Hi Captain Awkward,
I (they/them) have just found out thirdhand that a straight cis guy I consider a casual friend has been banned from a community for harassing his ex-girlfriend. The second “hand” in this chain of information also has said that he is secretly a bigot who disliked everyone in the community anyway. Before I found all this out thirdhand, I had reached out to the guy in question to privately express concern over the sudden (and at the time, unexplained) ban.
The primary thing I wanted to ask your advice on is: what do I do now? My go-to M.O. for every difficult social situation thus far has been to just Leave Forever. But I can’t just Leave Forever. There is a started, unfinished conversation with a person in whom I have emotional stakes. I don’t want him to continue or escalate harassment of his ex-girlfriend (since I apparently can’t judge his propensity for such things at all), and I don’t want him to fall into a dangerous depressive episode (since he has been going through a bad enough time lately and we both have that going on), and I don’t want him to come away from this experience having learned the wrong lesson and treating other women badly in the future, and…?
I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know if not saying anything at all will also have bad consequences. I want to minimize harm. What do I do to achieve that?
(P.S. This literally just happened/is happening right now so I apologize for being unclear or rambling or nonsensical; I am still in shock and I don’t know where else to turn.)
Hi, I have at least 100 versions of this question in my inbox, so, know first of all that you aren’t alone.
It is heartbreaking when you realize that someone you like has been showing you a different face than the one they show other people. And it is admirable that you’d want to do something about it. You don’t want to be That Bystander, the one who enabled it and defended the person. You also feel loyal and caring toward your friend and don’t want to just abandon him, especially if he’s suffering from other things in his life.
My questions (for all the askers of this question) are:
- What is the person who did the harm doing now to take responsibility & mitigate the harm?
- Has the harassing behavior stopped?
- Are they respecting the boundaries set by the group and the ex-girlfriend?
- Do they accept responsibility for what they did? Or are they still trying to convince people that it was not true?
- Have they apologized to the people who were harmed, and done what they can to make amends there?
- Are they looking for guidance or resources or a way to learn from what they did and make sure they don’t do it again?
- Or are they just looking for the quickest path into everyone’s good graces?
- Have they asked you for help or some kind of support? In your specific case, Letter Writer, has he acknowledged your message at all?
- Have they taken some time to think about this and deal with it?
I don’t have a working framework yet for what happens when a creep and a bigot actually faces social or professional consequences for the harm they do. It’s so rare that someone harming a woman actually gets kicked out of a social space for that explicit reason that most of us honestly don’t know what comes next.
If your friend wrote to me for advice, I’d say stuff like:
- Leave your ex-girlfriend alone. That is not negotiable.
- Leave the group alone. Stop monitoring them, hide their activity feeds, disengage for your own peace of mind and their safety. Find a different group to belong to.
- Forgiveness/redemption with these particular people may not ever be possible. Your goal is not the restored approval and welcome of these people, your goal is to become a person who doesn’t harass people or say & do bigoted things anymore.
- Because of how you behaved, people might be slow to trust you in the future. That is entirely fair. You’re going to have to earn it. Like, the guy with the swastika tattoo is gonna stay totally undateable. That is not unfair.
- Admit what you did – to yourself, to your diary, to a therapist, to your friends. Yes, it feels bad to admit that and let those bad feelings in! Do it anyway.
- Apologize and make amends to the extent that it doesn’t infringe on the stated boundaries of your ex-girlfriend and/or the group. Like, if she’s said “don’t contact me ever again” she doesn’t mean “unless it’s to apologize!“
- Don’t do the harassing stuff again. To anyone. Learn from those mistakes.
- Take care of your mental health the best you can.
- Two books that come to mind: Paul Kivel’s Men’s Work and So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. (Both are on my fall reading list and I’ll have more detail about that once I do read them). There is a world of reading out there if you want to find it.
- There will probably never be a moment when the world says “Yay, you’ve officially changed! Good job!” and you can be done doing the work of wrestling with all this. Not Being An Asshole Anymore kinda has to be its own reward.
Without the person who harassed people asking us for help, our hands are kind of tied, right? If you’ve been harassing people, the work of not harassing people is pretty much yours. Your community did their work by removing your access to your victim and by making a clear statement that they don’t condone your behavior. Your friends can check in on you, but they can’t fix you or change you. Only you can change you, and you have to want it, and you have to sit with those uncomfortable feelings and relearn a way of being that doesn’t harm other people. And if you want the support of your friends, kind people like the Letter Writer, when they email you to reach out and say “Are you ok? What’s going on?” you can tell them the truth, like “Not really, I know I fucked up here, can you help me?”
I guess the other thing I’d say for friends and family members of people who have harassed or abused others is: There is no middle. If you’re like “I know my friend harassed you, and I’m so sorry about that, but he’s my friend and I want to stand by him and help him as he figures out how to stop doing this” that’s a choice you can make. Your history with the person and bond with the person can be very important to you, and you can choose to stand by them. But, at that moment, you gotta understand if the victim wants nothing to do with you, ever again. You’ve chosen a side, and the victims get to choose their comfort and safety, and if that excludes you from now on it’s not personal, it’s just survival, it’s not a comment on your good heart or pure intentions. It’s not your job to smooth the way for your friend, or try to convince people to trust him again, or to make sure his mental health is ok (you can refer him to resources, but you can’t fix it). “I know there’s better brothers/but you’re the only one that’s mine“ is incompatible with “Cool, but I really need to be sure that my rapist/abuser/stalker/harasser isn’t going to be at parties, so, I guess I won’t see you anymore“ and that’s okay. Well, it’s not okay, but it’s sometimes the best we can all manage when abusive behaviors are in the mix. Abuse in a community is like poop in the public pool – sometimes you gotta drain the whole thing before it’s safe again.
Letter Writer, you reached out to your friend. That was kind. You are uncomfortable with what he did and don’t agree with it or condone it. That speaks well of you. You’re not acting like a detective or legal scholar trying to defend him or pretend that it’s not possible to know what he did or make decisions about that. That’s a necessary shift in the way we talk about this stuff. Discomfort is part of it, and when people rush to try to remove that discomfort when the person hasn’t done the work yet to earn trust and forgiveness, that’s when we get sucked into empty redemption narratives and erasure of victims.
The next moves – all the next moves – are his to make.
215 thoughts on “#1131: The Aftermath of Harassment Allegations: A Friend’s Responsibility”
Excellent answer as ever, Captain.
Only thing i would add is to this:
“Admit what you did – to yourself, to your diary, to a therapist, to your friends. Yes, it feels bad to admit that and let those bad feelings in! Do it anyway.”
WITHOUT MINIMISING IT. WITHOUT SAYING “I did X, but she did Y”
If you minimise it, even a bit, you’ve not owned your shit decisions yet.
Good luck letter writer. I hope things turn out ok.
I think that there can be value in recognizing certain situations or circumstances in which are danger zones, for lack of a better term. Not as an excuse, but if you recognize that in situation X you tend to do Y, then that will help you figure out how to do better.
Unfortunately, this kind of self-reflection is difficult, and if someone is harassing others, the odds of them being able to do this reflection (without victim blaming) I would guess isn’t great.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s not minimising, that’s taking ownership of your issues and working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I’ve never liked the term “minimising.” First, because when you type it out, all the m and i and n’s blend together and make you feel like you are failing an eye test. Second, because it covers a bunch of behaviors I think there should be a separate term for “I did X, but she did Y.” Conditionalizing? No, that sounds like a hair product. There should be some term for our responsibility to act in accordance with a minimum set of standards even if the other person doesn’t behave perfectly. I think this mostly because society has often used the slightest departure from perfection on the part of the victim to pretend that the harasser’s behavior isn’t the point. Not the right tone, not the right wording, not the right timing, not said often enough, not said loud enough, etc.
Oh, I am not saying that you or your comment were wrong. Good you! Good comment! Just that I wish there were a more extensive glossary of harassment.
Fun fact! The vertical strokes that make up the letters m, n, and i (and also u) are called “minims” because “minim” can be written using only those strokes. When reading medieval texts (where i is usually not dotted), there’s a lot of minim-counting in order to try to guess what the scribe is trying to write.
Tangent aside, I agree that a more extensive glossary of harassment would probably be useful, but for the vast majority of cases the umbrella term harassment does the trick.
Minimizing almost always equals victim blaming to some degree.
Yeah, or justifying, or passing the blame to someone else, or just plain changing the focus from the Bad Thing and the victim’s needs into the Bad Actor’s own pain. “Yes, I hurt that person, but it’s because I was abused as a child.” “Yes, I stole that money, but other people do worse.” “Yes, I hit my partner, but do I really deserve to be shunned when I’m punishing myself so much already???”
I think the key here is to turn “buts” to “whens” .
‘I did this WHEN she did that’ – “I called her a (slur) when she texted a male friend late at night.”
It is a framework for recognising the circumstances and patterns so you can work on yourself around them, without casting blame on others. I use this with teenage offenders at work.
The next step–which may take days or weeks or months to get to–is adding a “because I” statement (NOT a “because she” ).
“I called her a (slur) when she texted a male friend at night because I felt jealous/felt insecure/have been cheated on before/was afraid she would leave me.”
This helps build awareness of the connections between our actions (can control) + other people’s actions (can’t control) + our feelings (can’t control but can respond to in healthy or unhealthy ways). The goal is obviously to recognise the feeling-trigger for the poor action and then think through healthy ways to respond to that trigger in the future and and explore ways other may cause us to feel a certain way (fairly or not!) but they don’t cause our actions.
I feel you on this. I think it’s important to emphasize, at the same time, that the work of teaching these skills, of good ways to respond to emotions, emotional regulation, coping mechanisms, etc, is the work of a therapist or a counselor.
A friend or family member may choose to take on this role, doing this teaching, but that choice is going to mean they’re choosing that over supporting the victim. And it should *never* be on the victim to teach these things.
But, that doesn’t mean that therapy or counselling work isn’t stil vital, valid, and important. In fact, it means it’s more vital than ever. It’s just stressful because I think some therapists and counselors (not you TZ; friends in my real life) “cross the streams” as it were in a way that’s a problem. I’m not sure what the solution is though.
I love the turning “but” to “when”! I’m the teacher of a 3-5 EBD class and I am SO going to use this with my kiddos.
@ IndoorCat, I think it’s also really good advice for parents, who are explicitly supposed to be teaching their children these kinds of skills. Hopefully not because of harassment of course, but milder stuff that kids are actively learning.
Thank you for this! That looks like a great framework that I can use for both myself and others!
Oh, yes, IndoorCat! So agreed. I was weighing in on the minimising v. reflectiveness v. victim blaming question in general, not necessarily saying the LW should teach their approach to their friend. But good catch.
“I did X, but she did Y” sounds more like rationalizing than minimizing to me. Minimizing has a connotation of trying to act like your behavior wasn’t that bad, whereas rationalizing is pretending that what you did was reasonable (even logical), given the circumstances, which the person hearing your rationalizations doesn’t completely understand yet.
Or justifying (did we cover that one yet?)
“I was justified in doing x because she did y ”
Or making a false equivalence: “I may have done x, but why aren’t you talking about how awful she is for doing y?”
I think a better term is ‘false equivalent’?
Is justifying the unjustifiable a reasonable substitution? Or does that give the behavior too much validity?
Sidenote: I also dislike minimizing and far prefer maximizing as a word. Side-Sidenote: I think it’s funny that the deeper I got into my subject which requires a bunch of minimizing, the more folks started referring to the minimum as the critical point, even though it’s less informative and overlaps weirdly with different meanings in closely related-fields. I think hatred for the words minimize/minimum/minima is more widespread than we realize.
Oh my god this. My parents rarely take responsibility for their shitty behaviour, but when they do it’s always with a “but you did Y” or “but what about ABC things I am doing right” attached. >:-(
I don’t think considering the context of one’s actions is necessarily minimizing. E.g. there’s a big difference between “I screamed at him” and “I screamed at him because he hit me.” TZ made an excellent point about “but” vs. “when” and recognizing what triggers you.
It benefits us to examine those triggers closely so we can recognize and alter future our future behavior. I like an idea from a completely unrelated source, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She advises people to picture the lifestyle they dream of and then to “identify WHY you want to live like that. Look back over your notes about the kind of lifestyle you want, and think again. Why do you want to do aromatherapy before bed? Why do you want to listen to classical music while doing yoga? If the answers are “because I want to relax before bed,” and “I want to do yoga to lose weight,” ask yourself why you want to relax and why you want to lose weight. Maybe your answers will be “I don’t want to be tired when I go to work the next day,” and “I want to lose weight so that I can be more svelte.” Ask yourself “Why?” again, for each answer. Repeat this process three to five times for every item.”
I really like the idea of applying that process of delving deeper to problematic behaviors or even everyday problems. There’s usually much more beneath the surface of any given argument. The question of “Why do you want to help your friend?” has a much more complicated answer than “Because it’s a nice thing to do.” Why is it nice? Who is it nicest TO? Why can’t you just Leave Forever? Think about it.
It’s hard to learn that somebody has been showing you a different face than the one they show other people, but that IS their face.
I have a question about the theory behind this:
Is it necessary to declare oneself like that? For instance, if the LW hypothetically continues to see their friend away from the rest of the community, but still participates in the community, without ever giving either side any information about the other, then are they doing something unethical? Obviously discussing the community and its members with the friend would be unethical, as would giving community members updates on the friend. I also get that people (especially the woman who was harrassed by the friend) might be uncomfortable with the LW’s continued contact with the friend if and when they find out, and may cease all contact with the LW as a result (which is their choice). But is it really required that the LW announce it to everyone that they’re not going to cut ties with the banned friend?
This question is largely academic at this point. If the friend never replies to the LW, then he’s already made the choice that the LW will not be in contact with him.
I’m not sure it’s ever that clearly spoken, it’s more of a decision/internal monologue than a prepared statement. I do think it’s important to know that if someone harassed me, I might block/unfriend/distance myself from people I know are close to them because I don’t want to encounter the perpetrator. And if those people *know* what the person did to me and still choose to hang out with them, that’s part of my calculus of whether I trust them.
You are either on my side or the other side. I won’t hold it against you if you choose the other side (maybe a little…) but you don’t get to be a fence sitter/eat your cake and have it too person in this kind if situation and still have access to me.
And I’ll add, sometimes the choice is tacit.
Choosing the person who was abused is usually opt in.
Not choosing the abuser is usually opt out.
So if someone doesn’t actively choose the abused person, they’ve passively, tacitly chosen the abuser.
I understand that the commentariat knows this. The LW might not.
