Tag Archives: Abuse

What Rolling Stone Can Teach Us About Creating Ethical Poly Communities

[CN: Rape]

In November 2014, Rolling Stone published an article by Sabrina Erdely entitled “A Rape on Campus.” Wikipedia has a summary of the article and the subsequent fallout. For those who haven’t been following, the Rolling Stone article centered around the story of “Jackie,” a pseudonym for a University of Virginia student who told a harrowing story of being gang-raped by a group of fraternity brothers, one of whom had been her date for the evening, and who had led her upstairs to where she was attacked.

Jackie’s story has largely been discredited. There is broad consensus that, for whatever reason, the story that appeared in the Rolling Stone article is not true. Rolling Stone’s publisher points the finger at Jackie, calling her a “a really expert fabulist storyteller.” However, other sources, including my friend Miri Mogilevsky, have pointed out that journalistic standards exist to deal with precisely this kind of situation, and that this was a failure of Rolling Stone to practice good journalism:

it’s crucial that journalists and editors understand that it is their responsibility, not that of their sources, to ensure accuracy and fairness in reporting. Although Jackie probably did not lie, and the inconsistencies in her story can better be explained by fairly simple neurobiology, the fact is that people do lie sometimes. Some people lie pretty often. Politicians, whom journalists frequently write about and interview, lie quite a bit. People who have committed a crime also tend to lie when asked if they did it.

Moreover, people often misremember or forget things, even when their brains aren’t operating in trauma mode. As someone who often winds up in discussions about science and research with friends, I have often watched a trusted and knowledgeable person confidently tell me something that is absolutely false, and when I presented them with evidence that it was false, they were genuinely confused as to how they could’ve believed such a false thing. The reason is that our brains just aren’t made to retain lots facts and details accurately. Our modern systems of criminal justice, journalism, and other practices that require precise recitation of facts were not designed with this in mind.

A good journalist knows this, which is why the saying “Trust, but verify” exists. The Rolling Stone staff have been misdirecting blame onto Jackie by claiming that it was the sensitivity of her situation that caused them to abandon their journalistic training, but it is when situations are sensitive that these principles are especially important.

I agree with Miri that it’s entirely possible that Jackie was not lying, and that she merely misremembered the details of what happened to her. When the story first broke, Miri explained how trauma survivors’ memories are especially imperfect, and that recalling things like names, dates, or specific details are often very difficult for trauma survivors, regardless of their level of veracity. Maybe Jackie was lying. Maybe she is a trauma survivor suffering from PTSD, and that her memory was imperfect, causing her to report erroneous information about what happened to her and mistakenly point the finger at the wrong parties. From Rolling Stone’s standpoint, I don’t think it matters. Reporters don’t have the luxury of assuming that their sources are telling the truth, even if they are. It is a bedrock foundation of journalism that one cannot merely assume the accuracy of one’s sources.

The effect of Rolling Stone’s journalist failure is disastrous. There was obvious damage done to the falsely accused parties, but and nobody is angrier than sexual assault survivors:

This makes me angry. I’m angry because what should have been a rigorous journalistic investigation has succeeded in drawing more attention to false allegations of rape and diverting focus from the problem of sexual assault and harassment on university campuses. I’m angry because veteran reporters, editors and fact-checkers at Rolling Stone should have known better than to rely on a single source to carry and verify a complex story that alleged criminal wrongdoing on the part of UVA students and neglect on the part of the university administration. I’m angry as a survivor of sexual assault, who knows the crushing hopelessness and despair that accompanies not being believed, and who also knows that every line of print devoted to false allegations makes it that little bit more difficult for people to come forward and report rape.

[…]

The frightening thing is that the hostile responses in light of the Colombia report are so predictable. Many will use Jackie’s false allegations as an example of how women lie about rape and how victims cannot be believed. The debacle is prime ammunition for Men’s Rights Activists and others who seek to deny that rape culture exists and paint victims as manipulative and untrustworthy. I will not speculate on why ‘Jackie’ fabricated her story or write angrily to blame her, but Rolling Stone’s failure to confirm the accuracy of their story is indefensible.

Rolling Stone’s journalistic failures not only make them look foolish, but serve to make it more difficult for rape and sexual assault victims to be heard. When reporting on such topics, journalists have a duty to all survivors to take their practices and ethics seriously.

