Alerting on a Missing Stair But No-one Seems to Really Care
May 24, 2023 11:38 AM   Subscribe

There is a domestic abuser in my (perhaps soon to be former) community in a leadership position. I tried alerting mutuals, I tried going discreetly to women on what amounts to an oversight board. Nobody seems to be taking this seriously. What should I do?

A man in a community I've belonged to for all of my adult life is a domestic abuser. Years ago I witnessed him physically abuse one of his girlfriends by violently dragging her from a table and into a bedroom, screaming in her face. I was very young at the time and the only witness; I didn't call the cops and never told anyone because the next day things seemed normal-ish. He's usually a really smiley person and very friendly so I filed it away as a drunk anomaly.

Years later I understood fully that what I saw that night was the tip of the iceberg and had the chance to speak with his victim. This man is apparently monstrous behind closed doors. He disappeared from our scene for years so it never necessitated a larger conversation.

Until recently.

About 5 years back someone brought him to a party at my house, which I wasn't super happy about. I confronted him about what I saw and he was, to my surprise, really contrite and even offered up that he abused another woman after the woman I witnessed. On the surface he seemed apologetic but when I walked away I had a terrible gut feeling and realized: he sounded just like my abusive ex during his manipulations. All surface, no specifics, he was just: "Oh I know, I am so sorry, so let's move on now, no need to discuss anymore because I feel so bad about it and this is distressing me."

He's back and started taking on more leadership roles within our community of electronic arts/party people last year. Concerned, I went to a mutual friend of ours, described what I saw and was pretty much brushed off and told that the abuser's ex was crazy. (She isn't, I know her. Also, good lord the sexism.) I was pissed about this and just resolved to only tell other women.

This came to a head when the domestic abuser refused me entry into a community event. He was a real jerk about it and claimed it was due to some unspecified rudeness that I had to apologize to him for but he didn't want me there anyway. I know the real reason is because I'm calling him out as an abuser and telling people what I saw, he went after another woman I know who warned others. The entire interaction was really triggering since he did things my abuser did when engaging in manipulative tactics like accusing me of things falsely and forcing an apology to put me on my back foot. So I escalated to the women on what can be considered an oversight board and tried to adhere to the process outlined and get this guy out of leadership.

Nothing happened. Worse than nothing, they gave him a verbal warning and he is still in charge of the same events. No change has been put in place to prevent him from silencing anyone else and they didn't seem at all concerned that he has violently abused women.

In the meantime, in speaking to other women, I found out that there are other exes he verbally, emotionally, psychologically and physically abused, beyond what he admitted in his bullshit apology. All of them are terrified of him to the point where one cannot even hear his name. Multiple women have left our community because of this guy. I am not the only woman he has privately gone after for warning people about him.

He now has a new, much younger, girlfriend. The people around him don't care or else don't think it's an issue. Outwardly he is charming and fun and seems really sweet but that façade hides a horribly violent and manipulative man.

So....what do I do? I thought of writing a long warning calling him out and sending it to the larger community mailing list. I thought of reactivating my Facebook account and calling him out there. I thought of reaching out to the women on the oversight board again with a message to the effect of "take me seriously please because this man is a danger." I thought of just doing nothing an eventually forwarding the email conversation with the board to the broader community if he ever beats a girlfriend viciously enough to send her to the hospital or murders her. I thought of just trying to get a note to his new girlfriend but I have no idea how. This guy seems so nice on the surface but what I saw that night still haunts me, it was like watching a demon come out of him. If it weren't for other women all confirming how violent he is behind closed doors, I would doubt what I witnessed that night.

As a DV survivor I'm really triggered by this entire thing and so heartbroken watching people I respected cover for an abuser and having to end multiple long friendships. This community is the closest thing to family I ever had and having to walk away is an awful feeling.

Sorry this got long and is a little all over, thanks for reading. Anyway: what, if anything, can I do about this?
posted by JaneTheGood to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
“So I escalated to the women on what can be considered an oversight board “

I was recently reading a book and it mentioned that often women in position of power are there because often they are enforcing male privilege and the patriarchy. Not because they are an example, necessarily of a culture of equality.

I am so sorry you are in this distress. It’s awful to feel like you can see danger and can’t stop it.

