Guess I'm on a roll lately. More unpopular opinions about community and abuse incoming.
I'm pushing back against widely proclaiming the value of "always believe the victim." And it's for one simple reason.
By shouting this from the rooftops, we have guaranteed that the abusive among us have heard this. We have given them a playbook to abuse successfully. And that is: present yourself as the victim and you will be believed, always. Or even worse, we tell them that: your abusive behavior isn't abuse if you can position yourself as a credible victim.
As if victim stance, victim blaming, smear campaigns, and retaliatory reporting aren't already Abuse 101. These are all exceedingly common abuse tactics. By proclaiming "always believe the victim" far and wide we have made it very difficult to identify abusive behavior. "Always believe the victim" would be great if we could consistently identify the who has been abused and who has been abusive. But doing so is already difficult, and now it's even more difficult.
I do believe that it is imperative that we support those who have been abused. Obviously, and absolutely. For others to believe them is especially important when they have been gaslit, manipulated, threatened, coerced, and bullied.
Supporting those who have been abused is absolutely essential and we really need to get better at doing so. But crippling our investigative processes doesn't help those who have been abused.
By the time abuse has been reported, the person who has abused is already doing damage control and the person who has been abused is at their most vulnerable. What do you do with two conflicting reports? Believe the first one? What if the person who has been abused never reports (spoiler: they often don't.)? I have no idea how anyone thinks this is a viable strategy when our means of identifying the person who has been abused is so poor in the first place. Remember: confusion always favors the abuse.
How do we identify abuse as third parties with incomplete and contradictory information? How do we support those who have been abused when we don't know who they are?
I don't have good answers to these questions. But I do know that those who have abused in our communities have heard the message loud and clear, and they know exactly what they need to do to keep their cover.