Silence is the Abuser’s Greatest Weapon

Last week, I wrote a post called Ethical Responsibility: STI Edition. As I type this out, I’m sitting in Planned Parenthood waiting to go in for STI testing. As anyone who is sexually active, it is our responsibility to be regularly tested and share those results with partners. Today I’m a little nervous thanks to my former partner having genital herpes and neglecting to tell me about it. I’m sure it’s fine, but still. He deceived me. He deceives others. As I’ve written about in other posts, the abusive nature of this man doesn’t end there.

But if I talk about it or try to warn others to protect their hearts, souls, and bodies from this man, warn them about his lack of integrity, I risk being branded a “scorned woman” seeking revenge or whatever. Society protects the abuser. Why is that?

Last year I published a post “When Does Silence Become Complicity?,” where I revealed for the first time a series of incidents that happened when I was in college with a professor.

Yes, how cliché.

But why is it so? The lecherous middle-aged professor exploiting the relatively innocent, intimidated co-ed. It’s cliché because of the sheer number of times it happens. Just like the married/unavailable wo/man whose SO “doesn’t understand” him/her, s/he “hasn’t felt loved in years.” Or the charming, convincing narcissist who is so skilled at manipulation, s/he traumatizes wo/man after wo/man. Breaks heart after heart, caring for no one but him/herself.

Liars. Cheats. Abusive, damaging narcissists. Self-centered assholery focused on getting laid no matter what. Deceit. Coercion. Drugs.

Abuse runs rampant.


In part because the targets and survivors of such treachery are told to stay quiet. Are shamed into staying quiet.

“It’s not your place.”

“Just let him be and be glad you got away. He’s someone else’s problem now.”

“It’s time for you to heal. Don’t worry about them.”

“You’ll have to relive it all over again. Just focus on healing.”

“It’s not worth the trouble.”

“You’ll ruin their career/marriage/reputation. Don’t be vindictive.”

A friend of mine pointed out that our patriarchal (fairly misogynistic) society has taken the power of gossip away from women.

I think she’s right.

In this, as in all ethical dilemmas, there is a fine line between processing to friends and warning others. Between telling your story and slandering another human being.

Slander, by the way, is “oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed. Slander is a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis for a lawsuit.”

If what you are saying is the truth, then slander likely will not enter into it, unless the abuser has a lot of money and can get a lawyer just to be spiteful, which people of that calibre might do. One person’s “truth” can offer differ from another’s, however. Then it becomes the “truth” that can be proven in a court of law, if it goes that far.

Perhaps this is how abusers are protected by society: the fear of litigation (in an overly litigious society) on top of the fear of having to relive the traumatic events over and over again. Of being continuously trapped in the abuser’s nets, unable to escape.

Another example of how our society protects the abuser: if someone gives you an STI due to nondisclosure or outright lying, you have absolutely no legal recourse. None. Zip. Zilch. It is not against the law to knowingly transmit or expose another to an STI.

What the fuck?

Also, due to the covert nature of emotional abuse, it is often not documentable, unprovable. Sometimes the only “proof” is the damage shown by the target, which can all too easily be written off as the target’s mental instability or issues, even if they weren’t present before.

So how do we, as a society, deal with moral issues such as this?

This past weekend at Aetherfest, I had a fabulous conversation with Jaymee Goh, Magpie Killjoy, and other lovely people after a panel on Social Issues in Steampunk, and the concept of being held accountable by one’s community came up.

I love this idea, and I think this is possible. In fact, I’ve already seen it action in both the Steampunk community and my local Polyamory community, and it works well.

In my local Poly community, there have been people who have been “straightened out” by community education and pressure, evolving from inappropriate, boundary-crossing creeps to valuable members of the community. Those who have STIs and do not disclose their positive status are quickly ostracized.

In one instance, a man was “run out on a rail” after two of his “crazy” ex-girlfriends compared notes about his abusive, exploitive behavior. And I hope that it will happen again with a new member. Ladies, I’m here if you’d like to compare notes.

Don’t stay silent about abuse. Speak up. Stop it from happening again.

How do you think we, as a society, can deal with these moral issues? Protect ourselves and our community against the abusers without bringing more pain and trauma along with it?

~ by omgrey on May 9, 2012.

19 Responses to “Silence is the Abuser’s Greatest Weapon”

  1. Those who lie about their STI status can be prosecuted. Here’s an example: And here’s another example:

    Both of these were for cases of men knowingly having unprotected sex with women without disclosing their HIV status. For less deadly STIs there probably aren’t any convictions, but that’s most likely because nobody’s bringing suits. In some states, like Florida, it’s a misdemeanor if the disease is anything other than HIV/AIDS:

    If you’re found to have an STI that was given to you by a partner who knowingly engaged in unprotected sex with you, then you should look into the possible legal remedies in your state. The key is that he had to know that he was STI-positive and had unprotected sex without disclosure, and that can be difficult to prove.

