Harassment Isn’t Just About Individuals, It’s About Communities

CONTENT NOTE: This post will discuss harassment and will contain examples of victim-blaming and gaslighting language and behavior.

Last weekend, Lauren Faits, who runs the Geek Girl Chicago blog at ChicagoNow, went public with her experience of being harassed by local photographer Ron “Soulcrash” Ladao when they attended a con with the same group of friends as teenagers (the link to Lauren’s GGC entry comes with a Trigger Warning for descriptions of harassment, and be aware there are victim-blaming/gaslighting statements, as well as descriptions by others who’ve either experienced or witnessed problematic behavior by Ladao in the comment thread). Lauren’s post was prompted in part by C2E2’s assertion that due to Ladao’s problematic behavior, they would not associate with him professionally for any of their events. Organizations such as Uchicon, CosAwesome, and Chicago Nerd Social Club (CNSC) have since issued similar statements. (Full disclosure: I am a member of Chicago Nerd Social Club’s board of organizers.)

Ladao has since responded in a Facebook post that is publicly viewable but that is not, I will note, open to comments from someone he is not Facebook friends with (the post and comments also comes with a Trigger Warning for gaslighting and victim-blaming).

Full disclosure: Lauren is both a professional colleague who I deeply respect, as well as a good friend. But even if she wasn’t someone I knew, I would applaud her actions in naming Ladao, and speaking up about her experience. In doing so, she’s exposed a long-term missing stair in the local nerd community, one that I hope will finally be addressed, as others have shared similar stories of being discomfited by Ladao.

There are many good reasons why victims don’t talk about experiencing harassment until after the fact, often years. Mary Robinette Kowal has a thoughtful summation of the reasons victims often grapple with silence and speaking up. Lauren’s explanation for her reluctance to do so reflects similar dynamics (and again, please note that in her article, she explains that she did not, in fact, “stay silent” and tried sharing her concerns with various organizations, which until now had been ignored). And what I’ve seen since Lauren’t post went up show exactly why all those reasons for talking one’s self out of speaking out loudly (if at all) because you’re afraid of how people will react are absolutely valid.

More disturbing and infuriating than Ladao’s actions or his less-than-satisfactory “apology” (which reads more as an excuse than explanation) are the number of incredulous, accusatory, victim-blaming responses Lauren and her story have gotten since Saturday (and this is leaving out the outright abusive comments that get deleted):

  • “They were all underaged and it was just a stupid teenaged prank, get over it!”
  • “Why would she stay friends with him after he harassed her? I find that suspicious.”
  • “She’s a nobody just doing this for attention!”
  • “I know him and he’s never made me feel uncomfortable, she’s making it up.”
  • “She got these tiny details wrong, therefore she can’t be telling the truth.”
  • “NBD it’s just a dispute between two people creating internet drama.”

It’s not that I’m even surprised because this is what happens every time a missing stair in a community is exposed: victims are immediately blamed as lying troublemakers, harassers are excused and defended, and the incident is labeled with that oh-so-dismissive term, “drama.” As if being upset because you were violated while in an intimately vulnerable position and wanting some accountability for it, is “drama.” It’s easy to label an incident that was hurtful to others as “drama” when it doesn’t directly affect you, and not everyone has the luxury of getting to just look the other way because it’s more convenient. This sort of defaulting to everything from dismissal to outright aggression every time a victim shares their story is exactly why harassment continues to be a problem.

Understandably, no one likes to think that the person they’re friends with is capable of treating others horrifically. It’s painful and makes us feel guilty because shouldn’t we have known and been able to prevent it? It’s easier to separate people into simple binaries of “good person/bad person” with nary a shade in between. Doing so means we get to skirt acknowledging how people are complicated, and capable of wearing multiple different faces with multiple different people, and that we can be friends with someone who’s hurt others. As Lauren aptly put it:

Someone we know as a “good person” is absolutely capable of harassing others. It does not mean you’re a terrible person for not having seen it or known it happened. But it does no one any favors – not victims, not harassers, not their friends and communities – to ignore or explain away someone else’s problematic, hurtful, and harmful behavior.

