Last week, I wrote about how unnerving it felt to discover a sexual predator in my community. In the intervening days, I’ve been lucky enough to have other community members come forward with support, hugs, appreciation for my writing on this issue, or just wanting to talk about it. I’ve also had more than a few honest, if difficult, conversations. Some of the same questions/ideas keep coming up so I thought maybe I’d tackle a few of them in front of everyone.
1) What are the leaders going to do?
Our ragtag band of fitness misfits is led by a triumvirate of eager and caring people. They aren’t leaders in name only; they are leaders because quite simply they are willing to do more work than the rest of us care to do. Here’s the truth: they don’t really need to do anything. Well, that is, they don’t need to do anything more than the rest of us: don’t be a sexual predator, support/believe survivors who come forward, don’t tolerate predator behavior in the community.
Our community has a decentralized power – the power doesn’t come from any one person but from all of us coming together under a shared set of principles.1 In communities with centralized hierarchical power2, it *is* important for the power-holder(s) to come out quickly and unambiguously against sexual predators. Why the difference? In the centralized hierarchical model, members of the community are looking *to* the leader(s) to establish and maintain the community’s priorities and principles. In our community, *everyone* who shows up, establishes and maintains the priorities and principles, together, equally.
Our community leaders are also members of our community and thus probably going through the same cycle of emotions many of us have been through. On top of this, they may feel like they did something wrong, like something in their leadership caused this to happen. The best sexual assault prevention “tip” is to not assault anyone. As long as none of the leaders is a sexual predator, they are doing the most they can do to prevent sexual predators in our community. It’s probably not a bad time to remind them that they are doing an excellent job and offer them a hug.
2) Whew. It’s hard to hear but I’m glad we know who it is.
I understand this feeling. It’s like when Waze alerts me to a giant pothole ahead. Sure, I’m super aggravated that the city hasn’t fixed this malingering menace but hey – at least I know about it and can swerve around it just in time. Why do I know about the pothole? Because another driver reported it into the app. We know about this particular person because his behavior made news.
My larger point was that in any given community space, statistics tells us that a certain percentage of the people around us at any given moment are sexual predators; people we like, people we know, people among us totally undetected. We are a large group. I don’t feel happy about assuring you that there are probably other predators in our community, potholes yet to be reported. To feel safe because this one guy has been identified misses the point entirely.
3) That’s not a surprise … something seemed always seemed off … he creeped me out
Yeah, it was easy for me to see a few problematic behaviors/clues after the fact, too. I retroactively correlated some behaviors with predator-like behavior. I was still floored when I found out; I still didn’t see it coming. Despite the fact that the vast majority of crimes are committed against us by people we know, many of us are part of a generation indoctrinated into the “stranger danger” methodology of self-defense/crime prevention. Awful crimes from rape to murder to identity theft are more likely to be committed by criminals operating from a place of trust. That guy who “looks like a creeper” probably isn’t all that dangerous. The dangerous one is the one who is kind, thoughtful, sociable … likable. Being this way allows predators a heckuva lot more access to what they want than “looking like a creeper.” Some of the most dangerous predators go to considerable effort to earn your trust, establish emotional intimacy, gain the approval of others; they hone these skills to perfection because they really help in being a successful predator. The person who “looks like a creeper” might just have some lousy social skills.
4) Thanks for speaking up/writing about this/etc.
You’re welcome! I’m glad if what I wrote helped in any way (I really, really am). Please don’t ever feel the need to wait for me to speak about something important – all of your voices are equally important and relevant.
5) Come forward
I was not the person who recently “outed” the predator to our community. That person felt a certain level of fear around saying something negative about a community member. Would people be angry with him? Would it make our community “look bad?” He was lucky in that the person he was “outing” had quite a public record. His report was easily corroborated by local and national news coverage on the incident. In his court case, the predator fully admitted to doing what he did (he just argued that his actions were legal under current law). The report was inscrutable, shielding the reporting member from having to deal with any doubts or second-guessing.
What happens if someone assaults you and there’s no local or national news to back you up? Please, please come forward. Our collective safety, creating a community of consent is more important than preserving an artificial safety based on not saying anything bad about anyone else.3 It doesn’t matter if the person who assaulted you is a long-time member, a well-liked member, a member who leads an off-shoot group – no one is in such a high status as to be exempt from the consequences of their actions.
