thinking.
A couple years ago it emerged that a Canadian radio personality had attacked quite a large number of women he was dating – something like twenty women came forward to say he had beaten them up under the guise of BDSM, and a number of others added that they’d had creepy experiences with him short of that.
I found myself at a party with a dude who was trying to pull the whole “innocent until proven guilty (in a court of law)” crap. “After all,” he said, “this guy is famous. Maybe some women thought…”
I’m not really sure what he thought they thought, because I cut him off. “He’s sort of well-known among people who listen to CBC Radio and maybe some people who remember that band he used to be in. There’s not exactly heaps of cash or fame to be had here. Besides that, NO ONE is so famous that TWENTY PEOPLE independently decide to accuse them of assault and battery without grounds.”
The other thing that drives me nuts about people who demand ‘proof’ to stop putting people in a position of power or giving them access to vulnerable people or rewarding them is:
People have a basic right to not be imprisoned. To put someone in jail, to imprison them, is a grave violation of human rights unless it is absolutely jusified by a rigorous legal process that requires a high burden of proof.
Being someone’s friend, allowing them to be at a party you’re the host of, being famous, speaking nicely of someone, saying they’re probably decent people – _none of those things is a right_. People do not have an intrinsic right to my company or my respect or popularity or any number of other things. Those or things I _choose_ to bestow.
LW, you should ostracize Paul like it’s your job and you’ve got to make quota before month-end.
Everyone who hangs around Paul, who socializes with him, gives a tacit endorsement that Paul is an okay guy, to others, and also to Paul. Your friendship (or lack of shunning) is enabling Paul to maintain the fiction that he is a “good guy” to himself and everyone else.
Also? I doubt you and your husband are the only ones who have any idea that this guy is an abuser. He’s not some wife-beating ninja assassin, obfuscating his ways with black magic and pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. If you know he’s a violent asshat, others do too. Be the ones to push back, and give others the courage to follow your example.
Along those lines, if you do get static from Paul or anyone else, imagine how you would treat Paul if he had projectile diarrhea that he refused to control (because honestly, that’s kind of who he is on a personal level). You would not invite Paul to a party at your house. You absolutely would not go anywhere you knew he was. If he showed up, you would leave. Anyone who suggested that you were being unfair would be summarily dismissed as a spineless weirdo who would rather tolerate being in the presence of a literal shit geyser than rock the boat. Don’t be that person, LW.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Captain.
LW, say you do decide to go the route of not ostracizing Paul, but warning future girlfriends. When (and it will be “when”) he starts dating someone new, how do you plan to open the subject of his past?
“Hey, Jane, I realize we just met ten minutes ago, but your new boyfriend has a nasty history of violence.”
“Jane, I feel you should know that Paul beat up his last three girlfriends, but I’m sure you’ll be the exception.”
“Jane, please be advised that Paul hits women, but I’ve decided not to let that detail ruin our friendship.”
Your credibility as a warning for those women will be nonexistent. They will not believe you, because you’re still friends with him, so really, it can’t be that bad. They might even mention it to him, laughingly. “Paul, honey, A said the weirdest thing at dinner–she said you beat up your last few girlfriends. I, of course, told her she was being ridiculous, because why would anyone be friends with someone like that?”
If you want to warn ladies off Paul, warn by example.
That poor nail. You hit it straight on the head.
Seriously. I can’t really imagine a scenario where the LW and her husband get to stay friends with Paul AND warn his girlfriends.
I’m trying to picture myself in that situation – I’m dating someone I like, who has up until then treated me well, and they introduce me to their friends, and one of their friends, what, pulls me aside at a party and says “oh hey by the way, person I don’t know, the guy you just started dating likes to hit his girlfriends! I’m still his friend, just wanted to warn you.”
The thing is, I work in DV prevention, I’ve had training in recognizing warning signs, counseling victims, etc. – and I STILL feel like my first response would be to think “wow, that was weird – do I trust this person I don’t know or the person I’m dating that I DO know? Are they a jealous ex trying to sabotage this? What is happening here?”
This scenario puts all of the responsibility on me, the person who knows the least and is at the most risk. Am I supposed to confront Paul? OF COURSE he’s going to lie to me, and then I guess when I inevitably get abused, the LW can feel like she did her part by “warning” me.
I hope you have a microphone handy to drop. I read your comment five times it was so good.
Actual advice for LW- you say you and your husband have actively distanced yourself from Paul. That’s a good first step. Maybe don’t get so hung up on the word ostracization. Call it boundaries about who you let in your life. You have the right to say that remaining in contact with him is a boundary that mutual friends can’t cross. It is allowed. You can also decide that your boundary is that you won’t be at events where he is. You are allowed to have whatever boundary you want to remove yourself from his presence, as it sounds like you are doing. Particularly for the first one, you should prepare for consequences. Some people aren’t gonna distance themselves from Paul, and that may mean you have to let them go. I can’t make that easier, unfortunately. But I suspect new friends that don’t hang out with an abusive person will not be a horrible change.
I also can’t say there’s a universal technique around how to say you don’t wanna be around him that will avoid all mutual friends friction. That’s just not how life works. Whether it’s better to just respond “unfortunately can’t make that event” or to actively say you don’t want to be at events with him is probably going to depend on how much you trust mutual friend, how much energy you have to deal with negative blow back, and a lot of other things. It may change from situation to situation.
None of this is easy, but by believing Jenny you are doing the right thing for sure.
I really like this comment. To me, cutting an abusive person out of your life sounds a lot more like setting boundaries than wantonly shunning someone.
This is a great take & advice, thank you!
any thoughts on what to do if “Paul” is a coworker?
I don’t know personally what the answer to this is but it sounds like a *great* question to take to Alison Green at askamanager.com! She specializes in workplace questions and is all kinds of awesome.
I think the key thing regarding any workplace disciplinary options is, is it happening at work – affecting other coworkers, or “Paul” performance as an employee? Or is it dangerous to keep “Paul” around – owns weapons, threatens violence, unhealthy interest in violent crimes, etc? It’s unlikely that “Paul” has managed to keep his abusive nature entirely separate from his work performance, tbh. HR may already have a file on him.
If it’s not a case of getting “Paul” sacked for a serious offence, then I’d go with minimal contact, and honest but professional explanations and warnings to other coworkers as necessary. “I’m not letting it affect my/our work, but I found out “Paul” was mistreating women [at work/in his personal life/everywhere he goes]. That’s a personal dealbreaker for me, and that’s why I’m [avoiding him/limiting interactions/etc].” Shut down any abusive comments or behaviour from “Paul” at work (if it’s safe to do so) by saying things like “Wow. That’s unprofessional.” or “Knock it off; this is an office, not a kindergarten” Don’t get into specifics, or get angry or defensive, just repeat: “Your behaviour was unprofessional”
Speaking personally, I’d take a new coworker aside and warn them verbally, and quickly – *before* they start to like or trust “Paul”. They might still decide to be work-friends, but at least they’ll be making an informed choice. And I’d try to offer support to any coworkers that “Paul” may have targeted at work now or in the past, without getting specific. Sort of, ‘my door is always open’ type of phrases?
And then consider if you want to stay at this job, if you have to work with your “Paul” (and coworkers who defend him & deny abuse). How badly does he make your skin crawl, how angry or frustrated or depressed does the sight of him make you? Can you transfer, or leave, or start putting together a plan to leave, if you need to? Living with anger, frustration, fear, disgust or disappointment for hours every week can be exhausting.
I can’t tell you if you ‘should’ bring it up to boss or HR or whoever; I don’t know how (un?)sympathetic your workplace and coworkers are to survivors/abuse/abusers, and/or people who report abusers. I can tell you it’s is likely to spilt your coworkers, with some arguing that “Paul” is a nice guy (NiceGuy[TM]), that only work performance matters, and that ‘everyone should MYOB’, while others will be supportive and thankful. So that has to be your choice. Think about your ideals, principles, ethics, and beliefs. Can you compromise and still be the kind of person you want to be? What kinds of regrets and mistakes are you willing to live with?