    • Indeed. I’ve heard about those where someone with HIV has knowingly had unprotected sex, spread the STI, and was prosecuted for attempted murder. And, fucking good riddance.

      Other incurable STIs like Genital Herpes (HSV2), HPV, and Hepatitis B are not prosecutable, as far as I know. Even though HPV can cause cervical cancer. Even though Herpes can be fatal for someone with an autoimmune disease like Lupus, Diabetes, or a slew of others. Even though that outcome would be so rare one could *almost* say never, it’s still a risk.

      Again, the problem isn’t the STI. The problem is the deceit about it.

      Let each person make an informed decision about the risks for their own bodies and their own lives.

  2. Hi there great blog post but I do not have a real answer to the question yet. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse but blog about it under a pseudonym as the abuser could sue me for slanter. It is too late for me in the country I come from to sue the man. I guess information, education and community is the best we have for now as long as a society as a whole prefers greed and brutality instead of healing and love.

    • How horrendous. They could sue you for slander? What kind of society is this?

      It is the best we have right now. That and the rumor mill. It takes some time, but it helps eventually. People talk. Just keep talking. Don’t keep silent about abuse. It’s not only healing, but it also might help someone else.


      • Well they are about to change the laws but it seems there is a lot of sexual abuse going on of minors in high places so they aren’t too keen on changing it. But I do not live there any more so I am a bit out of it all. And yes the talking has already helped as much as the talking of others has helped me. Communication is so powerful ~ we are often just not aware of it.

      • Communication is so very powerful. Indeed.

  3. I think society needs to stop blaming the victims. There are so many articles about how to not get raped or how to escape an abusive relationship, and while those may be helpful, the victim becomes accountable instead of the abuser because the victim didn’t follow those instructions. When I wound up getting abused, I was too ashamed of my “weakness” and “stupidity” to say anything afterward. On recently did I speak up, and even then I had reservations about people thinking that I’m a vindictive drama queen or that I was blaming others for my problems because the things that happened to be weren’t “that bad”. I think it’s important to speak up even if years have passed because you can teach people a lesson about what abuse really is and inspire others to speak up.

    Maybe it’s time to go back to the basics and remind people about respect and accountability. If we focus on how to not be abusers instead of how to not be victims, then maybe people will start speaking up more.
    Being unable to defend oneself is not a crime. Abusing someone is.

    • I totally agree 🙂

    • YES!!

      Being unable to defend oneself is not a crime. Abusing someone is.

      I’ve been fighting against this on a personal level, trying to convince myself I wasn’t to blame for the abuse. And, with the help of a magnificent community, my supportive husband, compassionate professionals, and patient friends, I can put the responsibility where it belongs. Overcoming the shame is a huge part of it.

      Respect and accountability. What a concept.

      I’m reading a very interesting book called The Emotional Abusive Relationship, and in this book there are no monsters. Even the abusers are victims of abuse who handle it in a different way, becoming the very thing that had hurt them. No excuse, of course, but most abusers (if not all) are coming from a place of deep pain and damage. Still, no excuse. I can empathize and feel compassion for any being who feels deep fear and pain. I know what that’s like, but when that hurts other people, especially habitually, my compassion ends. They are adults. They have the capacity for introspection. They can get help and stop the cycle if they just take responsibility for their actions. If they can just find the courage to do so.

      Unfortunately, most of the abusers are also cowards.

      So the cycle of pain continues. Sad, really.

      But yes, not the victim’s fault.

      One of the greatest things I’ve learned over the past few months is that it wasn’t my “fault” for being a target for abuse, for believing his “loving lies.” After all, he is very convincing. He is an abuser. 40+ relationships in 15 years speaks to that. The damage I’ve seen in his exes, driving them to drastic actions like threats of violence and stalking behavior, speaks to that. His complete refusal to accept any responsibility speaks to that.

      He is an abuser.

      That doesn’t change until he find the courage to face his demons and chooses to stop hurting people.

      But I can change. I can build up my armor. Strengthen my filters. So that when the abusers fire their flaming arrows, they bounce off, leaving me unharmed.

      The abuser is still an abuser, and even though they are also coming from a place of pain and fear, they are monsters to me if they hurt other people, especially when they know they do because of their pattern and they do it anyway. Monsters. And that’s not okay. That is criminal.

      Still, I can’t control that. I can only learn to recognize the monster beneath that charming mask earlier and warn others as well. So, I would love to see people not only taught how to be genuinely loving and respectful rather than abusive, but I would like to see people taught how to protect themselves against those “slings and arrows.”

  4. As somone who has been abused from childhood on multiple levels, even through my adulthood I want to express my gratitude for your strength. Inspiring strength, even when you don’t feel strong. Change against our abusers won’t be easy but if we stand up & let our voices ring out perhaps our communities will stand behind us.

    As a member of the same Steampunk community, I too hope that we will all stand together to protect against such predators.