I think this has lessons for our poly communities, both local and national. Much like a failure of journalism can harm all survivors, similar failures in our communities to address abuse can harm all abuse victims. Communities leaders have similar duties to journalists when investigating and taking action on abuse allegations. The consequences of getting things wrong are huge, so it’s important that we take steps to get things right.

LESSON 1: LEAD WITH COMPASSION

First, some things that Rolling Stone did right: by all accounts, Erdely treated Jackie with compassion, respect, and dignity, which is something that victims sadly are often denied. Trauma survivors are often treated as suspects or liars by investigators who lack training in how trauma can affect a person. A lot of the ways trauma manifests can be confusing to someone who has no experience or education in dealing with survivors. The result is that survivors are often treated poorly, disbelieved, or dismissed based on normal responses to trauma. Leaders have a duty to educate themselves regarding how abuse tends to manifest, and what to expect from a reporting victim. In particular, experts suggest asking open-ended and allowing victims to recall details at their own pace rather than asking for specific information first.

Emma Fett of Navel Gazing has a tremendous post on dealing with abuse. Her top recommendation is that we believe abuse victims, but adds:

This is actually not as simple as it seems. Because people who are abusive almost always hide as victims. If we believe them, unequivocally, we give safe harbor for abuse. But if we are always suspicious of people who report abuse, we do not give a safe space to survivors who already doubt their own experience.

My compromise is this: we believe that abuse victims are telling the absolute truth about their pain, and we respond with compassion. Even abusers hiding as victims are in pain. Even malicious liars are in pain. In our communities, when we receive reports of abuse, our responses should recognize that, no matter how dubious a claim may sound, we are dealing with a person who is hurting. Any response should start with compassion first.

At the same time, it’s not inconsistent to recognize that memories, especially memories of traumatic events, are flawed, and to require additional corroboration before we treat a single source’s account of an event as the truth of what happened. Doing so protects not only those accused, but also victims.

LESSON 2: TRUST, BUT VERIFY

Most sources agree that Rolling Stone’s biggest mistake was its failure to verify Jackie’s story. The Columbia Journalism Review investigation identified a host of mistakes, all centering around the idea that Rolling Stone trusted a single source and failed to get a meaningful response from those accused of wrongdoing. Particularly, the report found that Rolling Stone failed to provide the accused fraternity with enough information to conduct a meaningful investigation, telling them only that “I’ve become aware of allegations of gang rape that have been made against the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.” Needless to say, this was not nearly enough information for Phi Kappa Psi to investigate.

The Presumption of Innocence

Our criminal law system assumes that people are innocent until proven guilty. It makes this assumption because it recognizes that accusations are not the same thing as evidence, and that it is unjust to punish someone without giving them a meaningful opportunity to present a defense. The presumption of innocence is generally considered an indispensable part of any just system.

Likewise, in any poly group, it’s important to recognize that just because someone has been accused of wrongdoing, that person hasn’t actually committed wrongdoing. This, of course, doesn’t mean that people can’t be suspended pending investigation, but it does mean that alleged victims aren’t the only people who need to be treated with respect and dignity. It also means that, to take any adverse action against a member, more than just an accusation should be required.

Multiple Sides to Every Story

One thing that Rolling Stone teaches us, without a doubt, is that it’s unforgivable not to get all sides of a story before making any judgments about what happened. Rolling Stone put all of their faith in the victim’s account of what happened, and did not give anyone else a chance to explain their side.

The lesson here is that no single person ever gives the complete story. When we are faced with an accusation of wrongdoing, it’s important to get all sides before making any decisions.

LESSON 3: PUT IN THE LEGWORK

One of the biggest lessons to take is that dealing with allegations of abuse takes work. It’s not something that can be done quickly and easily. By all accounts, Erdely put a tremendous amount of work into her story, and it still wasn’t enough. Investigating wrongdoing takes a lot of resources and willpower. Making sure the resources and willpower are there should be the first priority of anyone attempting to deal with abuse allegations.