For more advice, check out Ask A Manager. Good luck
I was thinking on the very true comments upthread that said, it can happen that men in the workplace who come out in support of abused women have also been made to suffer- including losing their own jobs. I was wondering how we can be of support to them?
My experience with any HR that does the right thing, is nil.
When dealing with an HR department, always keep in the front of your brain that HR is not there for you. HR’s job is to protect the company from you.
I am what is termed ‘chronically abused.’ Half a century of it from my family and ongoing, except I minimise contact now; I am grey rock.
I have defences against people who are openly hostile, but not those who pretend to be kind, gain my trust and then turn nasty. Instead of walking away when that happens I blame myself and I work harder to not cause problems. I am working on this, but I don’t have help so it is slow progress. (Long story; short version; 20 years of trying to get appropriate therapy without success.)
We are multiple. When one of us can’t cope another takes over. Some of us are very immature and very vulnerable to authority figures.I can’t say more without saying too much about ancient history.
When I realise far too late that i am being abused (yes, that is the right word) and report it, invariably the abuser is given the benefit of the doubt (because I am not normal, and how could the poor inexperienced abuser know not to take advantage of my good nature?) and invariably I hear that people are not going to take sides. If I keep going for long enough sometimes I get an apology. The abuser carries on his life as if I never existed, and so does everyone else.
I have given up now. I stay home. We are safe if we stay home. I have a few very good friends and my daughter.
Some of us need to hear good people say, ‘That was wrong. It was not your fault.’ We need people to say, ‘That behaviour/language/attitude is not right; cut it out or get out.’ We need to be treated as if we matter as much as the abuser.
Impartiality condones abuse. If the abuse is condoned then it has to be my fault for being there; for existing, rather than the other person’s fault for treating me as sub human.
If you can see it, do something. I guarantee that what you see is the 1/10th above the waterline.
Thank you for sharing, cathy. I am sorry you have so much painful experience with both abusers and the social groups of enablers around them who would rather punish you for being victimized than oust the abuser(s). I am glad you do have some very good friends.
Thank you. I appreciate your kindness.
Cathy, I just want to say to all of you, “It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault & you all exist to help you be mainly you. People can & will do terrible things, but it’s not because you deserve it, it’s because they are bad people. Be gentle with all of yourself & remember you don’t deserve what happened to you.”
Thank you. But if I didn’t deserve it why am I left without a church, and the Vicar still there?
I did get a verbal apology from the Bishop; 3 years later. That was 2 years ago. Nothing in writing, of course.
But I have to try to look forwards, and not back. Thanks again.
“If you can see it, do something. I guarantee that what you see is the 1/10th above the waterline.”
How people treat you is always their choice and responsibility.
People become multiple when the frequency and level of abuse is so overwhelming and beyond a child’s ability to cope or make sense of that bits of the psyche split off and ‘contain’ those pieces.
Sadly so many of us who have had childhood trauma unconsciously attract further abusers over our lifetimes through the effects the trauma has had on our developing brains including poor boundaries, low self worth, normalising abuse (it is what we know), vulnerability.
There is also an appalling lack of people qualified or competent in working with DID. My heart goes out to you. Nothing that happened to you was your fault. Every child deserves love, support and protection. Clever you, all of you, you got through it. And you can be strong and look out for your internal team now. Never doubt how brave and strong you are, you survived. Let the adult parts soothe the little ones and nurture them as your children. Keep yourself well and do what you need to to feel safe. I’m in awe of your bravery to make it this far and raise a daughter. Many blessings.
Thank you. I really appreciate that. A good friend on FB messaged me yesterday to apologise for some of his friends being less than kind a while back. They called me lost of names. I said, that’s ok, I probably deserve it. He said, no you don’t.
Actually he said, NO you don’t. 🙂
(but we still don’t quite believe it …)
But the good news is that it stops with me; my daughter is thriving, happy and doing really, really well. Thanks be to whatever lares and penates are around protecting her, along with me.
No, you don’t deserve to be called names. None of you deserve it.
I cannot make y’all believe it, but I can repeat it so y’all might have an easier time believing it ♡
Thank you. Some of us are starting to understand. 🙂
I’m glad to hear that 🙂
Cathy, thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sad and angry that you’ve been so badly treated, and so harmed.
I’m glad you have friends and your daughter.
Thank you. Me too. Good friends are totally beyond price; wonderful. x
Thank you for your comment and perspective. I’m sorry nobody stood up for y’all.
Also the paintings on your website are gorgeous! I really love “Son of Man 2.” Beautiful.
Thank you. That is what I do; I paint. The good news is 3 of my pictures will be exhibited in October, in Milton Keynes. Never dared before. 🙂
Sorry for derail; LW you are not forgotten. If you are strong, remember people who are gaslighted can’t always see the obvious.
Congratulations on your future exhibit; your works are just beautiful! I’ve always loved the art of illumination and you’ve done some wonderful pieces. Blessings!
Hey, congratulations! That’s really impressive. 🙂
(Son of Man was painted for Justin, a friend who works with homeless people. https://www.facebook.com/rhymestein.rawshack?hc_ref=SEARCH He wanted a book cover so I painted it for him, then sent him the painting. Then I made a landscape version for myself.)
Cathy, your comment made me cry and so angry I want to punch your abusers in the throat.
You deserved *none* of it. NONE of it. You are out a church and the Vicar is still there because institutions protect themselves and sheep follow the shepherd.
It’s NOT your fault that you were left with the short end of the stick your abuser was backed by a powerful wealthy institution, especially an institution that trains people from birth to believe everything they say.
It’s. Not. Your. Fault.
My heart breaks for you for what you’ve suffered, and I’m in awe of your strength and compassion; your happy healthy daughter shows you’ve broken the chain. You should be proud of yourself when you consider her.
And holy guacamole! your paintings are amazing! The beauty of your soul glows in them. I’ve bookmarked your page so I can go back and spend more time admiring.
You are a remarkable human being.
I couldn’t return for a couple of days (fear), but I am glad I made it in the end. Thank you so much for your kindness; I am rather amazed by it.
All of the Jedi hugs to you cathy, you are so brave and strong and resilient ❤
And all of the YES to the Captain's advice.
Also, 'awkward'? This situation is not awkward, LW. This situation endangers the lives of human beings. If we don't hold abusers accountable, there is no way in hell they are going to stop.
I'm so angry I am going to walk away now. Keep up the good fight everyone ❤ so glad this blog merely exists.
Ok I had not contemplated the possibility that LW may be getting gaslighted; considering that Paul’s behaviour is not a problem in her immediate environment is a strong possibility. LW, you take good care of yourself too. If your spouse’s opinion differs from yours on this matter, remember you are still right. x
I hope this is relevant.
In my experience of abusers (which is quite significant by now or else it never happened and we made it all up) I think I would say that gaslighting extends to everyone around, although some people can be protected from the lies to a degree by prior exposure.
If there is an abuser in your social circle then everyone in that circle is a target of the lies, the half truths, the quiet and not so quiet suggestions of instability, over-reaction and over-sensitivity in their target. As with an actual gaslight, the closer you get the more intense the gaslight glow will be, but as long as you are within range at all there will be some.
so, when I got out of school, I joined up with an awesome social group who all seemed cool and alternative and were all older than me and exciting and new and shiny, and I didn’t care about myself very much, so I ended up dating almost every single abusive man who was part of this friendship group. we’re not talking one missing stair, we’re talking an entire flight of stairs – a whole escalator of guys who had benefited enormously from people who didn’t want to rock boats, believe rumours, act without proof, make these dudes feel unwelcome, etc, etc.
