This was always going to be a bumpy ride. Because when you are dealing with harm and abuse, there's not a chance in hell people won't take sides and vilify a named abuser. And this is exactly what the survivors don't want. Still, they can't control other people's beliefs, opinions or actions, but I can––to some extent––by the framing I use, by the context I show. But what if the truth about the actions themselves inherently vilifies? I can't, or rather, I refuse to disguise it.
Yesterday, May 22, 2019, the first survivor stories accompanied by my notes and research were released. During the last seven months (seven, has it really been seven?) I have painstakingly pieced together the past. I have qualified so.many.sentences with 'my opinion is...' or 'according to him/her/them...', 'I believe...'; that I fear the text is too wordy to parse.
Nevertheless, I finally feel that I have adequately done my job. Which leads to another question... what was my job?
Eve asked me originally to help the women tell their stories, something akin to a ghostwriter (something she mentioned in her podcast with Dawn Serra). They had already come forward, so all I had to do was to hear their testimony and write their story. But I couldn't take that job. I have a newborn baby, two older kids, an open relationship and a masters degree in convergence journalism on the go. I could only do what she asked if I could somehow tie it in with my thesis.
Therefore I had to take the job on as a journalist (or not at all). This has led to some questioning the air of authority associated with my work, as academia might imbue it with credibility that it otherwise wouldn’t have. I don’t buy that. For me, the fact that the work has had to be done so rigorously, only helps.
Because the job of an investigative journalist is to investigate. And report back on the findings with the necessary caveats. I have a responsibility to the truth as I have discovered it. Yet I am acutely aware that Franklin's life, career and reputation is at stake. I hate that. I hate that anyone could lose their entire identity like this. Which is why I'm desperately hoping that there is a way through this for him. But there's another reason too.
During this process, I realised first hand how susceptible we all are to being abusive. Abuse is so prevalent, and so normalized, and often so much a function of our gut reactions that it is easy to do, without being even aware of it. Worse still, it’s even easy to abuse when you are trying to help someone. I have been part of an abusive dynamic in this process, and the wound is far from being healed. There were reasons, good reasons I thought, but no excuses. I excluded someone from conversations that should have included them. I feared upsetting that person. I infantilized that person. And eventually, as part of a group, gaslit their reality by assuming responsibility for treading around their emotions. I became an established part of the process and as the group dynamics took control, I was swayed by an opinion which proved incorrect. That others also were, is irrelevant. I alone bear responsibility for the fact I bought into it.
One of the phrases I found during my research from an academic paper was: 'abuse can be either wilful or ignorant.' But the harm is real either way.
That wasn't the first fuck up either. When I began the work, I frightened one survivor away by writing upfront that I had prior knowledge of their existence. That made the survivor feel like I had been stalking them. It destroyed the chance of trust between us. And of course, it was true in a way. The names had been given to me as potential survivors, and I had compiled notes and research on them before they contacted me. That survivor is part of my work as an anonymous data point now, with permission. But my actions have prevented them from giving a full testimony or having access to the resources available to them. As one pod member has said repeatedly, this work is a 'trial by fire.'
Actions have been taken, measures put in place, new skills are being learned. I have put more distance between myself and the pod, restricted my input to updates and put further boundaries around my interactions. The dynamics between friends are not the same as the dynamics between survivors and a journalist trying to do her job. Yet the biggest motivating factor here was my own survival mechanism of adaptation... taught to me by this society, which wanted me to be a cog in the system and felt as a need by my reptilian brain.
Not abusing is the hard thing. Admitting being abusive in a society that casts you out as a result is even harder. If we can change that, if people are allowed to make amends, it is my hope that we can make substantial ground in our communities and our world.