This question comes up time and time again when it comes to celebrities. Supporting them comes in the form of consuming the content they help create, whether it be music, a movie, a stand-up comedy show, what have you. When it comes to politicians we support them by voting for them and sharing our support of them. When it comes to friends, the line is a little fuzzier.
Is it okay to keep them on our friends list? Keep following their Instagram and Twitter? Keep watching their stories and liking their posts? Is commenting where it goes too far? Can we show up to their parties but not talk to them? Can we bump into them and exchange pleasantries?
I don’t think there is an all-encompassing answer. But I can share how I have felt or imagine I’d feel in scenarios where others continue to connect with my abuser.
Social media is a weird, weird thing. It’s essentially meaningless, yet even how we behave on it says something. For a while I had an app on my phone that tracked my Instagram followers and Facebook friends. It would tell me who unfollowed or deleted me. It made me feel safe in having some knowledge I might not otherwise have especially after I outed my rapist by giving me a sense of who I could or couldn’t trust if I should run into them.
At the same time, it also gave me information people weren’t expecting me to have. It made it easy for me to take things personally when in reality, people don’t choose to unfollow or unfriend with the expectation of that person knowing about it — they were never trying to send me a message by doing so.
I have thankfully deleted these apps, but I guess I’m sharing this information to say that who follows who matters at least a little to me. I don’t like this about myself, but my feelings don’t seem to be concerned with whether or not I approve of them.
Logically I know it shouldn’t matter. The people who actively support me, I don’t doubt at all just because he’s on their friends list on a platform he doesn’t even use anymore. But I would be lying if I said there has never been a moment where I’ve wondered, why hasn’t this person deleted him? The pain this causes doesn’t get deeper than that, but I am pretty embarrassed to admit that it has any impact at all. But it does.
For me, anything that goes beyond that sends a message of active support to him. I understand it’s so simple and easy to double click a photo or press the ‘like’ button, but if I saw that someone in my support network had done that, I would confront them about it to understand why they would and explain how it makes me feel.
It’s a seemingly innocuous action that requires no thought at all. But in doing so it perpetuates this view that people can choose to stay neutral. Of course they can, in their minds. They can choose to stay out of it, but there’s a fine line between staying out of it and ignoring it.
I passionately feel that there is no true neutrality in situations of abuse, because it would require behavior that to the victim appears identical to pretending nothing has happened. Thus, neutrality is choosing the abuser. As a victim, I cannot feel believed if someone allows this person who raped and abused me to remain a part of their lives. I just can’t. And petty as it might sound, that includes liking their posts.
It should go without saying, then, that a comment with anything other than one that directly addresses the accusations would be a strong signal to me that that person is not someone I would trust to support me. If someone went to a party he was throwing, this would make me uncomfortable to the point of dismissing that person from my life. And if someone exchanged pleasantries with him in a chance encounter, I would hope that person wasn’t someone I’m close with.
This might sound extreme. Maybe it is. But I’m also on the other side of this. A few months back someone else exposed one of my now ex-friends as a rapist, and I have dreamt about and imagined what would happen if I ever ran into him.
There is no world where I would so much as say, “How ya doin.” I would be enraged. I would cry. I would ask him to explain himself and beg him to face the consequences of what he did. I cannot fathom separating him from what he did. I wouldn’t want to. Because I believe his victim, because I could never see him without remembering his victim’s story, and because I would not be able to have that interaction without thinking about how his victim would feel if they were a fly on the wall watching it happen.
To me, that’s what being an ally is. It’s refusing to stay neutral. It’s not forgetting about the victim.
I know this fight isn’t for everyone. Not everyone is going to want to be on the front lines, and they want to feel like it’s enough just to hear, and it is — theoretically. You don’t need to go out of your way to involve yourself. But if you have heard, if you’ve understood, the absolute least you can do is not dishonor the victim. It’s okay if it’s not your mission to assist in the healing, but if you want to consider yourself an ally without expending effort, you gotta refrain from double tapping an abuser’s Instagram picture.