How can (or should) I stop a bad guy?
April 24, 2013 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I dated someone who harmed me. What can, or should, I do to prevent him from hurting others the same way?

There is something I'm really torn up about and I'm hoping someone can give me advice.

I had a boyfriend. We're part of a close-knit social group. He's a womanizer who has hurt about a dozen women in the past 3 years. One woman went to a mental hospital and left the state. Another called him a dangerous sociopath, warned people, and no longer speaks with him. One almost lost her job because of his abuse, and at times felt suicidal. He has moved onto someone new, and while their relationship seems stable-ish for now, if history is any indication, he will harm her too.

I have been losing sleep because he just got a leadership position in our community, running a 40 person camp at a festival we all go to. He is going to have access to more people and more legitimacy in our community because of this.

I know for a fact that this person is dangerous. It's been a long time since he and I dated, and I still randomly burst into tears because he put me through such hell. I'm still having nightmares about what he did to me, and I'm consumed by thoughts of who else he might hurt. I know that some other people are still suffering too.

I feel very compelled to say or do something, but I don't know what. We have a group mailing list that I could write to anonymously, but I don't know if I should or what I should say. I could send this new woman a note, but I also don't know what to say. On one hand, I know that there is a general practice of not meddling. On the other hand, if this guy harmed more people like he harmed me, and someone committed suicide, I don't think I could forgive myself. I look at the bad shape I'm in one year after meeting him. Then I think that he might inflict this on even more people, and it makes me want to do whatever I can to stop it from happening. I don't want more people to suffer because of this one psycho.

I am torn up about this. I'm really trying to wrap my head around what is the right course of action. I know it is best for MY healing to just move on. But, I also don't want to feel like I should have stepped in somehow but I didn't.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Suppose you warn his new S/O about him, and she breaks up with him as a result. After her, when he starts dating somebody new, what are you going to do? Warn that person too? If so, how many times do you think you will manage to break him up with people before he begins targeting you in retaliation? Your intentions are good (I hope), but it's just not a sustainable model.

If he did something illegal to you, report it to the police. Otherwise, staying out of it might be best.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:50 AM on April 24, 2013 [25 favorites]

n-thing therapy. You are an abuse survivor.

For what it is worth, my ex also had an abusive ex that harmed her.

She and I told our close friends what had happened, and left it up to them to decide who else might benefit from knowing.

These things get around in a community. People with a bad reputation stop getting invited to things.

This is a perfectly normal and okay thing to talk to your friends about, over coffee.
posted by edguardo at 8:51 AM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

If this individual did something illegal, he should be reported to the police, and the others that you state he "hurt" should also report him for any illegal actions.

Otherwise, if what he did was not illegal in some manner, I would suggest removing yourself from the social circles and activities he is involved in and moving on with your life.
posted by HuronBob at 8:51 AM on April 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

I would send approximately what you've said here to the woman he's currently dating, maybe adding specific details and early red flags that you ignored.

You said yourself that YOU were warned before you dated him, but you didn't listen. I think that's probably pretty common. But what you've said here, that it's happened to others before, that someone warned you but you disregarded it, but now you want to do whatever you can to end this terrible cycle--I think someone might listen to that, or at least pay it more heed than "this guy is a psycho." After warning this new lady, though, it might be best to just let it be and try to ignore this guy and his doings as best as possible, for your own mental health.

I'm sorry that you have had to deal with whatever awful stuff this guy did to you. I hope you're able to move past this. I think it's really commendable that you want to help keep others from being in your position, and I hope you manage to get the message through to someone.
posted by phunniemee at 8:52 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Has he done anything criminal? Assault, harassment, threats, stalking? If you think he is a physical danger to others, you could report him - but this is a terribly difficult and stressful path to go down and you may decide not to do this for your own mental health.

If he's just a despicable person who treats other people badly, then you need to be away from him and any social group you are both a part of, and, yes, therapy. Therapy and time. You're not responsible for protecting everyone in the world from him.

I hope you get well.
posted by yogalemon at 8:54 AM on April 24, 2013

Talk to the police and specifically to their domestic violence specialists and see if it's possible to investigate and charge. If the other woman you mentioned is willing to cooperate, and especially if they investigate and find other victims, they may be able to prosecute.

Contact his current girlfriend. State explicitly that you were abused and that if she ever needs help or somewhere to go, she can call you. That might make a future prosecution possible.

Talk to your county's victim's advocates. See if they have any ideas.

Take care of yourself!
posted by kavasa at 8:54 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let's assess. What would you have done differently if one of his exes came to you, before it got very serious and said, "This guy will ruin your life".

You say you know all sorts of folks who had terrible outcomes dating this yutz, yet you dated him anyway.

What do you fear will happen in his new role as chairman of the camp? Is it more, "He'll entangle more women." Or is it that you think he'll steal the money, not follow through on his commitments, etc.

It would be lovely if we had "relationship police" that could assess individuals and take the bad ones off the street.

Unfortunately, there's not much you can do. If he broke the law, then report that. But if he's just a horrible person, unless you actually know the person he's dating, he's going to be able to be that horrible person that he is to her and to anyone else who dates him.

