Dealing with third party abuse allegations
August 10, 2015 2:49 AM   Subscribe

Acquaintances in my creative community have made mutual accusations of emotional and sexual abuse. I do not know what the truth is and am not sure how to deal with their community participation in the future.

I'm aware of the usual rule to believe allegations and support the victim. However, in this case two people are mutually claiming to be victims, and have requested or strongly implied that I should ostracize the other and that it's wrong for me to continue to publicize the other's work.

Both have made strong but vague claims (abuse, harassment, etc). I don't feel they should have to provide any details they don't want to share, and I don't even really want to have that detail unless it's necessary to help a victim, but this means that I don't even know whether the allegations are of equal severity. If this is "A persistently attacked me every day for months" vs "B called me a rude word one time," I wouldn't know it.

Person A is someone whose creative work I admire. A has always been supportive to me, and also has a certain charisma. At a gut reaction level, I would love to side unreservedly with A. However, I've observed a couple of things about A that I consider red flags. Once I saw A get disproportionately angry at a stranger and yell at them on the street in response to (what I considered) a mild offense. In addition, A has previously complained about harassing email from someone when it turned out that the email in question was a little insensitive and badly phrased but not what I would consider attacking at all. So I conclude that A is emotionally volatile and reacts with a flight-or-fight response to things that most of us would shrug off; A also doesn't respond well to any implication that A might be overreacting. This of course doesn't mean that nothing truly traumatic happened to A.

Person B, I've met only once. I have much less information about B's behavior, except that I know B also had a high-profile falling-out with someone else in the community; I don't know the details of that situation at all but it's conceivable this is part of a pattern. I've never observed B lying or exaggerating about things, though, and in general B appears to have a calmer, less histrionic style.

How I come into it: For the sake of clarifying the discussion without the real details, let's say that they're both freelance whittling enthusiasts who live partly on the strength of their whittling commissions, while I run Whittling Expert Magazine and get to choose what to showcase.

I am not organizing in-person events at which they would be present, so I'm not in a position where I need to think about enforcing physical safety. The people in question are now physically separated, are in places they have described to me as safe, and have access to therapy. As far as I know there is no question of involving law enforcement in this issue. So all of the big physical and legal ramifications are either resolved or someone else's problem. All the same, dropping coverage of either one could cause a mild but genuine effect on their livelihood and visibility.

At this point, there's a large part of me that just wants to say "plague on both your houses" and stop engaging with or showcasing either A or B. But I know both have already lost friends because of this set of events, and have mentioned ostracism from some of their previous groups as an additional problem. If one of them is an innocent victim in this scene, then removing my own assistance would be yet another undeserved blow.

Another approach would be to continue supporting A because we're (somewhat) closer and my support probably means more to A than it does to B.

A third would be to conclude that the red flags around A's behavior mean A is probably the culprit, and withdraw support from A while continuing to support B.

I'm not sure how possible it is to keep on with what I have been doing so far: continuing to cover both in Whittling Expert, telling them both that I'm sorry they're hurting and wish them the best, honoring any immediate requests to help minimize contact with the other, but resisting as far as possible getting any more involved than I have to.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FWIW--Don't take sides, articulate clear expectations for behavior observed under your purview, be consistent in enforcing them, don't deal with issues that take place outside your sphere of influence and tell any/all parties that they should feel free to pursue appropriate civil (criminal if appropriate) remedies. Good luck
posted by rmhsinc at 4:01 AM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Although it seems hard, I think the "keeping on" option is probably best. If either one of them had come with these accusations about the other without the mutual element, would you take that as sufficient reason to stop publicising the other one?
I think there has to be a line between your personal belief in, and support for, a person who says something has happened to them and a public/professional response to that - the bar for that has to be higher I think, and include publicly verifiable information about behaviour, whether that's formal (police) or informal (corroborating statements from trusted people).
That might mean one or the other of them loses confidence in you as a supporter, but I think that's an unreasonable expectation on their part, rather than a failure of support on your part.
posted by crocomancer at 4:42 AM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your keep on approach sounds right. Ignore as much as you can. If they continue to try to get you to resolve their matter, remind them that you are not their momma and if they can't be professionals, you will not be their professional contact either.
posted by myselfasme at 5:07 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

