#MeToo and centering perpetrators

Last October, #MeToo had become a popular tag on Facebook, with many friends posting personal stories of harassment or assault. At the time, I wrote a post asking “Who is #metoo for?” I was questioning the assumption that #MeToo was entirely for the benefit of survivors. While sharing a personal story of trauma can be cathartic, it is often a burden. Survivors may be adopting this burden not for their own benefit, but in hopes of educating the public.

So, funny thing, #MeToo continues to be a big deal even now. And it didn’t go in the direction I expected.

At some point, I stopped seeing friends post personal stories. As far as friends’ personal stories go, #MeToo is over. Most people with stories have already decided either to share them or withhold them. Instead, #MeToo has become about celebrity accusations. Somewhere someone writes a #MeToo post talking about their horrible experiences with some unnamed dude, then the truth comes out that the unnamed dude was actually Famous Celebrity. Then the media gets a hold of it and it makes huge headlines. #MeToo strikes again!

This has been happening over and over again for months. And not just in the mainstream realm–if you paid attention to any subcultures or small communities, you might have heard accusations against small-time celebrities and leaders. Scandal after scandal, fractally repeating.

It’s good to see people in power finally punished for their misdeeds. But you see, back when #MeToo was mostly about survivors posting personal stories on Facebook, I was already complaining about how the campaign wasn’t very survivor-oriented. And that’s nothing compared to what #MeToo is now. #MeToo, in its current incarnation, fundamentally centers perpetrators rather than survivors.

It’s easy to see how #MeToo structurally favors the perspective of perpetrators. Whenever we hear about a celebrity in relation to #MeToo, it is almost always because the they were accused, not because they were making an accusation. Typically, the accuser is some rando that nobody’s ever heard of. So we’re always talking about cases where we know the accused and not the accuser. This makes the accused person’s perspective the more relatable one.

And I’m not even talking about how some people take the celebrity’s side. Whether people are siding with or against the celebrity, they are still talking about what that means for the celebrity. Does the celebrity deserve to keep their career? Should we continue to consume media/products made by the celebrity? How good or bad was their apology? Will other celebrities find themselves in a similar position?

People put so much thought into this, and I wish they would put the same degree of thought into what it means for the survivor. For example, did the survivor want their story to become the center of public attention? Do they want the perpetrator to be punished, and how much do their wishes matter? What obstacles do survivors face when they come forward? If the incident, or the telling of it, hurt the survivor’s career, what do we do about that? How did the survivor feel about the incident, and how can we identify and address those feelings in ourselves or in our friends?

But no, all people can muster is the question, “What could or should the victim have done at the time of the incident?” Or “How should the victim have told their story?” That is, the “victim-blaming” response. And to be honest, that wouldn’t be so bad, if it were accompanied by literally any other survivor-oriented discussion, anything to indicate genuine reflective concern.

I don’t think the solution is to find celebrities have have experienced sexual violence, and focus on their stories. I don’t think many celebrities want to take a step that poses a major risk to their career. Also I’m sure people would twist it around to center the perpetrator anyway. I think it’s best to recognize #MeToo for what it is now–a perpetrator-centered campaign. That’s not a bad thing; a conversation about perpetrators is a necessary step. But we also need a survivor-oriented conversation.

I don’t know the solution. My personal approach is, I ignore the tyranny of the current news cycle. People like talking about the current news cycle because it sets a topic, it guarantees that you’re talking about what everyone else is talking about. I like to blog about math, I am used to talking about things that nobody else is talking about. It’s good that sexual violence has garnered so much public discussion lately, but I’m not particularly interested in discussing specific incidents, not when the only connection I have is, “This celebrity sounds familiar.” Instead I have tried to comment on general principles and trends, keeping the focus on survivors.


  1. A Lurker from Mexico says

    It seems to be a consistent trend to see “Catch the Perp” and “Help the victim” meshed together as if they were one and the same. They aren’t. While both needs are usually born out of the same event, the priorities and protocols of both are often in direct contradiction to each other.

