An Open Letter About Abuse: Supporting Survivors, When to Hold Friends Accountable, and All the In-Betweens

(Photo credit: Angie Aristodemo)

Hello. Let’s talk. Before I say anything - unless stated otherwise, side from a few topics that require specifics, nothing in this post is referring to a specific person or likeness.

I am confident that, in June, something shifted. I won’t blame it on the cosmos, because I know that’s not everyone’s thing, but people are awake. It may seem like, to a lot of you, that people suddenly started paying attention to certain things, including racism, police violence, and sexual assault. I’m here to tell you - victims of these things are not new to thinking about the ways they’ve been wronged. More accurately, these things are finally gaining traction.

As of when I’m writing this, a couple weeks ago, I outed my abuser. I found a community of support I thought didn’t exist. What’s my reason for doubting its existence? Most times, when myself or any woman I know has tried to speak up on their assault or abuse at the hands of a man involved in a DIY music scene… At best, we’ve been dismissed or silenced, and at worst, not believed, laughed at, or completely disregarded.

I know how hard it is to see “your boy” as a rapist or abuser. I’ve seen it happen countless times, from people I was close to, all the way to people I just thought seemed like “nice guys” when I talked to them at shows. And, whenever these men are outed on a large enough scale, the people around them say, “we had no idea! We condemn his actions! He didn’t tell us!”

The problem with that is it’s hard to believe. Maybe he’s talking about women misogynistically in your group chat. Maybe he’s not the first guy you’d tell a valued female friend to date. Maybe he’s got a lot of young female friends, or gravitates towards every new girl in the scene who hasn’t heard about him yet. Maybe you notice a lot of women around you are uncomfortable around him, and you’ve brushed it off as, “that’s just how he is!” But, for every time you’ve allowed a friend to pass by apologizing for his “personality,” every time you’ve let a Zach Dear or a Matt Barnum get a pass, you are giving a man a pass to traumatize a woman. You are turning the other cheek instead of upholding your responsibility to say something and stop it before a callout post comes up.

It’s no secret, after this last month, abuse is rampant in hardcore. Hardcore is for misfits, usually whom have not been accepted in society. Despite your previous status as an outcast, it’s easy to make a name for yourself by starting a band, or even just bumping elbows with the right people. Once you do that, you gain a power and notoriety you might not have had the chance to gain. The kind of people who go on to abuse people are often these same outcasts.

However, let’s not diminish that this is something happening to women everywhere, all the time. Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused, 1 in 3 women experience physical violence from a partner, 4 in 10 women experience emotional abuse, 1 in 10 women have been raped by a partner, and 19.3 million women in the US have been stalked at some point. Additionally, 72% of murder-suicides involve an intimate partner, and 94% of the victims are female.

So, how do we work on improving this? Well, there’s a few different routes we can take. I’ve seen a lot of people say they want to “hold their friends accountable,” and cancel culture reduces the ability for the “cancelled” party to get better and improve. The theory is, by isolating the abuser, they won’t be motivated to change and grow, nor will anyone be around to make sure they’re actually changing.

Here’s what’s wrong with that statement.

(Photo credit: Angie Aristodemo)

First off - let’s talk about “cancel culture.” I think this statement comes from a lot of sympathy towards people who have been called out. By reducing it to a cultural phenomenon that sounds kind of trivial, while also acting like it’s an epidemic in society, we place too much credit on whether “cancel culture” even works. You mean to tell me you think “cancelling” people is effective, when people like Chris Brown, Tekashi 6ix9ine , Kodak Black, Lena Dunham, and Jeffree Star still have careers? When it took that long to get R. Kelly out of music? Off the top of my head, I just gave you a list of a physical abuser, a racist, and 4 rapists/pedophiles. Guess what? Aside from Kodak Black and R. Kelly’s wealth dwindling due to legal fees, they have $268 million fucking dollars of net worth between them. Your microcosm of “woke” friends may have “cancelled” all of them, but they’re still bringing in exorbitant wealth. They may have experienced consequences when they lost supporters, but their careers were not “cancelled” in the way you think.

The same often goes for people involved in hardcore or other DIY scenes. Sure, they drop out of their scene, but they still have their jobs, families, and lives outside of hardcore. They can even move away to another scene and start over if their callout went under the radar outside of their area. Yet, still, the first thing some people jump to say is, "well, you don't have to ruin his life over it!" when the abuser's life is hardly ever "ruined" for what they did.

Second - most people making this statement are making a point to distinguish between types of abuse. They usually are in agreement that physical/sexual abuse isn’t a rehabilitatable behavior, but emotional abuse is. This tends to come from the thought process that emotional abuse is not as harmful, or simply referring to someone’s partner being mean to them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. First and foremost, abuse is a repeated pattern - not a one-off mean comment. To expand, I’d like to clarify the meaning of one of the current therapy buzzwords - “gaslighting.”

Defined by Psychology Today, “Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.” It is a thing someone purposely does, because the operative thought behind it is that you know the truth, but are actively twisting it to make the victim doubt their memories and keep them from holding you to something you did or said. It’s not something you do by accident.

