Trigger warning for rape, sexual assault, emotionally and sexually abusive relationships, victim-blaming etc.
In this post, I’m dealing with the issue of abusers within polyamorous communities. I’m well aware this is a highly contentious and even taboo subject. I’m talking about it because these conversations need to happen. Please comment, please share your views and thoughts, but please be respectful.
Community, in its various forms, can be a really big deal for a survivor of any kind of abusive or traumatic experience. Community has the power to rally around and pull somebody through, giving them the kind of vital safe space that is needed for recovery. However, it also has the potential to severely retraumatise a person, or at least hinder their recovery.
What happens if the survivor and their abuser were or are part of the same community?
The issues here are huge and varied, and I can’t hope to touch on all of them. The first dilemma is likely to be whether or not to tell people what has happened. To tell everyone, someone, no-one? Do you try to warn anybody that your abuser gets involved with, let them know so they can make an informed choice, or not? Do you shout from the rooftops about what happened, or do you just keep quiet and keep out of their way if you’re ever in the same space?
Keeping silence can be devastating. It can leave a person feeling utterly alone and as though nobody understands what they have been through. It can be even worse as they watch their abuser carrying on with their life and spending time in shared communal space.
But what happens if the victim does decide to speak up about what has happened? In the perfect world, they would be believed and supported. In the real world, it’s all too likely that they will be ignored, silenced, shouted down, or in some way blamed. How should we, as a community, react when somebody says that they have been hurt? Particularly if it was by one of our own?
There are no right answers here, and certainly no easy answers. Communities like to think of themselves as being very safe, and so do not want to believe it possible that they have people capable of such atrocities in their midst.
‘Oh no, not him! He’d never do that! It must have been a misunderstanding!’
This is a classic response to people who don’t want to believe that somebody they know and probably like might be capable of committing such a horrendous act. But referring to an accusation of rape or abuse as a ‘misunderstanding’ is textbook victim blaming. It suggests that the victim has blown their experiences out of proportion or exaggerated them. It’s easier to believe the perpetrator. It’s easier to pretend nobody we know could be capable of such things. But rapists aren’t lurking out there in the dark in back alleys and bushes. They’re right here in our midst. And that’s a much more frightening reality to deal with.
‘But what if someone bandies around false accusations to get back at someone they broke up with?’
While I’d agree this is a possibility, I’m certain it’s much less common than many people would like to believe. People break up all the time, and no-one understands this better than non-monogamous communities. Most of us don’t go around saying our ex-partner raped us if it isn’t true.
‘Isn’t someone innocent until proven guilty?’
Well, yes. In a court of law. Our community is not a court of law. I’d like to say that in these circumstances, you believe the victim. Regardless. But it’s not always that easy, is it? What if the accused is your friend, your partner, a pillar of your community? Proof can be difficult-to-impossible for a victim to provide, but the thing is…. I don’t believe they should have to in this situation. Not being believed or being expected to provide undeniable evidence is a form of retraumatising. It effectively puts the victim on trial in place of the perpetrator.
One of the truly awful things that can happen to a victim in this situation is they could end up losing their community, right at a time when it is most needed. If they’re ostracised for making an accusation, or have to deal with a lot of fallout or aftermath or simply not being believed… . But silence can lead to feelings of helplessness, disempowerment and even guilt. Pretending nothing bad happened can be just as damaging as telling the truth. Sometimes, in this situation it can seem as though there is no way for a survivor to win.
What can we do, as a community, about these issues? They’re huge and they’re painful and still shamefully taboo, and there are no simple solutions. But we owe it to the survivors within our community to talk about these issues and try to find the answers.
What do you all think?