Contacting an Abuser's Friends, Family or Employer

No-title-illustration-contacting-abusers-friends Pranisha

It really seems like some people on the Internet don’t behave like, well, people. Instead, their keyboards seem to turn them into vicious, hate-spouting creatures who don’t exercise any self-control.

One possible ‘reason’ for this could be that online abusers feel detached from ‘real world’ communities, and therefore feel like they’ve got a license to act out violences they otherwise wouldn’t. Especially because there’s no one ‘real’ to hold them accountable for their behaviour, right?

But what if their parents knew? Their friends? Their employers? Several survivors have found that contacting an abuser’s community and letting them know what’s happening can be an effective way to hold someone responsible for their actions. Many of us tend to think, ‘We don’t know any guys like that’. But every abuser is always someone’s husband, father or colleague, and when we make those someones aware of what’s going on, there’s a chance they’ll do something about it.

Like many women and gender minorities who dare tread anywhere in the vicinity of video games, 21-year-old Australian game reviewer Alanah Pierce receives a lot of sexist messages on her social media profiles, including her Facebook account and YouTube channel.

Twitter user tweets 'Yo bitch! Do you swallow?'
Twitter users objectify Alanah Pierce and use abusive language.

Credit: Kotaku.com

In 2014, she contacted the mothers of the boys who were threatening her with rape on Facebook. Some of these boys were as young as 10 years old.


Tweets by Alanah Pierce along with screenshots of her messages with the mother of one of her abusers. The mother is indignant and says she will talk to her son about this.

Credit: The Huffington Post

The one mother who responded to Alanah (um, yes, only one out of several mums of abusive sons) made her son handwrite an apology letter. She also promised to speak to other parents about the online harassment their kids might be involved in.

Takeaway

Contacting an abuser’s family can be an effective way to shift responsibility back to them, especially if the abuser is a minor.

Inspired by Alanah, journalist Andrea Grimes tried a similar tactic. After receiving a vicious piece of abuse on Facebook, she combed Facebook looking for anyone and everyone who shared the abuser’s ‘rather unique last name’. She then sent screenshots of the abuse to their inboxes.

A few days after sending out these screenshots, the miracle of miracles occurred: Andrea received an actual apology. The first she’d ever gotten from an (online) abuser.

An abusive message from a Facebook user, followed by an apology.

Credit: RHReality Check

Andrea writes:

I reacted differently to him than I have to any other troll, ever. Instead of pretending like he existed solely on some elusive nonspace called “the Internet” that we’ve somehow (wrongly) come to think of as being wholly separate from the “real” world, I treated him like a human being, who owes it to his fellow humans not to act like a complete jerk.

She’s tried this with other abusers too, and oftentimes, the response has been at least somewhat supportive.

Andrea reached out to her abuser's family member or friend, to say that his messages to her have been disturbing and he might be a danger to himself or to others. The reponse is apologetic, but also makes excuses for him by saying he is "very outspoken and excitable".

Or kinda-sorta supportive.

Another response from a family member or friend where they are sorry for his behaviour but also might not be of more help because they are the type of person who thinks "to each their own".

Andrea cautions that the success of this strategy depends on whether an abuser uses his real name online; if not, you may still be able to figure out his identity, but that will require considerably more effort and there is no guarantee that you’ll find the information you’re looking for.

The success of this strategy also depends on whether or not his community condones or condemns the abuse.

She writes,

Feeding a troll back to their social circle […] requires a troll’s target to have the time and emotional wherewithal to risk further abuse, or to hear from those whose aid they seek that it’s just not their problem. Or worse, they could find that their trolls’ social circles support their behaviour.

Takeaway

While contacting an abuser’s community is an effective way to remind abusers of their social context, there’s no way to know in advance what their community’s reactions will be like.

More often than not, harassers aren’t masked strangers. More likely, the person abusing you belongs to a mutually shared community of online or offline friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Which means that things can potentially get really messy. This is Vishaka Karnath’s story, written for The Ladies Finger.

A dude whom Vishaka hadn’t seen in years messaged her on Facebook, confessing his ‘feelings’ for her.

Messages from someone wanting to chat with Vishakha, and her reply asking him to not bother her.

Credit: The Ladies Finger

I wasn’t interested, and thought I’d try and cut him off as casually as I could, and get on with my day. But he wasn’t giving up any time soon.


A message that says 'it could have been the best cock u ever had'. Vishakha responds telling him off, and signs off with 'have a nice life!'. This is followed up by another message meant to be abusive.

The conversation from the person haraguing Vishakha continues, while Vishakha tries to exit the conversation.

Vishaka decided she’d had enough, unfriended him, took a screenshot of what went down, and posted it on her Facebook wall. Here’s why:

For one, it was funny. Moreover, I was like, hell, even people you know can do shit like this to you online? I wanted to show people that this could happen. And I just wanted him to stop with the messages and leave me alone.