I say that because I feel like a lot of people who are encouraging others to stay in contact with abusers to “hold them accountable” are seeing things like gaslighting and manipulation as mistakes. Quite the opposite - of course we all say things we don’t know sometimes, but someone who commits emotional abuse over time knows what they’re doing. Moreover, emotional abuse is a strong initial warning sign before physical or sexual abuse occurs.

(Photo credit: Angie Aristodemo)

Third - consider what accountability really is. It looks different for everyone, and ultimately, we should put survivors first when thinking of what accountability and/or making it right really means. Some survivors want apologies directly from their abusers, public or private. Some want abusers to go to therapy (my preferred option). Some want them to give up their posts at school or work. (This is often described as the harmful side of cancel culture, but truth is - if you’re known to be sexually predatory, violent, racist, homophobic, etc., you’re just not suited to do certain things.)

Thus, the problem with telling people to “hold their friends accountable.” Let me make it clear, I think this works when it’s an issue of ignorance, like a problematic statement, but I don’t think this works on an abuser. I have personally tried to take this route. Again, trying to be as vague as possible, a very significant friend in my life did something I didn’t agree with. I got them to hear myself and others out about what exactly they did wrong, made sure they knew what they did, and suggested they avoid circles their victim was in. Finally, myself and their partner suggested therapy. They never went, allegations got brought up again, and ultimately, I realized I was uncomfortable with associating with them until I saw concrete improvements, and an attempt to make things right on the victim’s terms.

The biggest problem with this logic, which I experienced, is that telling people they need to hold their friends accountable places way too much responsibility on friends to make the abuser a functioning member of society. Though the people around abusers might mean well, the facts are - their friend isn’t responsible for making them into a good person. Checking them when they fuck up? Sure. This article is not at all meant to say that we should drop everyone in our lives immediately once they've done something wrong. But abuse isn’t a small fuckup.

Ultimately, the ability to fix abusive behavior comes solely from the self, and is best brought out by a professional. Starting the narrative that people need to force themselves to be friends with manipulative people who do things that don’t align with their values only sets up a situation where an abuser that hasn’t changed gets to point the finger and say, “look, I’m still abusive because no one held me accountable!”

So. You say you’re invested in the accountability process of a person. Ask yourself why. Is it for the good of the world, wanting to help reduce abuse in your communities? Is it to find solace for victims? Or it because that person is your friend, and you don’t want to let them go?

And if the victim doesn’t accept the apology, are you prepared to let them work through that with the abuser on their own, or are you going to accept the apology for them, because of the desire to keep seeing your friend the way you believe them to be?

I am here to tell you: it’s okay to not want to be friends with an abuser. You're not taking the easy way out by cutting them off, and you do not have to actively involve yourself in the process of “fixing” someone unless you want to. Being a survivor and continuing a friendship with someone facing allegations is hard.You can still root for that person's improvement even if you can’t directly help.

Above all, you’re just not required to associate with people whose decisions you don’t agree with. The same people who encourage you to cut off “toxic friends” somehow don’t understand that keeping yourself in the circle of a known manipulator opens you up to also be gaslit and manipulated by them, ending up looking like a fool for defending them when they do it again.

With that being said, here’s the most important thing I have to say: a lot of you are way more concerned with your friends and how they’re handling being cancelled, versus how their victims are dealing with the trauma incurred. I understand abusers often have underlying mental issues contributing to why they do what they do, and they might be struggling due to reflecting on what they did. However, have you considered the victims are suffering from the things your friend chose to do? And I don’t mean temporarily - have you thought about the long-term effects of being abused? Bruises fade, but the fear of being harmed, the crossing of consent lines, and the aftereffects of gaslighting are all things that permeate the mind for years to come. Survivors have to get over the panic rising in their chest when they find themselves alone with an unfamiliar person, the guilt they feel when they don’t know how to be present during sex while healing from assault, and the literal holes in memory that come from being gaslit over a course of years, and you want me to feel bad for “your boy” because he has to think about his actions and that’s hard for him?

The process of calling out an abuser isn't something you do for fun. On top of the pain already incurred by whatever you’re calling them out for, it is reliving the pain when you write the post, each time the post gets an interaction, and being afraid to look at your phone for days. In my case, and many others, it’s reliving the pain when you weren’t even sure you were ready to tell the world about your personal life. And then someone tells you you’re doing it for clout, you’re a liar, you’re “hateful” … While they look at you with condescending eyes and ask if you can please forgive your abuser, because they want to keep seeing them play shows. This is why I’ll never blame people who are scared to go public.

To wrap this up - I don't want anyone to take "we should stop having hard conversations with our friends" away from this. There are people who do one-off things that can be fixed. However, it is not your sole responsibility to make abusers into better people by "holding them accountable" just because they're your current or former friend. Additionally, recognize that some people can't change, no matter how much you want them to.

I don’t know how to end this, but I hope this helps start conversations that make others realize they’ve been letting down the women in their scene big time. If you say you care about equality and change, then listen to the people in the oppressed group, and don’t talk over them. We all have the same goal: to keep this thing we love safe for the people within it. Listen to and believe survivors. 


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