You need therapy. You need to process this relationship, and you need to work to move on from it.

By continuing to interact with him, by continuing to see him in social contexts and by involving yourself in projects with him, you keep letting him rent space in your head for free.

Perhaps this is the year you pass on the music festival. Perhaps you move out of the social group that embraces this guy, and find people who aren't charmed by him. See your friends one-on-one, but never in a situation where you'll need to see this guy or hear his name ever again.

I'm sorry you're hurting and I wish you could go forward in time 20 years, so you can come back and tell yourself that you're going to be okay, that your life is going to be awesome and that in 20 years you won't remember his name.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is not going to be a popular opinion, but I would take the woman he is currently dating aside, and tell her the facts. As calmly and dispassionately as possible. THEN I would extricate myself completely from any social groups involving him.

Do I think you are somehow obligated to do this? No. Of course not. But if you want to do it (as I would), I do not think it would be out of line. True, you can't keep protecting other people from him forever, and this one woman might ignore your advice, but you never know.

Personally, I refuse to be intimidated by nasty, manipulative people, either inside or outside of romantic relationships. Therefore, I'd 'out' him in the same way I'd out someone who behaved badly in, say, a business context; using nothing but the truth, and in the hope that I might prevent at least one person from getting hurt.

Then I'd move on, for my own sanity.
posted by Salamander at 9:07 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Isn't this why gossip exists?

If you just tell your friends from that community the various horror stories relating to this guy, and that they should keep an eye out for their friends, then it will gradually spread through the social scene as and when required.

Will it solve every eventuality, no-- but perhaps it will at least reduce the damage he might do to people within your social world.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is there an organizational structure to your community / camp / festival? Is there some kind of reporting or complaint mechanism? Unclear to me if he committed crimes and/or acts against the rules of the community / camp / festival. Assuming yes is some way, you could consider making some kind of report. You would have to figure out lots of questions before taking any steps: Would any of his other victims go with you? How would you feel if the community / camp / festival doesn't do anything? Are you prepared to leave the community behind?

You could send a note to the current girlfriend. Similar questions: How would you feel if it is rejected? Publicized? Or is it enough that you send the warning regardless of how it is received?

Nthing speaking to a therapist or other victim support person before making any decisions. Your first priority is to your own health.

I do think that there are predators who tend to gravitate toward small intimate unregulated communities, particularly religious or subculture-y ones. But the reasons they flourish in these spaces may be the same reasons you decide to move on.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:16 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

In some groups, just quietly spreading the word might work. But I wonder how healthy your group is, since this guy is in a leadership position at least for the festival.

For several years, I was in a group that had a guy like that. I heard rumors that he beat at least one girlfriend; other rumors were vague but dark. The group also had the "general practice of not meddling" that's common to many subculture-y groups. As a result, his bad behavior wasn't challenged, the healthy people left, and the remaining people became enablers to the guy, letting him assume leadership roles.

The healthy refugees quietly formed a similar group with similar events, but it was all invitation only, held in private homes, excluding the problem guy and his enablers. They were accused of being a clique but I understand their motivation, and their events were much more comfortable.

For the short term, you might talk privately and in person with the new woman. I wouldn't send a note to anyone because it could easily get forwarded, taken out of context, and become a drama storm.

For the long term, you might consider quietly leaving the group and taking the healthy people with you, forming a private group with higher standards for behavior. However, if you want to stay and the group has a board of directors or leaders that doesn't include the jerk, you could ask to meet with them privately and state your concerns, suggest some specific standards of behavior that could be established, and encourage them to oust troublemakers who violate those standards. Based on my experience, that doesn't work, but it's worth a try before you leave and take the healthy ones with you.
posted by ceiba at 9:37 AM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

It would be really helpful if you could provide some information about what he did to you. You sound like you're really hurting, but it's just not clear whether you are hurting because the relationship did not turn out as you had hoped, or if you are hurting because you're a victim of a type of abuse that you should be telling someone else about. I know you call it abuse, but that does not make it so, and the answer to this question really hinges on whether whatever he did was abusive or assaultive or not. You could ask the mods to add more information, even general information would help this question a lot. If you are simply a poorly treated jilted lover, you may well make things worse for yourself by seeking to "warn" others. If this was abuse of some sort, however, you may well want to say something.
posted by OmieWise at 9:43 AM on April 24, 2013 [11 favorites]

I struggle with this sometimes, too. I know he's going to pick another woman to prey on in the future, and I just... don't know what to do about it.

Ultimately, you can't do much. I mean, you can reach out to her and try to become friends. That's probably what I would do if I had the ability to do so: I'd just say "Hey, want to hang out?" and then during our first hang out I'd just let it slip that I used to date [my abusive ex boyfriend's name]. Nothing more. She can do with that information what she will. She is going to need friends and supporters to get through what you know will be absolute hell. Just be her friend. She will almost certainly eventually ask you "hey, did [abusive ex] ever hit you/throw hot coffee on you/threaten to kill you/isolate you from your friends?" and then you can talk about it.

Now, one of the things my therapist suggested to me that was both interesting and helpful was the idea that possibly I am focusing on his future victims in order to take my focus off of myself.