Investigating abuse allegations means interviewing all witnesses, reviewing all physical evidence, reading all documents or digital communications, and figuring out what actually happened. It’s trivially easy to throw one’s hands up and say “well, it’s he said/she said, so I can’t do anything!” It’s also trivially easy to say “always believe victims! Punish anyone accused of anything!” Actually figuring out what happened is difficult, and it requires time, energy, and sometimes other resources. It is not something that should be attempted by people or organizations who are unwilling to put in the work.

LESSON 4: ADMIT WHEN THE EVIDENCE ISN’T THERE

This is probably the most difficult lesson of all, and this is the one that Erdely failed most spectacularly. She had her chosen narrative. Jackie’s story fit perfectly. More than that, Erdely’s narrative wasn’t really about any individual person. It was drawing attention to an endemic problem with college life and society in general. The individual stories weren’t the important part, it was about the problems with our own culture. Abandoning Jackie’s story would have meant either killing the piece entirely or writing a watered-down, less effective version which would draw less attention to a critical issue. Even if she had the noblest of intentions, Erdely unreasonably failed to admit that her story did not have the evidentiary support needed to publish.

Likewise, it can be extremely difficult for leaders to admit when there isn’t enough evidence to take action. Failing to take action could mean that there is a predator in the midst, and that, as a leader, you are abdicating your responsibility to protect your community. It could mean that the alleged victim feels ignored and abandoned. It could mean that you are exposing your community to further abuse.

All of that is true, but the alternative is just as bad. By taking action against a person who may be innocent, you may be committing abuse by proxy. You may be enabling and assisting a dangerous abuser from continuing to torment their victim(s). You may be vindicating and encouraging the behavior you’re seeking to prevent, thereby causing more of it in your community. You may also be setting the standard that your community has no sense of justice and turning a potential asset into an enemy.

The sad truth is that there is no way to completely stop abuse in our communities or to prevent abusers from being a part of them. Effectively minimizing the amount of abuse in our communities involves recognizing this fact and planning around it. A certain amount of risk tolerance is required in any community, and policies must reflect that all risk cannot be eliminated.

Where there is insufficient evidence to show that it is more likely than not that a person engaged in prohibited conduct, no punitive action can reasonably be taken against that person. It’s a hard decision to make, but sometimes staying one’s hand is the best choice.

Of course, actions can and should be taken to mitigate such a decision, starting with lesson 1: lead with compassion. Even if you don’t believe someone’s story, it is unnecessary to treat that person as a liar or a faker. Remember that memories are unreliable, and that a person may be acting in complete good faith, but still get the story wrong. Second, remember that just because official action won’t be taken doesn’t mean that care can’t be provided. Third, always recognize the right of anyone to tell their story. Victims always have the right to speak up about what happened to them apart from any official process. The fact that you may feel their story is inaccurate is no reason to silence them.

Creating ethical communities is difficult and full of tough questions. What to do about abuse allegations is one of the toughest and one of the most important questions. Hopefully, we can all learn from Rolling Stone’s journalistic failure and not fall into the same mistakes as Erdely, which ends up hurting victims more than anyone.

The Community Does Not Need You to Stay Quiet While Your Partner Is Abused

[UPDATE: Ginny has posted a partial walkback, which articulates a substantially more reasonable position]

Have you ever read an article online, and thought “this is great information! I’m going to share this with everyone!” until you got about 3/4 of the way down, when your jaw just drops because you can’t believe the absolute bullshit place the article went? That’s what it was like when I read Ginny’s post on what to do if your partner is accused of abuse. It starts out with a lot of great advice about supporting abuse victims. I particularly like the parts where she notes the difference between actual believing victims and engaging in victim-supportive behavior. As someone who believes very strongly in the value of honesty, I appreciate that there is no pressure to be dishonest, and the pointing out that there are ways to support victims without giving up our skepticism about how we form beliefs.

Then she gets to this:

Sometimes, accusations of abuse are themselves a form of abuse or manipulation. Your accused partner might themselves be a victim, in this case. If you believe that to be true, then it is absolutely appropriate to direct a lot of compassion and support to them — privately.