This is why harassment and our understanding of it can’t be limited to dealing with individual harassers. The perspectives and entitlement that contribute to a person harassing others don’t exist or appear in a vacuum. This isn’t just about the actions of Ladao, or any number of people who have harassed or assaulted others (whether they’ve been named or not) — this is also about our communities and our actions, and the ways in which we can either create an atmosphere that enables problematic behavior, or make it clear that actions have consequences, and harassment will be neither tolerated nor excused. We currently live in a culture where the Overton Window has been set to frame victim-blaming as acceptable discourse, where it’s normal and expected for victims to be disbelieved, blamed, and further abused for what happened to them, rather questioning the actions of harassers and holding them responsible. This is why it’s been necessary for cons and other organizations create and implement anti-harassment policies: to communicate what kind of behavior communities will not tolerate, to signal to members that they will be treated with courtesy and consideration if they need help, and that people will be held accountable for their actions. This is why we need friends who will support us by both lending a sympathetic ear and calling us to account when we screw up (supporting your friend who has fucked up does not require dismissing or blaming your friend’s victim, by the way). This is why we need our communities to stop prioritizing the comfort of harassers and start prioritizing the safety of victims, so they will be more likely to call our attention to someone who has become a problem.

I praise Lauren for speaking out, but as Lauren and others have noted, she’s only been able to do so after processing this and learning to trust her instincts for over a decade, and because she has a dependable network of support to help her deal with the ugliness being thrown her way for calling out someone who also has a lot of pull and popularity in cosplay circles. For every Lauren Faits speaking up about being harassed, there are others who don’t have the capability or feel safe enough to do so. When you wonder why victims don’t speak up in greater numbers and immediately following being harassed, the negative, often threatening, reactions that inevitably follow, coupled with the reluctance of people in your social circles and community to address the issue, are a large reason why. Every insinuation, accusation, and threat that’s hurled at victims for speaking their truth is another weight holding back other victims from standing up and being heard, and another support beam in the platform protecting harassers from consequences and further enabling their actions. We cannot blame victims for saying nothing when our communities make it clear we won’t hear what they have to say and will punish them besides for speaking. We can’t be surprised when problematic people become serial harassers because we’ve done nothing to stop them.

This is why the swift and decisive actions of events and organizations like C2E2, CosAwesome, Uchicon, CNSC, and others in saying they will have no professional association with Ladao, as well as the visible, vocal support Lauren and other victims have gotten, is important. They’re setting the standards they expect their communities to abide by, which helps to slowly pull the Overton Window away from a framework in which harassment is excused to one in which it is not. This is what it looks like when communities take action to create spaces where those who are most vulnerable know they’ll be believed and taken care of. This is what it means to demonstrate that actions have consequences. Because the bottom line is that we can’t expect people who’ve harassed others and engaged in problematic behavior to have any reason to stop unless we give them one. In Ladao’s case, I hope for his sake that he has people around him who will be true friends and help him understand why what he did and how he’s acted since then have been upsetting to so many, and why it’s costing him professional and social connections. I hope this is the case for anyone who’s harassed another person. Whether it’s because there are bad habits that have become ingrained through permissiveness, or because someone just doesn’t care about how their actions affect others, how we react when someone in our communities and social circles hurts others determines whether or not we’ll allow that person to become another missing stair. And there are only so many stairs we can step over before that staircase becomes insurmountable.

We owe it to people like Lauren, and the many who suffer in silence, to hold ourselves, our communities, and each other to higher standards. Harassment will continue to be a common problem in our communities until we do.

UPDATE 02/09/2016 2:06PM: Annalee over at The Bias just published a rather relevant piece taking apart the dynamics of “Why didn’t you try to talk to this person privately instead of creating public drama?” responses to public callouts, and how these responses enforce uneven power dynamics that continue to center issues on the comfort of harassers, rather than those who they’ve injured. I highly recommend reading the whole thing and bookmarking for future use.

NOTE: The banhammer is on standby. Any victim-blaming, gaslighting, abuse, attempts to recenter the conversation about the comfort of harassers over the safety of victims, or similar fuckery will get tossed in the trash, where it belongs. 

UPDATE 3/25/2016: Because I’ve been asked, yes, I’ve seen the video Ladao posted that he claims “proves he’s innocent.” No, I’m not posting a link to it, and no, I don’t think it proves anything of the sort, and in fact indicates a disturbing lack of awareness about what it means to respect boundaries and how easily a “joke” can in fact be harmful (not to mention the disgusting lack of empathy in posting video of a moment someone has said was traumatic for them, a video that will trigger a fresh wave of abuse toward the person who called him out). If anything, it demonstrates the fact that time and trauma affect one’s memories of details, the impossible standards to which we demand victims remember things in order to be “believable,” and the ugliness that follows when victims and survivors don’t meet those narrowly proscribed, arbitrary standards. Instead, I ask that you read this excellent piece about how the passage of time and trauma affect our memories, and how deeply unfair, harmful, and disturbing our expectations of harassment and assault survivors are in order to even empathize with them.

I have no intention of allowing this discussion to turn into a tear down of victims’ and survivors’ believability or character. Comments are closed permanently.

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