Frequently in geek communities, women and vulnerable people warn each other about abusive individuals in the community. This page is a guide to safer warnings.
- This page is in early draft, and on an important safety issue like this, you should not rely solely on an early draft wiki page to make decisions.
- Not everyone employing stategies discussed on this page is a safe person. If someone uses a form of words found on this page, all it means is that they've (probably) read this page. It does not mean that they are a safe person for you to disclose abuse to, that they identify as a feminist, that they are not an abuser themselves or that they are not seeking to relay to an abuser what gets said about them. Someone using words found on this page does not compel you to discuss abuse or abusers with them.
Principles of discussing abuse
- Believe survivors as a default. Your default setting should not be to look for reasons to discount their report, but to accept their account as the truth.
- Survivors control their story. Their story is between you and them by default. If they ask you to disclose to third parties or to help them disclose to third parties, they should still have control over, eg, their identity being disclosed.
Why do you need to know?/Why do you need to tell?
There is a good reason to, with a survivor's permission, share information: to enable the survivor or others to keep themselves safer.'This might take a few forms:
- to warn vulnerable individuals about a specific individual abuser and their tactics
- to inform other survivors of an abuser that what they experienced is a systemic pattern and not a misunderstanding or just them or similar
- to protect a community of people by giving them enough information to, eg, exclude an abuser from their space before they do much harm
- to educate people about abusive tactics more generally so they can recognise them in other possible abusers
- to convey the unacceptability of abuse, thus discouraging it in your community
There are also several bad ones:
- gossip and a desire to be an insider who knows who is who and what is what
- general undirected interest in the human condition (professional social scientists, novelists etc, don't get a blanket pass either, where possible they should look to the ethical guidelines for their profession when investigating sensitive and hurtful issues such as abuse)
- to get enough information so that you can make a really sound judgement as a bystander as to the truth someone's abuse (tends to go with a default tendency to disbelieve)
How to ask for details of an abuser
- consider whose safety you are protecting and how best to do so. Ask for only as much information as you feel would help with this.
- acknowledge the two principles of discussing abuse. Confirm that you are someone who believes survivors and believes in their right to control their story, and that you know that your questions might therefore go unanswered or that you might have to wait for information.
- describe why you need to know to the extent that you can (you might also be an abuse survivor controlling your own story, we know), eg "person X seemed to be trying to get me alone last night, is there backchannel info on him?" or "person Y is now my friend's boss and I'm worried" or "person Z wants to be on the anti-harassment committee and get access to confidential reports" or similar
- if you receive information, clarify whether it is to stop with you. "Does [the survivor] want this passed on?" or similar, and respect that.
- if there's a threat to you or someone else that is serious enough that you feel you must breach confidentiality in order to be safe or help someone be safe, give as much warning as you safely can and breach confidentiality as little as you safely can.
Confidentiality from the abuser is especially important, particularly since the basic details of any story will typically identify the survivor to them. There may be cases of, eg, mutual abuse where this becomes a real issue, but almost all the time, you should very much avoid informing an abuser that there are abuse reports about them before the survivor is willing to be known to be reporting the abuser.