So this is a post about publicly naming your abuser, which sadly, is an area I know a bit about.
When I was in college I dated an abusive guy who used to do things like shove me into walls, push me out of bed while I was sleeping, and break my things and throw them on the lawn. The list of things he did to me was long, and I stayed because I thought he understood me in a way no one else could…and also because I was afraid of what would happen to me if I left. I mean that both in the sense of what he would do, and then also where I would end up. He cut me off from my friends so effectively that by the time we were over, I had no where to go but back to my parents. And that was a less than ideal situation for me. But one night he woke me up at 4am to inform me that he hacked into my online journal, a journal only three people besides me had access to, and read all the things I wrote about him. He also informed me that he looked through all my stuff, trying to find evidence that I was cheating on him. For the record, I was not. But he had cheated on me. Repeatedly, and over a period of months. That afternoon, I moved out while he was at work. He then proceeded to stalk me for several months, prompting me to call the cops on him. He showed up at both of my jobs, and at my parents house in the middle of the night.
I’ve outted him as an abuser more than once over the years. Because I’m concerned for other women. I told his close friends, many of whom were also my close friends, what he put me through. I told them…tell other women who show an interest in him. Don’t try to protect my privacy, protect them from having to go through what I went through.
He was bipolar, and he showed time and again that he wasn’t interested in getting better. He was interested in doing what it took to get away with mistreating and controlling me. With testing the line. When I finally left him once and for all he tried EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK to get me to come back. I moved across the country, in part to get away from that town, but mostly so he couldn’t find me and manipulate me anymore. He was an expert at finding and exploiting my weaknesses and I was only just beginning build the skills I needed to avoid abuse.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that experience. One of those lessons is that manipulative people often come clean about their deeds! Kind of. They’ll preemptively share what they’ve done so they can control the narrative. “Yeah, I want you to know, I used to fly into rages and mistreat my ex. But let me tell you all the stress I was under. I mean, I’m really the victim here. And it‘s not like that anymore. I‘ve worked very hard to control my anger.” Or maybe they just say something vague like, “I just drive the people I love away…I don’t know why I do it. I guess, it was my childhood.”
He told me what he did to his ex. He told his next two girlfriends what he did to me. But I know when he told me about his ex he wasn’t being honest. He twisted the truth. For example, he told me he got angry with her once because she was cheating on him. She never cheated on him. That part of the story was a fabrication. And I know she was telling me the truth because her version of the story made way more sense than his did and she had friends i trusted verify her version of events.
Years later, I witnessed an abusive altercation between my best friend and her husband. She had told me about his anger before, but I think either she in her telling of it or me in my imagining of it had downplayed it, because I had no idea that’s what she meant.
Some time passed, and they eventually split (thank god) and she was telling her story on her online journal, and I seem to recall someone she knew personally acting as if they didn’t believe her interpretation of events, so I was like, oh no. I was there. I’ve seen it.
The shit storm that followed was unbelievable. My credibility as a witness came into question. There were people who didn’t believe us! And I was there! I saw it with my own eyes! And here I was defending myself against accusations like, “I’m really supposed to believe you find him threatening? I think you‘re lying about all of this.” Yes! He’s a scary motherfucker when he’s mad.
And that was the first time I got a whole heaping load of shit for “naming names.” Like, how dare I drag this guy’s name through the mud. Because I witnessed him abuse my best friend. I never expected to get called out for publicly speaking up about what I saw that day. I guess with my ex, he was pretty open with his dude friends about his mistreatment of me and they thought he was kind of a jerk already. In this case, the guy did a pretty good job of making people believe he was an all around nice guy. I mean, I believed it. I was shocked by what I witnessed. But it still happened and I felt I HAD to speak up. She’s telling the truth! I vouch for her!
I still carry that experience around with me because some people really couldn’t believe it, and they viciously attacked us as if we were the assholes.
But it didn’t really matter because I knew I was telling the truth, and I knew people needed to hear it, even if they didn’t like it. I didn’t feel guilty because it might make things uncomfortable for this guy because HE DID THOSE THINGS. He put himself in that position with his actions. He didn’t deserve an expectation of privacy for abusing his wife in their own home where most people couldn’t see. Fuck him.
So fast forward to recently and I was actually on the other end of this. I started dating Wes and I found out one of his ex’s is friends with the best friend from the previous story. She was like hey, just so you know, my friend has some terrible things to say about that guy you just started dating, do you want me to tell you what I’ve heard?
And I take that kind of shit VERY seriously. So I was like, oh wow, yes. Please tell me. You know, I don’t want to find out months down the road that the guy I’m dating is secretly horrible and really good at hiding it. I’m not interested in wasting my time on shitty people.
So she gave me her version of events, and I sat back and looked for red flags. I looked really hard. And I have to say, I’m pretty good at spotting red flags at this point.
And I didn’t see them. So I debated what to do next. And I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but I ended up just confronting him. Like hey, your ex contacted me and said all these things about you, what’s the deal?
Then he told me about his ex. And Gina and Jessie confirmed everything. And their version of events was well flushed out and didn’t add up with said ex’s version of events. And even within her own story, not taking into account anyone else’s version, things didn’t add up. Like her time table conflicted with itself and that meant one of two things she said probably wasn’t true.
I seriously had nothing to back up her story. That was over five months ago, and that’s still the case. I’ve now been with Wes much longer than that ex was and things are going really well.
So, I’ve been on both sides of this. In fact, with my abusive ex from the first story, people warned me about him and I didn’t want to hear it. Because he fed me his version of events and I didn’t know better. I just believed him because he seemed sincere. But the evidence was there, smacking me in the face. When I finally listened, I was like oh yeah, that makes way more sense than what he was telling me. I’m such a fool.
In this case, I thoroughly investigated the information given to me and found it rang false. And that’s fine! I’m not upset she contacted me. I’d rather someone say something. I want to know if someone has had a bad experience with the person I’m dating so I can be on the lookout for trouble.
In this case, I think the person just…was weird about certain things, and misread events, and didn’t have the best communication skills. Whatever the deal was, I haven’t come across the same issues.
But yeah, fast forward to now. And we’ve had Shaun vaguely telling his version of events on his blog for months. With lots of passive-aggressive digs at Wes. And we have Gina who finally came out and told a more specific (and still very generous) version of events, and we have an anonymous commenter angry with us for naming names. And another person on facebook who thinks that it’s not okay to speak ill of exes. And what we have here feels pretty similar to the situation I experienced with my best friend where all I did was say what happened, what I saw with my own eyeballs, and suddenly I was the asshole. For outing an abuser. For telling people what happened.
I believe Gina. I think everyone believes Gina. So what’s the problem here? That abusive people have a right to privacy? That you shouldn’t openly speak ill of anyone even if you’re just accurately recounting events?
There‘s a saying by Anne Lamott that goes “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
We don’t owe anyone our silence. If they treat us badly, we have the right to say what happened because it happened TO US. If it makes them look bad that’s not our problem.
I think there’s only one thing you really need to ask yourself before writing something on the internet and that‘s “Is this true?”