I got angry enough about it all eventually after four years of hell to tell everyone exactly what was going on, loudly and unequivocally, and I more or less lost every single one of my friends, while, obviously, most of these guys continue to go about their business. two years ago someone I thought I was close friends with invited me to a party with two of them; I reminded her what they’d done & she said I couldn’t come to any more parties because the things I said were so traumatic for her personally to hear.
this is not a ‘poor me’ story – this is just gearing up to a plea to not only 1) socially blacklist Paul from everything possible, obviously, on all fronts, and have absolutely no qualms about explaining why i.e. ‘he hurts women and we don’t put up with people like that’ but 2) if you’re becoming good friends with Jenny – be good friends to her, as well. if she’s told you what he’s done, that’s actually like…a huge gesture of trust on her part, and while I know that sometimes getting emotionally involved with the victims of abusive situations can be personally draining in a way that’s not necessarily good & you should always take care of yourself first and foremost, try to sort of keep in mind that it’s a big deal that she told you, and that how you behave towards Paul based on what she’s said will have an impact on her. which is more important than the impact it will have on Paul, who doesn’t deserve for anyone to be considerate of his feelings.
so much of the conversation about these things always revolves around the abusers still & that’s important because they need yelling about, but the victims so often kind of disappear under the rhetoric and I just wanted to say something to the effect that showing her, and the other women around you (bc after all you don’t know who else is going through something or has been through something similar, but you can be fairly sure someone will have) that you’re prepared to ditch this asshole wholesale will be such a huge, amazing thing. you’d be doing such a big positive thing for someone else (potentially more than one someone), not just a damaging thing to a guy who deserves it anyway.
sorry if this is a bit disjointed, first time commenter after many years of reading!
I’m so sorry that happened to you, you deserved much better.
Jedi hugs if you need them.
Telling the truth about what happened is not a ‘poor me’ story. & you are right; the victims disappear far too easily.
Paul’s friends are all like you and your husband. They know he’s done cruel, wrong things to the women he dated, that he still does those things, that he will in future do them.
When you and your husband stop socializing with him, you may or may not open the floodgates of people dropping him. I hope everyone drops him.
Even if they don’t though, you and husband and Jenny and all the new people who become your friends won’t be abusive horrible Paul.
I think that’s a good thing.
LW, if Paul had repeatedly committed credit card fraud would you still be friends with him? Would you feel this awkwardness about removing him from your life?
What if regularly got drunk and vandalised playgrounds? Or shoplifted from charity shops?
All of those things are wrong, but I think most people would say they are less bad than attacking your partner.
Would it be easier to say “we stopped being friends with Paul when I found out that he pockets the fairtrade chocolate from Oxfam” rather than “we stopped being friends when we say his latest girlfriend with a black eye”?
This too! A lot of people would be more concerned about a credit card fraud than the abuse of a woman.
(trigger warning: statutory rape)
It’s pretty fucked up. My social circle would cheerily ostracize someone for being racist or habitual theft, but they defended and made excuses for the guy who at 30 had a 16 year old girlfriend and went to prison for statutory rape.
Steal pokemon cards? Thief. Have sex with a 16 year old? You’re a good guy who lacks social skills and made a bad decision!
I was thinking “what if he abused animals? Or if he abused the elderly? Or children?”
There are many good people in the world. This is not one of them. Burn this bridge, piss on it’s remains and do a large butt waving dance from the other side.
I love this comment–what a wonderful image!
I mean, as an abuse survivor, this impulse is why I don’t talk to a lot of my friends about my experience? I love myself enough to that I left the relationship but the last thing I’d want is for anything bad to happen to my ex? I feel like I can’t tell our mutual friends because they’re very team CA and I think would be very likely to freeze him out and I don’t want that to happen? I want him to live an amazing, happy, fulfilling, wonderful life. And yeah, I’ve discretely told our mutual friends that I don’t want to interact with him anymore, which they honor. The fact that he hit me and made me feel insignificant doesn’t make him any less human, any less deserving of compassion love and relationship. It just means that I’m going to avoid him.
That’s a hard place to be in, and I wish I could think of better advice for you. I can’t say the freeze-him-out method espoused by Cap and most commenters here is a bad blanket philosophy, because there *are* lots of women on the other side of the fence who’d feel just as shitty *not* seeing their abuser get frozen out, and unsafe to boot.
(If you’ll take a loose analogy – I don’t mind the idea of a new guy, say, kissing me without asking first. BUT that doesn’t mean I disagree with the prevailing drift in attitude towards Do Not Do That, because of how many people would feel violated in that situation.)
Who you tell, and what you tell, will always be your business. But if it would ever ease your heart to confide in someone, you *deserve* that outlet. You deserve it more than your ex deserves to have his image preserved in that person’s eyes.
Thanks for sharing this with us, Jane.
As Emma9 said, who you tell or what you tell them is your decision. And no one is saying you should bear your ex any ill will. What you feel about your ex is your business and it’s valid and no one here has any right to disrespect that.
However, you cannot control other people’s actions and feelings. If your ex hurts others and that comes out and he loses friends over that, that’s not your fault and you cannot keep it from happening. If a friend of yours learns about what your ex did to you and decides that they don’t want to associate with someone who hurt their friend anymore, that’s also not your fault and you also cannot keep it from happening.
None of your friends should ever engage in any kind of witch hunting/white knighting on your behalf if that’s not something you want, but they are within their rights to choose who they’d rather be friends with. And it is not your fault for telling. And the harm done to you is, sadly, often not the only reason that breaks that friendship.
Once I stopped being friends with someone (O, she/her) who had been very mean to a friend of mine, M (she/her). I did it as quietly and subtly as I could and never confronted O about it, because M especifically asked me to handle it like so. M is still friends with O and is sad that my friendship with O ended. At first, M felt guilty that she had told me about what O did to her, because she felt that she had soured our friendship, but she hadn’t. I simply refuse to be friends with anyone who hurts my friends. That’s a decision I make for myself. Other people make different decisions based on different grounds, and that’s alright.
You don’t have to tell anyone anything, but if you WANT to, instead of thinking about it as ruining his ability to have a happy life, think of it as enhancing you friends ability to have THEIR lives be happy and wonderful and fulfilling. Your friends’ ability to NOT be friends with someone who hurt someone they love (or who hurt anyone in that way) may be a boon to them. And frankly, losing friends is not a cut-off to an amazing life.
Yes, exactly. You have the right to do and say what you want, but they also have the right to do what they want with that information (including protecting themselves and their loved ones). Unless they are going to murder him or lock him up – good luck with that! – he will likely have plenty of opportunities for love and career success, not to mention the ability to reinvent himself, throughout his life, perhaps even more than the average woman.
The fact that he hit me and made me feel insignificant doesn’t make him any less human, any less deserving of compassion love and relationship.
I have to disagree with this. Yes, abusers are still human, but loving relationships are a privilege, not a right (aside from dependent children who are obviously owed loving relationships with their caregivers). If you want to have relationships with people, you have to treat them well. Not having relationships is a natural and obvious consequence of hitting your partner and making them feel insignificant. It’s not a punishment, it’s just basic self-preservation if people choose not to give an abuser a shot at them.
It’s commendable that you’re able to forgive your ex, but…do you really want him to have a wonderful life *more* than you want him to change his behavior so he doesn’t hurt others the way he hurt you? When you say that the *last thing you want* is for anything bad to happen to him, do you really mean you want him to do bad things to others more than you want him to ever have to be sad?
I’m sure he’s capable of having a wonderful life in which he also doesn’t continue abusing people, but it may be that the only way he can do that is if he learns that his actions have consequences. And it’s one thing to say he still deserves love and relationships even though he abused you, but it’s another thing if you also meant to imply that he deserves love and relationships even if he’s abusive in those relationships too.
Although it’s not your job to make sure he stops hurting people, it bothers me that it seems like you’re explicitly putting a higher priority on his happiness than on the happiness of his friends and future partners. Whether or not he still deserves happiness in an objective sense, I can’t get behind the idea that he deserves it *more* than they do, if it came down to a choice between them.