To be explicit : LW, if you don’t actively choose the ex girlfriend, if your aim is “helping” your friend : you’re choosing him. The ex, and the community, may distance themselves from you.
The Captain has said “When you say you don’t want to choose a side, you’re choosing the abuser’s side.” I love that and hate how true it is. And that choice doesn’t have to be explicit. For example, I was dealing with a creepy stalkerish ex and complained about his latest behavior (lurking outside where he knew I’d be) to a couple of friends, and while my friends agreed it was shitty of him, one said “Maybe he was just hanging around because he’d been drinking and wanted to sober up before leaving,” and the other said “He was probably just saying hi.” No! No, no, no, no, no! That IS choosing the abuser’s side. He knew what he was doing, and so did I. Maybe my friends thought their comments would calm me down (I was pretty scared), but I just got mad at them instead, and now I don’t trust them as much.
I’m so sorry your friends said (and thought) such vicious nonsense.
Yes. I excised an entire group of people whom I’d grown up in/been raised by, including my mother for the most part, when they didn’t expel my abuser. I now have a very limited relationship with my mom, and I don’t trust her at all, largely due to her active involvement in and allegiance to that group. The individuals in the group who acted to protect me/potential future victims when I disclosed? I’m still tight with them.
I’ll also say that sometimes this is explicit. I have a friend who, about 5-10 years ago, was a harasser or women, and he’s dealt with that and owned it and become not horrible since then (when I met him). I’ve subsequently met some victims of his harassment, and I try to be pretty upfront in telling them (if they make friendship overtures) that I am close with this man, and that’s a thing that’s not going to change for them, and they probably don’t actually want to be my friend (but also I’m happy to be their friend if one of the conditions isn’t changing my longstanding community). I think it’s the right thing to do, because it feels wrong not to give them the option to nope out of knowing me before there’s an attachment.
I think there can be value in saying something like that explicitly, although it doesn’t always happen.
I think if you are consciously choosing “I am going to stand by someone I know has harmed others, because they also need support if they are ever going to be better” , you should own this choice. It’s a hard, fraught choice, but it’s better than just not picking a side (ie siding with the abuser by default).
I think this is the right thing to do both ethically and socially. It’s also the best chance of having the survivor and survivor’s folks think positively of you as person and maybe eventually salvage the relationships after some space.
I know when I was raped, folks who told me “I believe you but I am going to stand by X because you have more support right now than he does and he is in a bad way and is not going to ever get any better without people to hold him accountable” are people I am still in contact with today (at a lesser level). When I was publicly harassed and dox-attempted by an ex-housemate who claimed I was an abuser (note: none of the partners I supposedly abused agree with this assessment), I told several mutual friends, look, I don’t want to give you an ultimatium but I can’t keep exposing myself to people who put me in contact with ex-H, so I am going to step back from you and my friendship at the moment if you are maintaining friendship with them, the ones who said “I understand. I don’t think you harmed anyone but I think they *believe* you did because of their unresolved trauma, I think it’s best for both of you if someone is checking in on them, pushing back on this narrative that these totally normative behaviours are abuse, and encouraging them to get professional help, and I’m going to keep doing that.” are people I still think positively of even if we aren’t in contact at the moment. The folks who tried to play both sides, “just not pick a side” , ignore the problem, or even just never speak of it are people no longer in my life.
Yes, this. Anyone who knowingly chooses to be friends with someone who abuses others…. Someone who (often intentionally) harms other human beings… well, why? Why would you ever want that for yourself? I mean, i wouldn’t even want to be friends with someone who harms animals, let alone someone who harms other human beings. How could anyone with any humanity be ok with that, ethically? Am I wrong on this? I mean, I get that this person may be a family member or close friend with whom you have history. But isn’t this as good a reason as there is for breaking off with them?
You’re not wrong.
You’re leaving out, however, that those who choose abusers (a group which has included pretty much all of us at some point) have convinced themselves that the abuser didn’t, or that the target of abuse was asking for itast, or that those actions aren’t abuse.
Hence all the nonsense we hear: “What was she wearing?” “Marriage takes work.” “Well, X was [ill | drunk | not in control | going through a bad divorce | etc]” “Oh anyone might do what X did.” “That’s the culture.”
(I meant most of us have chosen abusers at some point, not that most of us are abusers)
Because someone who abuses doesn’t abuse everyone, all the time, and they have more sides to their person and their character than just ‘abuser’, and some of those qualities can make them a good friend. Someone can hate black people and love windsurfing, drinking beer on the beach afterwards and discussing your favourite tv-show. And as long as you are not black and don’t have significant black people in your life, that person’s hatred of them is never a problem *for you* and you can enjoy a great friendship.
Not saying that people should, just explaining why they might.
Yeah, I think this is the reason why someone in my social group (B), whom I usually respect a lot, is staying friends with a woman he knows is abusive (A). That, and maybe hoping to support A through personal changes – some Shiny Armor going on. I am struggling to stay friends with B. I am clearly and visibly Not Friends with A, though A’s abuse survivor has asked me not to publish why. So much not fun.
I mean, like it or not, to most people, breaking off contact with close relatives/close friends in particular is a BIG DEAL that would only be done for the BIGGEST DEAL reasons. There are plenty of murderers who’s mothers still visit them in prison. And simultaneously, most people (men and women both) are socialized to think of persistent harassment as not a big deal, as unintentional, as misunderstandings.
I don’t know you’re wrong, per se, but just, human relationships usually aren’t this legalistic. I couldn’t tell you whether that’s because of sociology, biology or (mostly likely) some combination of both, but from observation I fill confident that it is true.
So, my ex husband was emotionally abusive towards me, and one of our mutual friends has made a conscious decision to remain his friend, which I support. This friend also happens to work as a mental health professional counseling abusers. One thing that I’ve learned is that some abusers abuse because they don’t have the skills or the tools to handle things appropriately, and some are remorseless and get off on the power. The former can be rehabilitated, but that rehabilitation is actively harmed when they lose their entire community. And while I don’t have any particular investment in my ex being rehabilitated, I want to support rehabilitation of abusers in general.
I fully support people who have survived abuse or harassment or anything else to do whatever measures they need to do to protect themselves, including dropping friendships with people who remain connected with their abusers. But as a society I think we need to support rehabilitation of those it is possible to rehabilitate (if for no other reason than to protect future victims, because just because an abuser is ousted from one community doesn’t mean they won’t find another one). That’s no particular person’s responsibility, and victims deserve our first priority – but there are good reasons to remain in someone’s life even after they behave badly.
This is a strong point, and I think that people who have the emotional intelligence and strong boundaries to be a good influence on a person in rehabilitation are also going to understand why the victim needs truth and distance.
I mean, a person who seeks validation from the victim, or is driven to force a false reconciliation, or wants to paper everything over and pretend nothing bad happened, is not going to have the internal fortitude to be any help to an abuser who is really trying to change.
You don’t have to be okay with what they’ve done. But for some people, they believe that the person can change, and that their support/guidance will make that change easier or more likely to happen.
I’m not saying I could do it, but that doesn’t mean people who do are making a poor moral or ethical choice. (At least not automatically. If they’re just choosing to “forgive,” even when the person hasn’t made amends or changed their behavior, that’s obviously different from choosing to stick with them and try to support them in changing)
they very carefully cultivate their friendships, grooming their friends so that if abuse accusations are made, they have a whole bunch of people who are unable to believe Abuser would ever do such a terrible thing, why would Victim lie like that?
Well, I mean. Humans are not neatly sorted into categories of “people who harm” and “people who don’t” . Almost all of us have harmed someone, intentionally or not, at some point in our lives. And most people who harm are themselves deeply harmed. That is a completely irrelevant fact if we’re talking about how to support victims, but it’s a very relevant fact if we’re talking about how to support perpetrators (to stop and to heal themselves).
For me personally, accountability, transparency, and genuine commitment to improvement are required for me to continue to be friends with someone who has done significant harm to another human, but yes, there are sometimes not-shit reasons to be friends with people who have committed harm.
I kinda feel like it is worth declaring
if someone said “I am staying with Friend to help him and hold him accountable as he learns not to be an abuser” that would be important information because if they didn’t say anything I would assume they were more “I am staying with Friend because I don’t believe he is an abuser / don’t want to think about whether he’s an abuser or not / but both siiiiiides” etc etc
As a bystander I want to know whether you’re a hot piece of garbage or relatively safe, and as a victim I want to know that I’m believed
Not to pick on your terms, but “casual friend” seems to mean something different to you than it does to me. You’re emotionally invested in what he learns from this experience (that he caused) and want to ensure his everlasting happiness, despite what he did to others.
A casual friend? (like “oh hi let’s meet for coffee a few times a year”?)
Why is this *your* job, personally? Can’t the dude clean up the mess he made?
I’m being a bit flippant here, sorry. Just, this may be something worth unpacking with yourself. Or I seem to be missing a piece of the story.
The way I read it (at least part of) the issue seems to be that they reached out to their friend before finding out about the harassment and bigotry. I’m guessing ghosting him after reaching out to him first feels different than it would if they’d found out this stuff first and simply disappeared with the rest of the community.
This is better phrased than what I said 🙂
I think if I were in the LW’s shoes, even if the friend never responded, I’d feel uncomfortable going back and reading the message I’d send knowing what I now know, and I’d be undecided on whether or how to follow up.
I would probably use “casual friend” more like you do (or for even less strong of a friendship) but it sounds from other descriptors like this is someone they have a meaningful bond with. Plus, it sounds like the message LW already sent to the casual friend (before finding out what he did) is a big part of why they feel somewhat in the middle of things.
I feel a bit like “casual friend” could mean…I know this person but I’m not emotionally invested enough in him so I’m in the perfect position to call him out clearly or start that conversation that prompts him towards reform in a away no one closer or further removed from could manage…
I can see that, but “I have to make sure he doesn’t have a depressive episode” has been called out as Not Even A Partner’s Job before.
It just feels like a ton of emotional labor, especially for the perpetrator and not the victim.
If you decide to take it on for this guy, LW, you can. I just hope you understand that you don’t HAVE TO. That’s all.
Except LW specifically referred to him as “a person in whom I have emotional stakes.”
So, is LW emotionally invested in him or is it just a casual friendship?
I think the “emotional stakes” are that LW and The Guy both have depression and have discussed it, but that’s as close as the friendship gets.
I agree with you.
My overwhelming feeling reading this is that they are giving him too much … consideration (I guess?)
He might get depressed? Not to at all minimize depression, I’ve lived with it for well over five decades, but really…so what? What about the emotional needs of the ex girlfriend?
Dude is not a good guy. Dude has work to do. He needs to do it, not OP or any of his other friends. The pain, depression, guilt, sadness, HARD WORK, needs to not be mitigated one iota nor done for him.
I also don’t think LW should ignore the possibility that him engaging in more self-destructive behavior as a result of this is just further emotional manipulation. That’s professional pay grade stuff, and he needs to acknowledge that and seek out qualified help. If LW wants to encourage him to get it, okay, but that’s as far as it should go.
I cannot recommend Men’s Work enough. I have a list of pull quotes from it somewhere but here’s the only one I could find right off the bat (gotta work on my metadata, sigh):
“Many of us who are heterosexual believe we can get our emotional needs met only by women. Therefore, in relationships we dump all of our needs on women and expect them to take care of us. Since women work, often help take care of children, and have needs of their own, they inevitably fail to take care of us the way we expect them to. When this happens we become panic-stricken. For some of us, it seems life-threatening when a woman denies or takes away our emotional support. We might feel deceived, frustrated, disappointed, hurt, and vulnerable. For a man with unrealistic expectations of women, these are dangerous feelings to have. Almost immediately, we cover these emotions with anger, and some of us lash out at our partner to regain what we feel she has taken away. Out of our panic comes much of the emotional and physical violence that we direct at women. This violence often escalates if our partner leaves or threatens to leave, because then the loss would be permanent. This feeling of panic is often tied to our fear and inability to receive nurturing and support from other men. The woman we are with becomes our lifeline; we perceive her as our only source of emotional sustenance.”
I am going to read this, thank you (and cap’n) for recommendation.
(Not saying I’ve abused, just that it could be useful for all men in particular.)
Just ordered the Kindle edition!
I am also thankful for the recommendation, this will be a perfect read for both me and my teenage daughter as she is slowly entering the dating world. This site is so helpful; dear Captain, I just wish you knew how many difficult life situations we have already managed much better thanks to work by you and all the great Awkwardeers.
I’m butch and not a man and still found it incredibly helpful — it’s not so much aimed at abusers as it is men in general who are looking to better their lives, communities, and relationships with their families but don’t know where to begin unpacking. I honestly wish it were better known (like, on the level of “Why Does He Do That”) because of how good it is at unflinchingly pointing out toxic behavior and what men can do about it. Like, I get emotional just thinking about this book because of how important it was for me, not only for its content but just by its existence — men calling out other men on their homophobic, toxic masculinity traps. I hope you get something out of it!
I don’t think you have a lot of responsibility here, LW, because I don’t think you have a lot of power. You can’t decide whether this guy harasses his girlfriend again. You can’t decide whether he has a depressive episode. You saw that he was banned from a community, and you sent him a message about it. That doesn’t obligate you to do anything else.
Pretty much this in a nutshell.
LW, you wrote “…I don’t want him to continue or escalate…I don’t want him to fall…., and I don’t want him to come away from this..I want to minimize harm….” See the theme in your letter? Your desire to be in control. Seems to me that a lot of your worries stem from the fact that you actually cannot control most of What Happens Next. You cannot control whether he’ll respect the wishes of the community, how the victim feels or reacts, whether he will do something stupd or harmful or abusive. And you can’t control whether harm comes to him or another member of the community.
Take a breath, LW. Put some thought into what you can influence here (not much), what you cannot influence here (most of it), and act on only what you can control. Much of What Happens Next is truly not on you to determine. And there is actually peace in that. There’s also no shame in simply admitting (to others in the community, to him, to whoever) “I was shocked to hear about that and, quite frankly, I”m at a loss right now about what to say or do.” And leave it at that. You don’t have to have to have your battle plan all crafted out right this minute.
“I was shocked to hear about that and, quite frankly, I”m at a loss right now about what to say or do.”
This is an incredibly graceful response!!
One of the many deeply uncomfortable facets of dealing with fallout from this kind of situation is worrying that something you do or say is going to TRIGGER A LANDSLIDE OF HORRIBLE for the people in the scenario. And obviously there are things you shouldn’t say or do just out of courtesy and kindness. It’s not like humans don’t affect each other.
But unless you have a mind control device or have kidnapped someone and are holding them hostage, you can’t make somebody do something or say something. It was this guy’s actions and choices that led to this and you expressing yourself honestly about it? Is something he’ll have to deal with or not.
