If you’ve been wondering…

June 19, 2014 § 13 Comments

…why I’m no longer a part of Otherworld, and why you haven’t seen me around some events that you probably expected to see me at, this post should answer that for you. This is not a fun, happy, crafty post. This is a post about a horrible thing that happened to me, that someone who I thought was a friend did to me. It may make some of my other friends, people who are friends with both of us, very uncomfortable. It still makes me very uncomfortable to talk about. But I am going to talk about it, because when it happened, when I was trying to deal with it all, I had posts from women like Genevieve Valentine, Veronica Schanoes, and Delilah S. Dawson, and so many other women in the comments of those posts and in other posts that I could read and feel less alone and ashamed and scared [at the end of this post, I've given a list of links to posts I found helpful]. So if I can do that for just one other woman, it will be worth it. I have decided at this time not to specifically name my predator here on my blog, but I’m not going out of my way to hide who it is, either. If you know me, you probably know who it is (and if you think you know but are not 100% sure and want to confirm, please don’t hesitate to ask). I’m okay with that.

The Backstory: For some years I was a volunteer staff member of a yearly adventure weekend event called Otherworld. At the end of the event weekend, we would all meet up at the local fast food eatery to decompress and laugh and enjoy each others’ company. There’s lots of hugging, especially as we prepare to depart and not see one another for awhile. During the last event one of my character costumes was a very skimpy nurse outfit (which I was fine with, and which no one was an ass about during the event, but which is relevant to the story).

The Awful Thing: After the last event (2012), we were hugging goodbye at the end of the weekend, and one of the male staff members suggested — speaking very quietly, directly into my ear — that I should come to his house and his wife and I could wear our nurse costumes for him. When I tried to de-escalate and laugh it off, he said, “You know I’m serious, right?” and physically held me until I acknowledged he meant what he said (by “physically held” I mean “I was trying to pull away from the hug and he tightened his grip on my waist and wouldn’t let go until I nodded and said that, yes, I knew he was serious”).

This was not the first time he said something wildly inappropriate to me, but this was the first time there was a physical component. That escalation made it cross the line from “ew but whatever” to frightening. I want to make sure that this is very clear: the words that were said are not the big problem here (though they are a problem, and I wish I’d said something sooner about the other creepy stuff that he’s said to me over the years). The way they were delivered — quietly, personally, directly, rather than as (for instance) a loud public joke — made them very uncomfortable and a little frightening. The addition of the physical restraint when I tried to treat it as a joke made the entire situation terrifying, more so because I couldn’t get away without causing a very ugly scene in the middle of Wendy‘s, in the middle of a group of mutual friends, most of who have known him a good deal longer than they’ve known me.

Let’s be perfectly clear about something else: what my (former? supposed? alleged?) friend did to me when he grabbed me and said gross things and wouldn’t let go was an assault. I have spent months avoiding using that word, assault, because I have been more “traditionally” sexually assaulted in the past, in ways that directly involved my primary and/or secondary sex organs. But this was no less an assault for the physical component not involving a sex organ. What he did to me is far from the worst thing that’s ever been done to me, and certainly other women have suffered far worse as well.

That does not make what he did okay, or excusable, or less awful.

People have asked why I didn’t just say something at the time, because surely it was all just a misunderstanding. (I’m not sure if they think I’ve misunderstood the propositioning or the restraining, but I think both were pretty clear.) To suggest that someone who is in a situation like that just needs to speak up is, frankly, egregious.  I didn’t say anything at the time because I was scared. Scared no one would believe me, scared no one would take me seriously, scared I would be kicked out of the group, scared people would say and think it was my fault, scared that if I said something and didn’t get kicked out of the group next time would be worse…see, I’ve been here before. It rarely goes well for the accuser, especially if the accused is a beloved member of the group.

Even worse, I have been so conditioned that behavior like this is ‘boys being boys’, or social awkwardness, or some crazy misunderstanding on my part that now I believe it. It wasn’t until I’d told the story to three or four people who are not part of Otherworld and been met with immediate outrage that this had happened to me that I really was able to believe that yes, I was correct to feel violated and grossed out and angry.

The Fallout: Otherworld was truly magical for me. It is the first group of people I have ever felt wholly comfortable with, that I’ve been able to fully relax with, that I’ve consistently been excited to be a part of, that I have trusted.

I did eventually come forward and report what happened to the person in charge. The result of that is I am no longer part of the organization (he still is) — I quit because I am not willing to put myself in danger, and there is no way to guarantee my safety from him at an event where we all wander around in a large wooded area. I avoid events that I know he is going to be at, because I know he is going to be there and the thought of being in the same space as him makes me feel cold and shaky and like I’m going to vomit.One of the reasons I’m putting this out there is because I am angry, livid, enraged: that this happened and hasn’t been made public to all the members of Otherworld (despite my reporting it); that, from what friends still affiliated with Otherworld have told me, there continues to be no specific sexual harassment policy in place; that he is still there, still a predator, and still able to choose who’s going to be next. Because someone will be. I am not asking anyone to choose between me and him.

