There seems to be this pervasive idea in the scene that you can’t simultaneously support your friends and believe victims who have experienced abuse at the hands of your friends.
With all possible respect, I have to call bullshit on this kind of all-or-nothing, ultimatum, “pick sides” mentality, if for absolutely no other reason than that it vastly oversimplifies the nuances of interpersonal relationships.
I believe victims of abuse. I believe that coming forward is incredibly difficult, and that the vast majority of people who do so come forward and report with good faith the experiences that happen to them. I have been a part of situations in which people have reported experiences in bad faith and been a part of causing an immense amount of harm to an individual by believing the reporters. I still. believe. reporters. in. good. faith.
I also support my friends. We are friends for a reason, and something in them jives with something in me and we connect on some level that leads to mutual experiences and agreed-upon perspectives of life.
Here is what I don’t do: I don’t stand up and publicly defend friends, claiming they could never do X. I also don’t blindly accept everything people say as gospel truth.
Here’s the thing: I truly believe that every single person I know (myself included) has done something that caused harm: be it a violation of consent, emotional abuse, manipulation, and gaslighting, etc. I do not believe that anyone I know is immune from this. We are human. We are emotional and reactive. We miscommunicate. We fuck up.
I do my best to surround myself with people that I believe are willing to be held accountable to the harm they caused, people who are willing to hear that they have fucked up and are willing to make amends. “Supporting my friends” does not mean blind belief in their sainthood; it means, first, having friends that are willing to be held accountable and second, being willing to be a person that holds them accountable.
It means having discussions with them about harm caused. It means not alienating them, but being willing to be actively involved as they seek to do better without causing more harm.
There is a nuance in reporting that is often overlooked: the difference between subjective experience and objective truth. I believe, completely, that the experience you are reporting is your subjective reality. I do not believe you are lying, obfuscating, or intentionally misleading out of malicious intent. I believe the experience you are reporting is your experience, subjectively true, and how you perceive the situation.
Objective truth rarely, if ever, can be known. That requires some sort of agreement on intention and agreement on moral concepts of right and wrong, as well as some kind of omniscient third-party individual that can know all sides, know the context, and correctly determine motive and intention.
There are some things I think the scene as a whole can get behind: rape is wrong, a severe violation of consent, and when someone says, “I don’t want sex to be a part of this scene,” sex should not be a part of the scene in any form or manifestation. But when we get much further than that, we start in on huge debates about what constitutes consent, what power dynamics imply about a specific situation, what we define as “sexual,” etc. I, and others, have spoken at length about nuances of consent; that’s a topic for many other writings.
My role as a member of this community is to hear, listen, and believe victims when they come forth. My role is NOT to take subjective experience- on any side of a particular situation- and determine that is it objective truth: both from people coming forward and from my friends.
For example, I have seen situations where someone speaks of their abuse with an ex-partner. And I believe that experience to be valid, real, and true. Simultaneously, however, I have watched (and experienced) that same person manipulate and gaslight others, be incredibly emotionally abusive and passive-aggressive in public ways. Does this diminish their experience of abuse? Absolutely not. Does this provide some perspective for me in understanding and interpreting their experience and how I engage with other involved parties? Absolutely.
We filter experiences. And yes, when someone calls out a friend of ours, we want to believe that our friend wouldn’t do that thing, and we are searching for alternative perspectives because we are human, and we don’t want to believe that our judgement is so flawed that we allowed someone close to us that is capable of abuse.
Spoiler alert: every single person we know is capable of harm. And our role as friends is to hold them accountable for the harm they have caused. And our role as friends is to provide alternative perspectives so that the people harmed aren’t asked to perform the emotional labor of healing for their abusers. Our role as friends is NOT to assume our friend’s side, or assume that our friends are without fault. Our friends fuck up. Hold them accountable.
We want people to be held accountable. We want people willing to step up to help people understand and make amends for harmful behavior. We cannot request this while simultaneously asking people to abandon associations with people, or view continued friendship as de facto “siding with abusers.”
Sometimes, we maintain friendships longer than we should. Sometimes we are blind to the harm that our friends cause, and that realization can be a brutal one to reach. We have to evaluate the harm we have caused by enabling abusive and harmful behavior. But sometimes, we maintain friendships with people because we see the capacity to change in them, and we see them wanting to do better, and we want to support them in that process.
You can believe victims AND support your friends. The hard thing that I haven’t seen anyone say, so I’m going to say it, is that it doesn’t work if you do either of these things blindly. Hear and believe victims, but recognize that subjective experience is not the same thing as objective reality, and in the midst of trauma, we encode memory and experience differently. Support your friends, which doesn’t mean publicly defending them when someone says they have done something harmful, but talk to them, ask for their experiences, and point out the ways in which their behavior might have caused harm. Help them figure out how to do better next time.
We are human. None of us are perfect. We all have a side, a context, a perspective, a subjective reality. And we need to respect how difficult it is for someone to come forward with their experiences and cultivate the belief of good faith reporting. And we need to recognize that “support” can come in a lot of different forms: some helpful, healing, and positive; others destructive and unhelpful.
Support your friends through hearing them and holding them accountable. Support victims by believing their experiences are valid and reported in good faith. It doesn’t have to be either/or; I truly believe that most of the time, it can be both/and.