Tell a friend that she does know a serial harasser?
December 18, 2017 8:47 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that, in light of all the recent revelations of harassment and sexual assault, she is waiting anxiously for a revelation about someone she knows, or has a lot of respect for. I know, in fact, that a good friend of hers is a serial harasser. Do I tell her?

The man in question is a prominent member of a community both of us are part of. I have avoided this man for years because of his attempts to bully and intimidate me when I dared to question him about a "humorous" story he told on a shared list-serv about sexually harassing straight men in Provincetown ("they loved it"), and because of other similar experiences with him. This old Metafilter comment is by me; he is "Fred."

In addition, I have learned from gay male friends that there is a "whisper network" about him among the gay men in our community. They tell me that he has a long history of inappropriate behavior toward young gay men.

My friend is very close to Fred and respects him. I made a conscious decision years ago not to attempt to further challenge him publicly, and I have also chosen, in the past, not to attempt to address any of this with my friend, but to let her have her friendship with him with no interference from me.

In any case, my friend posted her comment on Facebook, and while some mutual friends and I commented on it to each other privately, I simply let it go. But it's been on my mind since then, as has my decision to deal with Fred's behavior to me privately rather than attempt to challenge a man with much higher capital in our community than I have.

I'm inclined to think I shouldn't say anything to her, for fear of damaging my relationship with her without accomplishing anything useful with regard to Fred's ongoing behavior in our community. But I would be interested in hearing people's thoughts.
posted by Orlop to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think your inclination is correct. Your friend is close to Fred and respects him, so obviously he has never made a move on her. Information from whisper networks may be no more than gossip, and unless you've seen him behave inappropriately with gay men yourself, you really can't know the truth about that. So outing Fred to your friend may very easily cause trouble between you and your friend without doing anything about the Fred problem.

OTOH, in the current climate it's very possible that Fred's behavior and nature will come to light from other sources. Then you'll be in a position to confirm that to your friend, and to help her deal.
posted by ubiquity at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2017

she is waiting anxiously for a revelation about someone she knows, or has a lot of respect for

I personally would not parse that as "I really hope someone fills me in on the harasser that is statistically probable to be in my social circle. Who could it be? Let me know! I know he's out there!" but rather as "Wow, a lot of men that seemed to be in positions of trust sure weren't very deserving of that. I guess that means some men who I place trust in might also not be deserving of that trust :/ This is pretty terrible, and I'm not very enthused about what the statistics suggest."

I don't think it's an invitation but rather just some processing of another unfortunate truth about the world we live in.

I know, in fact, that a good friend of hers is a serial harasser. Do I tell her?

Entirely unrelated to her Facebook post, this is probably worth doing, though I appreciate the caveats ubiquity has mentioned above. Is it, though, a difficult decision to do this. You write that you've gone over this sort of decision before, and I wish you the very best as you work though this again.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:22 AM on December 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

Why does everyone want to protect Fred?! This is the cultural shift that's needed.

I would definitely tell her..... IF you think you can do so in a way that doesn't identify any of Fred's targets (i.e., it would be good to say: "he has a history of being inappropriate with dozens of young men").


If your supporting evidence is linked to only one or two likely victims, then don't tell, as she might report it back to him and if she does, it will risk re-opening the story for that person without their consent.

I.e., it would be very bad to say, "one or two people said Fred assaulted them" - if the number of victims is small, or the story details are specific enough, note that Fred will know exactly who snitched and could seek revenge.

In that case, do not tell, just confirm nonspecifically ("yes, I had heard something similar a while back") if she ever asks she you.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:06 AM on December 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

PS- your linked comment about Fred is STUNNINGLY perceptive. What an insightful description of that toxic pattern of behaviour.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:14 AM on December 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

Forgive me for not reading the details. IMO they don't matter.

Intelligent people have an innate urge to "talk sense". To resolve contradictions, point out errors, offer counter-arguments to specious assumptions, etc. This urge, alas, is often at cross purposes with having friends and enjoying a social life. So most of us, by a certain age, learn to keep a lid on this impulse.

So my short answer is "No. Don't."

The slightly longer answer is: will it help your friend, or the world, in any real, tangible way? Are you quite sure that by firing this huge disruption squarely into her intellectual and emotional space you'll be doing some greater good for someone somehow, creating an outcome that's sum positive? If so, go ahead.

