Keeping my chin up?
July 19, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I’m going to be working with the (presumably unaware) friend of someone who sexually assaulted me in the past, and the perpetrator also has personal information on me that I’d rather not be made public. How should I interact with the friend personally and professionally?

A few years ago I was sexually assaulted in a date rape fashion by a co-worker (call him B) who no longer works where I work. I did not report this person or tell anyone besides my closest friends as B had left the company and whatever was going on between us ended badly and I just wanted to put it behind me and move on. Unfortunately, what complicates things is that I told B some extremely personal information that could put me at risk personally and professionally if it got out, and as I am not in touch with B at all and do not know what B is capable of, I did not pursue any reports or charges as I do not know what kind of retribution I could face at B’s hands. It has been several years and I assume B does not think on what he did or about me at all, which is more or less ok with me.

However, I work in a small field with a high turnover so it was only a matter of time before I would work with someone acquainted with B. A person that B mentioned as a goodish friend, C, has been hired by my company. I doubt C knows about mine and B’s history but doubtlessly it will come to light that B and I at least knew each other. I have no reason to think C is devious or plans in any way to be an informer, but I can’t help but worry that B’s name is going to come up and I’m going to have to say something about him.

My feeling is that my tone should be indifferent in my responses, not even mentioning that I have any thoughts one way or the other on B, as it’s possible anything I say could get back to B and he still has the leverage of knowing my secret. While I know that the less I say about it the better, a small, vindictive part of me wants to make it clear that I do not think highly of B. I also know that the longer C works with us, the more difficult I will find it to maintain light indifference, even in facial expressions or attitudes, when B comes up as I am already triggered quite often without the help of another person who knows him being around.

C and I will be spending many hours together and it is expected in my line of work that friendships form readily through work. I do not want to avoid socializing with my other co-workers in groups that include C as that would be an awkward change of behavior for me, but I know C will remind me of B on a daily basis. Our HR department is laughable and asking not to work with C is not an option.

I can parse out the excruciating details of this story if needed to get a better understanding if it helps towards a solution. Throwaway email:

Thank you in advance for your advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What an unpleasant situation! I'd think that, if B's name comes up, you could simply say, "Yes, B and I worked together" and leave it at that. If C pushes you further on your relationship with B, or perhaps has heard that you two dated, you could politely say, "Things didn't end on the best of terms, so I'd rather not talk about it." With a respectful colleague (or, if necessary, persistence on your part), that should be a pretty effective wall, and it explains without any details or allegations why you don't have the most positive feelings about B.
posted by maxim0512 at 12:18 PM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

Aw, man. I'm sorry... this seems like a pretty icky situation. If you don't mind me asking: can B. PROVE the allegation about you? Because if there's anything suckier than being afraid that your deep-dark-secret will get out, it's gotta be being afraid that the scumbag who date-raped you will be the one to let it out. Living in fear of that seems to be more anxiety-provoking than working with C. (to whom I'd just be totally cool and professional).
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

First: This is awful, I'm sorry you have to deal with it.

Second: Given the circumstances and your desires for how this should play out, I'd say the best thing would be to discuss B as little as possible.

Don't bring him up in conversation yourself, and if your new coworker brings him up, just sort of nod. If you're asked questions about him - your opinion of him or whatever - say something like this: "Yeah, we used to work together. I haven't talked to him in, what, a couple years." If asked why you didn't mention him before, try: "I don't know, like I say, we haven't talked in a couple years, you know?"

Basically, completely value-neutral.

If C knows anything at all (namely that you had whatever relationship you might have had with the guy), the way it will look to his outside perspective will likely be that things ended badly between you and B and you've both moved on. Unless C is a total asshole, he'll probably handle that with the usual amount of coworker tact. The trick is to avoid acting like B is a painful memory, and treat him like a total non-issue.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

Given that this was a few years back, are you even sure they are still friends? If not, if B comes up in conversation, you might be able to let them know you parted on less than amicable terms with B, you arn't interested in dishing the dirt and leave at that for now. If genuine friendship blossoms, then decide if you want to give them the gist of it. People who commit bad acts against one person sometimes acquire a long list of enemies. And the most bitter enemies tend to be people who once called you "friend" before getting run roughshod over.

So unless you are leaving something out, start by taking a deep breath and making no assumptions. Then try to observe this person and conclude if they seem to still be friends with B, preferably without asking. If you are both on poor terms with B, you may both be trying to figure out how to avoid trouble. I don't think you can really know what to do without first determining the current status of their relationship. There is a saying: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If C brings up B, do as others have suggested and be as casual as possible about it.

As for B possibly letting loose some potentially damaging info, if C even hints about it, deny everything.

"What? No, that never happend."

Most of the time the stuff we think will destroy us, in time is just embarrassing.

You know what frosts me. You're worried about what C thinks of you, and B is the one who should be worried about being in jail.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

While totally understandable, I don't think you have any reason to worry. The odds are that C is not a psychotic asshole of tremendous size.

He may bring up B once or twice, in an effort to make casual/friendly conversation. You can indicate this is not a topic you'd like to discuss. "Yeah, B... we had a bit of a falling out." "We dated briefly but aren't in touch, you know how it is..." Something like this should be necessary maybe twice, after that anyone with moderate social skills will not bring him up again.

There is no reason to believe 'C' knows what 'B' knows. And even if he did, there is no reason for 'C' to pursue any sort campaign against you. Even if he did pursue a campaign against you it's hard to imagine how it could do anything but make him look bad. Think about it like a probability tree, at every step the likelihood of the path leading to trouble for you is the less likely one.