The helplessness of being alongside of and having an emotional stake in a crisis or problem but not actually being part of it is tough to deal with, but we all have to learn how.
LW, what do you know firsthand?
Also, you can talk with the guy, but you can’t make peace or be a go-between for the guy and the group, no matter how sad it all is.
Also also, his depression is not yours to manage. You seem to have a caretaking impulse toward this guy. Be careful.
Very, very, very careful.
Yeah. Caretaking impulses can REALLY backfire and suck you in, and next thing you know, you’re the next victim. I’m a giving person and sometimes have a hard time recognizing when I need to step back because a little kindness is turning into managing the other person’s life, which they can come to expect.
next thing you know, you’re the next victim
This was something I was worried about but couldn’t articulate yesterday.
Like, I want so suggest the OP protect themselves in some way if they decide to try to help their friend with this, but how? What could you even do to prevent/minimize someone deciding to harass you?
You got me. That’s why I’m all for Leave Forever; I suspect the guy will do some ex-bashing and gaslighting, etc., not to mention he’s already been described as a bigot. I don’t see a plus to talking to him at all. It’s hard to let go, but it’s harder to stick around.
@Snickerdoodle, me, too — I’m a Caretaker and a Fixer, and I know it.
Most of the time, I manage to maintain healthy boundaries, but sometimes I get really sucked into someone else’s crisis, until it feels like my problem and my responsibility (this is especially hard with partners, since you tend to get pretty emotionally enmeshed.)
It’s difficult to take that step back, but sometimes VERY necessary.
This is not the LW’s problem to fix.
“Your history with the person and bond with the person can be very important to you, and you can choose to stand by them. But, at that moment, you gotta understand if the victim wants nothing to do with you, ever again. ”
I’ve seen too many situations where the mutual friend tries to ‘fix’ the relationship and just ends up hurting the victim again. The victim often needs to stop seeing the attacker and all of his social circle before she can feel safe again.
Yes, from here it looks like a fixer wanting to fix or at least understand the situation. But the trouble with ‘fixing’ is it usually ends up looking like someone’s telling the victim of abuse to be the bigger person, forgive, find closure, or whatever the code is for ‘stop making us all uncomfortable with your pain.’ Pain is supposed to make us uncomfortable. That’s what it’s for.
I don’t usually out myself, but… my work is with DV advocacy, specifically where the perpetrator is male and the victim(s) is/are female and/or children.
I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I wrote an 835 page dissertation with something like 2500 sources (edited down to 412 pages, 200 sources!!!) about DV and reproductive coercion. I know a little about how this generally works in the real world.
By and large abusive males can not be “fixed.” They can’t change. They can’t because they *do not want to.* They go to the court mandated therapy, anger management, etc., but *only to stay out of jail.*
++I articulated my background so anyone that might be reading knows I’m coming from a position of knowledge/experience and not just making shit up.
And to the extent they can (as mentioned up thread, I work rehabilitating violent offenders who are teenagers), it only *ever* happens by them feeling the full weight and consequence of their actions–including and probably most importantly, social and emotional consequences. And then deciding *themselves* to be better, to be different, to seek help. You’re never, ever going to help someone by trying to reduce or mitigate the real consequences of their shitty behaviour. They have to feel it all.
Yeah, it is almost always derailing and sometimes downright dangerous to bring up in conversation due to extremely defensive responses, but my experience in working with adult offenders (5 years) and young offenders (4 years) has shown the same trend- they’re completing programs while maintaining a wilful disregard to care or understand the harm caused by their actions.
I have found limited change potential even in 15 year old perpetrators due to deep-seated and widely reinforced attitudes about women. I don’t mean to sound defeatist LW, but I predict you will hear a lot of minimisation from your friend, and an honest belief that his experience of being held accountable is much more severe than anything he subjected his victim to. The Captain has framed things really well and I hope you take a minute to consider those factors and what’s best for you before what might be best for your friend. Good luck.
“… you will hear a lot of minimisation from your friend, and an honest belief that his experience of being held accountable is much more severe than anything he subjected his victim to.”
I’d bet all the money I will never have that this happens.
“I have found limited change potential even in 15 year old perpetrators due to deep-seated and widely reinforced attitudes about women.”
—I have a nephew turning 18 in November. He isn’t allowed to be around me (since he was 14) because of his misogyny. I was just gobsmacked at how he cold have been sooooo indoctrinated so young, with no, you know, actual experience with women. To be fair though his father is a POS as well as pretty much every single member of his father’s family, so it’s really not a surprise to be honest. His mother is a DV victim, at the hands of his father.
One would think he would have more empathy, but it’s like he’s doing a GDB blame the victim for being a victim thing. His older brother (25…different father but raised by 18 year old’s dad) is pretty much the same, he just hides it better around me because he knows I will.not.tolerate it. He was being verbally abusive to his now ex-girlfriend one day and I read him the riot act right there in the middle of the supermarket. I also encouraged and helped the ex-girlfriend to move far the hell away from here.
I’ve been doing this going on 20 years now and it’s depressing to say that yeah, nothing seems like it’s going to change unless we systematically, categorically change society’s attitude towards women.
I agree. I am raising two children, had an education that required various aspects of child psychiatry, hold a degree in social sciences, and have written extensively (both arguments and research papers) about DV and misogyny in general. I am still shocked with how rapidly and how young my daughter began to internalize these very dangerous beliefs about women and men. My son as well. I have found that when they are young, you can do some active “reprogramming”, but the time to really strike is like 9 or 10. Their mind is making much more abstract connections and they have enough experience knowing that not everything “common” is correct. Past this age, though? It is tough generally speaking – this is especially true if they have close relatives or older close friends who hold these beliefs. I mean the problems in a lot of avenues of our society generally deal with how we raise our children. That is where we have to start actively making changes, because you get to a point where it becomes so set it would be challenging their very ideas of their own identity. I struggle with this with close friends with older male children, because how do you tell them that their sons are turning pretty awful because of what they were raised with (a verbally abusive father who had little to know self awareness)? That is where I struggle on my current soap box, because it is really difficult to say to another parent “Boys will not just be boys. Boys are built. Girls are built. Your son is abusive because he learned that is how you interact with women early on in his life, and statistically it is likely too late that he will change.” Its sad because the only way any of this will ever stop is for the people who came before to recognize that we have to change the way we raise children and the way we have been raising them is extremely damaging. I mean you may know a few physically or verbally abusive men, but how many do you know who have really unrealistic expectations surrounding emotional labor of women? How many do you know look at their wives as pseudo-mothers and not equal partners? A lot.
Also there is no guarantee that even with some kind of magical right words and actions the LW could get their friend to understand what he’s done, or prevent him doing it again.
LW please don’t feel like you have the responsibility of reforming him. Beyond “hey dude that was a really crappy thing to do and you need to seriously re-think the way you treat women,” the ball is in his court. If he doesn’t pick up his game, or if he ends up in a bad spiral, or if he lashes out at you, you haven’t failed. It sucks, but he’s made this bed himself.
Jedi hugs, if you would like them.
“…I don’t want him to come away from this experience having learned the wrong lesson and treating other women badly in the future…”
I get it, LW, but what he learns from this and how he treats people in the future are not things you can control. I think the community is doing the right thing, both to protect the woman he harassed and to demonstrate the consequences of his actions.
I think we actually get ourselves and our communities in trouble when we expect to have crystal-clear, actionable, morally correct feelings upon hearing an allegation? We DO live in a world that’s taught us how to minimize and shift blame and endure harassment and misconduct while explaining it away. So sometimes our kneejerk feelings fire in all kinds of weird directions. I will speak in the first person: mine have fired in every direction from “Surely this is not true, because I like Bob, and I couldn’t like a bad person!!!” to “Shove Joe onto an ice floe and leave him, I never want to hear from him again”.
And like, both of those kneejerk reactions could get someone who is in trouble more hurt. (What about all the survivors who’ve had to listen to people chest-pound about Joe and the ice flow and haven’t gotten support at all for the fact that they dated Joe for two years before The Abuse Happened?)
I’ve just had to own up to the fact that my emotions around this stuff were programmed by a weird world that doesn’t know what to do with consent, and try to proceed more from principles than reactions. It’s not fun. I wish it were clearer.
“Proceed from principles, not reactions”—that’s very good. Well said.
Thanks for this! This resonates
purps, so very well written! Thank you so much!
After spendin 20+ years in the geek circles I have witnessed a lot of weirdness and facepalm worthy reactions, the likes of:
“Hey, my friend was just stenced of decades of abusing children but I am still going to be his friend. After all, he has never hurt me.”
“I have read about all these rapes but I wanted to make sure you gave the accused person a chance to explain why he did it. Also, I need to know all the details.”
No. Just NO.
If you happend to react in an inproper manner and later regret it, please apologize and find a way to react in a more constructive manner.
Them: “Hey, my friend was just stenced of decades of abusing children but I am still going to be his friend. After all, he has never hurt me.”
Me: “Then you have chosen wrong.”
Them: “I have read about all these rapes but I wanted to make sure you gave the accused person a chance to explain why he did it…”
Me: ::walks away…never looks back::
Me: “ ‘Why’ is irrelevant.”
Kaos, I completely agree. Sadly these both cases are real life examples.
In the first case I tried my best to convince the person to instead support the perpetrator’s horrified family because they really needed the support. How easy is it for a teenager to find out that their daddy regularly abuses children and, yay, they have half of his genes? Or for the woman who has been married to the abuser for decades?
I only now realized that I did not see this difference pointed out earlier: in my opinion it is completely ok to support the family of a truly horrible person (as long as they are not horrible, too). I would imagine it is terrible to find out that one’s parent is a disgusting abuser.
I admit some confusion in reading this letter so my view of the situation may be wonky, but the one concern I have is this: the LW states that the information they received was either third-hand or, at best, second-hand. I guess I’m one of those people who have decided that, in this new era of Fake News, I’d prefer more direct information before I make any decisions, judgments or moves. Is it possible to contact this alleged Perpetrator to get his side of the story? Do you feel comfortable/is there a good script to say something along the lines of “Hey, I heard these things being said about you – that you have been harassing Ex-Girlfriend and that you have expressed opinions/thoughts that seem to be bigotted. What’s up with that because Not Cool.” Depending on the answers you get and your own gut feelings, then it seems reasonable to consider your options. Perhaps the guy really is a First Class Jerk and needs to be made invisible. I guess I’d just want to see a fuller picture first.
LW had already heard about The Guy being banned from a community, and reached out to him to ask why. Then they heard the (third-hand) reason. This is all very recent and they haven’t yet heard back from The Guy.
That’s how I read it, anyway.
The LW already reached out to their friend the ostracized harasser.
I don’t think the LW should play detective. Investigation will probably only distress the.
…distress the ex who is the target of abuse.
In a group that has a problem with unfounded rumors flying around, maybe. Otherwise? I think the value in asking for the perpetrator’s side of the story isn’t so much in hearing whether it’s true or not, because hello unreliable narrator, but in hearing how they talk about it. Are they fully owning up to what they did, how bad it was, and what they need to do to recover? And are they sticking with that plan? And that’s only IF you’re willing to have an ongoing relationship with the person who did the very bad thing. In terms of judging the credibility of the accusations, Fake News doesn’t really enter into it — the social and political circumstances giving rise to Fake News don’t apply to in-person friendships and communities or other small groups. You judge the credibility of these accusations the same way as always, with an understanding that false accusations do happen but they’re vanishingly rare, whereas actual abuse is common as dirt.
Yeah. And why not ask the “third-person narrator” what they heard. I mean you have to use your own sense of this community is generally speaking. Are they very dramatic people in general, or unreliable, or whatever. I mean if you are part of a community, then you know that community pretty well. I mean when I used to be heavily involved in underground heavy metal in Specific Area, I knew that community and how they would respond to things in a general sense – you don’t have a lot of racism (in power/prog circles) for instance, but you can get a lot of pretensions behavior towards people who disagree. So, LW can always ask the person who gave her the information as to what they know happened and can gauge, using her knowledge of the community, to decide that without ever having to go open all that crap up with a person who may very well be an abuser. Because I don’t if you have any experience with abusive people, but they tend to obsess over ostracization, lack even limited self awareness of their own behavior, and likely will make themselves appear the victim until they can victimize you – all while trying to use to continue to victimize their last victim. So, if LW or anyone else questions whether the abuse happens, then they should go off of what they know about the sources and their personal experience with them.
In my opinion this depends on what the group has been like in the past because in case of harrasment and abuse this is often how the very necessary information spreads; people who might not have first hand experience share what they have heard of The Missing Stair persons. In the circles I have been in those rumours have always been true so far; the rumoured abusers have later (decades later) been sentenced of for example abusing children and I know I am not the only one who wished so very much that someone would have stopped their behaviour much earlier. Only #metoo has changed the way people react and sadly not very much. To share a first hand story about a case like this often ends very badly and is often far too taxing for the victim.
Of course it is a different case entirely if this has happened tens of times in this group before. Also, who made these decisions? Are they usually to be trusted? Can you trust that they know the whole story and have deemed the ban necessary?
“…false accusations do happen but they’re vanishingly rare, whereas actual abuse is common as dirt.”
Consider this stolen… 😝
This didn’t come from Fox “news” and OP seems pretty confident that the info/source(s) is/are is accurate.
Or, we can believe women.
Rather than ask the person who has every reason to deny it, go to the “second hand” and ask them if you must.
If LW talks to the guy and then goes with their “gut”, that’s about LW’s relationship with the guy, not whether or not he’s a harasser. LW can do that, but they can’t then say they based their decision on the facts.
I am glad the OP is in a group where they do trust women.
As a woman myself, I have been in situations where one or more of the “hands” was not a reliable narrator, and in situations where the supposed victim had not made any allegations at all – it was entirely the creation of the intermediary.
My mother, for example, once tried to convince me that my uncle attempted to kill my aunt. Supposedly my aunt made the accusation while in a coma, on a ventilator, after a massive heart attack. Conveniently, no one else was in the room at the time my aunt made her dramatic declaration.
So yes, believe women when they tell you what happened to them. But also consider who is telling you what.
Believe women? The hell you say!
Wait what? You want the LW to investigate the credibility of the “accuser” and the “accused” and then judge them based on how the respond to the LW?
Abusers usually present themselves as very normal and likable people to everyone. Hence the reason their victims trust them. Abusers often groom both victims AND the community (they groom their friends and folks in positions of power to like them more and to like the victim less, so that when they are accused, the victim is already discredited in the community’s eyes. For an entire community to block a person?? generally takes a lot of evidence.