I have told some people what happened, and I understand that some other staff — but not everyone — have heard as well. I know people have history, good history, with him. That’s okay. But if that’s you, I do want you to know this about your friend. I wish I had known it, so I would have known to be on my guard. If this is uncomfortable for you, if this rocks your boat, perhaps you should let your friend know that he needs to keep his hands and his disgusting propositions to himself and not prey on your other friends, or anyone else. Perhaps you can even encourage him to get some help.

“It doesn’t matter whether the person sexually harassing someone else [...] is well-liked or is otherwise a decent human being or feels really bad about it in retrospect.” – John Scalzi

It has been suggested to me that he didn’t know what he was doing, that he’s just “socially awkward”. No, I’m sorry, that’s not being socially awkward. That’s harassment and assault.

Some people have told me what a wreck he is. Good. I am glad he’s a wreck. Otherworld was one of the few places I have ever felt safe being casually touched by people (a hand on the arm, a hug, a pat on the back..), and thanks to Otherworld I was becoming more comfortable with those kinds of casual touches in the “real” world. Now, I’m back to needing a very large radius of personal space to feel safe. I gained about 15 pounds and went back to wearing baggy, oversized clothes, so people — men — won’t look at me (NB: this doesn’t actually work — predators gonna predate). I have panic attacks and borderline panic attacks, pretty frequently, especially if someone brushes against me or god forbid puts a hand on my shoulder. I’m getting past it and getting better and back to where I was, slowly. But I think you can understand why hearing that the person who did this to me is a wreck is maybe not as impactful as you might think, especially since I pretty strongly suspect that he’s a wreck because he finally got caught and not because he’s finally realized that he’s a revolting predator who needs to stop and get some help.

Some of you have wondered why I won’t let him apologize to me, why I won’t let him try to make it right. The answer is simple: There is nothing he can say or do to make it right. Apologizing might make him feel better, but allowing him to tell me he’s sorry will do nothing for me but put me back into direct contact with someone who physically assaulted me, and abused our friendship, and preyed on me. I think I’ll pass, thanks. It is not my responsibility to make him feel better. My only responsibility is to keep myself safe and find ways to heal.

Special note to friends: If I was not able to tell you about this in person, I apologize. Please know that it was due only to either not being in the same place as you, or being in a place where I didn’t want to be the focus of the occasion/bring the room down. If you are one of the people I was able to talk to about it in person, thank you so much for your support. It helps tremendously.

Update 6/23: Kit’s Thoughts

Links: These are some, but by no means all, of the posts that have helped me work through this (it happened a year and a half ago…some of the other links I’ve just plain lost track of, unfortunately — if I come across them or any others, I’ll happily add them to the list). Update 7/14: I’m also adding newer posts that I find helpful.

Comments are on for now, but will be heavily moderated. 

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§ 13 Responses to If you’ve been wondering…

  • Uggh I am so sorry that this happened to you- that is intensely creepy and scary and it’s awful that the people in charge won’t even rustle up a damn sexual harassment policy (I mean, shouldn’t you have one of those anyway for an event like this? Yikes.)

    Does his wife know, I wonder? Even the occasional wife who’d be okay with the propositioning probably wouldn’t be okay with her husband going all creepnasty on people (though I imagine a lot of people would react with denial. Bleh. But he deserves to face the wrath of people close to him.)

    I think there are some people whose lack of social instincts occasionally lead them to saying or doing something slightly inappropriate (and all the more reason we need to TEACH people, boys especially, what is and is not okay) but for a grown man not to know that sexually propositioning a woman in a skimpy outfit and pinning her against him is NOT OKAY is way past “awkward”.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks so much, Alex.

      His wife is actually the person in charge, and someone I counted as a very good friend, which made even reporting it to her kind of hugely scary on many levels.

      Just to clarify, I wasn’t actually wearing the skimpy outfit at the time but had been earlier in the weekend. (Which does not make it any less bad, but I wanted to put it out there to clarify for the people who were at the event and know the timeline.)

  • Susan Gerow says:

    Just want you to know that you are in my thoughts. Hugs, Susan

  • Jen Platt says:

    Holy Crap! I am horrified that this happened and that you were treated so badly when you reported it. I wish you all of the love in the world as you heal up from this. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you need support.

  • Becky S. says:

    *hug* I am so so sorry. That’s awful.

  • Sonja HM says:

    That is just awful. I am so sorry that this happened to you. Please know that I’m here and I’m your friend and I’m thinking of you.

  • Cliff Young says:

    You have my love and support, Laura. I’m sorry this happened. I’m continuing to think about the right thing to do.

    Also, thank you for the kind words about the Otherworld community, which I continue to think of as magical and unique. I’m glad that you found comfort and security with us, and I hope that you will keep that sense of comfort and security in our friendship and in many other good places.

    • Laura says:

      Thank you so much, Cliff. Otherworld really was magical for me and gave me wonderful gifts (not least of which is wonderful friends like you!). Choosing to give Otherworld up by coming forward last year was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made, and one I wrestled with for many months. Discovering that I wasn’t also giving up those friendships has been indescribably comforting.

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