Women in any special interest community have a network to vet potential sexual & romantic partners. This network is entirely informal. It has no administrators or moderators, no leaders to hold accountable, no hierarchy to organize behind or against. It seems to just happen inevitably, a product of the deadly clusterfuck that constitutes patriarchy–its implicit belief that women are unreliable combined with the rationalizations for victim blaming. Since the police and most organizations are completely inept at actually doing anything about allegations of sexualized violence, women often depend on this whisper network to help keep them away from serial harassers and rapists who’ve never been held accountable. Even if an organization takes an allegation seriously and finds it to be meritorious, the public almost always engages in a metaphorical witch-hunt to brand the victim a liar, still resulting in further loss for the victim. And then, if all this does not deter a victim from reporting, there is always libel bullying, where the entire ordeal of reporting objectionable behaviour has to be repeated, in a court room, in front of amoral attack dogs masquerading as humans who wear suits.
Given what the “proper official” channels put you through, it’s no surprise whisper networks pop up everywhere you go. It’s a shitty system borne out of necessity to avoid an even shittier system that punishes you for being a victim.
One other characteristic you’ll notice is that it is primarily, sometimes exclusively, populated by women. This makes sense in the broader context of gendered patterns in relationship & dating violence–women are more vulnerable as a demographic and so we work together to address that disproportionate risk.
There are many problems with the whisper network regardless. Perhaps the problem most salient to my experience is my relationships with other women.
In other words, if I have a violent encounter with a woman, the whisper network is at best no longer accessible–because my abuser is privy to it. At worst, my abuser persuades the network I am at fault, and then I am effectively ostracized from a community as keeping myself safe becomes increasingly difficult without access to the whisper network.
This is yet another complication that has made my recent experience with Queer dating violence so difficult. Exceptions to the trend are no less in need of supportive resources. Yet many DV resources–many of which were written and organized by feminists!–go no further than equipping survivors with knowledge about toxic masculinity and the most common heterosexual permutations of dating & domestic violence.
And so I am left behind to lick my own wounds. No whisper network. No publicly funded counselling. No shelters–compounded by my being trans. No support groups. No whisper network to broadcast my experience to, to protect other women. Meanwhile the Queer DV erasure continues apace, as even my most respected feminist resources do not expand their interpretation and methods, pushing the toxic masculinity narrative to the exclusion of other abuse dynamics, all while pointing to demonstrable gender trends to justify it. It may serve the majority of DV victims but it does not serve all of us.
In fact, the whisper network can facilitate Queer abusers. It’s supposed to be a trusted network that will warn you away from danger–how prejudiced, then, is the review of someone within the network? The whole principle behind getting honest reviews from the whisper network is that they don’t fear reprisal from the person outside it.
When I vetted my abuser, the whisper network gave me a glowing review. I have not spoken with those same people who endorsed her so heartily since I began No Contact. I wonder if the fallout has affected their own sense of character judgement. I know I would be unsettled to learn I trusted someone who ended up being a rapist. I know that has been one of the more difficult things to recover from–that I did, in fact, trust someone who seriously hurt me, who more importantly expressed boredom and disinterest when I told her she hurt me, who only cared about my utility in making her look good, who turfed me when it became apparent I had no intentions of stroking her ego at the expense of my own needs.
When/if I make my return to the BDSM community, it will be interesting to see how the whisper network responds when I plug back into it and start sending my honest experiences of my abuser back into the same grapevine that told me she was trustworthy. I don’t anticipate people will be receptive. Cognitive dissonance is notoriously stubborn and people will reason themselves into pretzels to avoid it.