Wednesday, April 18, 2012

(WO)MANIFESTO - Talking to a Victim/Survivor, Dismantling Rape Culture, Apology Etiquette and More! by Megan Falley

Megan Falley is an advocate for those who have suffered from domestic violence and otherwise abusive relationships. She is a feminist. She got to the place where she is writing from by surviving abuse and it’s many aftermaths first hand. She’s here to be fiercely honest and call people out on their shit. She’s here to learn, forgive, understand, dialogue, move forward, love and protect. For you.

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

   –Elie Wiesel

In recent weeks, several people have reached out to me via e-mail, text message, phone call, poem, in-person, or through a friend to apologize for their “neutrality” (read: friendship) with a person whom I have survived the abuse of. I am appreciative of any breaks in silence, especially by those who have reached out through the far more intimidating method of communication—the telephone. I feel slightly validated that people are suddenly privy to the true character of this predator now, thus proving me “not crazy”—but it’s far less of a Magical Truth Parade than I had once daydreamed it would be. I am riddled with a tremendous amount of resentment for the means and nature of these apologies, and, even in the response that is finally (after a year plus of being shamed, silenced, cold-shouldered, or “neutralized”) still not entirely correct. This (wo)manifesto is not meant to belittle anyone or dissuade communication. I truly believe that everyone who has apologized or has expressed intentions to or is “having a really difficult time” with their “new” information has the best at the very core of their heart. I believe that even though it’s been one hell of a time penalty, it’s amazing that you’ve showed up to the mic. But the nature in which a lot of this is going down is problematic, and I am nothing if not a woman who speaks her mind, and opens up the road for learning and change. So, here we go:

When a victim/survivor concedes to share their story and get vulnerable with you, do not tell them you are “sorry” for what they went through. The natural human reaction to the term “I am sorry” is to coddle the person saying it. It is to say “it’s okay,” or “it’s no big deal,” when in fact what happened may be a big deal. It is not your job to apologize for the abuses of another human. Rather, if a person decides to go to this bare, vulnerable, and scary place with you, thank them. “Thank you for sharing” encourages further dialogue, whereas “I’m sorry” leads to the victim/survivor to apologizing, thus more silence. (It is, of course, okay to apologize for your own role in something, but never for what someone else did.)

That being said, when apologizing for your own actions, use active language. Acknowledge your own role in what has hurt this person rather than akin yourself to them by also becoming “the victim.” Many people have apologized to me as of late by saying  “I’m sorry I didn’t have all the information” or “I’m sorry I was duped by Person X.” This language is incredibly passive and accepts no accountability. It is to say, “It is not my fault that I shamed you because I was being lied to” rather than “I apologize for only engaging in one side of the story.” (If, say, a woman has a restraining order against a person, who also has a city-wide ban placed upon them from a single community, and you know all this, but have only spoken to the person with the protective order/bans against them and heard their story—in which, of course, everyone else is a liar—and you take the word of the accused person at face value and never speak to the victim—it’s really a dick move to apologize because you were being lied to.) Instead, hold yourself accountable! It’s totally hot this season. Holding yourself accountable is the new black. Apologize for your silence. Apologize for your neutrality, which took the side of the oppressor. Apologize for how much easier it is to believe a woman you know to be a liar than it is for a man you love to be a sociopath/predator/abuser/manipulator/rapist/whathaveyou.

Then, there are others who have been bemoaning how difficult it is for them to find out these horrible truisms about their friend. Those who are struggling with divorcing someone who was close to them, or exploring what it means about their own character if they continue to support this human. For these people I ask that you forgive me because I have a slightly less patience here. Let’s try this: Imagine your own pain. Now, imagine for thirty seconds longer what this would have felt like if it was not your friend who had done this, but your lover. Your closest-close. A person you sleep beside nightly. A person you have let inside you. Imagine being the one pinned, the one threatened, the one belittled and abused—who slept in her parent’s bed, afraid of the night. Imagine learning these truths about this person the hard way. The first-hand way. I hope you feel better now. Please stop making this about you.

To those who think you can apologize to my boyfriend/my friend/in a poem in lieu of opening up a dialogue with me, you are continuing your pattern of silence. Of getting and giving information not directly from the source. The mouth of the river. This is not how that works. I thought you would have learned by now.

To those with the social media posts about how people need to be forgiving of your friend—know that you can not forgive someone who claims they have nothing to apologize for. Cannot forgive “the blameless.” Telling victims/survivors how to feel after a trauma or how to cultivate the aftermath of said trauma is to shame them from their own emotions and stunt their process of healing.

On a personal level, know this: there is nothing fun about going to court before a judge in the same room as the person you are trying to never see again. Nothing about it feels victorious or fun. It will be the second-worst day of your life. Know that there is no sweet revenge in calling the police when the person breaks the restraining order the first time. There is no satisfaction in watching them be escorted out of a place they swore they wouldn’t go. Know that a restraining order is just a piece of paper that sits heavy in your wallet, that no one removes it and shows it off like pictures of their grandchildren. Know that most people don’t claim “abuse” or “rape” or “manipulate” or “sociopath” or “physical” because someone broke their heart. Surely you’ve dealt with a broken heart before and know that the way over it isn’t legal involvement. Know that protective orders are not granted without reason. That the “defendant” (and I am hesitant to even use that language) who has a restraining order and city-wide ban placed against them is probably not the best source for your information on their true character. That it’s a lot easier for them to snap “liar!” than admit to any of his/her own faults.

Do some research towards understanding abuse and rape psychology. A person may stay in a relationship after s/he is struck, belittled, violated. This does not mean that the abuse against them was “not that serious” or that they deserved what came after. A person endures abuse for many reasons, perhaps because they were manipulated into thinking they deserved it, that it was their fault, or that it wasn’t abuse at all. Most times one can’t understand the magnitude of their abuse until outside of its clutches. We are allowed to unforgive. Telling a person that their reaction to an abuse makes them responsible for it is to participate in and perpetuate rape culture. So stop. If you have never survived this kind of abuse, do not pass judgments upon those who have. That would make you a bad person, and we both know that you are not! That’s why you’ve read this far.

To every human who has survived abuse, thank you for however you choose to share your story. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for still being here. I am here for you now. I am listening. I will listen to everything you have to say. I will never go to the person you have said has abused you to find out information regarding you rather than communicate with you directly, because that’s the most backwards-ass shit I’ve ever heard. I will hold myself and the people around me accountable. I won’t love unconditionally, I will love with conditions that hold the people around me to a higher standard. I know now that this is the best way to love someone. That blind love allows for too many turned heads. I vow to never be the person I was before.


  1. Thank you, Megan. I wish we had some Hunger-Games-esque kiss-my-fingers-and-hold-them-up-to-you sign of support and solidarity. This moment calls for that.