Are you in therapy? I would really recommend group therapy for domestic violence survivors. It helps. It really, really helps.

Godspeed, OP. I know how hard healing is. I've been out for seven months and I'm finally starting to feel like a person again - and that is after attending therapy four times a week, pretty much every week: I am involved in two survivor groups, have a regular CBT therapist, and see someone for EMDR therapy for the PTSD. It is a long, hard road. I am so sorry that you have to do all this hard work because of something a monster did to you.

But you got out. You're a survivor. You are strong, and you will get better.
posted by sockermom at 9:51 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Message me privately. I might be able to give some advice.
posted by adamrice at 10:02 AM on April 24, 2013

I agree with others; it isn't clear from your question whether this guy is an abuser who victimized you terribly or a player who treats women badly but not in a criminally abusive manner. The advice is completely different in those two cases. Can you clarify a little when you say he hurt you?
posted by Justinian at 10:06 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was in a very similar situation, was warned by an ex of his and still didn't listen until I reached my own breaking point. If you try to warn this woman, I doubt it would go over very well. Guys like this have a way of making every woman they're with feel extremely special and loved in the beginning, and when you're caught up in that chemical rush and shower of affection, you're less likely to heed "warnings" from even your own family/friends, much less ex-girlfriends of the person you think is your soul mate. Because he's manipulative, it's extremely likely he'll just dismiss you to her as a "crazy" or jealous ex. Unfortunately, you can't warn every woman he may get involved with over the course of his lifetime, and you seem like you're still pretty shaken up by your experiences. I would focus on your own healing, stay away from him as much as possible, and try not to think about his current relationship (easier said than done, I'm sure).
posted by kribensa at 10:24 AM on April 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's very hard to answer this question without knowing more specifics.

I am guess that the op did not provide specifics because the person works on the sociopath / manipulator model: he's charismatic, he plays mind games, he always has an excuse for everything, and he leaves a trail of emotional wreckage in his path while appearing to be perfectly charming to others nearby. That allows him to get leadership positions in his close-knit community, and it allows him to prey on woman and woman.

In other words, there are no specifics. It's all very complicated and he's always left with plausible deniability. If he was doing something simple like beating or cheating, he wouldn't be able to get away with it.

This is all just guesswork, though. It would be helpful if the op could send a note to the mods with more info to add to the thread. That can be done via the contact form at the bottom of the page.

If my guess is right, my suggestion would be to approach his new intended victim and tell her he's bad news without expecting her to pay attention. Also offer to be there for her if/when she comes out the other side.
posted by alms at 10:28 AM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you state (not to us, just to the mirror) factually what he did?

Can you elevator-pitch it in a non-emotional way?

Because "womanizer" is an accusation that doesn't tell you what specifically he did that was wrong. "Dangerous sociopath" accuses him of bad character but doesn't tell you what specifically he did that was dangerous. "Suicidal" and "almost lost my job" could both be describing your own emotional states, but don't demonstrate that these states of mind and events were a direct result of things he did.

Now, I'm not saying I disbelieve you. A person can be highly emotionally abusive without ever provably doing any one thing you could put your finger on.

What I am saying is that in order to be fair and effective, you have to state this in terms of objective facts. If the ex of his that you refer to really did warn you that he was a "dangerous sociopath", it's not surprising that you didn't listen, because that's accusing him of being a bad person but not substantiating the accusation.

Supposing this person had come to you and instead of saying he was a "dangerous sociopath", said "X physically assaulted me on 3 occasions, he was hiding affairs with 4 other women that I know of during the 18 months I was involved with him, he threatened to kill my cat, and he convinced me to put his name on the deeds of my house and, as a result of that and some unpleasant but not quite criminal financial manipulations on his part, I lost my home which he now lives in with his new GF." Threatening to kill your cat is A Thing, being a dangerous sociopath or generally emotionally abusive is not A Thing.

Or if this was a matter of lies and manipulation, you could say "X lied to me about serious matters on at least 6 occasions that I know of, and I felt so manipulated that I was no longer willing or able to interact with him." That might be the most factual truth you can scrape together, and if so I am again sympathetic, but you see how it doesn't sound substantial enough to warn somebody about.

So think very carefully about what you would say, and follow it up with, "I hope you have a better experience with X than I did, but I wouldn't be warning you if I didn't think you are at risk. I was warned, I didn't listen, I wish I had. I'm not going to contact you again about this or anything else, I won't respond if you try to contact me, so do whatever you want with this information, and good luck."
posted by tel3path at 10:33 AM on April 24, 2013 [28 favorites]

I am guess that the op did not provide specifics because the person works on the sociopath / manipulator model: he's charismatic, he plays mind games, he always has an excuse for everything, and he leaves a trail of emotional wreckage in his path while appearing to be perfectly charming to others nearby.

Evenfurther thought: If this was the way of it, you haven't got much to tell the community leaders but you do have enough to go to his latest target and say:

"Keep on the watch, because it's my experience that X is a manipulator who affected my life for the worse, and I'm not the first woman to experience this. I hope you'll have a better experience with X than I did, but I was warned, I didn't listen, and I wish I had. That's all I've got to say."