I’ve never commented before, but felt I should add my story to the mix.
Abusive ex was already lining up his next meal ticket online when I called the cops for his one-way trip to jail. The gal contacted me to tell me what a horrible home-wrecking liar I was, etc. etc.
I gave a brief rundown of events, but assumed it all went unheard, until a few months later. She contacted me to apologize and ask for help because he was getting violent with her and she was only able to contact me because he was back in jail for assaulting her.
Not sure what the outcome was, but I shared all the DV resources I found helpful and wished her luck.
**A sick little side note is that his brother called to arrange picking up his stuff after I booted him, suggested we should ‘get together’ since we both had bad exes (???) then said: We (the family) told him his temper would wreck this for him.**
Those fuckers *knew* his entire history, yet let me walk into 4 years of mental, physical, emotional & financial hell. So yeah, ostracize Paul. Model good behavior and possibly help someone avoid living hell.
I am ALL FOR shunning people who massively violate the social contract. Hit your intimate partners or kids? Sexually assault people? Send every person of your desired gender who adds you on snapchat a photo of your junk? BAM. NO FRIENDS. You can go shape up and make all brand new friends once you have learned how to be a human in the world.
Why wouldn’t you want to ostracize this guy? Do you really want to spend time with a group of people who cover for him or think this is okay or a “gray area?”
There is a phrase from old books (and old people I have known) that deserves to be resurrected, I think:
“No decent person would have anything to do with him.” We have, in current society, un-shamed and un-judgementalized a lot of things that are none of anyone’s business anyway. Good, fine.
But Paul’s behavior is everyone’s business, and he should receive all.the.shaming.
I feel like…I don’t know how to put this, but you’ve hit upon something that has been bothering me, so I’m going to try to articulate it. There is such a thing as non-judgementalism going too far. And I wonder if–like, okay, I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday’s post about the abusive w/w relationship.
So, I’m a lesbian, although I have never been in a romantic relationship. I dunno, maybe I’m gayromantic asexual. Anyway. But I think in my former circle of friends, many people were judged and condemned or ostracized for being LGBT, and it felt so awful that it seems like it became the biggest taboo in our group to judge or exclude. Sort of like Geek Social Fallacy, except it’s LGBT social fallacy. To the point where if one friend, say, was always getting blackout drunk and vomiting all over your living room carpet at parties, the harshest thing it is cool to say is, “Hey, please vomit in the bathroom.” Or, say, “I choose not to drink / drink in moderation, and it has been a great decision for me.”
Similarly with ethical issues like boycotting meat, or donating / volunteering with charities, or someone’s “hobby” of shoplifitng; or interpersonal social issues like not using slurs in a “funny” way, or not screaming at people when you get mad. The going mantra is “you do you,” or, “it’s my personal preference not to hang out with this person,” (which equates a personal preference for not hanging out with bigots to a personal preference for not hanging out with boring people who talk too much about their hobby).
It took me way too long to realize the line at which it’s okay to judge or exclude people for ethical reasons in my friend group didn’t just get pushed back, it got erased. I finally realized how effed up our social group was when a situation scarily similar to the abusive w/w relationship letter happened, and while both girls “told different stories,” it seemed pretty obvious to me that the friend who said she experienced emotional, sexual and psychological abuse was the one telling the truth. But everyone else in the group sided with the abuser.
And honestly? It’s not because they didn’t believe the victimized friend. I mean, they didn’t want to believe her, but some of our mutual friends admitted that she was probably telling the truth. But they didn’t want to judge the abuser, and besides, “she’s the fun one! She’s funny and charming! *You* don’t have to hang out with her if *you* don’t want to, but don’t judge me for wanting to hang out with fun people.”
And I feel like–wtf??? I don’t get it at all! I don’t. And I don’t know what to say, I mean it’s not just an LGBT-friend-group thing, and I know not all other LGBT people are like this. But I’m at a loss. And I feel like that, while I know that condoning domestic abuse is across the line, I have no sense of balance as to where the line ought to be. Was it all the way back at the vegetarian / factory farm argument we had way back when, when I ultimately apologized for saying eating meat was cruel? Should I have stuck to me guns? But if not, then where was the line?
Sorry Captain if this is off topic; feel free to delete. It’s just been stressing me out lately, so I thought I should write it all down. But I do not mean to derail the important information for the LW, so I’m sorry if that is the case 😦
I’ve seen something along these lines on tumblr, which of course means I can’t find the post now.
The most memorable reply says that we, as a society and/or subculture, have begun to treat ethics as a matter of opinion and put them on the same level as preference in hobbies. “This is not an acceptable way to treat other people” is NOT on the same level as “I don’t enjoy this activity” but it gets treated by a lot of people like it is? And that’s not actually OK.
We, individually and socially, need to bring boundaries back. And that includes boundaries around who may or may not participate in the social group.
Right. And, I mean, ethics being a matter of opinion, I can see where that idea is very appealing if you are gay and come from a homophobic community, or even something less serious such as a certain fashion style being condemned. I was fortunate to be raised in a loving, gay-affirming household and church (Episcopalian). It is very challenging, especially as a young person, to figure out what is right and wrong when everyone is telling you that a right thing is wrong. So it becomes easier to say, “Right and wrong are a matter of opinion,” than to insist that you are the only person with the correct notion about what is right or wrong in your community, even if that is genuinely true.
But, this also seems to be the case for some people who were not condemned by their family or community. Maybe even the opposite direction–they were taught by their parents (either explicitly or by example) that right and wrong are a matter of opinion.
Hey, thank you for saying this. It has been bothering me too, lately, and it helps to see it written down.
You’re welcome. I wish there was a solution, but at least I know I’m not crazy to feel this way. 😦
You are not the only one feeling like this, no. I have such a hard time calling problematic behaviours out in LGBT+ spaces… it’s like, we are so worried about protecting people like us from the outside world, we forget to protect ourselves from people like us 😦
Yeeeeah. Been raised like this, where folks wouldn’t judge stuff like lack of punctuality or flat-out bad behavior (while having a strict eye on my brother and me), and it results in shitty boundaries.
I honestly think if adults had backed me up in “I don’t like this” instead of telling me “it’s OK, they’re just ______!” I’d have way less guilt in rejecting bullshit.
I once had to deal with a very clear-cut case of abuse in a fannish space, and was getting a lot of pushback against the idea of a comprehensive anti-harassment policy. One of the people pushing back got very upset and said, “Fandom is the place of last resort for people who’ve been kicked out of everywhere else. If we start kicking people out of fandom, some of us will have nowhere to go at all.” (Her “us” was not about harassment but about social awkwardness, which she worried would be seen as sufficient grounds for expulsion—because it had been, in other social circles where she was no longer welcome.)
It sounds like your former circle of friends had a similar sort of mentality: we must be welcoming to everyone because we’re hated and unsafe literally everywhere else, and to take away a queer person’s last refuge is the worst possible thing in the world.
* There is almost always another social group, even for abusers and harassers, and certainly for people who are not abusers and harassers.
* Abusers and harassers do not have their communities and friendships “taken away”; they damage and destroy them with their actions.
* The people who do have their communities and friendships taken away are those targeted by abusers and harassers. Cutting someone out of their community is a well-known abuse tactic. People who speak up about harassment are often ostracized, especially if they have less social power than the harasser.
As for where the line is, I think that’s different for everyone. I hope you’ve found a community that’s more in tune with your personal values.
Firstly, ‘I value my wish to have a good time higher than your need for safety’ is definitely a stance I would never want to take. A lot of things can be framed in terms of wants vs. needs – one person likes to smoke, another person can’t breathe if you smoke near them: that’s not equivalent, not ‘two sides’. (The freedom to swing your fist ends at the other man’s nose and all that.) So the questions to ask seem ‘is this a reasonable thing to want’ and ‘does getting my wish create a problem/danger for someone else’.