But think you are putting yourself out there too much and you need to take a step back. There are people walking around like him everywhere. I’m really curious what others have to say and I will be following the answers.
posted by pairofshades at 11:57 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

I think you have your answer through their lack of action, but save all the documentation and the emails, in case their inaction causes harm down the road. I’m sorry.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:57 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]

This suuuuuucks and I am so sorry. I'm going to guess that he is also a source of money/creativity/drugs/fun/talent (mix&match as applicable) in your community, and whether consciously or not, people are unwilling to get rid of him for that reason. I don't think any public statement will do you any good.

But! I see that you have had parties at your house; please have more of those! Those women who have left the community - please invite them. Your new community exists. At first your parties may not be as !WOW! as the old ones. Maybe they never will be, but you don't know that. Starting small is ok. There is talent that has been suppressed by this abuser and others like him. Can you focus your energy on bringing that out?
posted by inexorably_forward at 12:08 PM on May 24 [49 favorites]

Nothing happened. Worse than nothing, they gave him a verbal warning and he is still in charge of the same events.

I think this is your answer. I think unless there is harm to you I'm not sure there's anywhere to escalate things to.

If you want to go back to the board, if you didn't already I would put the risks to them and the organization more clearly:
- "I'm concerned this will open the possibility of a harassment case being brought against the organization due to its failure to provide a harassment-free workplace/volunteer environment"
- "I'm concerned about having been excluded from X event on Y date and I wonder how many others are being excluded and whether that would place the organization at risk"
- I'm concerned about the loss of members and have heard that potentially XX women have left due to this person's behaviour, which could result in Y bad outcome (loss of revenue, reputation, etc..)"

Basically, you can't assume that the board would fire him based on him being a bad person, it's more about the risk to the organization. I know that sucks.

I would think really hard about going to the court of public opinion (social media etc.) I share your feelings, but that can set of a firestorm. If you do, you may want to consult with a lawyer first, because he could turn around and sue you or cause other issues.

I like the suggestion of setting up a counter organization.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:10 PM on May 24 [11 favorites]

When I am in a situation with a person who I believe to be A Problem but about whom nothing will be done about, I just tell everyone involved, early and often.

"I have witnessed Bob behaving in X way."
"I have personally experienced Bob doing Y."
"If you are ever in a situation with Bob where he does X or Y, says Z, or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you can come to me."

If the broken stair can't be fixed, then you can at least try your best to paint it with fluorescent paint, hang up a sign, and be there to offer a hand when someone needs help to walk around it.
posted by phunniemee at 12:12 PM on May 24 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Continue to tell people when his name comes up or when he is present at events. Tell them factually, "James hits his girlfriends. I have seen him assault a partner. Women have left our scene after he abused them. He has a long history of doing this and attacking people who call him out." You may not get a great response in the moment but if you keep seeding this information around over and over, it will have some sticking power and will build up over time. This of course requires you to seem, to misogynist or naive people, like you're some kind of revenant loon. But as someone who has sometimes been the revenant loon and is now Extremely Old By The Standards Of My Scene, I find that it pays off in the end if you stay tough.
posted by Frowner at 12:15 PM on May 24 [29 favorites]

I hate reading this. Up until very recently, I was on something like an oversight board. Some thoughts based on that experience:

- Different oversight boards will have different policies, obviously. Some may not have any policies per se, and are improvising.
- Abusers cultivate supporters. In fact, I have been in an online conversation about abuse in which an abuser wrote that abusers cultivate supporters (this was enough to make a victim step forward).
- Abusers also sometimes make themselves indispensable, or seemingly so.
- Write up a dispassionate account of what you observed.
- Numbers matter. If you can get some other victims or witnesses to write their accounts and present them to the oversight board, that will have more power than one account.
- Be able to suggest to the board a remedy for the problem.
- Hearsay doesn't help.
posted by adamrice at 12:17 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]

IFF you talk to the women again in any way (I am not suggesting this), here's a compelling point: they may be reluctant to lose someone who is willing to act as a leader. Those people are rare and valuable. BUT he is preventing other leaders, who would be more valuable, and who would encourage still more leaders, from staying and growing in the organization. Him staying may be a short-term gain that is such a medium- and long-term loss that it will kill the organization, poison it by pushing out the most ethical and passionate members, and potentially poison and kill whatever field and work the organization belongs to -- by preventing the emergence of the leaders that should be developing right now.
posted by amtho at 12:19 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

You can also mention (by personality if not by name) people who have already left because of this man, and allude to others who are less active, creative, and supportive than they would be otherwise.