I think this is about the best you can do, really. It might not "work" in the sense that his new target probably won't respond, "OMG! I am so thankful that you told me this, Sister! Forewarned is forearmed! I shall dump X forthwith."

But the reason why she probably wouldn't do that is exactly why the warning is likely to work in the longer term: she's probably not credulous enough to believe whatever she's told by some random stranger with an axe to grind. But by the same token, when she eventually begins to feel manipulated by him or notice that his stories don't add up, the warning will loom larger and larger in her mind and hopefully shorten the time it takes her to dump him.

Calling him a "manipulator" is unsatisfying in that it's not as specific as saying "he threatened to kill my cat" or "he cheated on me", but it is more specific than saying he's "a dangerous sociopath" or talking about the devastating effects on your and others' emotions. "Manipulation" is a hard accusation to prove, by definition, but at least it doesn't frame the problem as some nebulous kind of character badness or, even less credibly, the distraught emotions of the person giving the warning.

I hope you see what I'm getting at here.
posted by tel3path at 10:46 AM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm going to assume that this person was a cheating and emotionally controlling shitbag and not a physical abuser such that you could make a criminal complaint.

I think there's noting wrong with having a very brief encounter with his new partner where you say "I wish someone had warned me that X was emotionally abusive and that it wasn't normal to be treated the way he treated me. I wish I'd known I could leave and that there were XYZ resources to help me. I don't know what goes on with you two, if he's not doing this yet, if he's Found Religion, whatever. But here's a website/phone number/address where they help people who are mistreated and I hope you use it if you need it."

Done, nothing more. Don't argue about their relationship if she wants to defend it. You'll make a greater impact by being dispassionate and not telling her what she feels/experienced. Open a metaphorical door for her and help her be ready to see what is being done to her. Support those organizations that help people.

Trying to deal directly with this person and his long-term actions, IMHO, will be less effective than being a part of making the world a hostile way to people who treat others the way he does.
posted by phearlez at 10:49 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

tel3path (as usual) has excellent advice. I have found that being specific with people really underlines the abuse. Saying things like "He threatened to kill me" and "He told me I was a worthless c**t after throwing hot coffee on me while he was chasing me down the street" and "He smashed down my bedroom door and threatened to hit me after I walked away from a strange argument" and "He screamed at me for taking too long to wash a pan" are all concrete, real things that happened to me and that allow the listener decide for themselves whether or not I was in an abusive relationship (spoiler alert: I was).

So, you don't have to tell us these things - I believe that you were abused - but you should be able to tell them to yourself and to a therapist.

I found that freewriting really helped. It let me create a record of what was actually happening to me, which was really vital in the "getting out and staying out" process.
posted by sockermom at 10:51 AM on April 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm going to address this as though you were assaulted -- I could not bring myself to call what happened to me "assault" for a very long time, and spent many years simply saying I had been "hurt" because as the child of abusive parents, I literally refused to acknowledge or believe that I had been assaulted as an adult.

First and most importantly, I'm sorry. I can only hope you have a wealth of support and resources around you to help you muddle through this, because it's so damn tough. Having my bodily autonomy physically wrested from me, and the exact moment when I realized there was not a damn thing I could do to escape for the next unknown period of time -- it felt like maybe I had died. I was so scared. It is OK to be scared.

When I was in a scenario similar to yours, I did... nothing. Then one of the women I had been closest to in the early stages of my recovery started dating the guy, which rocked me to the core of my being. And I have absolutely no idea what happened after that, because I immediately 86'd the ENTIRE close-knit social group we all shared to save my own sanity. It was like pulling a ripcord, or activating an ejection seat: I woke up one day and realized I needed to jettison the whole damn thing. It hurt like hell to lose so many friends so quickly, but it had to be done. When you are duly wounded, wound up too tight and staying up too late wracking your brain to figure out what the hell you can (or should) do next? Please remember to put your own oxygen mask on first.

Unless you possess the strength, resilience, and raw willpower required to literally put on trial and prove what happened to you beyond a reasonable doubt, and then somehow further convince a jury to put him in jail for life, there is no absolutely specific action that you, personally, can take to ensure this man will be prevented from striking again -- not if you send out all the fireworks and klaxon alarms in the world, not if you climb the highest towers and warn the women in every surrounding town by screaming bloody murder, not via anonymous message to a mailing list or a personalized note or anything. There is just no way. Because the responsibility for any abuse or pain he CHOOSES to inflict -- past, present, or future -- lies only with him, not with you, never with you. And yes, I understand how tough it can be to truly, deeply, and convincingly grasp that message. I got the mega-freaky "You just make me so crazy! You MAKE me do this! This is YOUR fault, I'm not like this with anyone else!" speech so many times; worse, our society has a frighteningly insidious way of instructing women to be meek, appeasing, and above all, pin-drop silent when we experience pain, fear, or discomfort.

