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Edited to Add: Relevant to our interests, here is the great Mikki Kendall, who recently co-launched a blog at Hood Feminism, writing at The Toast about the problem of abusers & enablers in progressive spaces.  /Edit

There is a lot of violence and rape culture stuff discussed at these links, so if that’s not stuff you can read about, be warned and do not click the links!

Did anyone else read this piece by Jay Roberts, I Met A Convicted Serial Killer, and He Made Me Feel More Loved Than Anyone Else In My Life?  

As a young Marine, Roberts met Randy Kraft, who is now believed to have murdered as many as 100 people between 1971 and 1983. Roberts survived the encounter, and actually had no idea at the time that he was in any danger, realizing only much later when Kraft was caught that he was the extremely charismatic stranger he’d spent a day with long ago.

Serial murder is darker stuff than we usually deal with at CaptainAwkwardDotCom enterprises, and don’t worry, it’s not a place I want to dwell. However, the piece is really well-written, and it also fascinated me because here was a violent predator using all of the tactics that predators use: alcohol, isolation (both in selecting a target and in getting the target on his own), testing boundaries and then systematically escalating behaviors, choosing someone who will be unlikely to tell, or, if they do, unlikely to be believed. It was like a textbook case of what predators do. Kraft also did what many predators do, which is to groom their victims with attention and flattery.  He got Roberts, a straight, strapping male Marine to pose for sexy photos and even consider a sexual encounter, and he did it by making the guy feel, in his own words, *loved.* Such was Kraft’s charisma that years later, despite evidence that AN EXTREMELY BIG NUMBER OF OTHER TIMES this guy murdered people exactly like the writer in situations exactly like that one, even recognizing that the guy was manipulating him, had likely stalked & selected him as a good victim, he *still* questions whether that “really” would have happened to him and still has complicated feelings about the guy.

Predators & abusers fuck with our heads. They do it on purpose and according to a predictable pattern. The pattern is designed to disorient you and confuse you. It’s often designed to mimic what “love” or “caring” or “passion” or “intense connection” feels like, at least in the beginning. It leaves you confused and doubting your own feelings or right to protest. When it goes bad, by the predator’s design, it leaves you ashamed, like you “let” something happen to you. It doesn’t matter who you are. It is not your fault. They do it on purpose.

Another great piece I read last week touches on some of the same themes. Thomas at Yes Means Yes wrote “Cockblocking Rapists is a Moral Obligation, or, How To Stop Rape*** Right Now.

***Thomas qualifies it in the post, but it’s worth doing here: He is talking about a certain kind of acquaintance-rape, the type where perpetrator and victim are known to each other and part of the same social scene. He is also talking specifically about what friends/bystanders can do, NOT about how victims can stop their own attacks (by the way, fuck you forever, Emily Yoffe) and NOT putting responsibility on survivors (in fact, the last section of the piece is called “It Can’t All Be On The Survivors”) to make the social circle safer.***

Our post here on creepy dudes in friend circles is by far the most-viewed thing on the site, with over 322,000 views. Next top post? Also about creepy dudes, with 44,000 views. Followed by The Art of No When You’ve Already Said Yes, with roughly the same number. You could say that banishing predatory behavior has been on our minds a little bit. Which is why I love Thomas’s post so much, because he goes step-by-step through what you can do when you know about/see/witness creepy behavior and translates a lot of the discussions we’ve had here into action. First order of business:

“Spot The Boundary Testing

…What the rapists do is target selection. They are looking for someone whose boundaries they can violate, and who won’t or can’t stand up for themselves.  The best targets, the ones who offer the rapists the best chance of getting away with it, are those who won’t report — or who will never even admit to themselves that what happened was rape.  The way the rapist finds those people is to cross their boundaries again and again, progressively testing and looking for resistance.

That’s the pattern to look for.  If somebody seems to be testing to see if one of your friends can be pushed off of “no,” has a limited ability to stand up for themselves, that’s the red flag.

The most important thing you can do if you see this pattern is tell the target you see it.  Forewarned is forearmed.  In fact, somebody who is being targeted and pushed and tested may think they see the pattern, but may not trust their own instincts.  If they know you see it, too, then they may trust a bad feeling that they are already feeling.”

