We protect many perpetrators and people who turn state’s evidence and testify, and even some domestic violence survivors. Why not rape survivors? Why not child abuse survivors? Why not victims who have to testify in court? Why not withhold their names from the press? So many perpetrators’ identities are kept anonymous to protect them, but not their targets, and this opens them up to revictimization and harassment in this culture.
Maybe there is more support out there, but I know for me personally when I start to speak up, I get a great deal of hate, much more than support, and the support is not substantial enough to help me feel safe and supported, no matter how much people care about me. And this is the problem. The haters and hate are more intense, wounding, overwhelming, and achieve the desired objectives—making the attacker feel strong and satisfied and shutting up the target.
This is the reality we need to come to grips with and start talking about solutions. Ways to steal that power, ways to publicly humiliate and ostracize attackers with overwhelming numbers and provide them with real consequences for what they do—since as insensitive and irrational as they are trying to talk out differences only feeds into them being the ones with the power and has no impact. Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end or watched incredulously naïve stupid mediators underestimate the bully mindset knows this.
This is not about equal sides, because they are not equal. Survivors expressing their truth in public are not personally attacking the people who in response personally go after them. The issue is about protecting vulnerable and wounded people from secondary attackers, and acknowledging and validating the real damage of silencing those who need to speak and allowing bullies and abusers to control how we have these conversations, and how survivors wind up viewing the whole world as threatening because of the overwhelming and targeted hostile responses of such people. The issue is acknowledging there’s a problem, and not giving up just because it’s overwhelming, or saying ‘the internet will be the internet’ in the same way one used to say ‘boys will be boys’ to excuse borderline sociopathic behavior. People have been bullied into suicide through the medium of the internet when the overactive and overwhelming voices of hate are never checked and are in no way balanced by people standing up to and calling out that behavior and providing loving, supportive counterpoints.
And for artists? No wonder so many of them use pseudonyms. Social justice workers, same deal. We’re making work that disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed and we’re frequently targeted for a lot of harassment and heckling and threatening and abuse from powerful and/or envious people.
I want protection for survivors and artists. I want it in realtime and in the private sector and in the press and in communities that should self-police and hold each other accountable, you Crucibles and witchhunts and schools with online bullying body counts. You are culpable when you stand by and do nothing. I want protection happening when and where incidents happen. I want people to be aware of these things, and when confrontations happen to not do nothing therefore being complicit in allowing evil to flourish unchecked, which evil then becomes more emboldened in finding no consequences to hate speech and action against certain targets. We need extreme, even graphic bystander de-training to shove right in the faces of the frozen the grisly consequences of silent complicity. This I say having survived my childhood ONLY by being frozen in place and making not a sound, moving not a muscle—when one is an adult, this is no longer excusable for reasons of survival. I may die in this hellhole in the woods but I will die with more integrity than someone who has unconsciously socially agreed to stand by and do nothing while cruelty is done. I stand by that choice to die rather than be a bystander.
How do you disentrain a bystander from their normal deer-headlight herd response? Their normal ‘freeze and then you won’t become a target too’ response to attacks, or ‘side with the more powerful or privileged or senior-belonging or calm party’ complex unconscious calculation people are so well-equipped to do in a split-second assessment? The one that said powerful parties are so good at gaming, loudly but not angrily, to conscript a roomful or entire social group full of and army of inadvertent conflict-phobic allies who will focus on uniting and silencing the weaker, upset, injured, wronged party?
And then feel self-satisfied, self-righteous, and like virtuous peacemakers doing so while their targets feel attacked on all sides and lie like hell just to get away from this secondary and more horrifying back-stabbing attack from the mindless easily bully-manipulated mob as they are retreating. So while these ‘peacemakers’ are bathing in the glow of their egos, the ostracized target is left even more angrily resenting them and knowing that this person has the emotional intelligence and empathy of a vulture. Which is why they let giant vicious merciless cats and sharks hang with them.
And we absolutely need to come to grips with the fact that people who bully and abuse and harass and threaten aren’t just good people at heart whose actions are misunderstandings. We need to stop letting them steer the conversation and make it about their intentions (which can’t be proved), their pain, their past, anything to dodge the reality of what they did and its consequences. We need to let go of wanting to believe the best of everyone, and let go of trying to make the argument about the content of the character and focus on what was done and the impact it has.
And, sadly, this includes people who chose to stand by and do and say nothing, accessories after the fact who did not live the values they came up in private afterward to profess to me. I get angry: I was out there in public getting harmed and you said and did nothing, and what do you want from me now, a cookie? A pat on the head? I appreciate your message of support, but it would have actually meant something and been real actual support if you had made it public so everyone else could hear too, and maybe even break through the headlight-hypnosis of others so they would join in. I know it’s scary to speak up in public when there are rabid hecklers who might turn on you too, but not half as scary as it is being me being out there as their sole focus, it means I proportionally get ALL the hate. I am tired of the secretive ‘yeah, I support you.’ If you support me, support me where other people can see and hear and read your words, don’t do it in such a cowardly way that I can tell is you making yourself feel better and wanting praise from me without actually risking becoming a target as well, and letting me take all the heat.
This has definitely been prompted by my disastrous vlog experiences. I suppose I never really expect to be alive next month, year, whatever, and so make poor long-term choices. I was inspired by long-running social justice bloggers, but they have solid fan bases and, importantly, support groups and they have income and futures. They’re not struggling just to survive, and hate speech against them triggers real responses from their fans.
