Ten Suggestions For People Called Out For Abusive Behaviour

1. Be Honest, Stay Honest, Get Honest

If you know that you hurt the person calling you out for abuse, acknowledge it. If you think its a possibility that you might have hurt them let them know. If you have any inkling that some way that you interacted with them might have compromised their dignity and boundaries let them know. The first step to dealing with our abusive tendencies is getting out of denial. Denial is like an infection. It starts in some locality (specific instances and situations, nitpicking at certain parts of an account of the situation[s]), and if untreated festers and eventually consumes us entirely. When we are able to vocalize that we are aware that something isn’t quite right with our behaviour it brings us a step closer to dealing with it in a meaningful and honest way.

2. Respect Survivor Autonomy

Survivor autonomy means that the survivor of abuse, and the survivor of abuse alone calls the shots concerning how abusive behaviour is dealt with. This means s/he calls the shots and you live with her/his decisions. You don’t get to determine how or even if a mediation/confrontation happens, or initiate action towards a resolution. You get to make it explicitly clear that you respect their autonomy in the situation, and that you’re willing to work towards a resolution. They may prefer to never be in the same space with you again and don’t wish to speak with you. It is not their responsibility, nor their duty, to attempt for resolution or enter into dialogue with you or take any specific course of action for that matter However it is your responsibility, as someone being called out, to respect their needs and desires.

3.Learn To Listen

It is imperative that you open your ears and your heart to the person calling you out. This will likely be difficult, because people tend to get defensive and closed when they are accused of wrongdoing. Very few people in this world want to be pegged as the "bad apple of the “bunch” To listen you will need to keep your defensive and knee jerk reactionary tendencies in check. These suggestions could be very helpful to you: A) Let the person calling you out direct the dialogue. If they want you to answer questions do so, but otherwise let them have the floor. B) Be aware when you’re formulating responses and counterpoints in your head while they’re expressing their account of the situation(s), and attempt to stop doing so. C) Focus on their account of things, and save going over in your head how you remember things until after they have spoken. D) Reflect upon the entirety of what they expressed and not just the disparities between your and their account of events. E) Talk with your friends about how you can better listen before you enter a mediation/confrontation.

4.Practice Patience

Sometimes things take time to be resolved. Sometimes it takes months, years, decades for a resolution, and sometimes there is no clear cut resolution. However, there is no timeline for resolution when human dignity is at stake. Be patient and never attempt to force a resolution. a process, or a dialogue. You may ask for a dialogue or a mediation, but if the answer is no it is no until s/he says it is yes. Don’t attempt to wear down the boundaries of the person calling you out by asking for dialogue or mediation over and over again. Stay put, reflect, and think about the power dynamics in your relations with others.

5.Never, Ever, Blame The Victim

S/he did not ask for violence or abuse. S/he did not ask for it in how s/he dressed. S/he didn’t ask for it, because s/he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. S/he didn’t ask for it, because s/he is a sex worker. S/he didn’t ask for it because she chose to make out with you or because s/he went back to your place or because s/he is known to be into s/m or because she is a “tease” or because she is a “slut”. S/he did not ask for it in anyway. It is not acceptable to write off his/her responses to your behaviour, because she is “hypersensitive” to your’ threatening of abusive behaviour. It is not acceptable to say that s/he is “exaggerating” the abuse, because s/he is a feminist/queer liberationist/activist/punk/youth/“a PC thug”/etc. It is not acceptable to say that s/he is making it up, because s/he has a history of abuse or any other such nonsense. Making excuses for why someone is to blame for your hurtful actions are a way for you to avoid taking responsibility for your’ fucked up behaviour. They expose you as a coward.

6.Speak For Yourself

You can account for your experience and your experience and yourexperience alone. Don’t ever assume that you can know how the personcalling you out as an abuser experienced the situation(s). People walkdown the same streets everyday and have very different experiences.This is a simple fact of life. It is, also, a very differentexperience to have the winds of privilege blowing against your backthan to have the winds of oppression blowing in your face as you walkdown those same streets. You cannot know how someone else felt at acertain moment, and so you should never presume that you have theright to judge the validity of their feelings. If they have expressedhow they feel, then what you need to do, first and foremost, is tolisten. It is important that you actively seek to understand theirsfeelings. If you find that you simply cannot understand their feelingsno matter how sincerely you try it is still not your place to judgethe validity of them.

7. Don’t Engage In Silence Behaviour

By telling your “side of the story” you could be creating anatmosphere that silences people who have been abused. If you feel thattheir are major discrepancies between your account of the situation(s)and their account, and that you are being “falsely accused” take adeep breath. First you need to know that you can never stop sincerelyinvestigating the yourself and questioning how your behaviour affectsothers ..the case is never closed. With time you might come to realizethat, yes, in fact your behaviour was abusive. It is yourresponsibility to continuously challenge your notions about how yourbehaviours effect others, and to challenge your understandings of howyou hold power over others in your relationships. Read books, enterinto recovery programs for batterer’/sexual assailants, seek out atherapist, and discover your own ways of challenging yourself and yourconceptions of how your behaviour effects others.

Understand that if you attempt to silence the person(s) by promotingyour account of things as “the truth” you will silence others as well.People will fear coming forward with their stories and fearconfronting abuse, because of YOUR silencing behaviour. If you arecommitted to creating a world where people speak freely about thewrongs done to them you will want to avoid focusing on how theaccusers are “lying” about you, and you will want to avoid airing yourpresumptions and theories as to their “motives”. One example off thetop of my head is how one particular rapist/sexual assailant passedout a list of 40 points of contention at a punk show to refute thestories of three women calling him out. The flyer went on and on aboutthe disparities between these women’s stories and the “truth”. This isone blatant example of silencing behaviour, but it can act in far moresubtle ways.