It took years to shakily solder my brain wiring back together after that stupid shit happened but I remain eminently grateful to my otherwise resoundingly clueless 25-year-old self for thinking ahead and knowing that I simply could not maintain friendships with a group that, to this day, thinks that guy is the bee's knees. I could not lie to them and tell them why I was leaving, why I could no longer speak, why I wouldn't be seeing them anymore, what had happened. I just had to get the fuck out. Do you? A year on, you are still bursting into tears when you remember what he did to you. It is OK if you need to get the fuck out.

I will never stop despairing the notion that anyone could truly believe the American legal system must be the best resource to help women in this scenario (particularly a year later), but if you think you should go to the police, that is certainly OK, too. I suppose I could have called the police after being assaulted, as what had occurred would have resulted in an arrest had it happened in a public square; I did not because I knew the police would and could not do anything to help me after the fact.
During the assault, the man who assaulted me told me that if I told anyone, he would just say I liked it rough, and he would tell all my friends I was crazy and making it up if I told them he had hurt me. I did not have the strength or resilience required for criminal charges or a trial, let alone a battle of he-said vs. she-said as accompanied by judge and jury, and both of us knew it. Still, I told myself over and over again that it was my responsibility, my duty as a woman to warn other women that he was dangerous; as yours is, my conscience roiled and burned under the unnecessary weight. I am a passionate radical feminist and when this happened, it helped me to realize a vast chasm had begun to yawn between what I thought I believed and what I actually believed. Now I know in the marrow of my bones that in this situation, every woman will and must do whatever she needs to do to survive.

Don't think about what you can (or should) do. Think about what do you need to do -- whether that's dialing up your local precinct, writing a letter to the new woman, ghosting outright, or something none of us have suggested, something you are keeping close to your heart -- and do it. You're worth it. You did not deserve what he did to you. You deserve to wear a shiny new oxygen mask. You deserve help, to help yourself, to let yourself be helped.

Do whatever you need to do to keep surviving. Whatever he does next, it is not your fault.
posted by divined by radio at 11:04 AM on April 24, 2013 [17 favorites]

It's true that you haven't substantiated your claims of abuse with factual allegations. Maybe it was "actual abuse" and maybe it wasn't. You didn't ask us. Personally, I'm willing to take your word that it was. It's possible you're mischaracterizing what happened, and that if we could correct you about that then we could give you better advice. I think that's why people are asking. However, AskMe tends to go off the rails when people begin second-guessing the posted question, so I won't.

On the other hand, the specifics of what happened do matter in another sense—not to judge whether you were "abused," but in considering what you might write on a mailing list or say to your ex's current girlfriend. The specifics matter with respect to the propriety of these actions. Maybe more importantly, the specifics matter with respect to the consequences you might face. If you publish something to an email list (anonymously or not), is it something he might sue you for? If you pull aside his girlfriend and tell her a story, is it possible you'll end up on the wrong side of a restraining order? These things do happen. I can't tell you the likelihood that they'll happen to you, or whether you should care about those consequences, but you should probably consider them.

It's not uncommon for women who have been abused, or who feel they have been abused, to describe their ex using terms like "dangerous sociopath" or "psycho." More to the point, it's far more common than are actual incidence of those conditions. So respectfully, I wouldn't be inclined to assume you mean those terms literally; but it's worth noting that you used them, especially the word "dangerous." If you truly believe he's a dangerous person, then consider your own safety before you poke him with a stick.

I understand the frustration and helplessness that comes with knowing a dangerous person is loose and looking for victims. Believe me, I do. But it isn't always a problem that you can solve. I'm not suggesting you stand by with your hands in your pockets while your neighbor's house burns down, but I am suggesting that you take to heart the Serenity Prayer and decide which kind of situation you're in. Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 11:07 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bear in mind that you were warned but continued to see him. He may be a very bad person -- I have certainly been involved with a bad person -- but unless he's doing something illegal, you (and I) can't blame our bad judgment in staying with someone who is crazymaking on them. They're just manipulators doing their thing. We're the ones who are ultimately responsible for our own mental health.

Don't give him so much power over you. Your best outcome is to stop caring and just learn to be okay with the fact that he's going to continue to skate through life taking advantage of other people, and he'll probably never really suffer for it. When I reached that understanding about my ex, it freed me to get involved with a real gem of a guy who is smart, funny, sexy, handsome -- and KIND.

Sending you lots of positive energy for an outcome as happy as my own.
posted by janey47 at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2013

Another called him a dangerous sociopath, warned me, and no longer speaks with him

Unless this man did something actually criminal, you should stop emotionally stalking him and mind your own business. You should really consider your own motives here.

Moving on with life > revenge > vague "protecting others."
posted by rr at 11:20 AM on April 24, 2013

Also I just wanted to say: whatever horrible things he did to you, they are in the past. He can't hurt you anymore. But by you going after him this way, you are allowing him to continue to be a part of your life. You think about him, you stress over what he does to other girls, you wonder what you can do to help... But the truth is, the healthiest thing for you is probably to just let the memories of him fade so that he no longer has power over your life.
posted by fireandthud at 11:22 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The most glaring typo in my comment -- "I could not lie to them and tell them" s/b "I could not lie to them or tell them" -- hauled out a memory I had nearly forgotten.

