Re: Abuse and Dangerous Rhetorical Tactics in response to Allegations of It

I just want to say that attempting to discredit people who publish accusations of abuse by claiming they “acted as if nothing was wrong” after the fact is a flawed and dangerous tactic that is damaging to all discourse about abuse—gendered abuse and sexual violence in particular.

There are no shortage of abuse and sexual violence cases where victims uphold a facade of normalcy despite however they may be suffering in private. The reasons for this are myriad and complex, but to touch on some: people sometimes maintain these facades out of fear; sometimes they do it to uphold a sense of normalcy and control in a situation that seems uncontrollable; sometimes they do it because the stigma of litigating (either legally or socially) abuse is so profoundly damaging that to embark on any such course would inflict only greater harm.

Alleged abusers and spectators do not get to choose for victims how they publish their claims, seek accountability, define their abuse or decide on the timeline where their actions are concerned. Such parties do not retain the right to define for victims what the appropriate response is or how victims should feel about incidents of trauma or communication about such incidents. Attempts to do so are inappropriate at their most innocent and, more often than not, manipulative, violent and shortsighted.

I know this from my own experience.

As someone who was sexually assaulted on the week of June 3rd just last year, I can speak with some authority about maintaining a facade of normalcy in the face of trauma. For 30 days following the incident I took HAART drugs to (hopefully) prevent my being infected with HIV, went to countless therapy sessions, had blood drawn week after week after week, and waited months—first one, then three, then six—to make sure that despite being assaulted by a person of status serodiscordant with mine (and let me make it very clear that someone’s HIV status is in no way diminishing of their character; and this story is in no way meant to advance serophobic notions), I hadn’t seroconverted myself. I did all of this on lunch breaks at work, in between show dates, in between flights, living every day with the horrible fear that a physical violation is suffered would have a lifelong impact on my physical health (it certainly has had some meaningful impact on my mental health). Luckily, I didn’t seroconvert, but unfortunately I *did* suffer complications from the drugs I took to protect myself. Oh well.

I did everything I could at that time to conceal the reality of my assault and it’s fallout—even as I stayed up for months reading about what could happen to me, wanting to find the person who did this to me and make him pay for it (I can admit that now, though I never did to my therapist), wishing I could tell my friends and simultaneously being afraid that they would shun me for what might happen to my body, hating myself for having carelessly put myself in a vulnerable position—because I was afraid of the potential impact it would have on my social life, on my job (I work in PR, and the last thing I want to do is become a scandal myself), on my mother and father (who would be devastated if they knew what happened). It was better not to rock the boat and try to snuff out all of my feelings on the matter. It was better, I thought, to keep this all in and hope for the best.

The person who did this to me was a stranger. Unfortunately, I also know what it’s like when the person isn’t a stranger, and I know that when *that* happened, I went through the same process of labored, painful and confused reasoning. It doesn’t get easier.

I mention my personal situatedness in this not to centralize myself, but to make it clear that I (and many people like me) understand why people keep quiet and maintain the lives they led prior to an assault as best as they possibly can. And that doesn’t make them liars, or bad people, or malfeasant actors looking to set somebody up. I want people to take that into consideration as they seriously evaluate any claim of abuse they encounter. Think of these factors before you dismiss something out of hand.

Recently seeing someone who I befriended literally the very same week last year’s incident happened to me using the idea of projected normalcy as a potential source of “reasonable doubt” for claims of abuse against him… that has been a punishing disappointment. I would hope that anyone who has been an ally to the abused would know better than to adopt such tactics and, if indeed they really thought themselves to be innocent, they would pursue their counterclaims in a manner conducive to making things right for all parties rather than barreling down a course of destruction.

I know better than to think that trying to keep the peace is evidence that something didn’t happen to you. I know that taking a long time to say something about your trauma isn’t evidence that you are misleading people. Suggesting that might be the case is not acceptable, and doing so sets a troubling precedent that disempowers the oppressed and abused in this world every day. We must reject such tactics in our discourse and we must reject it in ourselves. It is toxic and has no place in a process of truth and accountability.

All of us should know better than to resort to such dangerous rhetorical mechanisms. We should not use the language and tactics of revictimization. Ever. And we should name it when we see it; then rid ourselves and our communities of such practices.

I support victims of abuse and their right to pursue accountability without the public maligning of their character for how they go about addressing their claims. I denounce rhetorical tactics designed to cast doubt on them as human beings for the way that they process their trauma, because I know that such a process is confusing, painful, difficult, and far from linear.

Take the claims of victims seriously. And should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of an allegation of abuse of any kind, have the integrity to listen and communicate in a way that does not further victimize the person at the epicenter of that harm, as well as countless others in your community who will be impacted by its revelation and your response.