Please don’t do this, LW. You won’t find out anything credible or useful. And your tendency to think you have more control than you actual do over a ‘casual friend’ (as stated by the things you said you want or don’t want to cause, like a depressive episode) concerns me. You don’t have this control – no one does – and inserting yourself into this situation in the way that LMC suggests won’t actually get you any useful or credible information.
If the person responds to your message to him about what’s going on with the ban, then you can potentially engage with him further if you want. Otherwise, I’d recommend leaving this one alone completely.
Not to mention that traumatized victims are almost always seen as “unreliable”, “sensitive” (duh?), and (iiiccckkk!!!!!!) “hysterical.”
Look HOW MANY women had to speak out to get anyone to take the Bill Cosby thing seriously…and there are STILL those that think *all those women* lied…every single one of them. 🤬
The standard of who to be friends with isn’t the same as a court of law – Sometimes the information will never be complete.
Yeah I don’t get this need to prove beyond any doubt that the guy is guilty and the woman isn’t making a “false” allegation. Oh wait…yes I do.
If you’re actually interested in getting a fuller picture, you might want to look for a first-hand (vs third-hand) account from the group, and not just settle for “I don’t need any more than vague details to suspect that the apparent accusations are unreliable, but I will totally go the extra mile and put in serious effort to make sure the apparent perpetrator gets to explain himself.”
It really looks like you’re putting in extra effort for someone who may have done bad things, and not for people who may have suffered bad things.
People do this so much! I remember when my brother’s college friend group cut a guy out for being creepy, my dad heard the story and his big concern was that, since my brother wasn’t giving him any more details than, “the women in our group feel really uncomfortable around him, like really creeped out,” the guy was being judged and condemned on no evidence.
My dad! My dad who spent my whole life terrified I’d get raped if I ever got stranded in an airport and wanted me to call and check in every hour if I was sitting on an empty hillside meditating alone, but when someone creepy shows up in my actual life he goes all “Don’t judge!” Creepy Guy was also my brother’s only housemate for awhile; I dropped in one time to see my brother and only Creepy Guy was home. The way he walked down the hall toward me as I stood at the door freaking terrified me. (I thought about it for a long time afterwards and the closest I can come to putting my finger on it is that he was clearly intentionally walking towards me, his body language was very aware of me, but he never once made eye contact. You know, like a literal predator does when it’s stalking?) I turned and ran. I never showed up at that apartment again while that guy was there. Didn’t bother to mention the incident to my dad…
My first thought was the LW is taking way too much responsibility for this guy. It’s certainly kind to be concerned over him and his life/behavior, but he’s the only one who can change any of that.
Same. The guy in question didn’t reach out to the LW, he/she hasn’t heard any of this information first-hand from either party, and he/she describes this person as a casual friend, so I’m having a hard time understanding why they’re so invested. I can understand asking the question from the perspective of “what is the right thing to do in this situation?” but in this particular situation it doesn’t seem that the LW needs to be all that involved at all.
All of the wants that the LW describes, while understandable, are totally outside of their control.
I think so too. And in case the dude is not willing to take any responsibility for any wrongdoings, he could use LWs need to control things/take responsibility to avoid his own responsibility and to look better to anyone involved because he is receiving support and concern.
LW, watch out for your boundaries here. Fixing this dude (either for his sake or for the sake of any other potential victims) is not your job. It seems like you are tying doing the right thing with taking on more emotional labor than is good for anyone involved. Evaluate if your need to act in the way you are implying in your letter comes from him being deserving or from your own emotional needs concerning the aspects of the situation that make YOU feel uncomfortable. If your needs are the main motor, take care of them in a way that doesn’t potentially make things worse for the people most directly harmed by the situation/the dude.
In other words, just like the Captain said, it’s rather on this dude to do something, not on you.
Really good point in your first paragraph! I mean, they’re all good points.
This. I said no to someone’s request for help (mostly because I did not have the spoons), and it was really hard – Jerkbrain kept screaming at me that I had to “fix” him or else everything would be horrible and also my fault. But what actually happened was that one of our other friends helped talk him through it instead. (Whether he actually learns anything from that talk where all pre-consequences talks failed remains to be seen)
I’d be interested in knowing how your friend reacts to knowing that you know what happened, as I think that will determine how things go from here. Does he make wild excuses? Claim that it wasn’t *actual* harassment? Refuse to engage with your questions? Does he shift blame, make requests of you (i.e. contacting the girlfriend)?
There’s a mindset that we should all have perfect reactions to these sorts of situations the moment we hear about them. That’s an unfair standard to hold anyone to. It’s okay if you aren’t sure how you feel, aren’t sure who to trust or support. It’s okay to take your time and reflect. It’s okay to wait for your friend to respond and base your reaction on how he behaves.
(Obviously, the above is meant to be done in quiet contemplation. Please don’t show up at a party with the ex-girlfriend and talk loudly about how you’re weighing all the potential scenarios. Don’t be a dick. And also like, the options aren’t “support ex-girlfriend” or “decry ex-girlfriend as a liar”– it’s more like, “support ex-girlfriend by cutting off friend” or “supporting friend as he works on personal growth”.)
This is tough for me, because I’ve been in similar-ish situations a few times before, partly because I tend to be the “long-term but not close” friend to a lot of people. And while I definitely believe that keeping the community safe from the people who were harmful is important, I also believe that everybody, no matter how horrible, and no matter how unrepentant, needs a Team Them before they can be better, even if the main thing the Team Them can do at that point is gently and repeatedly call them on all their bullshit.
When I’ve been in situations like the OP’s, I’ve basically asked myself three questions:
1. Can I keep contact with this person without enabling them to keep hurting their victims/the community?
2. Can I keep contact with this person without enabling them to hurt *me*?
3. Do I *want* to be on this person’s Team Them?
The first one is important – if keeping contact with a damaging person is going to either force you to cut contact with their victims in a way that hurts them, or otherwise cause continuing harm by being a conduit for it, then that has to be the first factor. But if you’re already much more the abuser’s friend than theirs, you can sometimes just disappear both of you from the circle without anybody caring who you “sided with”, or you can be the person who stays at least somewhat connected to both groups but makes it clear part of what you’re doing is running interference to keep them away from the others, without it seeming like you’re devaluing the victim. No matter the answer here, your goal should never be to help them rejoin the community – just to make it less likely they’ll do it again in their next one.
The second one is also important – you know, now, that this is a damaging person. That they’re willing to show different faces to different people; that they can’t necessarily be trusted; that they will choose to hurt people they are close to. Can you be the person who’s friendly with them without letting them get away with that? Are you the person who can listen to their troubles but not let them manipulate you; who can keep perspective and cut your losses without breaking yourself if they try any of that with you? Or are you a person who might let them pull you in and hurt you in the way they did the people they hurt? And is this something that will hit all your sore spots and triggers and burn all your spoons in a way they can’t help even if they *are* sincerely doing work to be better? Are you in a place relative to them where you can call them on their bullshit and they might actually listen, or at least change the subject? If you can’t be the person who keeps yourself safe with them, you probably aren’t the one who should be Team Them.
And the third one is very important. You are under no obligation to be on this person’s Team Them, even if you’re perfectly placed to do it. Are they someone you value or enjoy spending time with, even knowing what they’re really like? Or are they someone who’s important enough to you, for any reason, that you don’t want to just cut them out of your life? Do you think you would get personal satisfaction out of helping them be better – not because you think you can fix them, or because you think you have to in order to be a good person, but because doing that kind of work, even if it never ends in glory, makes you feel good? Do you have the time and emotional energy and personal stability for it right now?
If the answer to any of those three questions is no, I would just cut contact. You already know this dude is bad at taking no for an answer, so if it is no, make your no firm and final and forget politeness and get out.
Even if the answer to all three of those is yes: you can stay his friend without hurting his victims, you can keep yourself safe, and you actively want to stay his friend — you still get to pick your level of engagement, and nope out whenever you need to. You can be the person who takes the late-night three-hour phone calls, or you can be the person who doesn’t respond to him but also doesn’t unfriend him on Facebook just in case you need to call 911 on him, or you can be first one and then another, or anywhere in between. Just always keep the perspective that self-care comes first, keeping him from hurting other people comes second, and helping him comes third.
There’s intermediate places too – if you know other people who are keeping contact with him even though you’ve decided you can’t be, you can try to be team *those people*, and support them on calling him on his bullshit from one circle out. Or you can just not.
If I was in this particular situation, I would probably leave the ball in their court and not contact them again, but if they did respond, rather then cut them out I would do a lot of “dude, if you ever thought what you did was at all okay, you need a therapist more than you needed a girlfriend” and keep that up monotonously until they either found a therapist to take point on being Team Them or got sick of that answer and moved on. But that’s me in my particular place – your answer will be different.
I really like responses like this – when dealing with a fraught situation, it can be really helpful to have an actionable checklist to help guide you, and concrete steps to take regardless of which path you use.
Best to the LW!
This is excellent advice. Thank you!
LW, if this guy is a casual friend, then where did the emotional stakes that you mention come from? You sound like a Fixer. I, too, am a Fixer. Being a Fixer is ok. You also sound, from your description of how you usually react to conflict, that you are extremely conflict-averse. That’s also ok. The urge to Fix things happens because of that discomfort that the Captain mentioned–you want it to Go Away, and you can either run away from it or Fix it. Since you’ve said you don’t want to run away, that leaves Fixing.
BUT. You’re going to have to take a deep breath and accept that This Is Not Your Problem To Fix, and step the fuck back. What the Captain says is 100% spot-on accurate–the next moves are up to your friend. There is literally NOTHING you can do to Fix any of it. And I get it. It’s a hard lesson to learn, because every fiber of your being is crying out “But WAIT!! SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE FIXED!!! I MUST FIX THIS!!!” Regardless, learn it you must, if you want to stay involved with this particular community. Go with GreenDoor’s “I was shocked…” and hang onto that. Let yourself process, let yourself contemplate…and stay the fuck out of it.
Before I found all this out thirdhand, I had reached out to the guy in question to privately express concern over the sudden (and at the time, unexplained) ban.
Banning someone from a group is very rare (as is firing a successful and popular radio-show host).
Also rare is the airing of dirty laundry when someone is being banned or fired.
So when someone is banned from a community for a reason you do not understand, there is very likely to be an actual reason that you are not privy too.
(I was a member of an Internet message board that banned people for unfair reasons, but the moderator who did the banning clearly felt they were fair)
Should you want to investigate, remember that the person being banned is not the only source you should consult before you make your decisions.
OP, in this case, I would just move on from this. It’s not your role to fix this guy, esp. since he’s not a close friend. And he can find people to save him from his despair.
Just drop the whole thing and let it be. It’s not your circus, and not your monkeys.
Thank you for your answer to the hundred questions in your inbox, Captain. One of those questions was mine. I’m the one with the brother who slept with his 16-year-old student and was SHOCKED to find himself “vindictively labeled a sex offender by a prosecutor who never even knew [him] as a person and just wanted to make sure [he] would never teach again.” Once I’d heard him describe his culpability in his own terms, it was clear he was minimizing how bad it was. We think of sex offenders like they’re all strangers in alleyways or violent, mustache-twirling villains, and yeah, maybe it’s not quite so bad to “have sex with” (i.e., rape) a child when they’re 16 as opposed to 6, but it’s still very fucking bad. My brother’s victim will be dealing with so much shame for a very long time, and so much difficulty trusting teachers or men or anyone, and I don’t even have to know her to know that. He thinks that since he “loved” her it wasn’t abuse.
I told him his attitude worried and angered me, and he said something about how his crime just looks bad on the surface. He expressed shame but not actual guilt or remorse — he feels like a bad person, and he’s just drowning in that instead of being better. I HATE that. Our abusive mother was all about that. You know, the kind of shame-takeover where if you point out that she’s hurt you, you’ve just hurt *her* a thousand times worse, and you end up consoling her and downplaying your own pain? Yeah, that.
My brother also said that he’s so thankful for his friends and family who have supported him without even asking for an explanation, and he said he hopes to be that kind of person someday. So. OP, charming abusers will always find supporters who won’t ask uncomfortable questions. You don’t have to be one of them.
So I’m dealing with the loss of a brother, because fuck all of that.
What I can’t understand is what relationship I can have with my dad, who’s babying my brother to the point of paying for his lawyer (my brother has a lot of money), coming up with victim-blaming narratives for him, and pressuring me to invite him and our shitty mom to my wedding. It makes me see red. But at the same time, I chewed my dad out for the victim-blaming, and told him that Bro needs to grow up and take responsibility, and both men are in therapy. So maybe my dad might change? But it’s not within my power to change him, and I don’t know how he’ll change if and when he does.
So being in the position of a victim, not THE victim of a certain abuser but someone else in that social circle who has survived abuse, and seeing someone you trust choose to enable an abuser is…heartbreaking. It makes me feel so alone. LW, please remember that others in your community are looking to your reaction. You have the power to make those of them who have survived abuse feel heard and valued, or you have the power to disappoint them. You have the power to deter future abusers, or to cater to them. You do NOT have the power to take an abuser’s pain and turmoil away except by enabling abuse. They have to face that pain and get professional help. If you feel guilty about that, think about why you’re carrying someone else’s guilt and why you feel such a great need to do *anything* for someone who a) hasn’t asked for your help and b) has shown no signs he’s reforming himself.
Mayati, as a survivor of abuse at a similar age in not completely disimilar circumstances, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Society’s gaslighting of more marginal victims (like teenage minors who ‘consented’) makes me doubt my abuse every day, and even now, 20 years on from when it started, I am a mess. But each time I see someone like you stand up for us, and affirm that what happened to us was wrong, a small piece of my heart heals. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’m just one of many people who stood up for survivors of that type of abuse — the “relationship” didn’t last very long before someone disclosed it to the police or the school, both institutions took it seriously immediately, and the justice system actually worked appropriately (despite my brother’s wealth, whiteness, and “bright future” or whatever codeword so often gets assigned to young/youngish, white, straight, cis dudes who prey on others). So a lot of people stepped in to affirm that it was wrong. I just wish all victims could get taken seriously like that, and all institutions worked this way all the time. (And I’m a criminal defense lawyer! I’m all about due process and reasonable doubt…in a court of law!)
What happened to you wasn’t as overtly abusive as the way our society tends to talk about abuse, but that doesn’t mean it was anywhere near OK, or even less harmful necessarily. Subtle abuse just hurts in different ways. It’s harder to eradicate the tendrils it plants into your mind because it’s harder to recognize what happened as abuse. But it really did happen. I believe you, for so many reasons, but one of them is because why the hell would you make something like that up? For attention? Right…because our society is just so reliably sympathetic towards more marginalized victims, and because that kind of attention just feels soooo good. Why the hell would you be feeling the pain you’re feeling if nothing caused it? For funsies?