Bear in mind that if you tell someone in your close-knit social group what he did to you, especially if he is generally well-liked or seen as a "nice guy," the person or people you have trusted with this new information could very well tell you to your face that you are lying. Even if you gather up a whole bunch of nerve and are utterly open and honest, even if you really lay it all out there with eerily specific details (which you should do, as outlined in tel3path's great comments, if you choose to contact the new woman and/or women), they could still accuse you of lying. No matter how earnest or sincere or truthful you are, they could still refuse to believe you. They could say, "C'mon, OP, get over it! There's no way he could do that, I know him and he would never do that! He's such a nice guy! Don't you realize how crazy this sounds? Aren't you just jealous of [new woman], and taking it out on him in a crazy way?"
If you have the strength to stand up to them and say, "No, I'm not lying, it might sound crazy to you but this is the truth," then more power to you. If you do not -- and good god, I did not; being told that I must be lying nearly shattered me, as I had spent weeks getting up the courage to finally speak the truth, rather than continuing to spew noncommittal, milquetoast bullshit in order to keep the peace in our little social circle -- if you do not think you could readily handle accusations of dishonesty being flung at you from all sides, then I would not recommend going down the road of direct address.

Upon further review, I am stricken and a bit shaken by the gender disparity between comments that have a tone -- some less subtle than others -- of "he was probably just really mean to you, which isn't illegal, so get over it already"/"if what he did WAS illegal, either go to the police or mind your own business" vs. "it would be helpful if you clarified [x, y, z]"/"if it was [x], [y] might help you heal."

As written, the question is "What can, or should, I do to prevent him from hurting others the same way?" Regardless of what specific flavor of abuse OP is talking about, the bottom line is that OP is clearly in pain. Regardless of whether or not any one of us would choose to acknowledge whatever happened as 'valid,' 'real,' or 'actionable' abuse, or even worth getting upset over, OP has been wounded. But when it comes to questions about what a wounded party can do to change the future behavior of their aggressor(s), the bottom line is you can't do anything except try to protect yourself.
posted by divined by radio at 12:16 PM on April 24, 2013 [14 favorites]

This is such a tough problem. Our society is biased to try to solve social problems that involve explicit crimes, not interpersonal traumas that more often hurt women and children. Simply touching someone in a public place is assault; all manner of private emotional abuse is not a crime at all.

If you bring this kind of thing up, they're likely to think that you're the crazy one, not him. It's a bad situation, and not your fault.

I would follow the advice above to be extremely specific and factual (a la tel3path) and to warn her.

I would also, for your own sanity, find another group to hang out with at the event. If this is a festival where people camp together, people tend to define themselves by their social group and form an identity around their camp. You will be surprised and amazed that there are all kinds of lovely other camps that will welcome you and won't have sociopaths (or at least this sociopath) in them. It can be really good to get some variety and enjoy the event with a new group. You'll find out that these people are entirely unnecessary to your having a good time.

I'm really sorry that this happened, and that our society has such poor remedies for these situations. It's not your fault, you're not wrong, and things will get better over time.
posted by 3491again at 1:04 PM on April 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Late to the thread, but the old advice should be recalled: Never write anything that you would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper.
posted by Cranberry at 2:04 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened to you. I'd second alms' comment above, re: the manipulator model, particularly in that type of person gravitating toward and being reinforced by the position you describe. I'm guessing that factor plays a real part in feelings/concerns about your decision whether to act, and will also influence your perception of what walking away means to you. Memail me, I may be able to offer some advice.
posted by Salmagundi at 2:05 PM on April 24, 2013

Possibly a stupid suggestion but write about him on Lulu? It's silly but it might be cathartic. I had thought to myself, it's too bad there isn't Yelp for romantic partners and then it appeared one day.

Best wishes. There's a fellow in my past who messed with my head in a bad way. You'll get through this.
posted by kat518 at 2:33 PM on April 24, 2013

i am really sorry to hear you have suffered abuse from this guy. if he is a date rapist or physically abusive then definitely call the police and i'd warn the new girlfriend. if he is emotionally/verbally abusive then personally i'd probably leave it alone. either way, i think focusing on your recovery is what is needed here. i do hope you are in therapy or working with a domestic abuse counselor/group. if you haven't done that yet then please do so immediately. because you mentioned your relationship ended a year ago, and it sounds like you are still in a lot of distress, i think you would be better off avoiding any and all activities where you would see this guy. you need time completely away from him to properly heal. going no contact is a great help in getting over someone. i absolutely would not be befriending his new girlfriend as others have suggested. you need a reprieve from this guy and his influence--not reminders--so you can move on with your life.

as for an anonymous email to your group or any other efforts to sabotage this guy publicly i wouldn't do it. i know you want to warn other women but my guess is it probably isn't too difficult to track an anonymous email these days. doing something like that could really just be asking for trouble from this guy. i'm not sure if libel laws would apply here but i wouldn't take a chance. the fact that this guy has some position of leadership just means everyone will eventually find out what he is really like. this is actually to your benefit. people who are abusive can't fool people for very long, so he will reveal his true colors to everyone. let him be his own worst enemy. at the very most i'd warn his current girl friend but please don't do anything further outside of police assistance for any criminal activity of his.

