(Trigger warning for abuse.)
In activist communities, who is believed? And beyond that, what is the harm being addressed? Is it abusive power, control, and exploitation? Is it certain violent acts? Is it the exercise (or simple presence) of privilege? A survivor of domestic violence is likely to use violent behaviors to resist the objectification of being abused. A person who is battering can report actions taken by their partners that are mean, cruel, scary, or confusing. Out of context, they could be seen as abusive. In context, they can be understood as resisting power and control. People have the mistaken idea that batterers are “bad” and survivors are “good.” Battering is bad. Surviving battering is good. But, batterers and survivors are people. Understanding a given survivor’s actions when they confound our notion of “good victim”— or interpreting a given batterer’s charming manipulations— is not simple. In our experience, folks in activist communities too often end up confused and mobilize against the survivor.
People who batter can use their own vulnerabilities (such as their own experience surviving racism or homophobia, dealing with a mental illness or a previous assault, or facing exploitation in their family of origin or in the workplace) to control and manipulate friends, lovers, family, colleagues, and comrades. They set up loyalty tests. They believe that they are the victims. Often their vulnerabilities are real— and everyone’s vulnerabilities matter and merit reasonable attention— but their sense of persecution and entitlement is devastating to their loved ones and the community. Activist communities are particularly susceptible to manipulation by abusers because we are most likely to have compassion for how abusers experience institutional oppression and to understand how they are victims of unjust systems. Our empathy confounds our ability to see people who face oppression as people who could also be capable of, and should be accountable for, abuse."