I’m sorry, what? I’d like you all to read that again so you understand what she is suggesting. What she is saying is that if your partner is being abused, then you need to shut up and take it. She’s saying that if you try to speak up against the abuse that your partner – an abuse victim – is taking, then you’re not supporting abuse victims.

grumpy cat no

No. Absolutely not. Ginny’s solution creates a race to the internet, where the first person to report abuse gets to be heard, and everyone else needs to shut up or be accused of being victim-blaming assholes. It’s well-known that abusers will often play the victim to divert attention, solicit sympathy, and enable further abuse. Ginny’s system gives abuser an extra incentive to play the victim publicly. If you’re the first person to go public, then you’re untouchable! Anyone sticking up for you is an asshole abuse apologist!

Secrecy enables abusers. Abusers know that there is a bias toward victims, and will take advantage of that bias whenever possible. And they will deflect and resist any attempt at honest investigation of the facts. The key to exposing abusers is sunlight, not darkness. Establishing accountability takes effort, it takes investigation, and it takes judgment. It does not require the silencing of abuse victims and their supporters. And to suggest it does is shameful.

If you are serious about stopping abuse in our communities, there is only one solution: actual investigation. Facts must be determined, evidence gathered, statements taken, and defenses presented. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, but nobody said it would be easy. Yes, it might take a while, which is why suspensions pending investigation are a thing. Yes, you might get it wrong, and that would be regrettable, but if you don’t investigate, your chances of getting it wrong are way higher.

Investigation can be done in a victim-supportive way. There is no need to interrogate victims, demand evidence, or even reveal their identities (in most circumstances). As shown in the linked post above, often, once you get both sides of the story, the undisputed facts will be enough to make a decision. If not, work with what you have. Respect the alleged victim’s decision to provide or not provide evidence. Allow the victim to be as active or passive in the process as possible. But if both sides are pointing toward each other, recognize that either could be the true victim, and don’t automatically weigh one side heavier than the other just because they came forward first.

But don’t you dare pretend to be supportive of abuse victims and then claim that abuse victims, or their partners, should shut up and take the abuse. If your partner is being attacked by a malicious abuser, you go right ahead and say so, as loud as you want, to whoever you want. Ginny’s system empowers abusers to keep abusing, and drafts the entire community into doing so. Do not fall into that trap.

Naming Names.

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?”

Public Service Announcement

We live in a culture of intimidation and silence. As an American woman, I have been conditioned to accept that my voice has no power, that good women keep their mouths shut, that I mustn’t tell the truth publicly about who has harmed me. To speak up is to rock the boat and is a threat to our culture as we know it.

I say good riddance to that culture. It is a coward’s culture and one that serves no one but those who seek to harm, manipulate, and take from those of us who are vulnerable, caring, loving, and generous. I will not apologize for my vulnerability. I will not apologize for caring for and loving people with all of my heart. I will not apologize for giving everything that I have to give. And I will not feel guilty for publicly calling out those who hurt me by taking advantage of my kind nature. To allow myself to be shamed into silence is to endorse the culture that empowers hurtful people.

Anonymous commenting on this blog is no longer active. If you choose to come on here to attack me, you must let me know who you are so that I can avoid contact with you in the future. Why on Earth would you want to have anything to do with Wes or me when you clearly think so lowly of us both. To come onto that blog post and inject your venom into it was an unwarranted attack on me and drips of cowardice and intent to harm. People of this ilk are not welcome in this space, nor are they welcome in my life.

Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to speak without fear will do so, not just for ourselves but for those who do not yet have a voice. I will not bow down to cultural pressures to be quiet and polite to those who seek to keep us under thumbs.

In short, I have fucking had it and I am putting vindictive cowards on god damn notice.

For the Record

Hi. I know I’m late to the blogging party here at the brand spanking new Living Within Reason.  I’ve wanted to write, but honestly, the types of things I usually write about have proven to be painful and difficult to get through.  The truth is that is has been an extremely tumultuous several months and whenever I’ve attempted to write about anything other than the reason for the tumult, I have hit a wall of anger and sadness.

I deeply dislike feeling hatred and anger towards people.  It does not make me feel powerful or inspired or motivated.  When I get into a pit of anger I have no energy to get out.  It is not where I want to be.  In the past I used to climb out of these places by blaming myself for everything that has been done to me.  “If I were better, stronger, smarter, it wouldn’t have happened”.  But this is the most egotistical thing I could think.  How could I truly believe that I would be impressive enough, good enough, worth enough to another person to make them be impressive enough, good enough, and worth enough to me?  That’s not how people work.  We are who we are.  Yes, we can change, but we can’t do it for anyone but ourselves.  That was something I had to learn for myself and it was something I had to accept about others. Still, even atheists can be the victim of faith when we desperately want to believe that someone will come through for us.