you really can't prevent him from dating other women as much as you may want to prevent them from being hurt. do know that many women will spot the signs of abuse quickly and dump him immediately. as for those who don't there really isn't much you can do if he hasn't broken any laws. unfortunately, warning them will most likely fall on deaf ears. usually, if someone attempts suicide it is because of issues that have been ongoing in their life that finally come to a head. in no way would you be responsible for another of his girl friends doing that. people respond to trauma in various ways so while one person may feel suicidal another may get angry. unfortunately, there are times in life where we are powerless and just cannot prevent bad things from happening. it sounds like you are feeling rather powerless and i think the area to focus on regaining some power is in your own life rather than his which you really can't control anyway. by regaining some power in your own life you will then be a stronger person for all that you have suffered.

remember: the best revenge is living well.
posted by wildflower at 7:14 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

(uh, guys, maybe the details are vague in case the guy in question sees this?)

You've stumbled, in the most unfortunate way, into how the patriarchy works. So many guys in positions of power - CEOs, senators, what have you - are like this. So many guys, so many men, everywhere. Naming names would take so long it's pointless. That's the small realization. The major realization is that we only know about (at best) the open secrets or (usually) the instances where a woman staked a hell of a lot of her life on speaking out. There are probably thousands more. You probably know a few more and have no idea. You probably know a few women who have one of their own and have never told.

These men do it in part because they know they can get away with it. Even the most clear-cut abuse, rape or domestic violence or whatnot, is notoriously awful for women to press charges for. Anything less than that falls under he-said-she-said and plausible deniability, which unfortunately tends to protect men and make women suffer in silence. The higher-status the man, the more it's compounded. (To any aspiring MRAs out there reading this - yes, I know women can be abusers, but they aren't as common and don't have the cultural safety net men do.) I've been thinking a lot, too, about how social media ties into this: it is so much easier for this kind of guy to publicly say the right things and act the good guy than before, in a way designed to look an awful lot like himself in person. Like how so many celebrities are secretly assholes (so many people, again)... but have that great public image, on a smaller scale.

You know all this. Now for the practicalities. (I am assuming he did not commit any crimes or do anything really dangerous. If so, this advice may be way too conservative. )

You will probably never extricate this guy from your social circle. You just won't. I've known so many girls whose circles of friends all remained on excellent terms with their rapists or abusers, even after they said (privately or otherwise) "yo, this guy raped/abused me, he is probably objectively a bad person." For lesser degrees of dude awfulness, to his friends, you will have no case. It's not so much that they are bad friends - unless everyone I know has won the Horrible Friend Lottery - but that it's human nature. Avoiding conflict, keeping the peace. It doesn't take your now very disturbed peace into account, of course - which is part of why this sucks so much.

You'll definitely never get his girlfriend to leave him, especially not as a stranger - and even if you tell her and she eventually catches on, it won't accomplish much. What did the woman before you accomplish for you, really?

What you can do is warn new women in your social circle, BEFORE they start dating/crushing on him, about what he did. A vaccine, sort of. How you do so is up to you and your comfort zone/mental health. Myself, I'd be blunt: "So do you know A?" "Yes, A and I dated briefly, but he did X, Y and Z and now we don't talk anymore." Or something. But it has to be private. A public email, though it seems like the "right" thing to do, will probably be interpreted as a crazy ex-girlfriend causing drama. (They know they can get away with it by framing women's legitimate grievances about shit he did as crazy ex drama.) If he really wants to be vindictive, he could go the libel route (not an amazing case for him, but a case, but also IANAL); if he just wants to be garden-variety vindictive, you'll soon find yourself defriended en masse. Best case scenario, you'll find an ally who can help you speak up. Worst case scenario, you've planted a niggling feeling of doubt.

Good luck. I have a few of these guys in my life/past. Of the mostly benign variety, but still. I suspect most women do.
posted by dekathelon at 11:57 PM on April 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do I think you should be very very careful what you say, and guard against retaliation? Yes.

Do I think you should carefully consider whether to say anything at all? Yes.

Do I think it's healthier just to put it behind you and not get mixed up in anything he does in the future? Maybe. It depends what you could rightly say, as I explained above.

Do I think a lot of people won't believe you? Or will believe you and nothing will change? Yeah, but that's part of it.

But supposing after you've thought about the essentials and the specifics, you conclude that you do have something to say about this guy that is factual, fair, and states what he did to you in a way that you would want to hear if you were either the festival organizer (he spiked my drink, he physically threatened me) or his next GF (he lied to me n times, he cheated x times). Do I think you shouldn't say anything because this guys always win anyway and it'll only backfire on you and nobody will listen?

Well, it could backfire on you. At worst, he could sue, or retaliate in some other way (you know him so you probably know how he might retaliate). Or you could end up looking like the guilty one and you end up suffering instead of him. Or your warnings could just fall on deaf ears, where everyone agrees he's guilty, but nobody stops associating with him as a result.

But maybe you think it's still worth the risk? After taking into account everything that everyone has said, you still think it's morally right to warn people and you have enough factual information to do so convincingly?

In that case, maybe you want to take the risk.