And here’s where it all got weird. Sorry, weirder.

She received an onslaught of aggressive abuse from the guy, but what’s more, their mutual friends began asking her to take the post down! Yes, seriously.

One of my friends called me up to tell me that she knew him well, he was a really nice guy, and would never do such a thing.

Because you know, the abusers can’t be our friends, right? Not these nice guys.

[Apparently] I’d been really mean by outing his abuse […]. One of my friends texted me to say, “You ruined him.”

The sad truth is that some sections of your mutual community and friends will probably side with your abuser. People you assumed would have your back might take his side, which can make for a really tough experience. But you also might find support where you least expect it, which can be heartening.

Thankfully, most of my friends and family support[ed] me completely, and a few friends even asked if I wanted legal support. I’m very grateful and truly touched. I NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE YOU GAIS.

As much as sharing abuse with a mutual community is about calling out an abuser, it can also be a process that reveals what certain sections or members of your community are ‘really’ like.

Takeaway

If you and your abuser share friends, colleagues or even family, it can be really difficult when they end up picking ‘sides’. Hopefully, though, you’ll still be able to find the support you need: experience shows that often, you do.

So, okay, we know that all abusers are ‘someone’s’ loved ones, friend or husband. But what happens when they are yours?

One day, a 32-year-old woman discovered that her husband was a big-time Internet troll. She shared her experience anonymously on Reddit’s subreddit /r/Relationships.

He left the browser open on our laptop after he went to work […]. I was disgusted at what I found. My husband is a troll. A really fucking nasty troll. He leaves horribly mean comments to all kinds of people […]. [He] calls women who post on /r/gonewild sluts and whores and cunts, etc.

She couldn’t believe it.

My husband is a nice, gentle man who is supportive and kind […]. But this is something else […]. [He was] also harassing teenagers on tumblr. Telling them to kill themselves, calling cute girls ugly and fat and stupid, etc. It horrified me to think that this was the man who could be raising our daughters with me in a few months.

She confronted him to find out why he was doing it, and learned that he didn’t see the people he bullied as ‘real’. For him, it was just an outlet for stress. And he wasn’t prepared to stop.

I cannot see my husband as a loving, gentle man. I am not afraid of him, but I am disgusted with his behavior […]. And because I want to protect my child, myself, I have asked him to leave the house.

She concludes:

I’d hoped this story would have gone another way.

What’s heartening is that she received hundreds of supportive comments below both her posts on Reddit, and barely any that took his side. With people sympathising, agreeing or outraging with her, the general consensus was that she did the right thing.

Takeaway

It’s important to know that there are close members of an abuser’s community who will hold an abuser accountable for his behaviour, no matter how painful it is for them.

Pulling people up for bad behaviour is not just an individual task, though.

In May 2015, A. received a gross, sexually harassing LinkedIn message from an Assistant General Manager at the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). He’d used a professional network, of all places, to tell her she was looking ‘sexy and hot’ – amongst other things.

She made the message public via her Twitter account, where she received a ton of support. She also contacted the Chairman of NABARD with an email of complaint.

An email where the message quickly escalates from an introduction to the person's work to compliments about looks, questions about personal life and religion.


Email from A, addressed to the Chairman of NABARD, detailing the email sent by the Assistant Manager to her. A demands that action be taken against him.

Soon after, she received a semi-apology from the harasser, stating that his remarks were ‘inadvertent’.

An unconditional apology by the Assistant Manager to A.

She also received a semi-follow up from the Chairman, who said that they’d be taking ‘the strictest possible action’ against the abuser.

A response from the Chairman stating that strict action would be taken.

However, despite numerous media houses contacting NABARD on her behalf, there was no real follow up. A. was never made aware of what the ’strictest possible’ action was, and if it had even been taken. The harasser deactivated his LinkedIn account, and when we spoke to her in September 2015, she said that’s the last she heard.

Takeaway

If only most employers took sexual harassment by their employees seriously. But maybe the more complaints we make, the more they’ll be forced to take notice and actually hold their employees accountable.

In Summary

Contacting an Abuser's Friends, Family or Employer

  • Contacting a harasser’s offline community forces them to connect their online behaviour with their offline identity.
  • Parents probably still play a big role in the lives of boys or young men, and therefore might be good people to contact.
  • But finding a harasser’s family online isn’t always quick or easy.
  • The success of this strategy also depends on whether or not a harasser’s community supports you.
  • If you share a mutual community of friends or co-workers with your abuser, it can be really painful when some people take his side.
  • Also, sadly, many employers still don’t take sexual harassment by their employees seriously enough.
  • But there will hopefully be enough people and institutions who support you, too. And in a growing number of cases, luckily there are.