Recently, I was talking with my DV friend about a betrayal that I had experienced.
“Wow. What a sleaze.” Was my friend’s comment about the person responsible for said betrayal.
“Wait… I thought it was important to separate people from behavior.” Was my rather snarky reply.
“Oh, I’m sorry. What a guy who engaged in sleazy behavior.”
“Hey, if I’m going to ask trauma survivors to do this, I kind of have to practice what I preach.”
In that moment, I was reminded how hard it is to focus on behavior when we have been wronged. Vilifying those who hurt us is deeply etched into our collective narrative. When people give words of comfort to the broken hearted, no matter how much training one has had in restorative justice and non violent communication, the first instinct is to call the offending party a jerk, a sleaze, an ass, and worse. And all of these things may very well be true, depending on the situation. Unfortunately, we cannot change a person’s intrinsic nature. We can only ask that they change their behavior, which is why I think it’s important to engage this concept.
I got a lot of really interesting and thought provoking responses to my last post about how individuals and communities are held accountable when an accusation of abuse is made. Most of the feedback I got came via Facebook and private comments. A number of people seem to struggle with the concept of separating people from their behaviors without letting them off the hook, which I think I get. As Sasha said in her comment,
By saying you want to keep a person around, you are on some level saying their behavior is acceptable. And that makes that behavior acceptable in other people and in that person again. Why would you want to create a system that allows for that more just because the person is human? Mr. Herzog may have thought the murderers were still human. But I bet he wouldn’t invite them to parties where his friends and loved ones were, wouldn’t have introduced those people and by having them present encourage a relationship.
Thing is, I don’t feel that the perpetrator should just be allowed to hang out and show up at party spaces or that the victim should ever be expected to forgive and/or forget. When we are talking about the context of the greater kink community, the prospect of running into a perpetrator in a sexualized space is an exceedingly frightening prospect. That’s not accountability. That’s giving someone a pass for bad behavior.
Going back to the Into The Abyss documentary, In his interview with one of the killers, Herzog says something to the effect of “I know you are a human being, and I don’t believe that you should be killed. But that doesn’t mean that I have to forgive you for what you’ve done. Or even like you.”
What if, instead of shunning, we said something like this to the perpetrator: “you are a person who is part of this community. However, what you did was unacceptable and has compromised the safety of our community. What can you do to own your behavior? What can you change so that you can remain in this community and have this community stay safe? Otherwise, we cannot allow you into these spaces or we will have to alert X authorities. Here is what we plan to do to hold you accountable.”
Because if we just ostracize someone, they will migrate to another community and make that community unsafe. Now, granted, if they refuse to be held accountable, they may migrate anyway. Nevertheless, I think it’s vital to do what we can to mitigate risk within and beyond the confines of our communities.
Just yesterday, actually, I went to brunch with a not DV friend, who described a situation where I think this distinction was made beautifully and effectively. He and his partner identify as kinky, and he had heard some very disturbing things from multiple sources about someone his partner had started playing with. Apparently, this play partner had developed a reputation for crossing boundaries. My friend conveyed this information to his partner, and basically told her that while he did not want to tell her who she could and couldn’t play with, he had heard some concerning things about this guy. He strongly encouraged her to come to her own conclusions about how she wished to proceed.
His partner, in turn, after taking time to evaluate and do some soul searching, ultimately decided to stop playing with this partner. Instead of flaming him or accusing him of one thing or another, she sent him an email where she laid out her concerns. She said that while he had never crossed any of her hard limits, there were moments where, in retrospect, her limits were pushed in ways that got very close to that line. I think she also explained in this email how and why his behavior might make him an unsafe person in the community, and if someone asked her about him, she would answer honestly and from her experience.
As far as I’m concerned, my friend and his partner handled that situation really well. They provided the play partner space to be held accountable and, at the same time, defended their own boundaries.
Now, I understand that this example exists on a very micro level. When we talk about local, national, and online communities, there are other complexities that need to be taken into account, which are dedicated posts in and of themselves.