I’d also like to confess that though I’ve been lauded for my “courage” and “bravery” on speaking out, it was not all that hard as I felt 98% sure that I was part of a community that would back non-predators over predators. I was also not personally assaulted by this person. Speaking out *can* be really hard, maybe it was kind of easy for you to support me on this because you like me, agreed with me, or felt similarly about the situation. Please keep this in mind if someone steps forward with news that is unsettling or uncomfortable, that you don’t want to believe is true – it’s essential to support each other beyond when it feels comfortable to do so.
6) What do we do now?
I have no fucking idea. I’m sorry if that’s not the news you were looking for. As I said in my previous post, I don’t know of any foolproof road maps out of this shitty spot we’re in. This isn’t a solution or a plan, but I have a few ideas:
— As I wrote in my earlier post, pledge to not be a predator and communicate your pledge, out loud, to at least one person who can hold you accountable.
— If someone assaults you or has assaulted you, tell at least one person in our community.
— If you need help, ask for it. If you can help, offer it. If you feel unsafe coming to the workout in light of this news, past or recent events in your own life, etc. please don’t be afraid to ask for help. The solution isn’t to stay home and not show up. The solution is to let someone know you need help. Maybe you need someone to run with you (either at the workout or to/from), maybe you need someone to volunteer to be your first hug of the morning, maybe you need a ride to the destination deck because it’s just too unfamiliar. Whatever you need, ask for it. Your needs are not stupid or ridiculous or irrational. Keep asking until you find someone who can help. (I can help with all of those things though if I am your running partner you are not going faster than a 15-minute mile. Not right now anyway.)
— Commit to believing survivors. This won’t be the first time someone comes forward with news about a predator in our community. No matter how much you really, really,
l-i-k-e a person, if a survivor comes forward to you, your first loyalty is to the survivor. If our community has a reputation for not believing survivors,4 survivors will not come forward. In fact, the likely scenario is that they’ll stop coming to workouts while predators remain. Predator-centric community is not the kind of community I am interested in creating.
— Set your own boundaries without apology. In our community, we take a lot of liberty with each others’ bodies. If anything feels uncomfortable to you, it’s OK to say no. Your safety is more important than being polite. (Now, say it with me 5 times: My safety is more important than being polite) It’s OK to say “no thank you” to a hug. I’ve actually heard, “I prefer not to hug you.”5 It’s OK to say you don’t want to be touched. At one workout, one of the leaders encouraged us to smack each other’s butts on the run downhill. I told everyone in my immediate area that my body’s natural response to a butt smack was an unhesitating backwards chopping motion straight to the genital region. No one smacked my butt. We place a lot of value on openness, genuine platonic physical affection and I don’t want to change that – it’s part of what makes our community unique and special. That said, if you need to be a little less open, let us know. Respect boundaries and that boundaries can change over time.
— Recognize that predators are people who need support, space to heal, and tools to change their behavior patterns. However, within the community is not the place for this support. The solution to predatory behavior isn’t tossing someone down an oubliette; whether we like it or not, predators are in our communities. At the same time, predators need to find communities of other recovering predators to do the work of becoming a non-predator. It is not on us to “fix” a predator; it is on a predator to do the hard work of changing.
— Maintain optimism. There really isn’t any benefit to keeping your guard up. The somewhat-depressing fact is that no amount of vigilance will prevent an assault. This isn’t to say that we are all sitting ducks, that assaults against each of us are inevitable. It’s to say that despite all of the prevention “tips” forced upon us, there’s no foolproof way to prevent an assault other than would-be-assaulters not assaulting people. Being on guard doesn’t improve the quality of your life and it doesn’t actually prevent any crime.
What other questions are you asking yourselves? Each other? What ideas do you have for moving forward?
1In our case, I’d name them: accountability, inclusiveness, perseverance.
2For example: colleges and universities, police departments, most workplaces, etc.
3It’s an artificial safety because keeping an assault to yourself to preserve the “goodness” of a community doesn’t actually make us all safer. If you have first-hand knowledge that someone is a danger, blowing the whistle makes our community *more* safe. That said, I am totally against gossiping and rumor-mongering over things that are lurid but not actually dangerous. I am not intending for us to start raiding each others’ skeletony closets under the guise of safety.
4It doesn’t, just posing a hypothetical scenario that I think none of us want.
5This goes for people of all ages. At one workout, a friend instructed her child, “Say hello to Amy.” He responded, “No, I do not want to say hello to Amy.” So, I said, “Thanks [name] for being clear about your boundaries.” And I re-assured my friend that I was not offended, that her kid had every right to decide who he was/wasn’t going to say “hello” to without feeling bound by power structures concerning adults and children. I also re-framed the interaction to focus on the hilarity that stating his boundaries was much more complex than the simple “hello” so he must have really been serious about establishing his boundaries.