Silencing behaviour is ANY behaviour which attempts to make thesurvivor of abuse out to the perpetrator of misinformation. It is anybehaviour which attempts to make the abuser out to be the victim. Itvery quickly puts into question the character of the person callingout an abuser. Often it leads to a backlash against them both explicit(threats, harassment, violence) and implicit (endless questioning, nonsupportive behaviour i.e. “I don’t want to get involved in this” or"I’m hearing a lot of different stories"). Silencing behaviour createsan atmosphere where people fear and don’t call out their abusers, andtherefore an atmosphere where abuse flourishes.

However, this does not mean that you should not speak of how youexperienced the situation(s) differently from the other person(s)calling you out. It simply means that it is your responsibility to doso in a way that is respectful and that does not help to foster anatmosphere of silence around abuse. You may need to relate yourexperiences to those with which you have close friendships/workingrelationships and to those that approach you, but as I said abovespeak for yourself. Do not intersperse their account with yours toillustrate the inconsistencies that you perceive. Do not relate theperson(s) stories for them. Do not go on and on about how they shouldhave called you out in a different manner. Do not talk about theirshortcomings in the relationship/ friendship. Do not cast yourself inthe role of the victim of a “witch hunt” or “cointelpro”. Do notassert that they are lying, and if your account differs from theirsmake it clear that this is how you and only you account for yourexperiences(s) of the situation(s). Let what you say be limitedexclusively to your recollection. If you feel the need to vent find agood person to vent to whose outside of your immediate socialscene/community (if you look hard enough you might find a therapistwilling to work with you on a sliding scale basis, preferably find onewith a radical/feminist analysis) or someone outside thescene/community altogether (who you know for sure has not been avictim of abuse). If you honestly believe you are being falselyaccused your character will have to speak for yourself rather then youspeaking for your character.

8. Don’t Hide Behind Your Friends

Often the people most vocal in defending abusers are not the abusersthemselves, but their friends, comrades, and lovers. “But s/he’sreally a good person/activist/artist” or “S/he contributed so much tothe community/scene” or “The person I know would never do somethinglike that” are some common defensive reactions among many. If you feelthat people are trying to insulate you from your problems or fromquestioning your actions….let them know that it isn’t acceptable.You need to hear the criticisms and anger of the survivor(s) and theirallies. As well you need to stop others from engaging in silencingbehaviour. Let them know that if they truly care about you thatinstead of defending your character and reacting to the accusationsthey need to help you examine yourself and figure out ways oftransforming dominating behaviours.

9.Respond To The Wishes of The Survivor and The Wishes Of The Community

Taking responsibility for our harmful actions is an integral part ofthe healing process. You will need to respond to the wishes of thesurvivor and the community not just for their healing, but yours aswell. If s/he or they wish that you be suspended from certainprojects/activities or that you engage in a batterers/assailantsprogram or that you do book reports on books about ending rape andabuse or if they want you to do anything within the realm ofpossibility don’t argue with them….give them what they ask for. Youneed to show the survivor and the community that you are acting ingood faith and that you are ready to deal with your problems of abuseor at the very least that you are willing to sincerely investigate thepossibility that you engaged in abusive behaviour. You need to showthe survivor and the community that you respect their autonomy andtheir ability to make decisions that meet their needs and desires forsafety, healing, and ending oppression. Again if you want to live in aworld free of abuse,rape, and oppression you will support survivorautonomy and community self-determination even if you feel you arebeing “falsely accused”. . Do not engage in the silencing behaviour ofattacking the demands and process of the survivor(s) or the community.This is what abusers and their supporters typically do to create asmokescreen of issues to take the heat off of themselves.

10.Take Responsibility….Stop Abuse and Rape Before It Starts.

It takes a lot of courage and self-knowledge to admit that you’ve hurtsomeone, that you compromised their dignity and self worth, or thatyou used power over someone in the worst ways. It takes a lot ofsincerity to make an apology without expecting to be applauded orthanked for it. However, this is what it will take to start overcomingour abusive tendencies. To know that you have wronged someone and todo otherwise is to perpetuate the hierarchy. It is to be more thansimply complicit within it, but to actively support it. It will takehonesty, diligent self investigation, and compassion to start toovercome our abusive tendencies. Once your able to admit that you havea problem with (sometimes or always) abusing people you can begin tolearn how and why you do it. You can learn early warning signs thatyou’re slipping back into old patterns, and you’ll be better able tocheck yourself. My life has been a life of unlearning such patterns ofabuse, of learning to reject the roles of both the abuser and theabused, and it is far from over. Bad habits are easily taken up again,and many times it is easy to assume that we are not wielding powerover someone. We must persistently question this assumption just as wewould demand that any assumption be questioned, lest it become dogma.
It is crucial that we learn to ask for consent from our sexualpartners. It is crucial that we learn to recognize aggressive andpassive aggressive abuse in its various emotional, economic, physical,and sexual manifestations, and that we stop it before it escalates tomore severe and harmful levels. We need to call it out when we areaware of it in other people, as well as ourselves This process is aprocess of overcoming of oppression, of rejecting the roles ofoppressor and oppressed. It is a path that leads to freedom, and apath that is formed by walking. Will you take the first step?