I haven’t written about any of this because I thought it was my responsibility to spare people the truth.  Yes, it is my truth, but I have trustworthy witnesses to much of it and I have an impeccable memory.  I began to doubt my truth after a while because I was being gaslighted and patronized on the regular, but I was able to rally my strength to not forget.  Before, I didn’t have the self respect to speak up for myself, to demand good treatment, to accept that the behaviors that made me uncomfortable were unhealthy and not just a figment of my mental illness.  That person is not who I am anymore and I wish for my side of the story to be written, mostly for posterity, in clear, direct terms.

Near the end, Shaun and I were having a heated discussion that was mostly about Wes, because of course it was.  At the end, pretty much everything he talked about was how much a selfish, abusive jerk Wes was and how dare I expect more from him when I let Wes get away with everything.  He saw he and Wes as equivalent mental cases.  He was incorrect.  When I would tell him that he was incorrect, he would explain to me that I have sacred spaces in my mind that I protect from attack.  One of these spaces is dedicated to Wes.  Another is dedicated to believing that I have worked very hard to shatter my emotional walls and grow as a person and that I have exceptional perspective on the world around me.  He called them sacred.  I called them ideals I was willing to fight for.  When Shaun met me, I was unwilling to fight for anything, certainly nothing that would improve my life at the possible slight cost to others.  In the end, winning the argument with the person I am today is not so easy.

But the most enlightening thing that came out of that conversation was our different views on trust.  Shaun stated that he and I don’t look at trust the same way.  He said that I based trust on what people do and that his concept of trust was about what he thought the other person was underneath it all.  In short, trust for me was an evidence based belief and his was a faith-based belief.  As a scientist, and a generally rational human being, I will continue to base my ability to trust people on the things that they do, thanks.  Otherwise, I will just keep letting myself be open season for emotional abusers and that is not who I am.  Not anymore.

I met Shaun a few months after I had been raped.  He was kind and gentle with me and seemed to hold consent in very high regard.  That is what I needed at the time from a new sexual partner.  Because he gave me those things, I instantly trusted him.  This was a mistake.

A couple of months into our relationship, he put me in a position to have sex without a condom.  I did it because I knew it would make him happy.  That was mostly why I had sex back then.  Afterwards, I felt terrible about it because it was, like, the one rule Wes and I had about our other relationships. Obviously, I had to tell Wes and Jessie as soon as I got home because obviously.  The rule was that we used condoms until we discussed it with our other partners and made sure they were comfortable with that.  It wasn’t even a thing that was off the table.  We just had to treat our other partners like autonomous beings with their own rights and boundaries and health.

Wes was upset, understandably.  But we made it through and Shaun and went back to using condoms.  I beat myself up a lot for having done that.  I felt unworthy of being polyamorous.  I felt unworthy of anything.  But that was pretty much the person I was back then.  I wouldn’t even call the rape a rape (or even an assault) at that point because I figured it was my fault and I deserved it for going up to his room in the first place.  I was in denial about my trauma. I would both do whatever another person wanted and hate myself for it.

After a few months, Shaun was frustrated about having to use condoms and argued with me about it.  I was terrified that having to use them would make Shaun not want to be with me anymore.  I was also still feeling like a piece of trash for having given Wes a reason not to trust me.  Wes was over it by then, but I wouldn’t forgive myself.  Still, I couldn’t stand to have Shaun unhappy, so I talked to Wes about it and got the go ahead.  But I asked that he not finish inside me because I had a lot of fear about that left over from my mom and her teenage pregnancy stories.  It was a boundary and I thought it was a relatively reasonable one.

After a few more months, Shaun was unsatisfied with having to pull out.  He was frustrated and wanted me to get rid of that particular boundary.  Again, I was afraid that he would stop wanting me if I was unwilling to sacrifice my own comfort and boundaries for his pleasure.  I thought that this was a reasonable line of thought.  I didn’t want to but I felt that I had to get over it for his sake.  So again, I talked to Wes about it and we agreed that it was something that was OK to do.  I didn’t tell Wes that I was feeling pressured and anxious.  I didn’t tell Wes a lot of things.