I also always underestimate the number and intense motivation and pleasure of abusive people wandering around out there looking for a target, any target, the less powerful the better, and how many targets they can abuse in a day when they’re such miserably mean people they have no friends or family to take away time from their hobby of being complete and utter dicks to the most vulnerable and unprotected of the population because of the thrill of lack of consequences. And targeting the mentally ill and disabled is like shooting fish in a barrel and it’s as old as the first time an ape picked up a rock and hit an ape with tiger injuries with it, and then fled faster than the injured one could pursue.
I cry angrily whenever I see in a movie or TV some daughter’s father threatening her date or beating up or intimidating someone who hurt his little girl. I wanted that. I got the opposite.
In the animal kingdom mother animals will stand up to much larger animals to protect their young, suicidally put themselves in the path of gigantic predators without so much as a thought for their personal safety. Only human mothers can rationalize to themselves and justify not only allowing a known abuser or predator unfettered access to their child, but actually wind him up and throw the child under the bus just to get a break from the abuse herself.
Real friendship isn’t being there in the good times, it’s being there in the bad. And it isn’t talking people out of their anger or rationalizing the behavior of people who hurt them, or making over-the-top empty offers to go kneecap someone with a metal bat that are never actually meant (this actually just pisses me off more and highlights the actual cowardice in the lack of even an attempt at follow-through, or even just confronting someone who hurt your friend and telling them off, which is worth more than all the fake offers of physical violence in the world but clearly isn’t offered because they don’t want to be held to it). Real friendship is going to the mats for someone. It’s having someone’s back, standing up to someone who’s hurting a person you care about, risking your own actual self, making it clear through your actions that you value your friend enough to back them up against those who would hurt them.
It would have been nice if my parents would have protected me from people who would hurt me instead of being people who hurt me and exposing me to people who hurt me more, if they’d made sure I knew from day one I was worth protecting rather than a lumpy pet meant to emotionally parent them and provide an outlet for anger who could not fight back. But this would have required them to protect me from themselves, to value me enough not to hurt me themselves, have some self control even if not self-awareness and willingness to admit to themselves the impact of what they were doing to me over the massive mountains of self-delusion, pre-emptive defensive denial, and shame that I was bombarded and brainwashed with until I believed abuse was love of the ‘tough’ variety and not extremely vulgar selfishness.
It would have been nice if I’d had friends who didn’t think that my anger and grief and pain were terrible sins and threatening crimes, and bad things about me necessitated the sort of panicked over-response usually associated with someone catching fire. It would have been nice if I’d had friends who would have taken my side when people repeatedly and grossly hurt me, and stood up for me and didn’t leave me in the lurch every time things went bad, or turn into instant bystanders or accomplices as I was hurt in front of them. It would have been nice to have had friends who actually had backbone and courage and could model that for me, rather than being selfish and abusive themselves, friends who valued me enough to actually risk and invest in the friendship the way I did for them.
These are the people I am glad I left behind, although in their wake I am mistrustful and tend to withdraw from others, even those handful who have been nothing but the soul of kindness and validation and patience from the corners of the earth.
I did have one loving friend in amongst all the abuse, who taught me what it actually feels like to be loved. He’s dead now.
These days I’ve been hurt and used and dropped and disappointed and betrayed so much now I’m unsure of anyone and anything. There are people I love and feel loved by. I am saddened that there is a part of me with one foot instinctively poised to flee, a gift from those who left their marks on me. I know too well that life happens, shit happens, and it’s been riveted into me not to count on or take things for granted when it comes to other people. It never feels safe to. Not because they’re not a very rarified type of wonderful it is my great honor to know, it’s no reflection on them or anything they’ve ever said or done—it is the scars that run all the way through me, the cracked and straining shell that wraps all the way around me.
These things don’t protect me, though. I’m painfully aware nothing does, as if I always have fresh second-degree burns all over my body and a blinking target on every part of me visible to people with aggression and anger and dominance and bullying prowling for an outlet, visible in the way I move, the way my eyes dart, the way I sit with my back to the wall, the way I hurry from car to door and my eye contact is of the ‘I see you’ brief sort while my fists clench just in case this is the one moment that person snaps. Every stranger is a loaded, cocked gun with the safety off, concealed as a ‘normal’ quiet human right up until they fire, and suddenly I am facing a monster and all the other quiet humans are hurrying in all other directions. This is not my first time at this dance, and it’s always there beyond my door, no matter what the gathering or community or situation.
There are unexploded humans everywhere, and I am alone, no backup. I know the justice system is not just and predators have lifetimes of practice at charm and lying to authority and reversing victim and offender, especially if I have been made obviously upset and triggered by the attack and the other person appears totally calm because inside they’re singing with duping delight glee. I know if I am physically harmed no matter what hospitals assure me they will come after me to clean out my bank account and end my life for the price of saving it. This isn’t fantasy, this is reality, things I’ve seen happening or had happen to me, realities people who don’t have to live as I do want to insist aren’t true—but they are. It’s not just or fair. It is how life is for me and those like me and even worse for many others.
I’m a survivor. I once made art. Not only was there not protection for me and what I loved most of my life, nor demonstrations or mentions of the idea that I was worth protecting and fighting for, I never learned any skills or filters that would help me in later life to develop self-protection, other than hermiting away and being bitterly mistrustful. These are not happy nor successful forms of self-protection, only at shutting out life. But when I take them down and go out is when really bad things happen, and I can’t take any more bad things. After everything, after being broken so much, I’m too brittle and fragile to withstand one straw more.
“I’ll stand in front of you, I’ll take the force of the blow; protection.” —‘Protection’ by Massive Attack with Tracey Thorn