A little over a year ago, a friend contacted me asking that I delete her ex-partner from my facebook friends because he was “an extremely terrible, dangerous person.” But I’d had some private conversations with him about religion and other stuff, and from what I could see on his facebook, he didn’t seem so dangerous. So I didn’t take her seriously. I didn’t delete him.
Fast forward to a few months ago when another dear friend shared how isolating it was to tell her professional and personal communities about the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of a well-known colleague. So many women they both worked with expressed horror and traded stories about his pattern of abusive and exploitative behavior. She was encouraged by the messages she received saying it was indeed fucked up, that they were horrified at what she’d experienced, and they’d never work with him again.
And she shared that when she later saw pictures or stories of them working with him, it felt like the ultimate betrayal. These people didn’t believe her. They didn’t take her seriously – at least, not seriously enough to protect themselves or others from an abuser.
Hearing her story, I immediately thought of my other friend, and about how in “remaining neutral,” I not only didn’t take her side but by default took his. My decision minimized her experience, isolated her, shamed her, gaslighted her.
So that day I deleted and blocked him like I should have done when she first asked me to believe her and protect her. His “friendship” was no loss to me, but my betrayal was a significant loss to her.
Recently, when I apologized to her for how long it took me to stand with her against her abuser, she cried. She thanked me for believing her. She talked about how often he raped her. Beat her. About how terrifying it was to feel his hands around her neck, choking the life out of her while 7 months pregnant with his baby. She talked about how she moves around their city in fear that she’ll run into him. She talked about how she’s doing the best she can for their baby despite that he has yet to make an effort to be a dad.
She even asked what compelled me to message her – had he contacted me? Was he trying to get to her again? That’s how deep and real her terror is.
You guys, WE HAVE TO TAKE SIDES.
When women tell us they’ve been abused and ask us to stand with them, occupying the middle isn’t an option because it still leaves them isolated and abandoned, gaslighted and afraid.
When indigenous people and immigrants and LGBTQIA friends and minorities tell us they’re being targeted with hate speech and hate crimes and being issued death threats for being “other,” we have to stand with them against their attackers, or we are complicit in the attacks.
When people of color tell us they’re being systematically decimated by police and other systems of oppression, we have to stand with them against their oppressors, or we become an oppressor.
We have to take sides.