Boundaries are your friends. Defend them and help your friends defend theirs. It can be as simple as “It looked like you were not enjoying that backrub/seventh beer/tickling/hug. Do you want to come sit by me for a while?” or signal-boosting your friend’s no. “She doesn’t want any, thanks.” It doesn’t have to be a big scene or an accusation.

There’s more at the link, including offering options (a ride home, a place to stay, cab fare, “Here, you can use my phone!”) and watching over drunk and high friends. If you’d take away a friend’s keys to drive home, isn’t it okay to say “You seem too fucked up to really consent well to sex right now, and your new makeout partner DEFINITELY does. How about you get their number for later, and we call a cab now?” That probably seems weird and like overstepping, except, 30 years or so ago people revived the concept of the designated driver and made a media campaign and conscious effort to make that into a thing that we know about and do.

Could we make a similar push around sex? Not a stupid judgy “don’t drink, ladies” one (Emily Yoffe, if you’re reading, this, fuck you), but a Too Drunk to Drive is Probably Too Drunk To Fuck one. Prince is really making a push for the beauty of morning sex lately, maybe he can be our spokesman for “Let’s sober up and do it properly, and then go to brunch” campaign for horny party people.

Some of the boldest advice in the piece is to make sure people know who the rapists & suspected rapists are and openly take sides against them. It’s the advice that is probably going to get the most pushback from MRA- types obsessed with “false accusations.” Watch for lots of appeals to fairness and privacy and “innocent until proven guilty.” Hell, I fell more than halfway into this trap myself when answering this question. Not cool, me.

In a court of law, if you are the judge or the jury, a defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s it. No one else is held to that standard. To even investigate the crime & make charges, the cops and DA have made some presumptions that so and so is guilty. As Thomas says:

Some people will say that it’s unfair to do that, to simply take the survivor’s word, to say things about people without due process.  Well, due process is for the government, to limit their power to lock people up or take their property.  You don’t owe people due process when you decide whether to be friends with them.  You don’t have to have a hearing and invite them to bring a lawyer to decide whether to invite them to a party.  And let’s be honest, most of us repeat things that one person we know did to another person we know based on nothing more than that one participant told us and we believe them.  We do it all the time, it’s part of social interaction.

So if you want to do something, take the label, plant it on the missing stair in your social circle, and make it stick.

You don’t need a jury trial to kick Handsy Bob out of board games night. You really don’t. Handsy Bob makes people uncomfortable. He doesn’t have to actually rape someone to prove that you were right to kick him out of the group for making y’all uncomfortable.

The last section, called It Can’t All Be On The Survivors, builds on this responsibility.  Thomas calls out the total pointlessness and complete shittiness of the idea of neutrality and trying to remain friends with both abusers and their victims, another topic that has come up here  more than once.

It Can’t All Be On The Survivors

I’ve seen the following two things happen:

(1) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and people say to the survivor, “you have to do something!  If you don’t do something, who will protect the next victim?”

(2) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and the survivor yells and shouts for people to deal with it, and the people who are friendly with both the survivor and the violator shrug their shoulders and try to stay “neutral.”

What these two things have in common is that in each case, the people around the situation place all the responsibility on the person who most needs help and can least be expected to go it alone.

…Confronting people is emotionally taxing, and it often irreparably ends the friendship.  In fact, about something as serious as rape, it invariably irreparably alters the friendship.  If you believe that your friend raped your other friend, and you say, “hey, you raped my friend,” then the old friendship is gone forever as soon as the words leave your mouth.  What remains is either enmity, or a relationship of holding someone accountable, just as tough and taxing as staying friends with a substance abuser who is trying to get clean and sober.  That’s not easy.  That’s a lot of work, and most people are not up for it.

The option most people choose, because it gets them out of that, is to choose to not make up their minds about what happened…

…Just think about that.  ”Hey, you’re still friends with Boris.  But X said Boris raped her.”  ”Well yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”Well, but you know what Y said, and Y’s account was a lot like X’s.”  ”Yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”But Z said Boris violated consent, too, and that’s three people …” “Well, I’ve been friends with Boris a long time, so I kind of don’t know what to think …”  (Trust me when I tell you, folks, I’m not making that up.)

