Herizons Commentary

Dodging Bullets and MeToo  by Kate Sloan
Dodging Bullets and MeToo

I was shocked when a woman came forward online to describe the ways in which her ex had abused and assaulted her. I was shocked because her ex was, at the time, my good friend.

After I heard her story, I went through a cavalcade of emotions, beginning with denial (“How could this be true? He’s never abused me!”), moving through depression (“If this is true, anyone might secretly be an abuser”) and finally, ending with acceptance.

That is when I made the decision to believe his ex and cut him out of my life. Our relationship had been friendly and fun, but, even with me, he’d shown hints of the controlling and critical behaviours his ex had called him out on. I chose to believe her.

“Believe women” is a long-time battle cry of the #MeToo movement—and for good reason. Given the media scrutiny, venomous trolling and courtroom cross-examination they’re often subjected to, it’s pretty clear that the risk/reward ratio rarely makes lying about abuse worthwhile to those who come forward. A 2010 study backed this up, finding that as few as two percent of rape accusations are false.

My experience with my former friend showed me, however, how painful it can be to believe claims of intentional harm perpetrated by a person you previously trusted. Despite my feminist inclinations toward accepting survivors’ narratives, my allegiance to the person accused—and to my own experience of reality—was difficult to overcome.

Ultimately, I overcame it by concluding that two seemingly contradictory things could be true: he may not have abused me, but that didn’t mean he’d never abused anyone else.

“One of the obstacles to recognizing chronic mistreatment in relationships is that most abusive men simply don’t seem like abusers,” writes counsellor and abuse expert Lundy Bancroft in his book Why Does He Do That? “[They] can be a different person from day to day, or even from hour to hour.”

News stories about abusers frequently reflect this exact tension. After accusations of abuse were made against Jian Ghomeshi in 2014, columnist Dan Savage interviewed a past sexual partner of Ghomeshi’s, who said their activities together were only ever mutually consensual.

“I am very worried about him and would like my story to be among the rest to give people a clearer picture,” she said. “My experience with Jian was that he wanted it to be fun for both people.”

 While she didn’t outright call Ghomeshi’s accusers liars, the implication was clear: he may have attacked others, but he didn’t attack me, so he can’t be that bad.

More than six years on, many women are willing to see that their once-rosy view of their ex may not reflect the whole truth. When film star Armie Hammer was accused of abuse by several ex-girlfriends, his ex-wife,

TV personality Elizabeth Chambers, issued a statement, saying, “I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know. I support any victim of assault or abuse and urge anyone who has experienced this pain to seek the help she or he needs to heal.”

Here, Chambers acknowledges that abuse could have taken place and expresses her support for victims— even if she was not one of them. Similarly, after her ex-husband Marilyn Manson was accused of abusing several former girlfriends, burlesque performer Dita Von Teese wrote in a statement, “Please know that the details made public do not match my personal experiences during our seven years together … I urge those of you who have incurred abuse to take steps to heal and the strength to fully realize yourself.” It was refreshing to see her acknowledge that while she may not have been abused by him, others may have been.

Cutting ties with my friend was hard because the allegations against him didn’t map neatly onto what I’d experienced first-hand. But I know now that people are complicated. All the times he comforted me or made me laugh doesn’t negate his behaviour toward his ex, just as Hammer’s and Manson’s former spouses’ statements don’t negate the statements of others. If we want to help victims—and change an entire culture of abuse—we have to acknowledge that people we may have once had strong feelings for may be capable of brutality that we did not experience.  ▼