But you very likely don't have any such assurance. So see my short answer.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you’re neither comfortable staying silent nor dredging up a boatload of drama, you may consider messaging her something like, “I’m still thinking about your post about fearing whether friends of yours may come up as part of #metoo revelations, because I unfortunately know that someone in (our shared community) has a history of inappropriate behavior. I’m in a situation where it’s not safe for me to come forward about it, but I still wanted to let you know so you’re aware that even people we care about aren’t always deserving of that trust, and that just about all of us have people like that in our social circles, sadly.”
posted by metasarah at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

I had a similar situation recently (a friend is in a work relationship of unequal authority with a man who we all considered merely faintly sleazy; recently the astonishing depth and breadth of his sleaze has come to greater light and he's started facing consequences.) His name came up in conversation, she said something about how he was complaining about being fired for reasons he claimed not to know. (He knew.)

I said "I know exactly why he was fired, and so does he. I can tell you if you want, but it isn't pretty. I know you're tangled with him, so if you don't want to know, I can respect that."

She declined to hear it. I do respect that. I am pretty sure a person higher up the food chain told her anyway very soon after, because she did need to know for professional reasons, but it was not a call I could make for her.

I don't love this solution, but everyone has to draw their lines somewhere, and I am old and cynical enough to know that sometimes you just gotta keep the paycheck coming, especially as a single mom.

(To be really clear: you can ask her if she wants to know. She might, she might not. But she brought it up, so ask her.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm inclined to think I shouldn't say anything to her, for fear of damaging my relationship with her without accomplishing anything useful with regard to Fred's ongoing behavior in our community.

And I'm inclined to think you're right.
posted by John Borrowman at 1:04 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, you could always comment on her post to the effect of “it’s troubling how pervasive this is, and incredibly likely if not guaranteed that there are known serial abusers in all of our social circles. knowing who they are forces one to confront a lot of ethical challenges. do you want to know, or are you hoping not to ever know?”
posted by amelioration at 1:38 PM on December 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Disappointed by answers that err on the side of silence. It's silence that makes people vulnerable enough to be victims. She might not benefit directly, but some other potential victim might.
posted by thesockpuppet at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

If she was someone I was close to, I'd ideally reach out and ask whether she was concerned only in the abstract or if there was someone in particular she was concerned about. From the wording you've described I find myself wondering if she perhaps had some suspicions about Fred or is seeing a pattern in his stories and behavior that matches the other harassers coming to light. Even if she didn't want to name who, if she did say she had specific concerns about someone you could follow up by saying you have heard some "rumors" about one of your mutual friends and it's been on your mind too, etc. It might be a gentler, friendlier way to let her lead herself to your information as a fellow concerned traveler, or let her make clear if she doesn't want to hear it without having the same risk to totally burn down your friendship as it would if you dropped the whole thing on her out of the blue.
posted by Lady Li at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am reading her statement with a lot more smugness and/or naivete, like "how could all these #MeToo stories be so prevalent and true since I don't know of anyone". It feels to me like some of my very privileged acquaintances who believe that all #AllLivesMatter and all anyone needs to do is work hard to be rich. Like she is above it all and doesn't believe the stories of the lower-downs, since she has never experienced anything like that.

If that's the same vibe you get from your friend, then I would be tempted to bash her glass bubble a little bit and open her eyes.
posted by CathyG at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar situation recently - a friend of mine was known for a variety of shitty behaviours, that while they didn't escalate to dick pics or physical harassment, made our industry unsafe and hostile to women, and hurt a LOT of women, and the industry in general. I found out about it in a public callout post, that a mutual friend alerted me to.

I am still hurt and angry that the people who knew about it, and knew I was a woman who worked with him, never said anything to me. Never approached me. Never warned me. That the mutual friend who warned me about the public callout post also knew but didn't say anything until then. That hurts.

In this situation it is slightly different, in that she is not likely to be in danger, but I would still approach her. Because nobody approached me, I was complicit in my friend's actions, either by responding when he asked for advice and I assumed what he was telling me was an accurate depiction of events, or by being the person I am AND friends with him, giving him some level of credit as a safe person when he wasn't.

I lost a lot of trust in a lot of people because they stayed silent, when they knew and did nothing, and said nothing to people who COULD by using those personal connections to try and address the behaviour.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

It seems like you have known about this for some time, and have so far chosen not to tell her.

I don't understand what about this particular post is prompting you to reexamine that. It's not as though she's waiting for news as to the identity of ONE harasser that she knows and can then stop being anxious about hearing that someone else she knows is a harasser.

If you do look further into telling her, you might try a variation on a method a friend used. She was announcing this in a non-public group, and discussed her experience and that this was a person known to many in the group, and stated that if people wanted to know who it was they should message her privately. I did, and she warned me that it was a person I knew reasonably well, and asked if I was sure I wanted to know.
posted by yohko at 4:11 PM on December 21, 2017

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