You, by being willing to speak up AT ALL, are also exceptional. If there are 25 people who are being affected by this guy, you might be the only one speaking up -- and if you weren't talking about this, there would still be 25 people leaving, or not contributing, but the board would have no idea why. Your willingness to speak up is a gift and a risk you are taking because you care and are lucky enough to be able to take that risk, because you have emotional and social resources others may not have.

The board or influencers you mention can make the connection between all this harm, and the leadership and help they wish they had _right now_, in their own minds. If they do that, it will be more powerful than you pointing it out for them.
posted by amtho at 12:23 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

I just want to validate your disappointment (not an adequate word) in your community. When people you care for and believe in don't show up in ways you assumed they would, it fucking blows.
I'm sorry.
posted by atomicstone at 12:54 PM on May 24 [15 favorites]

Name and shame the man and this organization on social media. Get his victims to provide statements (anonymously if they prefer) and publish those statements on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, wherever you can. Start a hashtag with both the man's and the organization's names in it. Gather a group of like minded people - women's orgs can be great partners here! - and publish a formal letter of protest in local publications. Call local journalists and tell them to ask the organization questions about him. Heck, print flyers and post them on telephone poles around the event.

This is no longer about getting this governing body to listen to you, or even about confronting this guy. It's about warning the community and hopefully enacting some level of accountability by making a gigantic and loud public fuss about him. It's about making sure that when someone google searches his name, his history as a domestic abuser comes up in the results.

He is counting on your silence, as is the organization that is now backing him. Don't be silent.
posted by MiraK at 1:10 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]

The new girlfriend won’t believe you. Or she’ll believe that she’s the one who can get him to change. Abusers pick their victims carefully.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:41 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

In a large, liberal, US city, for about a decade I was in a community with a member who turned out to be an abuser. He, obviously, concealed this from most people (including me). He had a line: “I’m deaf on one side so sometimes I have to sit close so I can hear.”

His behavior caught up with him, eventually. The consequences came because someone, who had greater than 500 Facebook friends, made a post essentially announcing they knew what the perpetrator had been doing. About four people replied, saying, "Yep, he abused me".

In the fb comments, at least ten other people said that they were glad to have been informed, some saying they would unfriend him on fb. One guy who runs events said he would ban the perpetrator.

A smaller group of people was given a link to Google doc containing descriptions of about five incidents, as well as some screenshots of some of his texts. I know the doc ended up circulating among at least some people outside of that smaller group.

I relayed to my close friends who knew him, the accounts of his abuse, and told them I knew several of the people who spoke out and had 0% reason to doubt them. I’m grateful for their work.

Hope this helps in some way. I wish you success.
posted by The white and yellow sock at 2:16 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]

Naming and shaming the guy on social media can create change, but it can also create significant fiscal liability for you. It is important to consider whether you can afford those costs.

Just one example: a woman revealed that the president of a popular science-fiction convention was a missing stair. She had a lot of corroborating testimony from other women. Good news: the con acted. Bad news: the missing stair sued her in 2020. The suit is still ongoing and she has been hit with $60,000 in legal bills so far. (That last link is a GoFundMe for her defense with the latest updates, and if you feel strongly about issues like this it is worth contributing.) Her case is not an isolated one.

Unfortunately, if you don't have the budget for those legal fees, you may have hit a wall with regard to making change in the current organization, and it may be time to move on and start something new. It sucks. It sucks horribly.
posted by rednikki at 2:17 PM on May 24 [7 favorites]

Oh, to be more precise, the perpetrator described in my comment above was accused of sexual assault, but not in a domestic situation, that I know of.
posted by The white and yellow sock at 2:47 PM on May 24

Write a notarised affidavit under oath and send it through an attorney to the organisation and to the places where he is being trained. A domestic violence advocate, sexual violence advocate, university or law school may have a service that will conduct the affidavit for free or for a very low cost. You could take the social media route in any event but a signed witness statement detailing everything you've said here makes better sense in light of the severity of the allegations you've detailed. You may be able to detail it as Jane Doe if you are not called as a witness in open court, but the judge can agree to withhold information from the defence in light of the affidavit.