Thank you so much for your comment. Voices like yours are so important, and so hard to find even when I was looking. And although I’m pretty damn sure my choice to cut my brother out unless and until he rehabilitates himself is the right one, hearing from you helps me heal from the pain of losing him. I still love the kid he used to be, you know?
Are there any good communities or other resources out there for survivors of this kind of predation, that you know of? (Or other commenters here?) This strikes me as a good place to signal boost. I know Scarleteen’s “Why I Don’t Like Your Older Boyfriend” essay is fantastic.
And Manattee, what happened to you wasn’t your fault. You wanted love and you wanted an adult to care for you and nurture you. You deserved those things in a healthy way, because all children deserve that. It wasn’t your fault that you were vulnerable, or that you were brave enough to give your heart to someone, or that you had a sex drive, or that you wanted to believe the best of someone, or that an abuser chose to abuse you.
I too was groomed at 16 by a 25 year old man (who first pretended to be 21, then 23). He continually pushed my boundaries and wanted to move at a pace much faster than I was comfortable with, a pace that makes more sense for a 25 year old in a casual relationship, but I was 16 and dreaming of romance. I had never even kissed anyone and that was the level I would have stayed at, had I not been pressured. Kissing and cuddling. Gazing into each other’s eyes and holding hands in public places. Going to the movies. We never did any of that. It was all just him pushing to see how far I would go physically and once we’d done one thing I wasn’t allowed to “go back” or he’d start whining and nagging – “but last time it was ok”. The first time we had sex I was kind of curious so I guess it was half consensual. The following times? Not so much. Even when I said I didn’t want to, he kept pressuring until I gave in. Back then I thought we were in love, but looking back as an adult it’s clear as day that he was preying on my loneliness and insecurity to get to have sex with a young, pretty girl. He knew it was wrong, so he hid our “relationship”. We only met at his place. I can’t believe my parents let me go there, but then again I was very headstrong and my dad was a little impressed that the guy was semi famous. It took me a decade and a half of panic around sex to recognize what had happened as rape. It was very damaging.
Likewise. I was 12, he was 32, but I said “ok” so apparently he did nothing wrong. Yeah it was 1975, but I’m pretty sure it was illegal even back then.
Even where it is legal, it’s still wrong. It’s not a matter of cultural differences or changing laws, it’s a matter of human development. No 12-year-old can give meaningful consent. At all.
I’m so sorry that happened to you.
I find having an abusive family member is painful and a source of much grief. Watching my relatives tie themselves in knots to maintain abusers innocence is worse. When it is family, it’s all so high stakes agonising. I am sorry you are having to be the voice of reason, it is a lonely, thankless place.
Mayati, I’m so sorry your family have acted so badly.
Mayati, what a difficult bunch of situations you’re faced with — thank you for sharing your experiences because they will definitely help others.
I was one of those groomed-for-abuse teens and believed, honestly BELIEVED, that it was actually romantic that this 35-year-old guy was interested in anxiety-ridden, having-tons-of-homelife-problems me. Although I was 17 at the time, emotionally I was a little kid and desperate for someone to see, hear and comfort me.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and I get angry all over again. His behavior was witnessed by the theater community and no one did or said anything. (These days someone would have stopped it because Liability.) It messed me up for years and years, leading to some very poor choices that now leave me wondering why I’m not dead.
While I don’t feel I have any advice to offer the OP, what I can do is once again thank you, Mayati, for sharing hard-won wisdom. I wish you healing, and peace. Oh, and you probably already know this, but…You don’t have to invite your shitty mother and sex-offender brother to the wedding, and if your dad keeps giving you grief you could always remind him that his own invite is hanging in the balance.
Thank you. We’re eloping 😉
I’m sure there was a lot that 17-year-old you had going for her, things that made her worthy of healthy love. The work of recovery from abuse involves finding our inner children hiding in the corners of our mind, and being the guardians and nurturers for them that they always needed. There’s something beautiful about being able to talk about this stuff and give voice to our own pain. I see you and I hear you. You’re able to comfort yourself, I think, but if it helps, you’re safe now and you’ve surrounded yourself with the love you needed back then.
There is really a lot to be said for Liability.
It’s not the most satisfactory reason to see, and it sins by omission and by commission, but it helps. So when people complain you can’t, like, find Real Playground Equipment these days, maybe at first cut it’s all worth it?
LW, you’re allowed (if you don’t mind my using that verb) to keep in contact with Banned Bob if you want to and feel as though you should, but I want to give you permission – if you need it – to do something else if you want to as well. And that is: You can decide to stay in contact with him for right now, but you should also feel absolutely free to change your mind once you get more facts. In other words, starting this conversation doesn’t obligate you to continue contact if your opinion of him and his actions changes as you/if you find out more.
What you don’t want to have happen is to find out that you’re completely on the wrong side – that you’ve been supporting a person who well and truly deserved that ban and much more.
I was part of an online community in which a popular member was banned (the details are complicated and not really germane, but it was for an entirely different kind of offense), and in the immediate aftermath, a whole bunch of people swarmed in to defend him. (“The moderators were unfair!” “The moderators acted in haste!” “I know him, he’s my friend, and there’s no way he did what the mods say it did!” “The head mod always had it in for him!” Etc.), only to find that no, really, he deserved to be banned. I mean, he reeeeeeally did. He’d been playing the entire community and completely misrepresenting himself for years. But until that became clear to everybody, there was much drama and words were said that were hard to take back or to forgive.
(Not by me. I was actually one of the few who just didn’t like the guy all that much. I can’t claim any special insight here because it wasn’t that I detected what others missed. He just, you know, irritated the bejeezus out of me, which was not a bannable offense. 🙂 )
So anyway, do keep in mind that you don’t have to commit to a long-term strategy right now.
“I mean, he reeeeeeally did.”
If there’s any way to elaborate (details!) without identifying anyone, inquiring minds wanna know.
I know right? 😉
Warning! Off-topic post!
Well, OK – it’s several years back now, so WTH. This was a forum dedicated to a certain scifi franchise that will remain nameless, but there were subforums for non-related topics, and both Banned Guy and his wife – let’s call her Better Half, or BH – were variously active in the scifi threads but they were really active in the off-topic, general interest subforums. I quite liked BH, but as I mentioned earlier, I found BG really annoying. Oh, so annoying.
Both BG and BH had been upfront about BH’s health struggles, but you can imagine the sadness and consternation when BG posted in a subforum that BH had suddenly succumbed to her illness and died. It was awful. People were shocked, and the thread turned into a really long – and sweet – In Memoriam thread. It was kind of heartwarming, really.
But BG didn’t leave it at that. He kept adding detail after detail to rev up the poignancy factor, some of which sounded fine, but some of which sounded, even to unsuspicious me, kind of…well, bogus: that she’d been Christmas shopping when she died, that he was only a few feet away in a different store when it happened, that they had been trying to have a baby, etc., etc., etc. It got weirder and weirder – less and less like real life and more and more like some “Problem of the Week” melodrama. I didn’t say anything, of course, because you can’t tell a man grieving for his wife that he sounds like a pity-party planner, but he really did. It didn’t feel…right.
It turned out that the mods had for a long time suspected that BG didn’t have a wife, at least not a wife that posted on the forum. And thus was I personally introduced to the internet forum concept known as a “sock puppet.” The mods maintained, and had quite a bit of proof (e.g., data about who had posted when from which computer, etc., as well as other things), that there was no Better Half and that BG had created a wifely sock-puppet for some emotionally gratifying reason of his own. They had suspected it long before Better Half “died,” but let it go…until BG started milking the forum for sympathy in his In Memoriam thread and they could no longer bear to see the entire forum being emotionally manipulated in this way.
So they assembled their data and then called him out on it. They said if he could prove that he had a wife and that she had died – e.g., by sending a link to an printed obituary or something – they would extend their sincere apologies and would grovel for forgiveness in front of the entire forum. But that if he couldn’t do that, he was banned. He fumed and expostulated and threatened…but he never did send the proof. So banned he was, and if he eventually re-registered under another name, he did so without drawing the mods’ attention.
For me, the oddest part was that I liked the sock-puppet so much better than the “real” (well, as real as you can get in an internet forum) person. Weird, eh?
I had an experience like this from the other side that might bring it closer to the topic! (It’s one of the things that informed my post above.)
I had a friend – internet, occasional meet-ups when passing through, both of us part of a loose community, let’s call it B, which shared a lot of personal details – who was having a tough time, with no local support system – when she suddenly met a new friends group in the new city that she talked about all the time, including one she was getting very close with. We were happy for her! She talked new friend into getting an account on a *different* social media site, in a different community (K) that I wasn’t part of and was much more hobby-focused, and occasionally talked about how welcoming K had been to him, and how great it was to share her K friends with him, although he never showed up in B.
But the more she talked about K, the more I started to suspect he’d been lying and manipulating her; too much was just too pat – not enough to make any outright accusations, because I knew she wouldn’t be willing to hear them yet anyway, but enough for me to back away from anything about him.
Anyway, turned out he wasn’t manipulating her; he was a sockpuppet all along. And when K found this out, they were understandably very upset and banned both sockpuppet and friend, after which she immediately confessed to B as well.
This was a situation where I felt pretty much okay being on Team Friend – I had no connections with K, I had no emotional stake in the sockpuppet (since I’d been suspicious of him for awhile anyway) and from my perspective, seeing her via community B, it was pretty clear it was a symptom of a major mental health crisis on her part; that she may have even deluded herself into thinking the sockpuppet was real; that she needed all the support she could get; and that once it came down around her and she had the time to come to terms with herself, she was truly remorseful and wanted to make sure she didn’t do anything like that again. She got a better therapist and started working harder on finding better support systems and changed the way she used social media to remove some of the temptation.
She’d still burned all her bridges with K, and from their view, she was, inexcusably, an awful person. She’s probably still a cautionary tale of internet abusers in their circles, and justifiably. And she acknowledged all that. But that was a pretty clear case where most of B stayed her friends, because she needed the support, we valued her, we weren’t associated with the injured parties, and we were in a place where we could be there for her without enabling her.
So the new friend – the one your friend introduced to group K – was it your friend’s sock puppet? Not somebody else’s sock puppet? Ooh.
“I have at least 100 versions of this question in my inbox”
And that’s just the people brave enough to write in…
LW: I’m probably just rehashing what the Captain said, but here goes: A lot of what you can do depends on how the guy responds to your reaching out. If he never responds, then you know what to do–nothing. If he disclaims any knowledge of poor behavior, or says something like, “Yeah well maybe I did X, Y, and Z but only because she . . .” then you also know what to do, which is to tell him that you’re not going to spend time with folks who harass others. If he says that he did these things, but had no knowledge that they were wrong, tell him that he really shouldn’t go near his ex, or anyone in that group again, and send him to Dr. Nerdlove.
But: What if he says, “Yes, I screwed up, I did those things–I’m in a bad place, and maybe not fully in control of myself,”? That’s the real tough part. In this case, you also tell him to stay away from his ex, and the whole group, but you may *choose* to engage further. Give him the book recs above. Suggest therapy, or a men’s group (vetted for horseshit). Check in that he’s got a decent support system of family and closer friends. If you want to, have 1:1 coffees with him, just social time, not to dig into his problems or to try to fix him–but just to not shun him entirely. This last is only feasible (in my eyes) if he is ACTIVELY working on his stuff. Otherwise, you’re just letting it slide, and acting as if nothing happened. Do NOT invite him to events or groups that his ex is at, or that have a good-sized number of other members of the original group. Don’t even bring him up if you can help it. If someone learns that you are maintaining contact with him, you want to be able to truthfully say that you chat with him casually sometimes, AND that he’s owned up to his mistakes and is working on his stuff. You don’t want to say things like You’re standing by him, or He’s really a good guy at heart, or We’ve all made mistakes. Your line is that you are helping to hold him accountable. You are helping, at least a little, in calling him in. This means that if, in the future, he mentions something to you about a new girlfriend that you find to be controlling, that you say so. “Dude, you’re not the boss of who she hangs out with–isn’t that part of how you messed up with Cheryl?” This can be tough, and it’s not for everyone. It’s okay if it’s not for you.
But the second paragraph is entirely optional on your part. You are not obligated to help rehabilitate this guy–especially if it comes at the expense of your own well being. Your mental health is important.
(This comment wanders all over the lot; I hope it hangs together well enough to be readable.)
Thanks for breaking it down, Cap. It helps to have the perspective and concrete points to anchor things.
He responded and what I gathered from his response is that while some part of him acknowledges that he has engaged in harassment, his primary feeling is *still* that he was sanctioned unfairly (“but what about this other person”, etc.). It doesn’t seem like he’s really ready to face things at all, and you’re right that there isn’t anything I can do to change that.
I feel like six thousand kinds of horrible coward, but I’m relieved that he comprehended my refusal to let things just go back to normal and initiated the parting.
Regarding some commenters’ question about my wording, it may be my idiosyncrasy. I’ve always been uncomfortable genuinely using “friend” at all unless it’s someone I personally care about in *some* way, so I just mean as opposed to an intimate, longtime, ride-or-die friend.
Thanks for the update! I don’t think you’re coward.
Thanks for the update. I don’t think you were a coward!
These situations are always going to be uncomfortable, because abuse and harassment make everything uncomfortable.
Oh, crap, I blanked out that LW identified as they/them, so my post -still in moderation-is problematic!
delete if inappropriate. Thanks!
Thanks for the update.
I don’t think you’re a coward.
LW, you’re not at fault for not knowing how to fix this. It’s not your job and also NONE OF US KNOW HOW TO FIX THIS.
Here’s a suggestion if this is haunting you: there is actually some really decent perpetration prevention research that focuses on teaching young children how to understand consent, how to think proactively about gender beliefs, and how to be kind. Safe Dates is one curriculum that actually does show results across school cohorts. Instead of sinking your energy into thinking about this guy, maybe you’d feel better if you spent that energy reading about the work of researchers who want to fix the situation we’re all in?
Let yourself off the hook here, OK? Your courage in confronting him when you could have just ignored the whole thing and left it unaddressed is admirable. There was no set of magic words you could have said to change his attitude or propel him into accountability and change. You also don’t have the power to wound him so deeply he spirals into a depression he wouldn’t have spiraled into anyway, simply by failing to save him from the consequences of his own actions. If he gets depressed, he should seek professional help, and you simply don’t have the power to change his mental health one way or another anyway. Cowardice has nothing to do with it.