Was it all the way back at the vegetarian / factory farm argument we had way back when, when I ultimately apologized for saying eating meat was cruel? Should I have stuck to me guns? But if not, then where was the line?
Here, I’d say the line is at ‘cruel to eat meat’ because that’s a value judgement, and one that wipes out all of the middle ground; I feel that the line is ‘factory farming is cruel to animals; we should not support this practice’ rather than ‘all farming is cruel’. Someone’s desire to eat meat (or cheap meat) does not top an animal’s need to live a contented, healthy life; but if both of those goals can be combined (and the smoker in the example above can find a place to smoke without bothering other people), then that’s something the rest of us have to accept. (Smoking if the only person inconvenienced is yourself and other fully consenting adults… well, ok. Eating something you like? Definitely.)
This also gives a clue to what’s not ok: ‘I want to be entertained by an abuser’ doesn’t sound like the moral high, or even moral neutral ground to me.
Argh. The italics should end, but don’t, after ‘where was the line?’.
LW, you might lose some friends over this, but it’s still the right thing to do. [TW: attempted rape]
I lost a very good friend by hitting the “He’s a piece of shit!” alarm. I was in college, but everyone involved was friends from high school except one.
There was this guy Bob, and from the moment I met him, I found him rather off-putting. (He was not one of those charming-at-first abusers. He was definitely more of the type you only hang out with because of Geek Social Fallacies.) I warmed up to him most of the way when he became close to one of my closest friends, Nancy. Platonically at first, then eventually they started dating. He’d been dating a girl from our hometown who did not go to school with us, but broke up with her when he moved to Big City to go to Big College.
Susan, weirdly enough, also ended up moving to Big City, and I got to know her through some more distant mutual friends. Eventually, Bob came up, and it turned out that Bob had not broken up with Susan because he was moving. Susan had broken up with Bob because he was getting just totally weird on her. And the day after they broke up, he broke into home when she was home alone, and started screaming at her. He screamed something really just gross like he “WAS going to satisfy her” but as he was just about to grab her and rape her, her brother gets home early. The brother chases Bob out of the house, still unzipped.
By the time I meet Susan and know her well enough for her to tell me that, Nancy and Bob were engaged. So I take a deep breath…and I tell Nancy. She has a tiny breakdown for about 8 hours, and I stuck around while she just sat in a corner, nearly unable to speak.
The next day, she finds me and tells me…she doesn’t believe Susan. She thinks Susan is lying, or mentally ill and couldn’t remember things right. She says, “I honestly believe that Bob is innocent.” I tell her, “I honestly believe he is not.” And we didn’t fight. But we never spoke again. Her best friend/my roommate, Barbara, made sure we didn’t really ever go to the same place at the same time.
Barbara stuck by Nancy, and was very polite and cordial to Bob. According to Barbara, this was basically so she could watch over Nancy, and if Nancy ever needed to run, she would have a friend to turn to. I’m glad Nancy had one person like that. As far as I know, they are very happily married. (I have theories why he would hurt pagan, pansexual, occasional drug user Susan, but not Super Christian, barely-drinks, women-should-be-subordinate-to-husbands Nancy, but that’s another story.)
For a long time, I really missed her. But I missed her like that ex that was really bad for you – you remember the good times, and if you remember all the times at once, you would leave again. I couldn’t have gone out to Sunday brunch with her and Bob. I would have table-flipped and ruined all of the nice French toasts.
Sometimes you have to lose those friends.
You did the right thing. I’m sorry for you and Nancy, but if for no one else’s sake, it is good for Susan that you told.
I’m so glad to hear someone say this. I honestly thought I was going to come back to the comments, and be accused of leaving my friend to be abused.
“Talk about awkward!”
I survived a relationship with a guy like Paul. Your “awkward” was (and continues to be) my life-threatening– both from the post-traumatic stress disorder and from the people like you who keep endangering me by continuing to include my abuser in their social group.
Thanks for this–I’m sure LW didn’t mean it like that, but it stung me too.
We have that going on where I live. A man who is abusive, manipulative, a liar. I had enough trouble with him that I made it very public I don’t like him and don’t want to be around him. I notice other people are saying so, too. I watch him grooming new women in the area — if they mention him I say he’s a creep and l don’t want to be around him. That’s all I say. They don’t believe it until he does something to them — usually showing up in a drunken rage when they don’t do what he wants. He doesn’t beat anyone, its more subtle. He whacks a woman with his cane and then says it was a joke. I could tell you stories, but it’s enough to say that you should definitely be very clear you don’t like the guy, and don’t want to be around him. You don’t have to say why.
I am curious if there is any room for LW’s husband to confront Paul as a friend & encourage him to seek treatment? Each situation is different, and I don’t mean to suggest that this would be an appropriate response universally but, it seems to me that this might be an opportunity to interrupt what may very well be a cycle of abuse in Paul’s own life. Since LW’s husband is a longtime friend of Paul’s, perhaps a very candid Intervention-style discussion could be had in which it is made clear that Paul’s actions are intolerable and will no longer be met with passivity. Just as an alcoholic’s friends might say, “I will no longer ignore your binging & I will call the police if you drive drunk. If you are willing to acknowledge your problem & go to treatment, I will support you in that decision. However, I will not be a silent contributor to the pull of this disease any more.”
I do not in any way mean to detract from LW’s support for Jenny. I am 100% in support of all of that. I just don’t know if simply cutting Paul off socially will truly affect change. He’ll likely just move on to a new friend group & start all over again with folks who, unfortunately, will be none the wiser. I completely stipulate that this may not be possible or appropriate but, maybe it’s possible to see someone who abuses others as a person with a serious problem & in need of professional treatment rather than just a full-on evil villain.
Again, I do not in any way mean to minimize the horrors of abuse or suggest that survivors owe anything at all to their abusers. Rather, I wonder if, as a society, we’ve taken the easier, more comfortable approach toward abusers of “F*ck ’em, they’re irredeemable” rather than trying to treat, educate or rehabilitate.
Please know that I speak only out of a desire to understand & dialogue respectfully. If I have caused pain or offense, I sincerely apologize & wish you peace.
Only if he finds a program specifically for men who are being abusive. Regular therapy generally just teaches abusive men a whole new language to use to be abusive– now they’re not just abusive, but everyone around them has to take it because they can’t help it because of their Oedipal complex or whatever.
Totally makes sense!
I don’t think many reasonable people would say that all abusers are irredeemable. What it is, though, is that abuse is a behaviour pattern that’s not going to change unless the abuser is *motivated* – and that’s actually less likely than it might appear. The obvious motive would seem to be ‘It’d make you a better person and a better partner,’ and for those of us who don’t abuse our partners, that’s reason enough. But if someone’s already at the point where he habitually beats his girlfriends – well, if that was going to motivate him, he wouldn’t be hitting them in the first place. He’s already found a way to live with himself and excuse or justify his actions.
Meanwhile, there are powerful incentives for him to stay abusive. Habit. Getting to avoid the shame he’s feel if he understood how bad his past actions were. All the control in his current relationship. Freedom to treat his partner however he wants and frighten her out of holding him accountable. No requirement to control himself or be considerate. Feeling superior to his partner. Often, financial advantages. Abusers abuse because they get something out of it, and often get quite a lot.
So while someone can decide to change, it’s a difficult, uncomfortable process, and involves giving up a lot of benefits. So along with Kit’s point, it’s also subject to the general rule of therapy: it won’t do much unless the person in therapy is willing to put in the necessary work. Some people are, but you can’t assume it – and if they’re not willing, the best therapy in the world won’t do much good.
It’s one reason people recommend ostracism, I think. For a selfish person, ‘I’m hurting my girlfriend’ may be less motivating than ‘I’m losing my friends over this.’ It’s not necessarily about writing the guy off; it can be about giving him a reason to change.
Abusers get a lot of “benefits” out of abusing, from their perspective. They enjoy hurting others and having power and whatever the hell else.
