Today I have some shit that I need to say about abusers and apologies. I wrote out these lists intending them to be an outline for a post or series of posts, but expanding on these points would soften the language into language that makes it easy for people to ignore the point that I am driving towards, and I do not want my language to be comfortable or easy to live with.
So today you get a bunch of lists. Know as you read each item that each contains an entire diatribe. A rant with points both salient and emotional. With examples of suffering, tales of harm, and calls to action.
Today I am not doing the work of filling in the detail. Today you will have to do that work for yourself.
Abusers who refuse to acknowledge that they have harmed people are not entitled to forgiveness.
Abusers who acknowledge they have harmed people but refuse to apologize are not entitled to forgiveness.
Abusers who apologize sincerely and have since learned to be better and stop abusing are STILL NOT entitled to forgiveness.
Feeling entitled to an abuse survivor’s feelings is itself abuse. Abusers are not entitled to forgiveness. Period.
Not all apologies are created equal. The common wisdom is that we should forgive and forget, and that if someone apologizes, we should naturally forgive them. But that thinking only empowers abusers to use the common decency of those around them as a shield for their abuse.
Common abuser tactics involving apologies include:
- Apologizing for the wrong thing
- Apologizing for a small harm as a cover for the larger harm they have committed
- Apologizing for one instance of harm while ignoring the larger pattern of identical harm they have committed
- Apologizing for harm committed against a person of privilege while ignoring a pattern of harm committed against more marginalized people
- Apologizing only after prevailing community sentiment has shifted against their harmful behavior
- Apologizing for someone’s feelings or lived reality
- Apologizing in a way that minimizes their agency in harming someone (IE “I was drunk”)
- Making an apology blaming their behavior on mental illness or past trauma
- Making an apology that adheres perfectly to the form of a good apology and then failing to take any action or make any change that would prevent a repetition of the harm they caused, trusting that only their words and adherence to proper form will be remembered
- Making an apology that is overly emotional, self-flagellating, and full of shame, as a shield against further criticism for the harm they are apologizing. (IE “They already feel bad enough, shouldn’t we drop it?”)
- Making an apology that centers their feelings and not the feelings of the person or people that they harmed
- Making an apology that uses social justice jargon in order to establish credibility as someone willing to be “accountable”
- Making an apology that promises unspecified future remedies without ever enacting said remedies
- Making an apology that promises specific future action without ever taking that action
- Making an apology that is accompanied by emotional or physical withdrawal
We need to stop assuming that all apologies are genuine, because apologies are one of the most crucial weapons in an abuser’s arsenal.
On Restorative Justice:
Restorative justice is not a panacea that can heal all wounds.
Restorative justice will not entitle an abuser to universal forgiveness.
Restorative justice will not prevent you from having to actually remove abusers from your communities.
Restorative justice will not rehabilitate abusers who do not want to be rehabilitated.
Abusers will invoke the desire for restorative justice as a cover against their abusive actions.
Abusers will get third parties the victim cares about to offer to facilitate discussions with the people they harmed as a way to wound their victims and make them feel further isolated from their community.
Restorative justice facilitated by people who stand to materially gain from the process is not justice.
Restorative justice that pressures victims to participate is not justice.
Approaching the same victim repeatedly with offers to facilitate restorative justice after they have declined is a form of abuse, which is not justice.
On Marginalized Abusers:
Marginalized people can be abusers.
Marginalized people can and do abuse people with more privilege.
Marginalized people can and do abuse people with more marginalizations.
Marginalized people can and do abuse people with different marginalizations.
Cishet white dudes can be abused by marginalized people.
Being marginalized does not render you incapable of abuse.
Being marginalized does not mean you automatically know how not to abuse people.
Being marginalized does not mean you automatically don’t abuse people.
For those who lack the power – either socially, structurally, or organizationally – to take direct action to stop their abuser, the only defense against an abuser is not to engage with them.
On Relationships With Abusers:
Abusers invest heavily in relationships with key members of the community, people with either power, social capital, or other forms of influence, as a shield against inevitable complaints of abuse.
Just because an abuser has only ever treated you with kindness does not mean they are not an abuser.
If you have not seen someone being abusive, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.
If someone has poured hours into thankless or tedious work on behalf of others, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.
If someone fulfills an important role to the community that would be difficult to replace, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.
If someone has supported you through something terrible with love, empathy, and compassion, that does not mean they can’t be an abuser.
Loving and caring about someone does not mean they can’t be an abuser. Your love does not make them not abusive.