Since the topic just came up with someone…here’s how to be a good ally and support to someone who is being harassed or abused within the industry, and a little backstory on something that I’ve been dealing with.
This is intensely personal, and something that will likely lead to backlash, and yes, I am nervous about posting it, but I think some of these things need very badly to be said again.
(No, I will not name names at this time. The people who need to know, do, and if you are a local who does not know, you may contact me privately.)
Some of you are aware that I have been dealing with a local-ish stalker (who, sadly, started out as someone I considered a friend) pretty much my entire professional career.
There were ups and downs, and I eventually gave him a second chance because it was awkward for mutual friends. He promptly blew that chance, and I sent him an email explaining why I was no longer willing to deal with him. Long form short: “Whether or not you have changed as much as you think you have–and your actions scream that you have not–*I* am paying the price for your ‘social awkwardness’ and ‘depression’, and will continue to do so for, potentially, the rest of my life.”
The exchange that followed included thinly-veiled threats to keep the situation private, to not discuss it with anyone else, and a whole hell of a lot of victim-blaming, on top of years of harassment and slut-shaming. (Including the memorable experience of being chased through Dragon Con, trying to answer “Why did you sleep with that asshole who treats you so horribly?! I’d have treated you right!” For the record, said ‘asshole’ is one of my closest friends…)
It was an exchange that left me so angry and frustrated I was shaking and afraid to go back to Dragon Con. There was a moment when I thought I saw him at Gen Con that left me in a shaking panic. (I’m not easily triggered, and I’m no coward, but this has been a reality literally nearly my entire adult life, exacerbated by the aggressive and violent stalker in Santa Clara. This shit builds up.)
I would have kept dealing with it–by removing myself from local literary events and disappearing from the Southeast SF scene–if I hadn’t learned that multiple other women had also been subjected to this. I saw a similar fear on someone else’s face just last month when he showed up to something.
And this is the gist of this lengthy post: You are *highly* unlikely to be the only one who is suffering from someone. I was able to express quiet concerns to close friends, and found out the extent of the problem. I then went to known allies and explained to them what was going on, and made it known that I had reached a breaking point: he went, or I did. They were supportive.
This is the other point: It is still extremely unsafe for a woman to speak up about abuse or harassment. I occupy a position of a great deal of quiet power and overt safety. I have been at the front of the anti-harassment fight for my entire career, and I know the tools and processes inside and out. I know the safe people and the unsafe people. I know how to gather support and make a safe place for myself if necessary. I am not afraid to stand my ground and fight. I deal with harassment at every event I go to, and in life in general so much that I don’t even register a lot of it. I talk about it a lot, and push for awareness of the issue. I’ve put vastly personal things out for public consumption.
And I was still on the verge of throwing up when I told the male allies, and ready, emotionally, for them to shrug and say “Fine, you’re out”. For many women, that fear is justified, and the results are far more severe and far-reaching than simply being ostracized.
We’ve made great strides in this industry in making a safer place for women. We still have *so far* to go. So be gentle, be considerate, listen. Ask if your female friend is okay. If someone stops showing up at events, ask if they need to talk about it. Be willing to take no for an answer, but also understand that you may be placed in a position of seeing someone close to you in a new, unpleasant light. Understand that it is seldom the obvious choice who is causing problems.
Understand that you may be asked to make a hard choice, but that many of us make this hard choice every time we go to an event. Understand that we may have been great friends with someone, once upon a time, but that things may have changed or soured so that we no longer feel safe with them.
Understand that it’s okay to be unsure and afraid. Ask how you can help. Be up front if you feel that you can’t help, or are unsure what to believe. Understand if someone doesn’t feel safe telling you–someone told my stalker that I had talked about him, and I had told very few people at that point–and be ready to back away and say “I don’t need to know the details, I am still your friend and will do whatever I can to help you feel safer.”
Don’t try to fix the problem, unless specifically asked. Don’t confront the person, or tell them that there’s a problem, unless specifically asked. Many abusers will express remorse or swear that they’ve changed, and then go double-down on their victim. Only approach them if specifically asked by the victim to act as an intermediary.
Be prepared for a violent fracturing of the community if the issue becomes public, or if actions are taken to remove the abuser from a space.
I’m pretty sure that the person referenced in this post will see this message. I am prepared for him to make good on his threats to expose me and my ‘enabling’ and ‘misleading’ ways. I am prepared for friends to defend him, if it becomes public.
And here’s the last point of this post: You do not deserve to be harassed. You do not need to subjugate your own happiness and comfort to allow someone else to continue abusing you. You deserve to be safe, and happy, and to participate in the things you love without fear.
As long as I am part of this community, and have any power whatsoever, I will continue pushing for this to be a reality, and for the community to become safe enough that abusers are not protected, and victims do not have to leave simply to find some safety.