That is not the same as someone dealing with mental illness that needs help. It is not the same as victims needing therapy to re-engage with the world. Therapy for abusers CANNOT work unless and until they are motivated to change, and enforcing social consequences is how you get those consequences to exist.
The often-recommended “Why Does He Do That?” book has many examples of abusers who joined the author’s program only because they were court-ordered to do so, and left at the end of their mandated stay, or joined while their victim was in the process of moving out and left as as soon as she changed her mind, and so on. Therapy gets used as a weapon by abusers.
Most abusers aren’t mentally ill, they’re just assholes.
That is such a great point about motivation, Ice & Indigo!
Yup, all of this. There’s also often incentive for an abuser to *look* like they’re getting help and trying to change – primarily that abused people are often less willing to leave someone that they believe is working on it. But then real change doesn’t happen, or only happens enough to prevent a breakup. I’ve watched a relative string their spouse along for decades like this.
Nanani, that last bit needs to be cross-stitched on a pillow. The issues I spoke of in an above thread involved an untreated mental illness. It took a long time to realize I’d been conflating that with abuse, although others with that same MI were squarely in my corner.
“Why Does He Do That?” is a great book and should be recommended reading in school. I certainly wish I had it.
Someone who abuses others IS a person with a serious problem, but unless they somehow first come to a realisation that it is wrong and they are not entitled to abuse others, treatment or rehabilitation won’t help. It’d be like, I don’t know, someone going to AA and believing all along that being an alcoholic is ok and normal and their life would be fine if only their spouse would stop asking them not to drink; nothing’s going to change. “Why Does He Do That” is written by someone with extensive experience running the kind of program Kit referred to and even then the author finds that mostly the men attend because they are required to and they learn to say all the right things and walk away with the same sense of entitlement they came in with.
While it seems that coming to that realisation that their behaviour is wrong is rare even with professional treatment, one would hope that maybe, just maybe, the consequences of losing all their friends may start some abusers on the path to it.
Very well said & insightful, Esk! I don’t mean to sound naive, but I do believe that people should be offered the opportunity to choose a different path for themselves. If they do not choose to make a change, then there is nothing more we can really do for them. I do wonder, though, how many times does an alcoholic go to AA in total denial of their problem yet, over time, the exposure to the tryth of their situation is slowly exposed until finally they are ready for change.
I can’t speak for AA, but having read “Why Does He Do That,” the author mentions that only a minority of the men he works with manage to make lasting changes, *and* those changes take decades. And usually the abusers are in the programs because of court orders or threats by their partners to leave them.
And frankly, based on my own experience: the opportunity to change is squandered very quickly. Old habits are hard to break. My ex told me how several of his exes yelled at him for being self-centered while behaving just like that to me.
Why do you believe that abusers don’t already know about other paths?
This, a thousand times this! Abusers know there are other options, they just like the results of abuse.
It does sound as if you don’t have experience with AA.
The program defines itself as being one of “attraction rather than of promotion.” At some point in time, courts hit on making a convicted criminal have to attend a set number of meetings. They’re given a paper I see go to the meeting leader, another AA who somehow signs off that the criminal attended.
Occasionally, I’ve seen people say that they decided to keep coming after they were done with the court-ordered attendance. It’s not as common as the people who want to display that they’re bored or angry, squirm, grimace and shift their feet until they’re the first out the door.
Maybe it sinks in later, after more arrests, losing jobs, etc. But usually they’re just tolerated. They’re not really there.
I agree that offering people a chance is good, but in cases like Paul, it’s subject to certain practicalities:
1. Safety. Paul is a violent person and has proven this multiple times. Therefore, keeping potential victims safe takes priority over offering him a chance to change that he might very well not take. If there’s a chance he might respond to being told, ‘Dude, you need therapy,’ by lashing out at an ex, or going to the wrong kind of therapy and then using the therapeutic process to hone his manipulation skills, it could end up making things worse.
2. Power. If Paul isn’t already in a place where he wants to change, exactly what does giving him a chance involve? They can’t make him go to therapy: they don’t have that kind of authority over him. They certainly can’t make him stay in an abuser program, and as those involve a lot of confrontation and aren’t fun for the abuser, he would be unlikely to stay in one just because a couple of his friends recommended it.
So they could encourage him, sure, but only if they were sure there wouldn’t be splash damage. But they’d have to take the line, ‘Our friendship is conditional on you finding a very specific and not-necessaily-easy-to-access program, staying in it through all the confrontation and criticism, and changing some of the most fundamental aspects of your personality.’
I mean, they could try. But it doesn’t sound very likely to work, and it might backfire, so I don’t think they’d be in the wrong for deciding it wasn’t a realistic option. Maybe if absolutely all his friends and family united to do it, but it doesn’t sound like that’s on the table.
You can spend your life trying to treat, educate, and rehabilitate an abuser, but they will never stop abusing until they want to, and they’ll never want to until the downside of their abusive actions outweighs the benefits.
No one can change an abuser except the abuser. All you can do is add your weight to the side of negative repercussions and hope enough people join you to tip the scales.
There’s actually a new documentary called A Better Man where a woman confronts her former abuser, and it goes over a lot of the resources available to abusive men who genuinely want to change– at least in Canada.
LW, I will be a bit blunt.
When you continue to be friends with this man, what he learns is that he can get away with beating women. He learns that he gets to keep his friends, his social groups, his drinking buddies, his poker nights, his monthly bowling night, his everything. He learns that there are no serious enough consequences for beating women–that his friends are okay with him beating women. That people take it less seriously than, say, serious theft. He learns that it is okay to beat women, that they do not matter as much as, oh, a car.
She does not get to keep these things. When you are being abused, often you do not simply lose your safety, your health, your home, your pets, your dignity, your self-esteem, and/or your children. Often you lose your entire friend group. All your mutual friends. Sometimes your entire family too.
All because “we have no desire to ostracize him”.
If you do know of other women, be honest with them. Explain how he was your friend, and how you trusted him, and how he beat women. (Don’t ruin the privacy of the other women, but be honest.)
All of this. All of it, LW.
You know what? All whatsisname had to do to avoid the feefee-hurting consequences of not being hung out with, and being talked about in a mean way, was…not beat women. If he can’t help beating women, he should be in an inpatient facility; if he can, but doesn’t want to, then let consequences ensue.
I do just want to mention, though, that the odds are that he, like 99% of pretty much all abusive men, can in fact help it. Lundy Bancroft covers this better than me, but the vast majority of abusive men do not just have anger problems where they lash out at anything when they’re mad, they choose to abuse women because they want to and feel entitled to. They think it is okay for them to do it, and so they do it.
People with actual anger issues do also exist and sometimes are also abusive, but often they are already losing jobs, families, friends, and their own property. Many, many abusers are very good at only abusing the people they know they can get away with hurting, and keeping a professional and nice, friendly face up for others. Like this “Paul”.
This, so much this.
If someone really cannot not be violent, they are violent around everyone, not just around people who are smaller than them or afraid of them.
I’ve read that one of the first things an abuser do is isolate their victims. They told lies about their family and friends and to them so they drift pleople who loves their victim appart until their chosen victim end alone. That is, abusers manipulate people into ostracizing the victim. So it seems fair to me that people ostrazice the abuser instead.
This is a situation where anything other than ostracism is NOT a neutral stance. Thank you Captain, and I hope to see social change along the lines of your vision in my lifetime. I took radical action against my ex last year because he had abused my daughter. My ex is the stripe of abuser who turns things around to make himself out to be the victim and some neighbours of his effectively penalized my daughter in the situation. Of course they thought they were being “neutral” and “reasonable”. I felt so bad and in breach of the social contract, but I did come out and say: “You do realize that you are acting like a 50 year old man needs to be protected from a 10 year old girl?” Stances like yours lend me a lot of confidence in challenging “neutrality” in these situations; thank you so much.