I suggest sending these letters to the founders of these community events at least demanding they tell so-and-so that you're never to be barred from events. They may have been drawn in by his willingness to either invest or create income for them with him guaranteeing a certain amount or percentage.

Leadership of events is hard for these organisations, good people seek better opportunities or it becomes a distraction from other priorities. I am sure the community has many willing partners to keep music awesome. Democratise the programme through a cooperative where people get paid based on their involvement and can volunteer services in exchange for services. It does not stop the founders from getting paid!

Cooperatives for events are among the easiest to organise and are a great way to extend safeguarding to a workplace which is often a bedroom, coffee shop, bar, or street corner. Where are the spaces event groups could meet? Enabling communities to work together from day one to collaborate will be key to getting buy in. Good luck!
posted by parmanparman at 3:32 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a man like this is not a mess to leave for the ladies to clean up.

if you feel comfortable disclosing what you know for certain & have witnessed (which I think is both brave and admirable), please please please please do not keep making it known only to women, who must then, if they want public consensus & unified group action, take what is then a weaker second-or third-hand story to their male peers. I don't blame you for being angry and not wanting to talk to any more men after your last try; you could talk to them in small or mixed groups if you don't want to speak to any more of them alone without witnesses (I probably wouldn't.) or even just send emails. but they are as entitled to know, and they are as responsible for living with what they do or fail to do with that knowledge, as any woman.

it is very upsetting to see things like this blamed on other women and to see men thoughtfully shielded from all the ugliness around them, and it happens so often. I am not trying to pin it on you, either; fixing this isn't your personal responsibility and you are the only one actually trying to do something about it. just please, even though you may not be able to force him out, you can force all the men to show their true selves on this question, same as you've forced the women. you can take away from them their free and easy guilt-free state of mind, you can take away from them the right to ever say they didn't know.

that can be done; that is worth doing.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:35 PM on May 24 [14 favorites]

First of all, are you safe? At this point to me it sounds like you’re in a community that not only accepts/elevates an abuser but more personally, fails to protect YOU.

I’d leave the group and tell everyone exactly why and then I would make sure I could not be found by this piece of shit.
posted by kapers at 5:47 PM on May 24 [7 favorites]

CBC radio program The Current recently had a short doc about an “Ex Wives Club” that tried to warn and support new partners of a shared abusive ex. (CW for descriptions of domestic violence - I can have another listen and summarize their actions without the details of the violence if needed.)
posted by eviemath at 4:14 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

What if you built your own off shot of the community? Keep having parties at your house and make it clear that this man and his supporters aren't welcome. However, people who have left the community due to his abuse are.

See if anyone else is prepared to host events with a robust safety policy which includes being able to prevent people from attending if they have been accused of abuse (or for any reason). There is something so valuable about a space where people can talk openly about fears and suspicions. If this is a community that you've been in your whole adult life then hopefully there will be people prepared to support you by attending events, and possibly even being a pre-event and on the ground safety and support team.

Do things that bring you joy, without him and without his supporters.

In terms of calling him out - maybe, but it doesn't need to happen this minute if you're feeling triggered. Put on your own oxygen mask first. (I say this as someone who has been in very similar situations. I know how difficult it is.)
posted by Laura_J at 10:25 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]

A lot of communities now have facebook groups called "are we dating the same guy" and that may be a useful tool here? Unfortunately you are putting yourself in danger if you continue to call this guy out publicly and I would be extremely cautious about that. I would not hesitate, however, to make an anonymous post in one of those groups detailing what you've said here. You can even mention the company he works for. Just keep it anonymous.

This is hard and scary and frustrating. Good for you for trying, even if it seems like no one wants to listen.
posted by Amy93 at 6:45 PM on May 25

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful answers. After sitting and considering the responses here, I wrote a long followup email to the entire board detailing what I personally witnessed, what I am aware of, why I believe he is at risk of harming other women, the harm of the board's response, links to DV resources, the impact this will have on the community and that I want to make sure none of them can ever claim they didn't know. I framed everything as my opinion and provided reasoning so I am not too concerned about lawsuits since he won't be able to prove any harm and it's just, like, my opinion man.

Now to find the right foreign-language word to express the soul-crushing disappointment I feel.
posted by JaneTheGood at 11:51 AM on May 30

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