Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Silencing Survivors, or, "I Need To Screen Cap More Often" (Content Warning: Rape/Sex Abuse)

So I grew up in a wee village that was, at one point, a thriving logging town. So, lots of history and such. The Book of the Face, being what it is, of course has a few groups and pages dedicated to this history. I happened to come across one such group through my newsfeed and stumbled onto an interesting thread where an old, early 50's class picture with as many names as could be identified captioned below.

One of the comments on the photograph was from a gentleman who spoke of suffering sexual abuse at the hands of the teacher in said picture. A few other commenters alluded to hearing of this particular teachers proclivities and many on the thread commiserated on the oft-used, especially in previous generations, method of shuffling teachers around to different schools when allegations of abuse came to light.

The commenter who had experienced the abuse himself notified the rest of the thread that an admin had contacted him and asked him not to post "defamatory" comments in the group. Later, the photo had been deleted and the thread was gone.

Now first off, don't get me wrong. Group admins get to moderate as they see fit and if one doesn't like how they choose to moderate, there are other places on the Internet to be. Do they have the right to delete comments and pull photos? Sure they do. Just like bloggers have the right to moderate comments and social platforms have a right to enforce their terms of service. Not giving someone a platform is not the same as actively suppressing someone's right to speak.

However, silencing is a tactic that gets used against rape survivors and childhood sex abuse survivors all too often. In this case, the gentleman's comments were described as "defamatory" when what they were were fucking brave. It takes a lot of guts to speak openly about sex abuse, given the way survivors tend to be doubted, or victim-blamed or have their abuse minimized in a "I'm sure it wasn't that bad" head-patty kind of way.

Calling the comments "defamatory" would have been fitting if this guy was repeating a rumour he had heard, rather than speaking of his own experiences. Referring to someone speaking of their lived experiences as "defamatory" implies that the survivor is to be doubted and that protecting the name of the abuser is more important than the need for the survivor to speak openly about abuse they have suffered.

Which is, to put it succinctly, bullshit. It's silencing and it's fucking Wrong. It takes guts to speak up about abuse, when often there is much more to lose than to gain, personally, from speaking up. When someone does speak up, we owe it to them to listen, not silence.


  1. The admin were in an awkward situation. I don't think they were doubting the commenter, just covering their backs.

    1. Deleting the image (which I found out later was done by the original poster, who apologized) wasn't so much what I took issue with as the use of the word defamatory. It implies that the victims word isn't not to be trusted and that a dead guys reputation is more important than supporting a survivor (or hell, in many cases, preventing further abuse).

  2. Well written. I understand the need for moderation on the Internet, but speaking up does take bravery. A shit ton of bravery. All too often people stray from confrontation over embracing the strength that it takes to speak up or call someone out. I'm not going to pretend to know the right move in this situation, but there were certainly other ways of handling it.

  3. It's frustrating to me that people seem to often confuse "defamatory" with "something bad about this person." Refraining from defaming another person does not mean that we can't say anything bad about another person ever.

    1. Yes. Defamatory is something a court decides after a suit is brought and the evidence is weighed. It's not a word that admins should be using.


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