You are a hero and I would be proud to call you my friend. Stay loud.
What kind of shitheads do you have for neighbors? Or are they just the typical misogynists who blame a little girl for “asking for it”?
Well no you see, they are not overtly shitheads or misogynists, they are pretty likable. The situation is relevant to the themes of this thread. It was rather that my ex told them how “uncomfortable” he was and they accommodated him, and the woman was all “understanding” and was saying “I grew up with parents who weren’t together”. So they bought into a narrative that the problems were to do with conflict between him and me, or at best in their “neutral” way they decided that he and my daughter “weren’t getting on”. But I’ve no doubt my ex spun them some yarn that made it look as if I was the villain of the piece. We had to go through the family court judge lecturing us on psychological phenomena where daughters internalize their mothers’ feelings about their fathers. I am glad to say though that my application for him to be banned from having contact with my daughter was ultimately granted, but the battle to be taken seriously by the “neutral” and “fair” people of the world is an uphill one indeed.
I’m glad you won the battle for your daughter. Thank you for correcting my initial impression, which was a much darker take on things.
I don’t have anything to add for the OP, but I want you to know I cried all the way through reading this letter because, as a survivor, I wish there’d been someone to say this to my mutual friends with my abuser or even our casual acquaintances. Every line of this is so utterly accurate, so correct.
As it stood, I lost just about everyone I loved and cared for because they couldn’t accept that “not taking a side” was taking a side, that … just all of this.
It was WORTH IT. My life is BETTER NOW. I am so glad I didn’t let that stop me leaving. But oh my god if they heard (really heard!) even 1/10 of what Cap said here, I would have been saved so much secondary pain – the pain of having to plead to be believed, of seeing someone who hurt me desperately seek refuge in a community of friends that insisted they cared about me but NOT ENOUGH to stand with me and say what he did to destroy my psyche, my sense of safety, my finances, was wrong. The pain of hearing that for the good of the group I needed to compromise my safety to see him. The pain of hearing that it wasn’t “fair” of me to leave him because he can’t help how he is and now he cries a lot and he’s really sorry (clearly missing that I cried quite a bit too when he terrorized me for YEARS).
I can go on and on and on about this, but know that OP – Jenny and the other women he’s abused need you to take this step. The law fails DV victims daily, and the only recourse we have is for our circles to impose a social cost on this treachery. Please, please, please be a part of that.
LW, also consider this: How are you going to feel if this man finds a romantic partner in your mutual friend group, and treats her the same way he’s treated his past partners? Will you feel totally neutral? Will you feel guilty for knowing he’s got this history and not making any move to get him out of your friend group? Assuming this hypothetical woman eventually splits with him, the friend group really might reach a point where it can’t have both of them in it–will you ostracize him then, or will you ostracize her by default by letting him stay? If you would ostracize him in that circumstance, why is it a reasonable thing to do then but not now?
I’m not saying you’re somehow responsible for his future abuse if you don’t warn people. He’s responsible for his actions. And even if you do your absolute best to warn everyone in sight, some people won’t believe it, some people will choose to hang out with him anyways, and lots of people are just not people you talk to–you can’t warn everyone in the entire world.
But I know that if this were my friend, and he ended up preying on someone I could have warned, I would feel incredibly guilty about it. And I know that if another one of my friends ended up feeling like they had to lose their whole social group because they thought said social group would keep hanging out with their abuser (or any abuser! tolerating abuse makes people unsafe, period), I would feel really guilty about that too. If you would also feel those emotions, take that into account! If the likely consequences of tolerating this guy aren’t something you could live with if they came to pass, then you should do your best to make sure they don’t happen, for your own sake as much as anyone else’s. Inaction can seem like the easy way out in the moment, but in my experience, many people’s greatest regrets are the moments where they didn’t act as they should have per their own values.
One thing I think should be added, is I strongly think the abuser should be confronted (in a safe place with other people around) about his behaviour, and openly discuss with them why it is not ok. I don’t think avoiding the person fixes the problem (though that’s clearly the right thing for the victim to do), but mutual friends calling them up on the behaviour explicitly, educating them, and clearly warning them either of future consequences of they do it again, or explicitly explaining why they will hence forth be shunned is much more helpful than simply cutting them off without a word of explanation.
Here’s the thing:
You sound like a reasonable and not-abusive person. If a whole bunch of people stop talking to you at once, you’re gonna wonder what happened. And part of you is gonna soul-search, like, did I do or say something wrong? Do I need to make amends? You’re gonna seek out a friend or friends and ask them what’s up.
Someone like Paul knows what he did. He knows that he hits his partners. If he wants to stop doing this, he could talk to someone to get help. He could talk to his friends, like, “I know this is wrong and I want to stop.” He knows that up until now it hasn’t really been a problem with keeping friendships.
Someone like Paul is also entitled and unused to consequences and used to blaming other people. His conclusion is not going to be “I do bad stuff and should stop.” His conclusion is going to be “That bitch opened her mouth, this is her fault.” People like Paul can also really fall in love with the whole apology – redemption cycle. It gets them the attention that they crave and lets them keep manipulating people.
I think that adding “explaining Paul’s errors and trying to start him on the road to redemption” to the to-do list before you’re allowed to cut Paul out of your life is too much to ask. It would be nice if someone had an intervention. It would be great if we knew how to reliably fix this. In the end Paul is responsible for Paul, and the LW’s responsibility is to limit the damage, not save the damager. It’s okay to just…disinvest from him as a person.
Paul might also hit – or do worse – to anyone who dares explain his errors to him. Unless that person is a man with a gun and a badge.
Actually, mutual friends “simply cutting them off without a word of explanation” DOES fix a whole great big chunk of the problem, from the victim’s point of view.
Wow, I’m so impressed with your strength to not back down in your statement. This who thread has got me thinking. I have a friend that might (or might not) be in an abusive situation. I will be re-reading this thread. Lots of wisdom here.
[moderator hat on] Hi nice commenters, I have some 1000+ word comments sitting in the spam filter that might make good discussion threads at the forums at FriendsofCaptainAwkward.com or be better posted on your own blog/Tumbler/Dreamwidth, etc. They are overwhelming for me to read through, especially when we’ve had some trolling on the thread and need more careful moderation.
Do what you have to do to take care of yourself, Captain. Thank you so much for providing a safe space for us to discuss this and for all the work you put into it ♡
Thank you for understanding!
Whoops, I just wrote one before seeing this comment. So sorry, and please disregard!! I also really appreciate all the work you do here, including moderation!
Got it, tx!
It’s completely true that people are never more insistent on “innocent until proven guilty” than when a man is accused of hurting a woman. And the woman is always guilty until proven innocent when she is accused of lying.
And it’s also funny how people tell abused women that they dated the guy “knowing” he was an asshole or that they “ignored” signs, but those same people always think the abusive assholes are the greatest people on earth who would NEVER hurt anyone
We have a restaurant owner in town we all loved. Charming and charismatic and always socializing with guests and singing. Popular dude.
Ended up in the paper for abusing his pregnant girlfriend while they were driving and threatening to kill her and her family. My hubby and I simply stopped associations with him and don’t eat at his restaurant, but best believe everyone still floods his restaurant and leaves loving comments on Facebook
Evil piece of shit
Question: What if the offending person is someone you are related to? It seems to me the closer you are related the harder it would be to do this. Any advice about that?
A few questions:
How often does your path usually cross your relation’s? Is it always or usually at family events where there areother relations present? How important are such events in your family/to you? What’s the attitude of the rest of your family?
All these affect how you’d go about things. For instance, if the only way to see relations you love is to go to events that nobody will disinvite them from, you might have to take the line, ‘I’ll be distantly polite to you at family events for the sake of Great-Granny Mabel, but beyond that I don’t have anything to say to you until I hear you’ve got appropriate treatment and are sticking to it.’ On the other hand, if there are other family members who see things your way, you might be able to irganise separate events? What are your options, do you think?