I don’t think you are a coward. I respect you for checking in with him.
I’ve always been uncomfortable genuinely using “friend” at all unless it’s someone I personally care about in *some* way,
My husband and kids are always careful to use the word “acquaintance.” It amuses me, but sometimes it’s very accurate.
In my culture here in Scandinavia the word “friend” is (or at least was, before Facebook) used only on very deep, meaningful relationships. Nowadays we have two kinds of friends: “friends” and “Facebook friends”. We also have a hierarchy of acquintances: “an acquintance”, “someone I know”, “someone I greet” and “someone an acquintance of mine knows (this one goes on to a ridiculous degree, as far as ‘someone an acquintance of an acquintance of an acquintance of mine knows’)”. Our tendency to always be as honest and precise as possible is sometimes hilarious as people often correct themselves when speaking of someone: “No, not an acquintance, someone I greet”.
TootsNYC, it sounds like your husband and kids share this culture. I find it both amusing and admirable.
Warm thoughts from Convallaria, class A Total Internet Stranger.
LW, I was going to respond with the cry that means good job! but got stuck at not knowing whether it should be Brava! or Bravo! and thought, what’s gender-neutral? brave well, that’s an entirely different word— that fits the situation perfectly, so I say to you:Brave!
It takes guts to face what you’ve just done, and there’s *nothing* cowardly about being glad that the person in the wrong realized he is wrong and chose to not try to escalate it with you.
Perhaps you feel like a coward because you still feel a smidge of responsibility, that you shouldn’t have been “let off” so easily? You can kick that smidge right out the door. You owe this guy nothing, his mess is none of your responsibility, and you were under no obligation to undergo any emotional turmoil on his behalf.
You did the right thing and I think this counts as a good outcome.
You made your intention clear in a kind way. He decided to self-select away from you rather than face any sort of accountability from you.
There’s nothing cowardly about being relieved. Even if he wanted to get help and do better, the kind of support you envisioned would be a **lot** of work. And if he weren’t really invested in changing, it would be twice as much emotional labor with infinitely more frustration.
Anybody would be relieved!
Oh, dear LW, you are so not a coward! Also, you did very well in writing your letter to The Captain! Well done!
First of all, take care of yourself now. Harrassment cases _are_ distressing, so even though there is very little you can do now be prepared that this thing will keep popping up in your mind. It will probably slowly fade in the future. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable, sad, angry… Whatever you feel. Please, do feel free to unload your burden and your stress to someone you trust, someone who is not the victim; possibly someone who is not in the group at all. Be prepared, though; their reaction might not be very useful, not at least at first. Also, there is never a bad time to find a mental health professional to help you. The fact that it did not happen to you does not mean that you should not need help to process it.
Also, I gathered that in this group there is someone else you care about. How are they? Can you offer them your support? Are they closer to the victim than you are?
I take it this was the first time you have encountered a case of harrassment in a group in which you belong. To me it sounds that you reacted rather well, it is never easy and the initial reaction may very well be whatever it is: weird, not useful, stupid… In their answer purps writes more about this.
Now that you have first hand experience on the justification and language a harrasser might use you might begin to see it pop up in places in which you did not notice it before. It is allright, you have just learned something new and unsettling, but it also makes you able to be helpful in the future.
Best of luck, dear LW!
The timeline of your situation as I understand it is this:
1) Friend disappears from group
2) You send concerned message
3) You find out about allegations against Friend
4) We read your letter
If you never hear back from Friend, you do not have to worry about this. (You very well may worry about it, because human nature/anxiety/depression/concern/all of the above, but try to take a breath and remind yourself that you *do not have to worry about this.*) He might just decide to make a clean break from the group. If he doesn’t respond to your message, that is your answer.
If Friend responds, what kind of response is it? When you sent the first message, you didn’t know what had happened. In his response, does he try to preemptively minimize the allegations in any way, thinking he can use your assumed ignorance against you? Or does he come off as someone who wants to be trustworthy again in the future?
Does he even sound like he wants to be your friend? Do you want to be his friend?
You do not have to be his friend. Even though you have depression in common, you do not have to be his friend.
If he responds, you have options. You can pursue a friendship separate from the group. It might be difficult, and it could come back to bite you later, but it is possible and permissible to have friends who are not friends with each other—who never even hear about each other. Only you can decide whether that is feasible or worth it. I definitely recommend against it if it will require deception to pull off. You can also prioritize the group’s and/or your own safety and peace of mind by wishing him well and saying goodbye. You can avoid responding altogether, block him, and move on. Another option entirely might present itself, who knows.
Most importantly, sending him a message before you knew about the reason for his ban does not create any sort of friendship contract between the two of you that you are bound to uphold. You have roughly the same options before you that you would have had you not reached out to him at all.
I wish you well, LW. Maintaining friendships when you’re depressed is difficult at the best of times, and this is clearly not the best of times.
If he does reply, one response could involve spelling out the timeline.
When I wrote that message, all I knew was that you had been removed from the group. Since then I have learned more, and I am not interested in continuing to stay in contact.
I really like this phrasing and also RacingTurtle: “sending him a message before you knew about the reason for his ban does not create any sort of friendship contract between the two of you”.
I had read the letter as less “I want to support my friend who did an awful thing” and more as “I reached out to say I was sorry about the ban and now he thinks I support him but if I’d known what he did I wouldn’t have sent the message. Do I still have to support him now?” possibly with a side of “And now he might tell everyone else I support him and I don’t!”
Your wording would deal with that and complete silence is also an option, particularly if he does not reply.
With you on this, though in that position I’d wait to see if the guy responded rather than preemptively saying this. That LW reached out in concern initially shows compassion, that they could choose to walk away as a result of finding out the reason the guy was banned show him that there are consequences to behaving that way. His next steps are not in your control, whether you stay in touch or not, the responsibility is with him. Those are both things other commenters have said anyway – I hope it goes well!
At some point you’ll probably have to choose between the community – including the ex – and your casual friend.
The choice may not be explicit. You may think of yourself as “helping a friend” or “mitigating his misery”. I feel very strongly though, that choosing to engage with his redemption is choosing him. And if you choose him – even indirectly – please consider staying away from the ex and the community.
If he’s really just a casual friend though, consider dropping him.
Either way, thank you for confronting this head on.
I have had friends in our community do similar actions to their partners. I always saw it as a moral duty to cut off contact with them. Their actions were wrong and I don’t want to be around someone who thought that was okay, nor do I trust this person to “rehabilitate”. I say block this person and move on with your life.
I have had friends in our community do similar actions to their partners. I always saw it as a moral duty to cut off contact with them. Their actions were wrong and I don’t want to be around someone who thought that was okay, nor do I trust this person to “rehabilitate”. I say block this person and move on with your life.
LW: I haven’t read so far, past ‘I don’t want to leave I gave emotional stakes.’ Fair enough: then I read ‘but I don’t want him to….’ and you name stuff that he is responsible for that apparently your leaving will make more likely to happen? Ummm. No… maybe he will be depressed or whatever but if his decent behavior is contingent in any way on your hitching your wagon to his then this is not healthy. You’ve decided this and it’s not healthy for you, pls take a hard look at how you relate to folks and whether you are taking on their issues as yours. This guy may be getting unfair slander or not, who knows but if a lot of folks gave dumped him and if he’s stalking and harassing, big honkin red flag and pls run.
“I guess the other thing I’d say for friends and family members of people who have harassed or abused others is: There is no middle.”
While I agree with the Captain’s advice overall, I think it’s important to point out that there’s no middle ground but there is a third option: the abuser could be the one making these claims. It’s a really tricky topic because it’s super important to believe victims of abuse when they speak up about it, but using rumors to isolate people is itself an abuse tactic. This is particularly close to my heart because my dad did it to me to try and keep me from leaving home, and I’ve recently witnessed one friend do it to another. In the second case I’d have had no idea except for having known her for decades and seeing the increasingly suspicious pattern to her claims.
I’m not trying to say that people should be inherently suspicious of abuse allegations – I absolutely agree victims should be given benefit of the doubt. It’s just that I also think people should be inherently cautious about any information (especially third-hand grapevine stuff) and not make serious relationship decisions without evaluating the source.
Baytree, you are right: this _is_ a tricky situation. In my country research on the police reports concerning rape was recently thoroughly researched and so far the conclusion was that approximately 5-6 % of those police reports were considered false (I am sorry but linking this particular article might not be very useful since it is not in English). In this case it is best to keep in mind that rape, sexual abuse and harrassment cases are vastly underreported – and that many of the false cases were initially reported because another person pressured someone to do the report.
I have also been isolated and banned from groups – so many of us geeky folk are. Many of us have been bullied, left out of groups and ostracized and we know that it hurts – hence the Geek Social Fallacies. I bet we would all love to be inclusive, to always invite everyone and to always believe best of other people but sadly it does not work like that.
In my opinion it would be best if people’s first reaction would be to believe the victim of harrassment. After that the best way to proceed might be to figure out how reliable the source is and how the said group has worked earlier. If the people who made the decision to ban this person have previously been reasonable and reliable then perhaps trusting them might be a good decision. If the group has been a toxic cesspool of arbitrary judgements (which I do not believe is the case here; I doubt LW would be in shock if it was a group like that) then perhaps it is best to leave the group.
Also, information on abuse and harrassment has traditionally been passed on through grapevine; this is how The Missing Stair phenomenon works. So far, in my decades in the geek circles, I have heard these kind of rumours approximately a dozen times – and every time they have later revealed to be true – and I am talking about police and justice and long sentences here.
LW, I can’t tell from your post–are you part of this community? do you know the victim? If so, you should make your choices with an awareness that continuing to associate with the abusive person will likely negatively impact your relationships with the victim and the broader community–even if you mean well in doing so, even if your goal is to teach him to do better. You have to decide whether your relationship with the abuser is more important to you than those relationships; you should think of it as an either-or decision, because there’s a very good chance that it is.
If you’re not, and your only connection to this entire situation is through this friend, then you have a different choice to make. If you maintain the friendship without discussing this, or accept “It’s not my fault”/”She made me do it”/”She deserved it”/”It wasn’t like that, this is blown out of proportion” type denials, you will be sending the message that he can be abusive and still keep his friendships nice and conflict-free, even if he gets caught. In this scenario, he knows you heard about this because you already messaged him and he knows you didn’t push him on it or ditch him over it; those things in combination mean that you’re OK with being friends with someone who acts like that, so he’ll probably assume that you’re at least mostly OK with the behaviors themselves. The price of keeping your friendship stable and conflict-free is tacitly supporting abuse.
If your values are such that that isn’t something you can accept (which it sounds like it isn’t), your only options are to either ditch him outright, or put in the emotional labor to talk through the thing and see how it goes. In option 1, you send him a message that says “I got more info on what went down with X and I’m pretty disgusted by it. I don’t tolerate people who do those things in my life, so consider our friendship over.” Then you be done–if he tries to argue, you can either say “This isn’t up for discussion” repeatedly, or just ignore or block him. (Alternatively, you could ghost him without telling him why, but that won’t have the same message or impact behind it. Telling him why he lost your friendship is an active step towards de-normalizing abuse and pushing him towards accountability; ghosting is easier for him to excuse or write off as a coincidence.)
In option 2, you keep bringing it up until he engages. Then, you keep refusing to accept denials until he fully acknowledges and takes responsibility for what he did. Then, for the remainder of your friendship–which might be years, this is a long-term thing–you continue to hold him accountable–you call him on it if he starts talking about someone in less than respectful terms, you call him on it if he treats someone badly (even if it’s just rude and you’re not sure if it’s full-on abusive! he’s lost the benefit of the doubt here), you call him on it if his behavior regresses at any point. You end conversations or leave if he refuses to take these steps. It’s worth noting here that you can’t force him to change–all you can do is tell him it’s needed, help him figure out how to do it, and make it really clear that keeping your friendship is contingent on following through on that change. If he refuses, all you can do is stick to your values and ditch him.
Re: You can either be his friend or be friends with the victim, but not both:
What happens when both parties are family?
Example from reality, with enough details changed to conceal identity (yes, even here):
A & B are married. A’s son rapes B’s daughter. Each was younger than the age of consent. Both have had extensive therapy. Would the commentariat want A to disown the rapist? In the event, family holidays were carefully managed so that the rapist and the victim were never invited for the same dates, but both were included in family functions and the larger family was never made aware of the situation.
Do folks have a better solution?
A’s son is a rapist. B’s daughter is the victim…regardless if their ages. Her safety and security (including mental/emotional) are paramount. Therefore the choice is B’s daughter who should never, ever have to be around A’s son again…ever.
A better solution for whom? If my stepfather’s son raped me (wholly hypothetical, my stepfather has no children except me and my sister) and my mother and stepfather continued to hang out with, host, and consider family the rapist, even if they managed it so that I never had to interact with him, even if he had extensive therapy, even if he had been young at the time, even whatever, there would be major fireworks between us, ending in a very, very strained and distant relationship at best. And I would strongly consider making the larger family aware of the situation on my own.
If my own parents can’t be bothered to cut off someone who raped me, why would I ever trust them again?
I would hope that B disowns A and A’s son. I’m sure that has happened in some families. I’m equally sure that in other families, A and B have stayed together, sacrificing B’s daughter.
Here’s a horrible thought : I am sure that there have been families where one or both of A and B raped their biological kids.
Sacrificing B’s daughter is an all too common occurrence. I mean after all it’s not like her life will be ruined or anything. But A’s son…if he had to be punished for his criminal act his life would be ruined and it would be all B’s daughters fault.
She probably dressed wrong, said the wrong thing, was in a common space in
the house unchaperoned instead of behind a locked door, wasn’t wearing a burka, etc., IOW, she was asking for it or having the audacity to exist while being female.
My very long comment disappeared…
My mother always used to say: if you murder someone, I’ll bring you to the police, but then I’ll visit you in jail. And that still seems a good principle for me when it comes to parents and children.
Expanding on this, I hope that if such a thing would happen, my parents’ friends wouldn’t abandon them because my parents continued to acknowledge me as their child (by visiting me in jail).
In this case, it seems that the son’s misdeed was recognised as wrong and action was taken to prevent him doing it again. I think you cannot (and should not) expect A to disown their own son. I also think that that would not help son grow into a healthy adult. Since A (apparently) acknowledged that their son did wrong, I see no reason to ostracise A. It would be very sad if A and B, who did nothing wrong, would feel they had to punish each other and themselves by divorcing because of what A’s son did. At the same time, of course they have to protect B’s daughter. Alltogether, from what you tell of the situation, I think they handled it pretty well.