Admittedly, now I am glad that I was able to become comfortable with it.  So I suppose I should be grateful for the kick in the ass, but what I have learned is that I am allowed to do things at my own pace and on my own terms.  I don’t live for other people anymore.

There were a lot of things that happened after that which I added to my “Reasons to Maybe Not Trust Shaun Completely” list.  But they aren’t all that important.  Mostly it was that I couldn’t trust him to treat me as though I was important when there were other women around whom he wanted to flirt/have sex with.  I often felt overlooked or in the way.  After one particular incident where he got mad at me for not leaving him alone with a very good friend of mine (so that he could ask her if she was into him), I got into the habit of asking him before every social gathering whether I should stay away from him.  I was constantly worried about being a problem. I was also constantly worried about being replaced.  I didn’t feel this way about Wes.  That is because he and I worked very hard to get to a place where we knew that neither of these things were things that were going to happen.  I did not have enough evidence from Shaun to feel secure in that.

In addition, Shaun suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.  I admit that I thought I could handle it, but ultimately I could not.  When they moved in, I cleaned incessantly hoping that it would be clean enough for him (and that he wouldn’t complain to me about Wes and Jessie’s messiness).  My anxiety about us all living together, compounded by work and family trouble, got to such an unmanageable degree that I sought out antidepressants.  I knew that Wes, Shaun, and Ginny had issues with each other, but I thought it would work itself out.  That was a mistake.  Treatment helped but I was still always on edge about the cleanliness of the house.  In addition, I was always on edge about the dynamic between Wes, Shaun, and Ginny.  I was also always on edge about interrupting him when he was playing a computer game or writing something because sometimes it was OK to do so and sometimes he would snap at me.  Basically, I was always on edge and didn’t feel like my home (with my name on the deed) was my own for the entire year that they lived with us.  I tried very hard to make it comfortable, to let myself get used to it, to enjoy it, but I could not relax.  I upped my Zoloft dose and started seeing a wonderful therapist.

That combination speeded up my development into the person I am today.  After several sessions, I was starting to really feel a sense of my own self worth.  I began to feel and know that I am worth the best treatment, appropriate salary for services rendered, and the right to live my life as I saw fit.  This was pretty strange for me because instead of feeling guilt about people treating me like crap, I started to feel anger. “No, I didn’t deserve this and this is not my fault.  You are just an asshole.”  That kind of thing.

Sometime last year, Shaun started seeing someone new and he was head over heels very quickly. I liked her but had my usual anxieties.  On the surface though, Shaun was doing everything right to make me feel comfortable and supportive.  For the most part anyway.  I didn’t really appreciate the loud sex at 2am, but I bought earplugs to try and not be an asshole about it.  But yes, I trusted that Shaun had the health of my relationship with him linked into his new relationship.

One night, about 3 months after they had started dating, we were coming home from a burlesque show.  He was acting kind of weird.  I asked him what was up and he said he didn’t want to tell me.  I pushed the issue because he clearly wasn’t ok.  He then told me that he had been having sex with this new person without a condom for weeks and hadn’t discussed it with anyone.  I was furious and heartbroken.  I truly had believed that he would have learned at least a little something from the experience that he and I had gone through early in our relationship.  I didn’t for a second think he would do something like that and do it for weeks without saying so much as a word.  He told me that he had been afraid to tell me because he knew I would be upset and also he had been so happy with this other person that he didn’t want to do anything to mess it up.  He was regretful seemingly that night and for a few days after that but in seeing some email exchanges he’s had with a dear friend, it would appear that he’s rewriting history now.  Now he says that it wasn’t a thing he thought was important or that had been a rule that needed to be discussed.  I trust my memory of events better, as they are burned into my mind.  I still get upset thinking about that night sometimes.

After that, I didn’t know what to do.  I was desperately trying to make it work but my trust in him was completely broken.  It didn’t help that he became often callous about it all, insinuating that I shouldn’t be upset about stuff like that (and that I’m upset because society has the wrong values).  I felt like I had to remind him every other day of the severity of this trespass and he would meet me back there but then forget later, it seemed.  I started to feel insane, like I didn’t know up from down.  We were in trouble and I had no idea how to fix it.

