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I'm tired of being called an abuse apologist by people who are literally stalking their exes
I’m fed up. I’m exhausted. I am tired of tiptoeing around this topic, choosing my words extremely carefully, and treating it like it’s this very delicate thing. I get that it’s a loaded topic. I get that the stakes are high. But, it can’t be something we aren’t allowed to talk about with any specificity or detail. It can’t be something we remain forever vague and general about, while leveraging huge social power to dominate and control people in the name of ‘safety.’
I’m talking about abuse. Interpersonal abuse. Or, as they used to call it, domestic violence.
Very often, cancel culture (a social phenomenon in which accused people are marked, dehumanized, harassed, and driven from community, and everyone who chooses to remain in their life receives similar consequences), is justified in the name of survivors. If we take abuse seriously we must believe in ‘accountability’ which is really just a nice way to say cancel culture.
‘Accountability’ like ‘abuse’ is never really defined. It’s vague and nebulous and stands in for concepts like prevention, intervention, repair, and justice. In practice this just means that the accused person has to do whatever they are told and give up any claim to personal autonomy. This situation of total domination in which to be ‘accountable’ means to submit is obviously an abusive situation that can be and is used in all sorts of fucked up ways. But to suggest that this use of power be looked at critically or questioned in any way is framed as ‘abuse apologism.’
The abuse being referred to here, like the ‘accountability’ addressing it, is vague and nebulous. You’re not allowed to ask questions about it or look at it directly. Asks for details or clarity are framed as ‘not believing the survivor’, which in itself is defined as abuse apologism. So we are left with a situation where anyone can claim to be abused, be totally unspecific about what they mean by that, and the accused person is then labelled an ‘abuser’, which often morphs easily on the internet grapevine into ‘predator’ or ‘rapist’, while no actual accusation has been made.
And look — I get it. Unlike many of the people repeating over and over that survivors are not believed I have been on the stand, interrogated by a defence attorney who said all sorts of insulting and insane things to me, who asked me very specific questions like what I was wearing, who suggested that I was lying to get back at my ex, in front of a jury who did find my ex not guilty. Unlike many of the people calling me an abuse apologist for wanting clear and straightforward ways to talk about abuse and an opportunity for the accused to defend themselves, I was regularly sexually assaulted by a family member when I was a child and had the people in my family yell at me for acting like anything wrong was taking place.
I know, in the most intimate ways it can be known, that abuse is very often dismissed and survivors are very often not believed. I know, more intimately than I care to know, the visceral experience of powerlessness when you are being abused and dominated and everyone around you is acting like it’s fine.
It is precisely because I know these things that I insist we talk about abuse with clarity and specificity and that we question any system or culture that grants people the power to dominate and control other people. If we take abuse seriously and we admit that it’s common, then how on earth do we assume that a system of total domination and social exile with no questions asked will not be used by those who want to dominate and control someone, especially, for example, an ex partner who is moving on with their life.
It is cited as a sacred article of faith that people don’t lie about abuse, referencing some study never named that found that only two percent of rape accusations (presumably made to the police) are false. But this statistic is not talking about a time period in which the word ‘abuse’ has been totally hollowed out and stripped of any specific meaning, and it is not talking about a context in which accusations are made to the internet, not the police.
I have written about it before, but it is worth repeating that it is very possible to feel so bad that you don’t feel like you’re lying when you say you were abused. And if you live in a culture that encourages and rewards identifying with victimization, that teaches you that your partner must meet all your needs and make you feel good and if they can’t or don’t or don’t want to anymore they are ‘toxic’ at best or even ‘emotionally abusive’, then it’s easy to see why so many people are calling their exes abusive without actually alleging anything that constitutes abuse.