My thoughts:

1) They could both be telling the truth - both may have behaved abusively to the other.
2) It sounds like it was a toxic relationship full stop.
3) The fact that B is "calmer and less histrionic" does not mean much by itself, they may be of the "cunning manipulator" variety.
4) Definitely best to stay out of this as much as possible and keep your relationship with both of them on a professional level.
posted by intensitymultiply at 5:59 AM on August 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

I think "I showcase both of you or neither of you" is a valid response to any implication or hint that you should get involved. Either they both lose out or they both win is, in think, the only fair way to handle this, given the limited information you have.

Other than that, stay out of it. When you're chatting to A, B doesn't exist, and vice versa. What you're doing so far, as described in your final paragraph, sounds fine to me.
posted by Solomon at 6:05 AM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

If one (or both, I suppose) had a pattern of either using your community to cultivate victims, or using their position in the community as a smokescreen to hide their abuse, that would be cause to no longer support their work, because then supporting their work would be reinforcing that they are untouchable.

Or if their craft was being used to further their abuse - like, I don't know, one of them was continuing to make carvings that are pretty clearly of their ex- after a contentious breakup, or used their artists statement to make vague threats, etc.

I don't think you need to wait for documented court testimony or police statements. Talk to other people in your community about A or B, especially people who aren't necessarily popular and influential. If what they have to say about these people fits your judgement of their characters, then a wait-and-see approach is probably OK. But within a community there is often a shadow knowledge that a particular influential individual is dangerous and should be avoided that doesn't come out publicly until a large scandal.
posted by muddgirl at 6:25 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is a position I find myself in with some regularity. Here's how I approach it

It is not your job to adjudicate guilt or innocence. Don't go anywhere near there. It is your job to do what's right for Whittling Expert magazine, firstly, and the broader community of expert whittlers, secondly. If you feel that spotlighting either or both of these people is a threat to those goals, then don't publish them.

Also, as a rule, don't go borrowing trouble.
posted by adamrice at 6:49 AM on August 10, 2015 [17 favorites]

Exactly, not the artistic director's, or editor's job to ride herd on adult relations, unlss an assault happens on his premises.

Whittlers are a rare breed in the fine arts, assuming this is cis/male vs cis/female the female is much rarer. Intentional emotional disruption of the creative process is probably a constant in competitive strategy. There should be some fine print in the studio, or publication contract, regarding personal disputes, and the horses you rode in on, and a year of non publication, or available studio space.

Good luck with this, get it in writing for the future.
posted by Oyéah at 10:03 AM on August 10, 2015

I think it is unlikely that they both abused each other. I just don't think that dynamic is very common. I think the more likely explanation is that, say, A abused B and then when A saw that B was coming forward about it, A quickly put out a defensive claim that B was in fact the abuser (or vice versa).

Harassers and abusers are also good at manipulating others and painting themselves as the victim when necessary. If I were in your shoes I would be asking myself questions like:
- Whose accusations came first?
- Has either of these people shown signs of abuse/harassment/anger/entitled behavior/etc. before?
- Are there other people who have felt uncomfortable around either A or B in the past?
- Do you feel manipulated by either of them?
- Why are they both asking you to stop publicizing the other's work? Do they feel unsafe somehow? Is it to punish the other?

If you just don't want to get involved at all, that's okay. You can tell them both that you are not getting involved. But if I were in your shoes I would at least consider the possibility that this really is a one-way abusive situation and the other party is being manipulative and is lying.
posted by aka burlap at 5:29 PM on August 11, 2015

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