I’ve been thinking a lot about predators over the last month.
There’s been a significant subtweeting about someone who had been abusing and taking advantage of women writers and this past Friday, Kristine Wyllys said his name: Sunil Patel.
I first heard about Sunil Patel’s predatory behavior several years ago. The stories I’ve heard are not mine to tell. “Watch yourself around him. He’s not a nice person,” I told friends while hoping that it would be enough.
The sheer number of women who have been gaslit and undermined both directly and indirectly by Sunil Patel is staggering. I’ve seen accounts going back fifteen years. This goes far beyond social awkwardness or not knowing better and right into serial predation.
I believe the women who have spoken about how they were made to feel small and insignificant. I believe the women who are still too scared to speak about their experiences. I believe you all. You all matter. None of this was your fault, none of it. The only person to blame for this is Sunil Patel.
But the thing is this: Sunil Patel is not the first serial predator we’ve had to deal with in SFF. And he won’t be the last.
So this is a lot bigger than Patel, this is a problem that is endemic to our community, social and professional. There are people being abused right now who truly believe that no one will care if they speak up.
I also believe it’s important to address the racial component here: if Patel were a white man, I don’t believe the people he abused would be getting nearly the same degree of support from the community. Because this weekend YA author Greg Andree was also accused of similar behavior by two women who were too scared to speak directly and instead asked someone to speak for them. Pushback on their accusations and demands for proof or evidence were so overwhelming that their surrogate had little choice but to delete her tweets. There seem to be a different standard when the predator is a white cis man. This is not okay.
Additionally, Sunil Patel talks a good game, but he didn’t have his first pro publication until 2015. In other words: he is still an up and coming writer with a lot to learn. It’s easy for there to be consequences for Patel; for all he’s done to position himself as someone influential, he simply hasn’t been active in the community for that long. Consequences are a lot harder to make happen for someone who is established or entrenched–think about how long it took for Tor to sever their relationship with Jim Frenkel and the amount of social capital and willingness to go on the record that it took. That takes a lot of support and people who don’t have the social capital and who may be marginalized across multiple axes often don’t have the same access to support systems.
The more entrenched and powerful you are (or appear to be), the more difficult it’s going to be for those who were harmed to speak up. And when someone does speak up, if the person who has caused harm is entrenched and powerful, there are are often reduced or different consequences for them. See: the first decision Readercon made about René Walling.
This makes a bad situation worse for someone in a vulnerable or marginalized position. The costs of speaking up are often too high and outweigh the benefits. We must believe the people–mostly women–who speak out in public about the abuse they have suffered.
In addition to listening and believing–which is 101 level work, honestly–there are other things we can do: we can hold space for people to speak their truth and we can hold everyone to account, regardless of their social or professional position in our community. We can look out for newcomers–writers and fans alike–and make them welcome and follow through on our promise that we will have their backs. We can try to help people form connections with each other, so they are not isolated and alone.
No one should feel alone. Too many do.