Pretty well? B’s daughter still has to see the rapist at some family gatherings and has been un-invited to others.
I’d say that A, B, and their families have united to further harm B’s daughter.
A doesn’t have to disown A’s son the rapist. But they can maintain their relationship without involving other family members. I am sure the current solution seems like a reasonable compromise to meet the needs of both rapist and victim.
But it’s not. Why does the rapist still have the benefit of family celebrations equal to victim? Why hide rapist’s actions from extended family? It seems like A and B are choosing to minimize the consequences to rapist (presumably to not ruin their life due to “one mistake”). Maybe the consequences should be pretty fucking severe to make them understand the severity of the harm they caused through their actions.
This certainly isn’t centering the needs of the victim in the family, and they are certainly going to feel that lack of prioritization as the family does more to accommodate the rapist to continue being involved in group family celebrations with only the most basic concessions for the victim’s safety. Why not do the bare minimum to keep the rapist connected instead of the bare minimum to shield the victim? The rapist broke the safety and trust of the family unit–how can that be mended as long as the rapist is included as much as possible as part of the family group?
I imagine that I’d feel pretty betrayed if my parents put a lot of effort into including my (hypothetical) rapist in family functions and so on. It would hurt deeply that they were putting so much effort into accommodating him. I can’t imagine that her parents choosing to walk this tightrope instead of fully siding with her made the daughter feel loved, supported, or safe with her immediate family.
And on top of that, this arrangement means she’s being actively excluded from half the family functions. A and B are choosing to prioritize him over her here. She should be invited to 100% of family functions, just because she’s a member of the family; if his actions mean he can’t be around her (which they reasonably do), the consequences of that–including missing family functions–should be 100% on him to bear. They’re choosing not to invite her just so he can get around the consequences of his actions, and that sucks.
I just don’t think there’s a good way to both support a victim of abuse and remain close to their abuser. It sucks that the parents in this scenario were forced into a position where they had to choose between their son and their daughter, especially since it sounds like both were minors in this situation (which may have meant that cutting the rapist out wasn’t an option–parents do have an obligation to provide for their minor children). But it’s their son that put them in that position, not their daughter; this isn’t an equal-responsibility situation. If they continue to prioritize him over her, or if they continue to put effort into a relationship with him once he’s an adult and no longer their legal responsibility, they shouldn’t be surprised if it costs them their relationship with her.
Ideally, A’s son wind up in an actually-rehabilitative detention facility, separating him from potential victims but not removing him from an environment where re-socialization is possible, and allowing A to maintain a relationship to help with re-socialization/rehabilitation while not subjecting the rest of the family to zir son.
That’s what I would WANT to happen, but it’s sadly unlikely in my society at present, where A’s son would be unlikely to be prosecuted and convicted, and if he was, the odds of him being incarcerated in an environment that supported pro-social re-socialization are also low. In reality, I’d say that the rest of the family MUST be told what A’s son did simply for the safety of other family members he might attack. Be’s daughter should not be made to live with the person who raped her – A’s son should be removed from the house, perhaps fostered by another family member without minor children or sent to live at a boarding school (anyone with whom he was living would need to know he raped his step-sister) if he’s not incarcerated by the state. A’s son should be assumed to be excluded from any family events where B’s daughter might be included; if B’s daughter is invited/assumed to be a possible attendee, A’s son is not invited. A’s son can only attend family events where B’s daughter has no reason to be present in the first place. But anything short of completely ostracizing A’s son is dependent on him actually demonstrating effort and success at acting better; people won’t change unless they think they should change, so if he’s unrepentant, isolating him from potential victims takes precedence over trying to contribute to his re-socialization (isolating him from his actual victim always takes precedence).
Gah, that should be “B’s daughter” in the third sentence of the second paragraph.
What does B’s daughter want?
I think the better solution is to ask B and to make it clear that her safety and dignity is what matters. If that creates logistical fsmily difficulties, so be it.
I spent 26 Christmases with my rapist father who abused me as a kid. It was really convenient for my wider family. They still complain that Christmas is not the carefree festive holiday they wish for. Well my life isn’t the carefree life I deserved either. My father did that to us. So he gets to deal with being uninvited.
Sexual violence amongst kids/young adults can still be traumatic and hateful and is always legally abuse. Why would anyone claiming to be family expect B’s daughter to endure that the pain of that trauma over holidays?
I have no good solutions to A and B’s dilemma. It depends upon how old the rapist was. I mean I’d treat a 9 year old rapist differently than a 16 year old one.
Something that could help is Sibling Abuse: Hidden Physical, Emotional and Sexual Trauma. It’s kinda sad but B’s daughter isn’t alone in this. The book did help me put words/ideas around what happened to me as a teen (mild physical abuse/bullying) and it could help B and B’s daughter.
So, this basically happened to a friend of mine. Her adopted brother raped her when she was a child. I don’t know if the rapist was legally an adult when it happened or not, but he’s not in jail, so I assume not.
Their family handled it thusly (in addition to mountains of therapy): the brother is never again allowed in their home or at any their family functions, period. One member of their family (the dad) occasionally visits the brother somewhere else, not anywhere near them. My friend was fine with that.
This is a tough one bc i wouldn’t want to disown my son, but i wouldn’t in any way want to curtail the daughter’s enjoyment of family. Or curtail anything about her life ever. I don’t know. I would feel very weird to simply invite A to different events than B. It has a tinge of ‘false equivalent’ about it, as if they were a divorced couple. They’re not. He is a criminal and she is his victim, a victim of a serious crime. Shouldn’t she be included in any event she feels like it, and he only gets the ones she doesn’t want? I hope this situation doesn’t put her in any position ever to give up family interactions that she may want to have. That seems very wrong to me. I would love my son but i would want him to respect her right to not be pushed out even a little, and I would have to possibly get pushed out with him or something if i didn’t want to ditch him (like we have Christmas at home and not uncle bob’s like we used to, bc B is there and B shouldn’t have to forego uncle bob’s bc she is now the victim of a horrible crime. Why should B keep having to lose things?). Stuff like that.
I’m so sorry it sounds kind of unbearable.
Thanks, everyone, for some interesting and useful perspectives. I appreciate folks grappling with this variant of the awful situation of abuse.
What Jers said is fairly close to what happened in this case. It’s been interesting to hear the assumptions various commenters have added to my original bare-bones sketch. The genders of A&B (each of them parent to one and step-parent to the other), the ages of the rapist and victim, household composition, all sorts of things not stated in the original. And though I have a pedant’s urge to clarify and correct, I’m resisting temptation in the interest of privacy. But I can reply this far: What the victim (not B, who was the parent of the victim) wanted is what was done. The victim asked never to have to see the rapist again, and also asked for ‘no one to know’ and ‘nothing to change.’
We can stipulate, decades later, that none of the parties were very enlightened about any of this — and neither, by the way, were any of the 3-4 therapists involved. What was done was that family gatherings were the victim’s choice. The rapist knew about them (it’s hard to hide Christmas) and was told not to come. The rest of the family was given a ‘good excuse’ by the rapist — “have to work,” or “sick child,” whatever. The large extended family accepted various excuses from rapist or victim by turns as ‘legit’ and as far as I know never questioned either of them. Almost every gathering had 2-3 people absent for ‘legit’ reasons anyway. And far-flung geography was a great help.
I can see why the commentariat thinks the rapist should have been expelled, but both were very young at the time of the abuse and old enough to make their own decisions about disclosure etc by the time any parental units knew about it, as it was years before the victim told anyone, alas. I hope the commentariat can also understand the victim’s reluctance to have ‘everyone’ know.
Thank you for the follow-up, maggiebea. I am glad to hear that the family supported the victim and followed her lead in determining what was best for her at the time. I can understand her wanting the privacy rather than the public branding as the most significant thing other family members know about her (or at least the perception of that). But then I worry that instead of sheltering the victim, it instead has the result of entrenching her feelings of shame while sheltering the rapist. Silence tends to have that effect over the long haul, I suspect. But what’s done and all that.
I am so sorry the victim struggled alone with this for years before sharing with parents. How terrible! And I hope she has gone on to have a fulfilling life full of love and support.
I’ve got a recent example too, which I’d really appreciate thoughts about, because I don’t know what to do. In my case, the perpetrator is my partner AND I think he didn’t have any evil intent. A young woman says he paid too much attention to her and then touched her backside. He swears he was just being friendly by paying attention, and that he poked her to try and get her attention while she was bending over. He tends to get on well with young women, which hasn’t caused any problems before that I know of, and I’m inclined to believe his story. Which doesn’t make what he did one bit ok. I told him he was being dangerously naive in how he approaches young women, and we’re doing couples counseling, but I don’t know whether this is something I should leave him over or not.
I feel for you. My spouse admitted to a flirtatious thing with a coworker. I’m choosing to believe him, for a lot of reasons I’m not getting into here. I also spend time on Chumplady.com. You may find some of her columns helpful. Her forums can be triggering for some. And language isn’t as moderated/considered like it is here and at Friends of Captain Awkward.
I find it a little off that he decided: 1 – He had to poke her at all to get her attention (rude, dismissive). 2 – Even if that was legit the only way to get her attention, what was so urgent that it couldn’t wait for her to stand back up (was she on fire or setting someone on fire)? 3 – Assuming it was the only way to get her attention and something incredibly urgent was going on, he still chose to touch her in an area most people comprehend very well as being more intimate than other areas (maybe poke her in the arm instead).
I can’t tell you whether to leave him, but I hope very much that you keep this in mind as you listen to his excuses and watch to see whether he actually changes his behavior.
As a young woman, I can tell you that men who are ””just being friendly”” by paying me excessive attention, touching me without permission, and demanding my attention when I’m focusing on something else are both epidemic and extremely discomfiting. That’s the exact type that I make myself “get along with” until I can safely get away from them, because a decent chunk of them get actively angry at me if I tell them to stop more explicitly, and I can’t tell whether any given one of them is like that or not just by looking. I avoid spaces where this type of guy is tolerated.
I don’t know your boyfriend, so maybe he genuinely doesn’t realize that this kind of behavior is such a problem. But if that’s the case, telling him to stop should be enough to make him stop. He needs to stop demanding attention from people who aren’t currently giving it to him. He needs to make sure he’s not paying more attention to young women than to men or older women–if he’s singling out young women, that’s likely to make people uncomfortable, even if he has no bad intentions about it. More than anything else, he needs to STOP TOUCHING PEOPLE WHO HAVEN’T EXPLICITLY SAID HE CAN TOUCH THEM.
If he makes those changes, I don’t see any reason you’d need to leave him over this! That would tell me that he genuinely has good intentions and is taking responsibility for making sure his impact matches those intentions. But if he refuses–if he says women need to be less sensitive, for example, or argues that his good intent should be more important than the negative impact of his actions, or even verbally acknowledges that he should do those things but then doesn’t change his behavior–that would show that he cares more about his ability to do whatever he wants than whether his actions are harming other people. You’d have to decide if you could live with staying with someone like that.
Poking someone’s backside while they’re bent over to get their attention is Not. Okay.
There are roughly 100 other alternatives to getting someone’s attention that don’t include touching someone, and if you absolutely HAVE to touch someone to get their attention, you can tap them on the arm. If someone poked my backside to get my attention I would be furious. The last person to poke my backside to get my attention was a literal toddler and that’s as high as she could reach.
At the very least it shows a pretty amazing lack of understanding of other people’s physical boundaries and social norms.
Whether you leave him or not is up to you, but I think I’d ask if he actually understands that that isn’t okay.
I’m with CommanderBanana on this.
Touching someone’s ass is not a “friendly” move.
Tbh it sounds like he tried to wing some ‘physically plausible’ excuse for doing it in his version of events to his girlfriend. I had an abuser touch me because they were ‘just holding you still’ on a slope, a kid used a ‘find x blindfolded’ game as an excuse to grope people…I don’t think I even buy this, what, she bent over so fast that it intercepted his poke in the wrong place? So…he was trying to poke the small of their back? Does girlfriend have her version of events as well as opposed to just his? It may look vastly different, I’m sorry but his version just doesn’t add up to reality.
It’s definitely a case where even if he somehow didn’t have bad intentions, his impact was wholly negative and his behavior needs to be majorly checked.
And I’m with you being suspicious on the intentions, honestly. In my experience, older guys who ‘just happen to get on well with’ young women, and specifically seek out young women for attention and ‘friendliness’, and escalate to physical pestering when just talking at said young women doesn’t get them the attention/’friendliness’ they wanted…they’re not actually being friendly. They’re generally being ‘friendly’ in the plausible-deniability sense of “well I didn’t SAY I wanted to fuck you, I didn’t SAY you had to pay special attention to me or else, I was just being FRIENDLY, why are you OVERREACTING SO MUCH, why are you being such a bitch”.
Sometimes they don’t even realize it consciously–they’re so conditioned to think they deserve attention and validation from young women that they’re genuinely not even conscious of their behavior. But they’re still treating women in a way that they would never treat other men, it’s still gendered harassment, and if they don’t cut it out immediately, their ‘good intentions’ don’t make a whit of difference in the world outside their head.
Frankly, unless their outfit is on fire or something else that demands an immediate response entirely independent of you and your feelings, I don’t being unable to wait however long it takes for them to straighten back up and confirm they actually want your attention is, either.
One-off cases where there is no ill intent (we can’t ever be completely sure, of course, so it’s a judgement call) AND the person understands what ze did wrong and why it’s wrong are the cases where it’s easiest to redirect someone’s future behavior. Explaining the necessary boundary and observing whether the person respects it tells you if ze is acting in good faith or bad faith. I’ve done this with my mom regarding, for example, touching Black people’s hair and demanding to pay for things that people wish to pay for themselves; it’s worked well because she is actually acting in good faith and simply didn’t understand why her behavior is experienced as harmful by people in the situations in question.
Personally, I think it’s worth trying to offer a corrective to problem behavior and giving the person the opportunity to do better and demonstrate growth. I want a world where people treat each other better, and the only way that can happen is if people who presently treat each other poorly stop doing that (which requires giving them the opportunity to stop), if they’re all incarcerated to isolate them from the general population, or if they’re all killed, preventing them from behaving in any way at all in the future. The latter two options are problematic in their own rights, so I go for the first option whenever possible. If the person refuses to accept that the behavior is harmful or does acknowledge the harm but doesn’t stop doing it once the boundary is explained, you then have both a PATTERN of behavior and a refusal to accept or address the problem, which isn’t a good sign for the person getting better. At that point, cutting the person off from anyone they’re harming is the only real way to deal with the problem.
They may claim something innocent, but they know grab ass isn’t.