Be mindful of the risk, but don't ever think about it in terms of "these guys always win anyway" or "everyone will always side with them" or "society will always support them and it will never support you". There's a point when this stuff becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because society tends to side with the bully doesn't mean you always have to participate in that. You don't have to put yourself at risk, but you don't have to just bend over for it either.

Maybe walking away is your best option, I don't know. But you do need a more powerful way of looking at it. Here's a documentary that will help you think about what would really be effective here:

Finally, it is not the case that guys like this always rise to the top of society. I've seen people with big ambitions just stagnate, partly because they relied too much on manipulation and not enough on ability, but partly because they overestimated people's willingness to put up with bad behaviour. Others have suffered the consequences of their actions eventually, maybe not soon enough or dramatically enough, but it cost them, and it cost them because they couldn't fool all of the people all of the time.
posted by tel3path at 2:53 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh and, forgot to say, anonymous notes are not the way to make a fair or credible case, so whatever you do, don't do it that way.
posted by tel3path at 3:01 AM on April 25, 2013

You know I took the quiet submissive right to being abused and letting the abusers flourish and I no longer think this is healthy for survivors. YOUR community should have your back. If your friends and social groups are happy to celebrate and give power to a dangerous abuser then they are not your people, and I would even argue they are not good people.

However in order for people to take your claims seriously they need tobe detailed and involve more than "he was mean and told me I was worthless and I cried and my feelings felt bad and he never really cared about me or valued me"

Many people are terrible and even emotionally abuse partners, but to qualify for "dangerous bad person" you're going to need specifics involving sexual assault, violence, threats of violence or suicide, destruction of property, temper tantrums that are explosive and dangerous...

Being a bad partner is not really a hazard to the community at large and as we tend to hope even bad partners will learn and grow into better people, cutting people off is a BIG deal and should only be something communities do because someone is truly deliberately destructive and hazardous and refuses to get support and work through whatever their issues are.

I know ask of my friends and family to not be friends with abusers from my past who are all too happy to befriend my close loved ones and talk bad about me or literally try to seduce them and tell me how skilled they are at manipulating my loved ones.

Really bad people ARE worth cutting out of communities-- sometimes your friends haven't learned this lesson yet and they just don't understand. But you deserve a community of people who DO understand so I suggest you give your friends a shot and if they side with this guy, cut all of them off and make new friends. Personally I'm tired of communities that spend a lot of time on understanding and loving abuser and thinking the people they hurt are obnoxious drama queens. I have stayed silent to fit this stereotype and it just hasn't worked for me. That said, being strategic is important. Speaking up has consequences and watch your own back. I would just look for communities where people DELIBERATELY don't tolerate abusers so that in the future you will make more solid friends. Yes even in communities that claim to be opposed to abuse, you can STILL have people who will side with abusers when they discover their real trusted friend might be one (it's always different in theory than when you're REAL trusted friend is facing accusations).

I feel compassionate about abusers feelings too, I just don't think they need entire peer and social communities to hold their backs to the detriment of people hurt.

Good luck. You can memail me if you want someone to chat with. (I also think counseling/therapy would likely be very helpful for you right now to work through the many issues of dealing with someone like this both in the past and at present).
posted by xarnop at 8:28 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

(uh, guys, maybe the details are vague in case the guy in question sees this?)

The details are not vague, they are non-existent. Short of the assertion of badness, and vague indications of how the OP responded, we have no idea what actually occurred here, even in the most general terms. This makes the provision of advice problematic, since the consequences for the OP following a particular course of action are not without their own potential problems.

General terms: he hit me, he slept around a lot, he made me doubt my sanity by gaslighting me and separating me from my support network, would not be identifying, and would greatly clarify what is safe for the OP to do.

It is not dismissive of anyone's pain and/or abuse history to first want an idea of what actually occurred here prior to providing feedback, especially since one of the questions here is around whether or not to proceed. The fact is here that without more information, answers that advocate any kind of action are at risk of causing more problems for the OP.
posted by OmieWise at 8:53 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Most of the answers state the condition on which their advice should be taken. Let's just assume the OP can read.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, from this point forward just answer the question as posed and don't argue with other commenters. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2013

I don't think you can say anything. He'll just call you crazy, new girlfriends will smugly believe you're jealous.

You need to work on you and take care of yourself. You can't save everybody.
posted by discopolo at 12:51 PM on April 26, 2013

This is a hard question. Take care of yourself first and do what you think is best.

I'm interested in the answers here too... I recently found out that an acquaintance is a charismatic womanizer, and I (a straight guy) am also not sure what to do. I want to (legally and ethically) do what I can to help. Aside from spreading gossip, I don't know what to do.
posted by sninctown at 10:04 PM on May 15, 2013

Sorry, didn't mean to end the thread with a depressing answer. There are many other things that can be done when asking/shaming doesn't work, especially if you're willing to do legal but bad things. I don't want to speculate about that here, for reasons including that I don't know what I'm talking about and there are already plenty of examples in books, movies, history, etc. It's probably healthier not to, though. At least over time technology is (slowly) making everyone more equal.
posted by sninctown at 5:06 PM on May 17, 2013

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