    • Your courage and strength are inspiring as well, Bekah. This steampunk community is very supportive. I am proud to be embraced by the people of this community and grateful to be a part of this fabulous group.

  5. The whole issue or cluster of issues about accountability in love/sex relationships in our society is so important. It affects all members of society, even those who are settled in monogamous relationships have some likelihood of entering the dating pool in the future. We are all potentially part of a sort of ongoing viral stream passed through sexual contact, even with “safe” sex. So as members of society there is the concern of protecting ourselves and our communities from noxious persons. This is more of an issue for some social circles; people who tend to be poly or have more partners and or have one partner who is active or has been active lately with others…. etc…

    As a species we have almost always lived in a tribal system, whether nomadic or in settlements. In these tribes, bands and clans, it was natural for members to be accountable for their actions. In extreme situations, some people are shunned so that thy do no further harm to society. This went on for (presumably) hundreds of thousands of years or more. In such a system societies had much more solidarity and stability (even if nomadic) so that if a certain person abused their partner, other members of the tribe would do what they have to do to correct the situation. These are not strangers, these are people who have grown up together and know each other. In this system there is no need for policing per say, just social cohesion.

    However, we have of course been mutating rapidly as a species. Our social organism(s) have been kicking into higher gears (cogs) of complexity and more and more rapid change. We’re globalizing. We can make love and catch a disease from one person on one continent and then pass it to an other person on an other continent in a few hours. The richest of we humans are part of this sort of global nervous system via the internet and other humans communicating via the net. Some of us move around for school, work and other reasons. We move about the face of the earth with ease. Unethical people can unfortunately do much harm to a person and then just move on to do it to others with relative ease in today’s society.

    However, we can use the internet as a sort of village forum. I have seen some of these work fairly well in terms of members of a forum protecting new vulnerable people from potentially predatory people. It is not necessarily easy, but it can work. I have seen this in forums of a few different subcultures in which trust between people is an issue. It takes some adjustment time but one can learn which members of the community to trust. These people become “focalizers” (a word used in Rainbow Family and other hippie, nomadic gathering and pagan communities) to the community. they are like village elders that the rest of the society looks to when doubts are raised. I have also seen this in real-times/space groups in which, just as in a tribe. People sit in a circle and discuss openly and democratically any issues that need to be discussed.

    Perhaps there are forums in which poly folks or just people out there dating can openly discuss people by name, I don’t know. It seems that ideally it could be a very healthy thing. But I also know that there would be a chaos of non-stop flame wars for some time. Later on there may be dormant periods and then flare-ups (much like some diseases) in which flaming wars “present” themselves.

    You see, reading your latest blog entry here, I think of my own case. i am a member of a social network of a certain subculture. Members have profiles and a range of anonymity status. I write a short story which symbolically expresses my pain over betrayal and abuse by someone I loved. I mention no names, I even cloth facts in symbols. I post it on my “wall”. I there are no clues to let a person know who i am talking about. Yet, the person in question who did the damage finds this writing and goes into a rage over it. They threaten to retaliate by making serious accusations (false) and using my name. I am bullied into removing the post on my wall out of fear. So in my own personal situation, I am still working on overcoming this unhealthy dynamic.

    From my own limited perspective, I can see how people can be intimidated into not speaking up to others out of fear of retaliation. As you point out, emotional abuse is not easily proven. All it takes is one lie and a person’s reputation is severely damaged. Some of the worst people can be the most convincing to others. Is this a good excuse for me to let myself be silenced? I don’t think so. Still, I know no way around it without risking a serious slanderous flame-flogging and so I my lips are sewn shut. …hey, I am working on it… in therapy even, so off my back, people! 😉

    I am making no ultimate argument here. I agree that we members of these subcultures or out there dating would benefit from accountability. I think this is so important and needs to be discussed further and by more people.

    • Thank you so much for your comment!

      Unethical people can unfortunately do much harm to a person and then just move on to do it to others with relative ease in today’s society.

      Yes. They certainly can. I’ve known at least one on the convention circuit, and I’ve heard of others.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles. They have no trouble bullying, do they? I saw this on FB the other day, and I think it fits here: “The only people mad at you for speaking the truth are those living a lie. Keep speaking it.”

  6. Thank God for all my faults I have never been silent and just let things happen. I got blamed a lot for “blabbing” but I knew I did the right thing. Spreading the word that a girl was a meth user and had HPV nearly got me knifed, but its better to speak out than to be silent.

  7. […] Silence is the Abuser’s Greatest Weapon […]

  8. […] any of these people are turning a blind eye so they can do the same things themselves, but they are turning a blind eye just the same. This is a dangerous business, matters of the heart and soul, especially when Sexual Safety is a […]

  9. […] part of your community, especially a sex-positive community such as polyamorous, BDSM, or swinger, spread the word. Their greatest fear is to be exposed. And by keeping their secrets, we enable them to victimize […]

  10. […] And I will tell anyone who will listen. Silence is the abuser’s greatest weapon. […]

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