A week or so later, his new girlfriend told her boyfriend about the condomless sex and he was not happy about it.  It seemed that Shaun’s relationship with her was in jeopardy because of it.  Because I was there, he was getting emotional support from me about that, even though I was completely furious with him about the same thing.  I tried, but ultimately I couldn’t take that he was calling the boyfriend unevolved for having such an issue with it.  I called Shaun out on it and he got mad, snapped at me, and stormed off.  Wes and Jessie got home to find me balled up on the couch sobbing. I went over to gauge whether he was in a place where we could have a non-abusive conversation.  I believed him when he said we could.  He then snapped at me that Wes is abusive and if I’m going to be upset with him then I should be upset with Wes too.  This broke me and I went back over to Wes and told him what he had said.  Wes went to Shaun and asked what makes him abusive and Shaun yelled at him to get the fuck away from him or he will break Wes’ nose.  Wes came back and we decided to go upstairs because there was nothing left to say and Shaun started screaming at the top of his lungs and threw dining room chairs around.  I was terrified.  Jessie, the brave woman she is, went down and talked him down.

Things were bad.  I didn’t know what to do anymore.  We ended up having a housewide conversation about all of this and Shaun and Ginny told Wes that they thought he was abusive to them.  This was in response to us being afraid of the violent rage attack of the night before and the fact that I had been generally afraid of emotional attacks from Shaun for months.  Ginny said that Shaun hits her where she is strong and hits me where I am weak.  I didn’t have the wherewithal to say that using the word ‘hits’ in that sentence speaks volumes about the truth of my feelings.

The next day, after a lot of deep thought and sadness, I knew that our living “experiment” had failed and that it could not continue.  I wrote an email to the family saying as much and asked them to move out as soon as they could. The tensions between Wes, Shaun, and Ginny were insurmountable and I was simply afraid for my own safety and also questioned my ability to continually make healthy decisions for myself.

A mutual friend had found a house in Philly and Ginny and Shaun agreed to take a room in it.  Tensions in the house were at an all time high and it was decided that they would move out in 2 weeks.  I thought Shaun and I could make it and try to start over without the stress of sharing a house.  I was desperately clinging to the relationship hoping that it could turn into something healthy. I wanted all of it to have been worth the time and effort and pain I had gone through.  I couldn’t let it fail.

But within those two weeks, Shaun continued to pursue new relationships and bring them to the house for dates and loud, intrusive sex.  The last week he was there, he made a date with a new friend of ours (who had not previously been poly).  On the Monday that he had the date with this person, he informed me, on my way to therapy of all places, that he had made a date with yet another “hot off the presses sort of poly person who wasn’t poly a several months ago” friend.  And I admit that this completely broke me.  I showed up to therapy in tears knowing that it couldn’t be saved.  I just couldn’t deal with being the welcoming wonderful metamour for these people knowing how he had hurt me (multiple times in multiple ways) and knowing how scary he can be.  I already didn’t trust him with me.  I didn’t trust him with others and I couldn’t be a part of it anymore.  I came home that night and broke it off.

I cried myself to sleep that night knowing it was the right decision but letting myself believe that the failure was my burden to bear. For the next week I was utterly terrified to be in the house with them alone.  I was scared to come home from work.  I was scared to not leave the house on the weekend.  I was convinced that he would lash out at me or at Wes.  I was kept safe and secure by people who love me.  I am very, very lucky.

There’s so much more to say, more characters to add, more evidence to share, but it’s not really important.  I wanted to tell my story.  I’m tired of being quiet.  I’m tired of feeling crazy.  I needed to get this out there.  I need to move on from all of this.  I silenced myself online to spare people this, but this is for me.

A couple of weeks after the breakup when they were living in their new home, Shaun started turning his sights again on Wes, writing passive aggressive blog posts aimed at him.  It became clear quickly that the breakup no longer had anything to with me.  I was a passing character in it, the regrettably lost prize in a war between good and evil (apparently).  Wes is the villain and I am gone because of his villainy.

So here it is.  These are the things that happened.  I know that I am not crazy.  I know what happened and how it all made me feel. I know that I am right.  And most importantly, I know that I am worth so much more than all of this.

This is behind me now.  I am cutting all ties that can be reasonably cut and am choosing to grow from this instead of shrivel.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.”Image