When Your Friends are Accused of Sexual Harassment

Last night, a friend was discussing the recent #metoo movement into children’s literature. I’ve been following the #metoo movement off and on, and I’d recently seen a backlash start to emerge, as quite a few people were posting about how they couldn’t stand how much credence anonymous accusers were getting, and how we needed to slow things down instead of destroying careers over baseless accusations. Up until then, my general stance was that the #metoo movement is a positive, if difficult, process. Something each person needs to go through, to recognize sexist, harassing behavior and stop it.

But my friend mentioned a few names (just first names) of people who had been accused, and they were names I recognized. Not just recognized. They were people I was friends with. Good friends with. Myke. Dan(!) But it couldn’t be them, could it? I was sent off to scouring the internet, trying to figure out who accused whom, when, of what. And I was led to this post on School Library Journal, where the comments section was basically outing whomever people had seen harass other people.

I was relieved to see that the accusations against Dan Wells were later retracted, and he has blogged about his reaction here. But it wasn’t that way with all my friends. Myke Cole is a guy I know and like. I roomed with him at Boskone several years ago. I look forward to seeing him at cons, and we share the same agent. He was accused. He has since blogged about his response, and I really respect him for being as open about things as he has been. James Dashner has now lost his agent over the accusations. I don’t know him well, but he’s friends with many of my friends.

On the one hand, I can see why people are upset about the anonymous accusations. I can see why the “witch hunt mentality” discussions are arising. People gather in an anonymous forum, lob a general “So and so harassed me and is a creep” without any sort of explanation, and suddenly so and so is put on a blacklist, his career ruined?

Some of this is complicated by how broad “harassment” can be, and how its definition can vary from one person to another. In the worst cases in the news, it involved rape. Using position of power to force others to do humiliating things. In milder cases, it can be about inappropriate touches. Leers. Creepy flirting. To conflate all these behaviors and punish them all the same would be a mistake. Making an unwanted pass at someone at a party is very different from groping someone, which is also different from outright rape.

But on the other hand, I understand the need for anonymity in these cases. People in positions of power (or perceived positions of power) can have a real dampening effect on accusers. People who have been harassed fear to come forward, because there is a very real and very vicious backlash against many of the harassers. So they become victims twice, first when they are harassed, and then when they’re torn apart publicly by fans of the author they accuse.

So where do I come down in it all? Because I think that’s a very important question to ask yourself. Failing to engage in this discussion is the same as dismissing it, and I definitely believe dismissing it is a mistake. Have I ever done or said anything at a con or conference that came across as hurtful or harassing to others? I hope not. But I also realize I’ve got a mouth that sometimes says things without thinking. And that sometimes casual comments can cut other people. I look to Myke and Dan’s posts for cues on how I might be sure to be a part of the solution, not the problem. It’s very interesting to me that Dan responded with continued support of the #metoo movement, even after being falsely accused. People calling for an end to that movement might want to think about that response some.

But beyond all that, there’s something more I wanted to say to the people who are claiming “It could never be _______,” and then justifying their defense because of the number of interactions they’ve had with that person and never been harassed or seen harassment. Just because you haven’t seen it or experienced it doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. It doesn’t invalidate the experiences of those other people.

People are complex. They have good sides and bad sides. We have all done things in our lives that we should not have done. Serial harassers will out. An accuser comes forward, and they’re followed by more. Many voices join together, and action is taken. I’m reminded of the people who come forward after a serial killer is caught and express surprise. “I never would have thought it was him.”

It’s not like we walk around with scarlet letters across our foreheads, proclaiming our sins. We are good at showing one face to the world. The acceptable face. Hopefully we’re all trying to become better people, but it can be a rocky path.

In areas where there are clear victims, I believe those victims have a right to be heard, even anonymously. Especially if that’s the only format they’re comfortable coming forward. They shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because they’re finally coming forward. If it’s a one off, hopefully it will catch someone before they become a serial harasser. If it’s the very rare case of a false accusation, it will do the same thing. Cause a person to reflect, change behavior if necessary, and move on. But if it’s a deeper problem, it needs to be stopped.

Those calling for an end to the #metoo movement should stop. You can’t choose to be out of this. Or rather, you can, but not without being complicit in what continues to happen.


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