Some folks have pointed out that this post creates an unnecessary binary between abusers and abused, and this is a legitimate point I want to acknowledge. The cycle of abuse definitely means that some abusers were once abused themselves, and those people deserve support and compassion through their recovery. Thanks to the folks who called me out on this.
To explain why I wrote this post the way I did—in the kink scene the needs of abusers are almost always placed in binary against the needs of survivors or potential future targets of their abuse. Silencing abuse is not going to help an abuser stop abusing, and it definitely won’t protect anyone from more abuse. It is possible to call abuse out for what it is, and demand it’s end, without vilifying abusers as irredeemably evil, and I would encourage that.
Everybody has an excuse for why abuse needs to be silenced. There always is some circumstantial reason. Reputations must be preserved. Acting on uncertainty is surely the greatest of all sins. It never is our place to talk, our place to judge, our place to warn. That place is always elsewhere and away from here. Here is a place where you wouldn’t want to be mean to someone who was nice to you, or lose your invitation to the more exclusive play parties, or get labeled as that person who always casting labels (even when deserved). Here is a place where we don’t deal with problems that obviously must belong to people who are not people we feel we can hold accountable. Here is a place of silence.
It has to stop. Abuse cannot be silenced. The fucks I have to give for the excuses are few and far between here. I am tired of excuses, and denials, and the screwed, uneasy faces people make when they think you want them to help you stop abuse. The fact that you liked somebody once doesn’t make their abuse okay. The fact that things aren’t ‘your business’ doesn’t make abuse okay. The fact that you are uncertain, that you risk failure, that intolerance for abuse does not make you a ‘white knight” and often isn’t simple still does not make tolerating abuse okay. Abuse is not okay. Tolerating it is not okay. Shrouding it in silence is not okay. Things are not okay. Your scene is not okay.
Look, I’m not trying to say I’m perfect here. I have been silent about abusers. This is not something it is possible to be perfect on. I have bit my tongue for fear of repercussion. I have been kind to a known abuser because I did not want to lose an activist opportunity he was connected to. I understand the barriers, and I struggle with them daily. I keep lists in my mind of creeps, and lists of who I trust and can’t trust to tell who I think the creeps are. I am not charismatic or well known enough for a public call out to ever be effective or even helpful. I often feel helpless in my attempts to make things safer.
But I try. And you need to. We all need to. Failure to try is unacceptable. It is tempting to avoid confronting abuse because we know we might be imperfect, that we risk failure, that innocent people could be hurt, that we could be hurt and, perhaps most importantly, that all eyes will be on us asking that we justify these risks. And I get that. But innocent people are already being hurt, and if you don’t think that allowing silent abusers to tear down the people around you is hurting you too, then I don’t want to know you. In which history book did you read that abuse and manipulation and violence are best fixed with silence?
I try to live the words I preach. I pull people aside, and I tell them what I really think, and I ask them, on the basis of their love for safety, and for others, and for the feminist values that we both may share, to reconsider their views on certain people. I ask them to keep my story stashed for later. I refuse to invite known abusers to my parties or to go to the parties where they’ll be. When abusers are unavoidably in positions of power within my life I do my best to subversively talk shit behind their back to everyone I trust not to fuck me over. I do my best to be someone whose opinion you can trust. I am very clear about my feelings on abuse and often find I’m entrusted with more stories because of this.
Just the other day I was meeting with a friend and found out that an abuser we both know received some complicated, but well deserved, retribution. I mentioned that I had been tempted to take an action someone else took, and was glad that it’d been done. My friend was less certain—they were concerned that this person had a story they couldn’t escape, that no amount of self work would ever free this person from their history of abuse.
I told my friend I didn’t care. That while I ultimately believe abusers can rehabilitate themselves if they truly are invested in the task, protecting an abuser’s healing process is not my job. That I don’t care if I am ruthless in the task of making clear that abuse is not acceptable and that survivors are my first priority. This is not about lacking compassion. I have compassion in spades when it does not conflict with preventing abuse and honoring survivors. But the process of the abuser is not top priority, and I wanted my friend to be very clear about that fact.
I have no idea what my friend thinks of our interaction. I am glad I said something though. I am glad my friend knows me as someone who will work to help survivors, who can be trusted with stories of abuse, who is understood as someone who will use these stories to help but will have the discretion to not be reckless in that process. This is not something that happens overnight or that is random or accidental. I’ve spent five and a half years cultivating my position as someone who can be trusted to help others deal with abuse and rape and violence.
You can cultivate that too. It doesn’t take five and a half years, though if you are willing to commit that, it will certainly doesn’t hurt things. But you can also help by deciding today to say something when you hear something, to put survivors and abuse prevention before reputations and convenience, to make clear to those around you that you do not play around when it comes to speaking out.
We need to adjust our calculus about what matters to us as kinksters when fighting abuse. Silence is not a known agent of positive social change. We need to discard it. We need something better. We need a willingness to try and a willingness to fail, and for explicit failure to not be so costly that we let silence implicitly fail for us instead. Everybody has an excuse for why abuse needs to be silenced but nobody deserves the havoc that this wreaks. It’s time to speak up.