When The Abuser Is Someone You Know

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Kate Earley

Killjoy, PR lover, politico, and I run on caffeine.

It’s a nightmare scenario. Somebody you love and care about – maybe a close friend, professor, or mentor – has been revealed to be a predator. Whether it’s an allegation of misconduct, rape, harassment, or other abuse, this revelation can be startling. You may not know what to do – and there are three important things to remember.

  1. Understand that this isn’t your fault.

It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to spot sexual predators. People often act as though there’s a flashing red sign above an abuser’s head, but it’s simply not true. While there can certainly be behaviors that may set off alarms, there is no surefire way to immediately tell if somebody is a sexual predator. Many times, these people bank on having a good reputation and a great set of friends to back them up in the face of accusations. They build relationships in order to protect themselves and insulate themselves from the truth.

It is conversely very easy for us to blame ourselves when we find out someone we are close to is an abuser. We feel as though we are morally responsible for their behavior, or that we have somehow failed victims by not recognizing who their abuser was sooner – that we could’ve somehow prevented their insidious behavior.

But the fact of the matter is, that just isn’t true. And by blaming ourselves for not “seeing it” sooner, we shift blame onto everybody but the abuser – and can even reaffirm harmful notions that predators can be “spotted” before anything bad happens.

2. Acknowledge that it’s okay to have feelings.

Finding out that somebody you care about is a predator can be an extremely startling revelation. We trust those who are close to us with our secrets and we build memories with them. We are overwhelmingly social creatures, and it hurts us to the bones of our being when we find out that somebody we care about is not only not who we think they are, but a perpetrator of violence.

But even knowing that you condemn them or their violence doesn’t instantly disintegrate your feelings, attractions, or connections with that person.

It’s easy to feel repulsed with yourself, then, when you realize that you still care about that person, or miss them after cutting them out. But we are wired to miss people when they’re gone.

Allow yourself to grieve for the person you thought you know. Allow yourself to miss that person. Allowing these feelings to exist does not mean taking the side of the perpetrator. It just means being kind to yourself in a time of struggle.

3. Focus on solidarity with victims – and let them define it.

When you find out that somebody you care about is a sexual predator or abuser, you may feel (rightfully) angry and betrayed. You may want to confront them about what you’ve heard. You may want to post about it on social media.

But wait.

While your feelings are justified, they have to take a backseat to another actor: the wishes of the victim(s).

Why? Because confronting that person about the allegations, especially if you heard them privately, can put the victim in serious danger. It may not coincide with what the victim wants.

You should express your solidarity with the victims, but you must let them decide on what that solidarity looks like. Offer them the same support that you’d offer any other survivor, and assure them that you believe them and are on their side.

We care deeply about the people around us, and we also care deeply about survivors of assault and abuse. It’s an unfortunate situation when those two values are in opposition to each other. But by placing the blame where it truly belongs, practicing good self-care, and expressing your support to the victims, you can learn to handle this impossible dilemma.