Once you work with 'C' for awhile, hopefully you will come to think of him as 'C' not as 'B's friend C' and working with him won't bother you at all.
posted by pseudonick at 2:27 PM on July 19, 2012

If B has information that you think could destroy you professionally, I think it's worth a couple hundred bucks to sit down for two hours with an employment lawyer and lay out your story to him or her, including the date rape, the small industry, the dire secret, and see what the lawyer says -- especially if HR is a joke. The lawyer can help you protect yourself, and understand how serious your "extremely personal information" is in terms of employment. There may be proactive steps you can take now; reactive steps you can be prepared to take if something happens; or a lawyer may reassure you that it would be embarrassing but not really a big deal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:27 PM on July 19, 2012 [22 favorites]

Do you have a fairly uncommon name, so that you could simply say "Who? I don't know who that is", or would there not be plausible deniability?

And yes, the employment lawyer. Totally worth it.
posted by davejay at 3:37 PM on July 19, 2012

er, fairly common, I mean.
posted by davejay at 3:37 PM on July 19, 2012

The best thing is not to talk about B. Definitely don't bring him up first. If he does come up, then you deal with it by skating past it as casually, vaguely, and noncommittally as possible. "Oh, yeah, we dated once. That was so long ago, though. Weird times!"

I understand what you're going through. I've had to think about this sort of thing myself, as I now work with someone who was my and my ex's coworker at a former job. This person may be friends with my ex, at least on Facebook; my ex blocked me on there, so I can't really know. And if pressed, I suppose my ex could feasibly mention some sort of weird details about things past, as any ex could to varying degrees. So I get it. And in my case, I've chosen not to open that can of worms. I like to assume the professional thing, namely that my ex has moved on with his life, I've moved on with mine, and this is not something that needs to be talked about with coworkers.

Now, of course I've wondered about my coworker's thoughts on that relationship and various occurrences surrounding it, given that they're one of the few people in my daily life who were around at that time. But there's just too much downside potential in any possible conversation I might have about this with them. I like my coworker, we're friendly (like yours, our office is a highly friendly and collaborative one), and curiosity is not reason enough to bring ex weirdness into the mix. I have self-control.

I suggest that you exercise yours as well and keep it professional, despite any curiosity you might have about what would happen if you gave free rein to that vindictive part of you. It's just not worth getting into.
posted by limeonaire at 7:20 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also think it it is possible that C is no longer friends with a date raper B.

Good people catch on to shitty folks quickly enough. Likely B was glomming onto C's good reputation when claiming True Friendship with C.


I think you are safe here!
posted by jbenben at 12:29 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find it disconcerting that people are talking about this a bit like B is your ex that you broke up with because he left his socks on the floor once too often, and you're scared to rile him because he may or may not still have pictures of you in the shower. I don't think anyone actually has that attitude, or intends to trivialize your concerns, but a lot of these answers seem like underreactions to me.

The story you tell is much more serious than that. What happened was, B committed a serious violent crime against you, and you either were or felt unable to take legal action because he has... equally incriminating information about you? Did you commit a crime, or a firing offense such as plagiarism?

Even if the information B has on you is not that serious, I get why you're concerned - rape is known to be a difficult crime to prosecute, and you've established that he is better at breaking the social contract than you are, and (as far as you know) better at looking good doing so. Therefore, I think your perception that B might be able to harm you is based in reality.

But that doesn't mean that keeping quiet about what has somehow become your, and only your, guilty secret is the only safe or right response. It might be a safe or right response, maybe even the best option in your circumstances. But going straight to that choice without examining ways you could possibly stand up to B, even if you rule them out for the time being... is too much like asking you to bend over for it.

Maybe sit and think for a while about what would happen, what would actually happen if you took this secret information that B has about you, and told the people that you are trying to hide it from. What is the worst that could happen? That's not a rhetorical question, I'm asking you to think about the worst possible consequence to you of B divulging this information. Likewise, the worst possible consequence to B of your divulging that he raped you would be that he is tried and convicted of rape and serves jail time for it. AFAIK it's very unlikely that that would happen, but theoretically, that's the worst that could happen to him, so please think carefully and realistically about the worst possible consequence to you of others learning what you did.

Of course, another possible consequence of this getting out is that you would then be in a position where you'd end up telling people that B raped you, and we all know what happens to rape victims in the court of public opinion. So I am not saying any of this lightly or frivolously. I'm sure that you have thought about all this and I don't mean to imply that you haven't. I'm just saying it's time to reevaluate this, even if you arrive at the same conclusion at the end of it.

But what I think is really good advice is what Eyebrows McGee said about talking to an employment lawyer. It is very important that you make sure you do frame it as a legal matter, not just an interpersonal issue. The lawyer might give you the same advice as MeFi has, but at least you'll have turned over that stone.

I would also suggest calling a rape crisis center and asking them what your options are. If anybody can size up the reality of the situation, it's them. Then you'll have turned over another stone.

But finally, I have to leave you with what jbenben said. Very often people who seem to have good reputations, actually have two reputations, and it's only after you defriend the Bs of this world that the second group - the group of people with whom B has a bad reputation - come out of the woodwork. And yes, Bs do go to a lot of trouble to associate themselves with people who have good reputations, so it's possible C doesn't like B as much as you think.
posted by tel3path at 2:35 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Could you pretend you don't exactly remember him? "Name rings a bell, can't place the face" kind of response.
posted by taff at 6:05 AM on July 20, 2012

Regarding tel3path's very very good comment...

In NO WAY do I want my comment to seem like I am diminishing B's action or your pain. No.

But do I want to diminish any paranoia you have about socializing with C? ABSOLUTELY.

I doubt C and B are actually good friends. For real. I even very much doubt they ever were true friends.

I interpreted your question very strictly as, "Is my secret private tragedy still private, and can it remain private?"

My overwhelming feeling here is: YES.
posted by jbenben at 1:25 AM on July 21, 2012

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