    If your main purpose is “Helping the Victim”, the main character of the story is the victim, everything you do and say revolves (or should revolve) around the victim.
    -If the victim doesn’t feel like sharing a particular detail of their experience, you must not push them to share it.
    -You don’t probe for holes or inconsistencies in the victim’s story. They need to be heard, not scrutinized.
    -If the victim, for whatever reason doesn’t want to testify against their attacker, you mustn’t shame them nor pressure them.

    On the contrary, if your main purpose is “Catching The Perp”, your main character is the accused. What did this person do? What is the available evidence against this person? What is the appropriate punishment?
    -You must get every possible detail about what happened, any little thing will help either jail this guy or exonerate him if it’s the wrong guy.
    -You must probe for inconsistencies, you need to get the most accurate picture of what actually happened.
    -You need victims to testify.

    Furthermore your priorities lead to vastly different decisions of acceptable errors.

    -When you want to Help Victims. You don’t really care if one or two in the bunch are lying. There really is no harm in letting them in. The worst that could happen is that you provide emotional support to someone who didn’t need it, hardly a tragedy. Any measure you take to filter out liars will accidentally filter out some real victims and that is an unacceptable mistake under your set of priorities.

    -When you want to Catch Perpetrators, you’ll want to be absolutely sure you catch the guy who actually did it. Accidentally jailing an innocent person is unacceptable under your set of priorities, since you’re letting the one free to victimize others and you’re adding the unjustly jailed to the list of victims. I take it that that’s the rationale behind “Innocent until proven guilty”. You’d rather err on the side of the innocent.

    On a personal level you don’t really have to choose between doing one or the other. If you are a friend, family member or therapist of someone who’s been attacked, your priority above all else is “Help the Victim”. You are not gathering evidence, you are not going after anyone, you don’t even care if they get details wrong or lie a little or whatever, your job is to be there for them and listen to what they have to say.

    You only have to “Catch the Perp” if you are a: Police Officer, Lawyer, Judge, Jury, Prosecutor, and, to a lesser degree, Journalist. That’s your set of priorities and you ought to make your decisions based on that.

    Removed from that, in public discourse, I suppose it would help to label and moderate discussions as “This topic is about victims sharing their experience, don’t bother us with skepticism and legalese nonsense, this is not a fucking trial.” and “This topic is about possible abusers, bring your skepticism and legal trivia knowledge here instead, we love that shit.”

    Some time ago I saw the post about Tarantino and Uma Thurman on PZ’s blog and what I saw was this confusion of priorities.
    People railed against Quentin Tarantino (the accused) over and over again, about the violence in his movies, his sexual fetishes, his prior statements. When people brought up that Uma Thurman (the “accuser”) actually spoke well of him and set him apart from the likes of Harvey Weinstein, the point was deemed irrelevant. The topic was not about listening to Uma Thurman’s experience, or Salma Hayek, who was brought up and also ignored.

    People who are ostensibly about listening to the victims, did the opposite of that in order to go after the guy the “accusers” didn’t accuse. Fuck I’m sure that if you do a word count on that comment section you’ll find like 20 “Quentin Tarantino”s for every “Uma Thurman”, she was almost a background prop for that discussion.

    I think that happened because these two things need to be divorced from each other. They are related but not the same, and society needs to get both done somehow.

    Perhaps #MeToo should’ve had a sister hashtag like #HesTheRapist (or #ThisGuyIsKindaFishy if you don’t want to get a Cease and Desist) in order to fulfill the “Catch the Perp” need without stepping on the toes of “Help the Victim”.

  2. says

    @A Lurker from Mexico,
    +1 to that, well said.

    I’m not sure what kind of campaign could effectively center survivors, and I’m skeptical that it could be done with any amount of hashtag cleverness. I think most people who support #MeToo want to center survivors, but don’t understand what that means, or how it’s different from “catch the perp”. They’re missing the other half of anti-sexual-violence activism, and don’t even know it.

  3. Jlh says

    Men need to be aware and feel the fear of real consequences from their choices from how they treat women. I have a daughter and as a mother who has experienced sexual violence in her lifetime, I want the men and boys out there to know that there will be severe punishment of they try to harm her. That is why the predators must be met with quick, and exacting sentences once they are found out.


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