Whenever I talk about abuse being something specific (behaviour that is physically or sexually violent, dominating, controlling, degrading, humiliating, or violating) people always say “What about emotional abuse?” And I have to ask these people to be more specific, and many of them get angry that I ask them to be more specific. Not all abuse is physical, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that anything that hurts you or doesn’t meet your needs is abuse. When my ex partner told me I’m a disgusting slut who no one will ever love, that’s emotional abuse. When my ex partner stole my keys and my phone, that’s emotional abuse. When my ex partner insisted I keep the house spotless and exploded at me when I didn’t, that’s emotional abuse. But I had another partner at another time in my life who I was very unhappy with, who scrolled their phone while we were at dinner and flirted with other people online when we were monogamous and largely left me feeling sad and unwanted, and that, as much as it sucks, is not emotional abuse or abuse of any kind.
I am tired of tiptoeing around this and so I’m just going to come out and say it: the conversation on abuse prevention and supporting survivors is being dominated by people who are not survivors because the situations they are alluding to are not abusive. I have read entire ‘call outs’ that loudly proclaim a person is an ‘abuser’ who must be outed for community ‘safety’ and then go on to list things which are clearly conflicts, mismatched needs, and hurt feelings. I have watched people be humiliated, slandered, isolated, controlled, and robbed of everything meaningful in their life when what they are being accused of is not abuse, and what is happening to them is.
Because the term ‘abuse’ has become meaningless, and because you are not allowed to ask questions about ‘accountability’, no one stops to ask if the battle cry of the pro cancel culture people (that ‘accountability’ spectacles are necessary tools to end abuse) makes any sense at all. If a person is ritually humiliated on the internet, robbed of their community, their passions, their job prospects, their hope for the future, if they submit to the demands or simply try to get away from their accusers, if they endure all this and don’t do anything threatening or dangerous — can we say they are dangerous? Does it make sense to say that what we are doing is for ‘community safety’ when the target isn’t even acting in any kind of threatening way?
Because I’ll tell you what, my ex partner broke into my house, he physically assaulted me, he put my body through a wall: If I had made a website ‘calling him out’ as an abuser — it’s very likely he would have killed me. Because he is actually dangerous, and dangerous people do dangerous things when people try to humiliate, dominate, and control them.
No domestic violence agency would ever suggest to a survivor that she put her abuser on blast on the internet and that doing so would create ‘safety’. The idea is laughable. And the fact that these people keep insisting that call outs are to create safety clearly shows that they aren’t actually talking about dangerous situations.
I am tired. I am tired of being called an ‘abuse apologist’ when I am a survivor and I have no illusions about what abuse is and how it works. I am especially tired of being spoken over about ‘safety’ and ‘believing survivors’ by people who are not survivors, who are appropriating the trauma of survivors and the seriousness of what we have lived to justify their own transparently abusive behaviour.
You’re not a survivor because your ex partner was emotionally distant or didn’t want the same things as you. You are not justified in controlling your ex partner and trying to prevent them from dating other people in the name of ‘safety’. And — you can’t take the very real trauma of abuse and the very real struggle for survivor’s safety and twist it to your own ends. It’s insulting and it’s fucking wrong.
The work of creating a culture with less abuse, of supporting survivors in escaping abuse and recovering from trauma, of building skills for intervening on and deescalating violence in real time, of helping people who have been abusive transform their behaviours, all of this work has a long way to go. We actually do need to be doing so much more for survivors and so much more to end abuse. But this work has been massively derailed by cancel culture. Now we have an abusive culture which is literally creating a new type of stalking and domestic violence masquerading as the movement to support survivors and end abuse.
Specific situations require specific responses. If we want to transform abuse we need to be clear on what we talking about so we can address it in a specific and appropriate way. A situation of physical abuse and stalking requires a different response from a situation where someone is not practicing good consent skills which requires a different response from a situation where a couple is just unhappy and should probably break up. And I have a lot to say on that. I would love for us to be having robust, complex conversations on how we, as a society and in our communities, can do more to end abuse. If only people could have those conversations instead of simply insisting on a state of permanent submission and exile for the accused.
If only we could talk clearly, specifically, honestly, and sincerely about abuse without being called abuse apologists.
Here come the accusations. Let’s go.
Here are some new things: