Silence is Complicity

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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June 16, 2014

Here be trigger warnings. And horror. I’ll talk about both–because this is one that the community cannot look away from.

And by that, I mean they can’t look away from it anymore.

First, some history, It was widely known–in some circles–that Marion Zimmer Bradley was complicit in the sexual abuse of children by her husband, Walter Breen.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen on Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley:

There’s also been discussion at MetaFilter and File 770 and RPG.net.

So, basically, Walter Breen wasn’t just a missing stair. He was an entire missing flight of stairs.

And, as is clear from the Breendoggle documents, everyone in their vicinity knew what was going on. What is even more clear, because of the years involved was that many people knew for a long time. And, for a long, long time–the time it takes to ruin a generation of lives–the community still did nothing to stop him.

Let me repeat that. EVERYONE KNEW IT.

Adults. Knew.

And did nothing. Nothing. To stop it.

Let us take a small but important detour and in order to review the geek social fallacies:

  1. Ostracizers are evil
  2. Friends accept me as I am
  3. Friendship before all
  4. Friendship is transitive
  5. Friends do everything together

When translated to the community of child abuse and serial harassers, these fallacies are poison. Every single one is a missing stair. Enough missing stairs and the house falls down.

Friends, we have a problem in the science fiction & fantasy community. A big problem.

We have a culture of silence around our missing stairs. We expect the whisper network to warn newcomers about them–except the whisper network only works when people are connected. And a newcomer is, almost by definition, not connected.

And children–especially children–have no choice but to rely on adults to protect and warn them. Instead, there were children abused in front of adults and it was only stopped because it wasn’t “aesthetically appealing” or it was allowed to continue because no one liked the child very much. I don’t care if it was Berkeley in the 1960’s, that is unequivocally wrong. I have seen, first hand, the damage that is done when children are abused and to look the other way because you think the child is a “little bastard” is morally bankrupt.

We have serial harassers and abusers who come to our conventions and get away with their predatory behavior because we don’t believe victims who step forward. Because the predators are canny enough to do their predation in subtle and plausibly deniable ways. Because they choose victims they believe or know to be weak or not-connected. Because predators have made themselves valuable to our organizations and made us believe they can’t be replaced.

Fandom is not the only community in which predators have entrenched themselves. There is a long history of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. There are hints that there is a similar history within various Protestant organizations. And then there’s Penn State.

The idea that it’s worse to kick a predator out of a community or limit their participation than to protect vulnerable people is geek social fallacy number one.  Number two is the idea that we must accept everyone as they are and three is that if you call a friend out on shitty or predatory or abusive behavior that you’re not actually a friend.  Four and five are encompassed by the fiction that at conventions everyone likes each other and that everyone is friends–this is not true.

These social fallacies and the ability of predators to exploit them is what enables the Walter Breens and Ed Kramers and Jim Frenkels and René Wallings to get away with it for years and decades.  It is what allows for unreasonable demands of proof from survivors.

I believe the survivors.

Being a part of this community? Is not a God-given right and certainly not something covered by the Constitution here in the US. If you deliberately prey on vulnerable members of our community and continue to do so after you’ve been caught, I believe that you forfeit the right to be a part of our community.

Apart from the horrifying descriptions of child abuse and flippant tone of the entire document, the heart of the Breendoggle document is this:

And they swung between two points of view. “We must protect T—-” and “We’re all kooks. Walter is just a little kookier than the rest of us. Where will it all end if we start rejecting people because they’re kooky?” So they swung from on the one hand proposing that if Walter wasn’t to be expelled, then the banning from individual homes should be extended so that club meetings were only held in such homes, and on the otherhand calling the whole series of discussions “McCarthite” and “Star Chamber”. “I don’t want Walter around T—-, but if we do such a horrible thing as expelling him, I’ll quit fandom.”

This is prioritizing comfort over safety, over the truth. This is prioritizing the status quo over generations to come. Fuck that.

We must confront this history and bring it to light.

I don’t know how we can make this right to the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been injured by our complicity in these horrors. And yes, I am including myself in this because I have been part of fandom for more than a decade now and I have not spoken loudly enough, if there is even one person still standing who thinks this is okay. Our community must become an unwelcome place for predators.

Susannah Paul on this issue in her community:

We are kicking at darkness, and daylight is breaking through. Abusive patterns and oppressive systems, once hidden in plain sight, are being named and dragged into the light, and this is a big deal! There is so much work yet to do, but what happened this week is no small thing, and we should celebrate that victory.

Silence is complicity.

We have to try.

What will you do?

——

Some organizations that help survivors–these orgs are often also underfunded. This list is by no means comprehensive. Please feel free to add additional orgs in the comments.

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