I dunno if this is the best method, but for me, I give these relatives the “cold comfort”. If I have to engage (like a family reunion), it will be with the most BASIC of questions (“How have you been”, “How is your mother”, “Nice weather we’re having today”, “This is some nice coleslaw”) before jumping off like a flea to the peeps that are actually awesome to hang with.
I don’t follow them on the social media, or if it turns out I do I completely ignore them and never respond (Facebook has some good hiding features so that you don’t have to look at their posts).
Otherwise, I don’t engage. I don’t talk about them, I don’t go near them, and I don’t engage with people who talk about them.
That makes it easy for me to slowly kill the “relationship” and cut contact with them. It takes less effort and less drama than trying to immediately cut them out and block them.
If you are related to an abuser and you witness abuse then you are one of the targets, and so are your children, if any.
This may well be the second or third generation of abuse that you have seen. It might be sensible to find someone that you can trust to talk to. It is very difficult to see dysfunctional family dynamics clearly from the inside (understatement of the year.).
Be a safe person to talk to.
When I went no contact with my sexually abusive parent, I had to decide whether to disclose to his side of the family. His side are crap at dealing with emotional intimacy or anything that isn’t picture perfect and from previous experiences, I know disclosing wouldn’t do down well at all. It would put me at risk of more stalking from said abusive parent.
All I could do was explain to the relation I trusted most that my absence from events was not because I didn’t want to be with them and that if it was safe to say more on why I needed to be far away from my parent, I’d have shared the whole story.
Some relations were happy to let the Unnamed Bad Thing between us exist and asked nothing more. Others pestered me to get over Unnamed Bad Thing and let Abusive Parent use them to get info on me. Others were happy with Unnamed Bad Thing until it prevented me from being at grandfather’s deathbed, when the family wanted me to suck it up and stand beside Abusive Parent. They refused to create any time for me to visit without Abusive Parent. It hurt me so much that my Grandfather died and was buried and Abusive Parent got to be at all of that while I was excluded.
What would have made all the difference would have been one kind relative who cared enough to get me to my grandfather for five minutes alone time. For any of my relations to say ‘wow, Unnamed Bad Thing must be serious for you to have to stay away, I hope you are ok. We still think of you.’ They didn’t even tell me where my grandfather’s grave was in case I want to visit.
The secret of the abuse has estranged me from all of them, they all loathe Abusive Parent but they’ve made the stakes of being included so very high that I am no longer a family member.
You may not be able to do much about your relatives tendency to abuse but if you can find ways to keep channels of communication open for any victims, that helps. Being the sort of kind and discreet person who gets that ‘faaaamily’ doesn’t mean abusers get collaborated with means a lot to those who are hurting.
I actually think it’s the responsibility of friends to not ostracize the fuck out of abusers, but to confront then and support them in finding support. Isolating and disposing of people because they’re harming others means that we’re dodging the accountability we have to the folks we’re in relationships and community with, and it means we are releasing abusers with additional trauma and anger into new spaces where nobody knows about their behaviours.
Believing survivors also means doing the work of finding ways to hold abusers accountable in meaningful ways.
Or, ok, but how do you suggest this be done successfully?
With someone who doesn’t want to change?
How can we do this in a way that is safe for the person’s victims?
We are so addicted to redemption narratives. We are SO VERY BAD at calling abusive people to account. We don’t have to personally take on the rehabilitation of all the assholes we know. We don’t have to prioritize their redemption over the rights of their victims to not have to run into them at every group activity. ADULT PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO ABUSE OTHER PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN BEHAVIOR. They are responsible for their own fucking redemption. I don’t care about them. I care about the damage they do. I care about not normalizing the damage they do. I care about not expecting their victims and their collateral damage to have to forgive them. If there are people out there who want to devote their lives to rehabilitating abusive people, great! More power to them! I am not those people, and their victims don’t have to be those people.
A plan for redemption and rehabilitation of the abuser is not a hurdle that people have to cross before deciding to avoid them. “But how will this person be healed and fixed?” is not a question victims have to ask before avoiding them. It’s already hard enough to get free and stay free. Stop hanging this extra baggage on people who are just trying to survive.
Thank you, Captain.
If the choice is between ostracizing abusers so that, at least, their victims get to keep their friends and community, or prioritizing the abuser’s hypothetical trauma at being ostracized over the victim’s trauma at having been abused plus loss of that community, we damned well ought to ostracize the abusers. If there’s a solution that protects the victims without just sending the abuser to offend somewhere else, a lot of people would be interested. But that solution would require a culture that doesn’t excuse assault because of the victim’s gender, age, or relationship to the person who attacked them. Not one where people think “we can’t ostracize men for domestic violence, because if we punish a man for beating up women, the way we would if he beat up our male friends, he might get angry and beat someone up.”
Book recommendation for the redemption, challenge, community justice angle…
A good resource for thinking about this is “The Revolution Starts At Home”, an anthology compiled by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Content note: Some articles include detailed accounts of being abused.
I’m not saying this resource is necessarily something the original LW will want – though they certainly _might_ find it helpful/illuminating. I’m writing more in answer to the sub-threads about actively confronting “Paul”.
I want to flag up the skills and thought it takes to do something like that well enough, without it backfiring, especially not on the survivor(s). Before starting any kind of potential-redemption confrontation, anyone involved should be thinking through together the ethics of why they’d be doing it, what they’d want the outcome to be, and how likely that outcome is in practice.
In the book, starting on p64, there’s a chapter called “taking risks: implementing grassroots community accountability strategies”. That includes some principles, and three example stories where communities attempted to hold an abuser to account. (That chapter _doesn’t_ include graphic details of abuse.)
Some things I gleaned from reading it…
In most situations, it’s not realistic to think you can ensure that the person wouldn’t go on to abuse again.
What’s more realistic to expect is that, by what you do as a community response, you can make your networks a bit more supportive for survivors, and a bit more aware and less tolerant of abuse.
A key principle is to centre the survivor(s) – their safety, their wellbeing, their choices. Otherwise you’re replicating the dynamic where the survivor(s) came second to someone else’s agenda. You don’t dehumanise the abuser, but you don’t make their future the top priority, either.
A quote from that chapter:
“Prioritize the self-determination of the survivor. Self-determination is the ability to make decisions according to one’s own free will and self-guidance without outside pressure or coercion. When a person is sexually assaulted, self-determination is profoundly undermined. Therefore, the survivor’s values and needs should be prioritized, recognized and respected.
… It is critical to take into account the survivor’s vision for when, why, where and how the abuser will be held accountable. It is also important to recognize that the survivor must have the right to choose to lead and convey the plan, participate in less of a leadership role, or not be part of the organizing at all.”
I.e. in this example, if “Jenny” answered that it wouldn’t be safe for her to have “Paul” confronted at this time, then consulting and believing her would be a better form of support than ignoring her input and confronting him.
So the good outcomes from community justice responses might not always make much difference to that one abuser. Sometimes they’re more about the whole climate of the social network. Maybe it becomes a bit easier for people currently in abusive relationships to confide in someone and get help. Maybe the stigma on being abused gets less. Maybe people who’ve had to leave groups to avoid their abuser get to be welcomed back.
Other relevant sections from the “Revolution Starts At Home” book which don’t include graphic details:
“pot luck: some strategies from the field” – page 90
lists and points to consider – page 84
And for anyone OK with reading accounts of abuse, I recommend the whole book.
It’s available in printed form and as a free download PDF. I’ll put links to it in a follow-up comment.
Hope that’s useful.
“The Revolution Starts At Home”
Book from here:
Free download from here:
SO useful. Thanks!
Just a big thank you for this, Captain Awkward. As usual. you’ve put angry rants and late-night discussions and debates into perfectly sensible words.
LW, if you sent this exact letter to Miss Manners, she would tell you this is exactly the kind of situation the cut direct exists for.
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