Yeah, it’s a bit hard to believe that an adult could genuinely think that touching someone’s ass would be ‘innocent’. It sounds a lot more like an excuse.
I am trying to imagine some scenario where person A has leaned over, person B tries to tap their shoulder and person A has somehow not heard them coming, not heard them say their name several times (because that is obviously what you would do before tapping someone’s shoulder), and moves suddenly in just such a way that their butt moves into person B’s hand?
It’s… a stretch… I don’t know the person involved, maybe it’s possible, but it sounds a bit unlikely.
You are allowed to leave him if you want to. The assumption here us that you need a big enough consent violation to justify it. It may well have been a one time poorly judged opportunistic poke. The fact the woman is younger, that he doesn’t see the seriousness and needs warning not to be ‘naive’ is a red flag.
It would be ok to decide this journey of discovery out of naivete is not one you need to be co pilot of.
They might want to do some one on one counseling to work through that with the therapist.
Intent doesn’t need to be “evil” to be sexist, offensive, and wrong.
The “just being friendly” excuse is standard operating procedure of deniability of guys who get called out on creeping. It’s bullshit unless he pays the same amount and type of attention to not-young women and men. Men have got to be disabused of the idea that “being friendly” with women is harmless. Even if it really is no more than being friendly, it’s still treating woman as passive objects of men’s attention.
“He tends to get on well with young women, which hasn’t caused any problems before that I know of,” operative words being “that I know of.” How would you know whether his behavior has caused problems? You’re probably not privy to the young women’s internal reactions, and as we all know, women are conditioned to accept, smile through, down-play, and not report creepy behavior.
Whether you should leave him over this depends on how you define “this.”
If this is truly only one brain spasm that resulted in an extremely stupid action (the ass poke*) I’d say no. If however the ass poke is just the tip of an iceberg of shitty ideas about women and personal boundaries, does he understand that what he did was Wrong and Why, and is he willing to open his brain to the concept that women are human beings of equal status and not here to be the subject of his Attention? If yes, all good and well. If the excuses and defenses and “just being friendly” and “paying attention” continue, you have to decide whether he’s the kind of man you want to be partners with.
The fact that you’re even asking the question says a lot.
*given that she also complained that he “paid too much attention to her” I am skeptical that this was a momentary lapse of brain.
I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Best of luck sorting things out.
People can do wrong things without forming any specific malevolent intent., And people can do awful things without being any worse of a human than average.
The problem isn’t necessarily that that he was being deliberately creepy or predatory – it’s certainly possible he was not.
The problem is that he was only considering his own thoughts and intentions, (to be friendly, etc). He didn’t consider the actual effect on her. (Is this attention welcome? Is this touch appropriate?)
It was not welcome. It was not appropriate. Does he understand that?
I think the issue of stay or leave will be determined by how he responds to the process, not on the single instance.
At the last family gathering I attended my uncle and I were chatting and at one point his hand grazed my ass. At the time I was shocked and thought it must have been a mistake (because who would do that?).
Were his intentions evil? Who knows. It does seem convenient that the situation reaks of plasuible-deniability. I would bet good money that he would not have “accidentally” grazed a man’s ass. I have not shared this incident with anyone (until now) because I don’t want to hear my family minimize/excuse it. I do plan on avoiding him where possible and when we attend a large gathering in the future I plan to make it awkward and loud if he touches me in anyway.
I suggest considering that there is an excellent chance that you would not know if your partner’s actions had been a problem in the past. Also, your partner is not “dangerously naive”. He is dangerous in that he is not respectful of consent and of other people’s personhood.
I wish you the best as you navigate this; take care of yourself.
I’m really sorry to hear you’re in that position.
I think if I, somehow with innocent intentions, touched someone’s backside and then she said how uncomfortable she was and that I’d been paying too much attention to her, I’d probably be very embarrassed and worried, and spend a bit of time licking my wounds and make sure my partner heard my version of it. Like a day or two, max, hopefully less? But I’d pretty quickly be more mortified that I’d made someone feel that way, I’d be concerned with making amends at my workplace or wherever this happened, I’d be brushing up on my “how not to harass” literature (on my own, from resources and not from nagging everyone else about whyyyyyyy it’s wrong). I’d probably be concerned about my job and looking into trying to line something else up. I’d be “sobering up” about the incident. Is this happening with your Partner though, or is all his energy still being directed into why he wasn’t in the wrong and making sure you aren’t suspicious or angry? That would worry me, regardless of his intentions around this young woman.
Whether or not you should leave your partner over this is kind of a tricky question– it may be a one-off that he’s willing to address and not remotely a partnership-destroyer. But my first thought was that, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Not so much “is this incident bad enough to leave over, yes or no,” but “is this the tip of some iceberg?” Frankly the majority of workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination I’ve experienced has been by very buddy-buddy dudes and/or avuncular friendly men who would consider themselves awesome dudes who are super-fun friends with women because they get along so well. They’ve brought me coffee every morning and partied with their female coworkers after hours and commiserated with me about life stuff. They would be absolutely shocked that anyone could think they have blatantly paid all women employees less or set them up for professional failure or put them in inappropriate situations or looked the other way or, or, or, because of some sort of crazy “misogyny,” like they could ever hate women. I’m sorry, but that has been my life experience. Guys who get along really well with women and don’t make them uncomfortable or take advantage of them, tend to easily understand and acknowledge why the situation you described would make a woman uncomfortable.
He could have tapped her on the back, on the arm, waited for her to straighten up, said her name loudly, said ANYTHING loudly, waved his hand near her face…
He *chose* to touch her on the ass.
He had multiple options and he went for the sexually charged, highly inappropriate one.
Please consider that when it comes to the question of ‘evil intent’. He might not think of it as evil, but it certainly is a fact that he copped a feel from a woman who didn’t want it.
If it was a man who was bent over, would he still poke him in the butt to get his attention? I don’t know about your partner (or about his sexuality), but for many straight men that would be unthinkable, because touching someone’s butt is sexually charged, even if there’s no “ill intent”. Would he give the man (or other person of a group he’s not attracted to) the same kind of attention, or is the attention not just friendly, but actually kind of flirtatious?
Maybe your partner is playfully flirting with young women a lot, maybe he’s actually harassing several of them when doing that. Maybe this was the only time. Either way it doesn’t sound to me like neutral friendliness, it sounds sexually charged, no matter the intent. Only you can decide how you feel about that or what you do, but it’s worth thinking about and see how you feel. There may be some pain in thinking about the answers to those questions, but it can help you answer your own questions.
I think the big issue here is the fact women are indoctrinated by society to ‘fix’ things (men). Why is the OP even involved? She has no involvement in this situation at all beyond casually knowing the guy. Honestly just stay out of it!
The line about “I don’t want casual friend to fall into a depression” really stuck out and I’m surprised Captain didn’t pick up on it. OP, it is NOT your job to prevent this man from being depressed. His mental health management is entirely on him. Stop making it your job to manage the wellbeing of men you’re not even close friends with.
OP is a “they/them,” not a “she/her,” but there’s a good chance they’ve been socialized since childhood to fix men’s feelings even though they grew up to identify as not-a-“her.” Some people are socialized that way in general, irrespective of gender, but you’re very right that our society puts more of a burden on women to do men’s emotional labor than any other gender configuration.
My ex did A Very Bad Thing – the police were involved, he was fired, it was vile, I divorced him.
There was a long sad phase in which even members of MY family, even some of MY friends, would say to me, to ME, ‘oh dear, your poor ex, how is he? Is he getting enough support? Tell him I’m here for him.’. To ME they’d say this. ME. And I’d they’d tell me how, amongst themselves, they’d discuss Bad Thing Ex with what I suppose they thought was mature and considered compassion. He knowingly and intentionally did a Very Bad Thing, knowing full well if he got caught there would be serious consequences, and giving not a trace of a fucklington’s shadow about the immense pain and distress he was causing a lot of people by his actions, and I, his heartbroken gaslit victim, was faced with these half-dozen Defenders Of The Ex who just had to oh HAD TO tell me how bad they felt for him and how I too should be rescuing him from his inner demons by applying my special lady-compassion balm to his self-inflicted wounds.
As – I believe – a direct result of all this ‘compassion’, my ex is still stuck in a mess of self-pity and he still blames everyone and everything except himself and sees himself as very hard-done-by and I have never, not once, heard him express remorse about any of the people he hurt. His apologies to me, for example, all degenerated into ‘I’m sorry you’re so cross and mean and don’t love me any more’.
Dear LW – sometimes falling into a depression after being caught and called out for being Very Bad is… not a thing we should be trying to prevent. He did a bad thing, he caused pain and distress and fear, maybe he SHOULD feel bad. Maybe trying to prevent the sorrow is actually going to prevent his personal growth. How the hell is he supposed to learn ‘the right lesson’ if the consequences for mistreating people is other people bending over backwards to make him feel OK about it?
So well stated!
I’m so sorry your family and friends did this to you! That was beyond crappy behavior. I hope they have apologized sincerely and tried to make up for their incredibly poor choices.
Thank you for your kind words.
Sadly, I just stopped talking to them after a few rounds of this nonsense. I still get, via my mother, the odd ‘[Relative] wants to know why you don’t take them up on their offers to go visit – you used to be really close to them!’ comment. I answer ‘well, they rather ruined that by siding with Ex.’ And then there is a silence and then I put the kettle on.
As someone whose depression was intensified by feelings of shame I whole-heartedly agree with this:
Maybe trying to prevent the sorrow is actually going to prevent his personal growth.
I deserved the shame I felt. (It wasn’t the world’s worst sin, but it was definitely wrong.)
I fought SO VERY HARD against all the people in my support network, and even my therapist, to STOP making excuses for me, and to stop trying to argue me out of feeling shame, and anger at myself, etc.
I am a better person because I looked that right in the eye instead of flinching.
I am so glad to hear this, thank you for sharing it. You are brave and admirable.
Reed, I am so sorry you had to experience all that!
Also I agree with Kaos: so very well said!
Well said. I’m so sorry that your friends and family were so hurtful to you.
I’ve been on both sides of this–when I did something hurtful and toxic in college, my friends at the very least pointed out how vicious I was, if not outright distancing themselves from me. Eventually when I came to understand the damage I’d caused, I was also horrified, but grateful, because I deserved to feel shame, and I was able to learn and grow from it.
My abuser, on the other hand, has managed to reach his 30s acting like your ex, and also weaponized his Feeling Bad and his anxiety to guilt-trip me into coddling him. Honestly, he ought to feel bad for the crap he’s done; maybe he’d actually become a better person instead of having a string of exes who keep calling him out on his selfishness. It’s not my problem anymore, though.
LW, some of your words (about wanting him to learn this or not learn that or feel this way or not this way) feel like they would make a lot of sense if this was a 14 year old child and you were his parent.
He is an adult. Beware your urge to take on too much responsibility, even just in your mind, for someone else’s actions and feelings.
Also maybe consider that someone who has been harassing people is usually already very willing to make his feelings and actions and choices someone else’s responsibility.
Please be careful here.
If I’ve misread this and you actually _are_ teenagers, this is still true. You are peers. You are not his mother or father and should not accept that kind of responsibility for his actions of feelings or choices.
LW – if you do choose to maintain the friendship, consider HARD boundaries around any kind of “interacting with ex-gf/group on his behalf.” You may want to read up on “flying monkeys” and “triangulation.” This is one reason why this will likely be a “one or the other” choice for you. If you try to maintain a relationship with him and with this group, it gets really easy to fall into the triangulation trap. If you’re friends with him, and he knows you have zero contact with these people, it won’t go that way (and it will be useful to you to see if he does want to maintain a friendship with you if he knows you’re not going to provide backdoor access to this group).
It’s going to be helpful for your friend to know that you not only think it is possible that he can behave better in future, but that you expect him to get his shot together. You can retain the expectation that your friends aren’t getting a free pass to abuse and harass. It also gives you a good headstart in redirecting his own feelings to a qualified professional to discuss. I don’t think hearing out his story in a pity party and trying to correct him is going to do either of you much good. If this is a genuine allegation, he will have a way to avoid being in an accountable professional counsellor set up and you will be stuck trying to figure out what happened and what your verdict is.
As a victim of abuse, what I need from bystanders is not for them to go through the details of the abuse and judge the situation. I need them to be clear that they think abusing people is wrong and proceed accordingly in their lives. The absolute worst thing is when someone decides they ‘won’t take sides’ in an attempt to sweep all the awkwardness back at me. ‘Won’t take sides’ usually involves giving my abuser a lot more benefit of the doubt, doing intellectual gymnastics about how my abuser didn’t mean it/deserves forgiveness/never hurt them personally etc etc. Someone who insists on doing that is doing an awful lot more denial work than it would take to accept my account as my truth and act according to their own conscience. I don’t expect to be unconditionally believed but I do need to know the people close to me don’t think abusers feelings get highest priority.
You can be an ally to this ex by refusing to gossip about it with anyone in your community, refusing to speculate about the details.
Ijeoma Oluo’s book is amazing and powerful, and I highly recommend it. Possibly more on point for this discussion, is her piece “So You’ve Sexually Harassed or Abused Someone: https://medium.com/the-establishment/so-youve-sexually-harassed-or-abused-someone-what-now-ed49a934bab1.
Again, heavy on the power being with the dude in question, and it echoes Cap’s advice, but it’s a good read.
paperkingdoms, thank you for the link! It is very informative and helpful!
I’m wondering how healthy this community is. Sudden bans that make you want to reach out to the banned person, and second-hand and third-hand gossip? I’ve seen those patterns far too often.
I’ve been part of a few internet communities that were dry kindling awaiting sparks. I once was foolish enough to involve myself in a conflict between two members without full information. The partner of member complained about another member in the community, and I rushed in, all sympathetic and ready to validate feelings, without the context- apparently, two wounded individuals hacking away at their similar weak spots, each feeling in the right. I only figured that out because the mods sent me screenshots of private messages and involved me in discussions of who should be removed from the community. Just one way in which the whole thing was badly handled. I wish that was the drama that made me set fire to all the things and never look back, but unfortunately, that happened only after yet more drama. And I wish I could say I stopped being a well-meaning busy-body after that, but alas not. I still want to fix all the people.
I’ve been on a few sides of this situation.
When being called to be accountable, it helped to hear things like, “I heard this thing happened. I don’t know what to do about it but I want you to know I still care about you.”
When having experienced abuse, it helped to know for certain whether my ex was invited to events or not. It helped to hear “I believe you.”
Think about whose comfort you want to prioritize.
Where is this amazing community that actually bans people who harass others?!!!????!!!
I know, right?
Comments are closed.