What can you do tomorrow?  Don’t let your communities do that shit.  Hold your friends to a higher standard.

If the current status quo is that survivors end up ceding social space and fleeing bad situations because they feel shame for “creating drama,” I would accept “rapists & creepy, boundary-violating people are shamed and shunned on the word of survivors” as an alternative.

In the comments,  in the aftermath of all the creepy dude posts here and “safe space at cons” discussions I’ve seen around the Internet, I’d be interested to know:

  • Have your social groups taken steps to isolate Missing Stair-people? How did that go?
  • Do you have stories of people intervening successfully in potentially creepy situations?
  • Do you have a creeper who needs a good banishment and need moral support or advice on how to accomplish such?
  • Those of you who go to cons or other events in geek-identified spaces, have you noticed changes in attitudes of organizers or changes in behavior?
  • Do you have suggestions for other things we can do to make our social scenes safer from predators?

Ooh, one final link that I got from Twitter (Thanks, Twitter!), about cutting toxic people out of your life and the relief that can come from not having to deal them by errlix might be good to read today. S/he lays it out very clearly and beautifully.

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How great is this tip for dealing with people who invade your personal space? Since there’s no transcript at the link, I’ll tell you:

When someone comes up behind you and is too close, get visibly and audibly startled ( “Aaaah! Yikes!”) and move back. You want people to turn around and look at what’s happening. Then say “Wow, didn’t realize you were so close” or “Whoa, too close!” And let it be super awkward. Don’t apologize or smooth it over. Do it every single time until they get it. I would add: If it’s happening at work, document each time it happens and then report it to HR if they don’t get it. I would also add: Dear Tech Support Guy at My First Job After College, the way you always came up behind us and put your hands on our shoulders for unwanted backrubs when you had to fix our computers made us all hate you and I should have a) screamed and jumped out of my skin and b) reported you to HR for being fucking creepy and awful.

I’m putting today’s question behind a cut because of mentions of past abuse & sexual assault.

Dear Captain Awkward,

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Here is Letter #322. It and the other letter are below the jump because it’s fucking creepy in there.

Edited to Add: It’s frankly depressing that this post has struck a chord with so many people, but I’m grateful and honored to be able to help the letter writers and to have given voice to what so many people were feeling. Unfortunately the demands of moderating this discussion have become overwhelming this week, so as of Monday, August 13th comments are locked. We’ll pick up this discussion some other time. Thank you for all of your insightful contributions and for making this one of the best commentspaces on the Web.</EDIT>

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Racist AND Sexist. Gross.

You guys, sorry to go all serious and unfunny on you, but I am incredibly creeped out at the news reports of what happened to the CBS News reporter* and her crew in Egypt, especially the ones that need to mention that she was an “attractive blonde” so that you can really, really picture it.  Gross. Unfortunately, as you an see from our handy visual aid, the “Swarthy Foreigners Are Defiling Our Women” meme is nothing new.

If you’ve got a strong stomach and a nice padded place for when you give up on humanity and start banging your head against the walls, Manboobz has the scoop here and here.

This incident, plus the semesterly reading of Freshman creative writing where I have to explain that “Hey, the part of your story where your female character said she didn’t want to have sex and then the male character got her really, really drunk and had sex with her anyway?  Yeah, I think that your character just raped that lady,” told me that it was a time for a little bit of schooling around this extremely awkward topic.

Here’s what happens when you get raped:

1.  A person or people carry out a serious invasion of your personal space.

2.  You risk a whole bunch of shitty complications afterwards, including but not limited to:  STDs, pregnancy (which you might be forced to carry to term thanks to religious zealots), physical pain and emotional trauma, bad dreams, flashbacks, plus every asshat in the world second-guessing everything you’ve ever done in your life in an effort to explain what you did that led to you getting attacked, possibly for the rest of your life.

Here’s how you got raped:

1.  You went about your life and used your liberty to pursue happiness.

2. You encountered a rapist who decided to rape you.

Period.

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