As a survivor and an advocate, one of the more complex subjects we discuss about our abusers is the topic of disclaimers. If your abuser is someone in your friends circle or in a community surrounded by others that might be at risk, is it your responsibility to tell others? On the one hand, it is not our responsibility to protect our abusers. But will it be perceived as ostracizing an abuser or helping others to place a disclaimer to our mutual friends about an abuser?
Let’s use a real life example (without any names) to illustrate this dilemma: There are known perpetrators in the local music community where I live. Two specific individuals had several women who all came out with similar stories about what had happened to them, at the hands of these individuals. Both individuals were not only involved in the community, but were both in a position where they handled alcohol for local establishments.
There was a third party who had been entrusted with many of these women’s stories. She couldn’t decide whether it needed to become public knowledge that these two individuals were dangerous. She knew they were in a position serving alcohol, as well as around hundreds of people on a regular basis at shows and other events. But she didn’t want to become known for outing people or this becoming such a common occurrence that the impact was lessened.
In the end, she did alert the local community about these two individuals and the wheels were set in motion. Many other women felt safe to come out and communicate their stories. Others felt that the community was made safer. Bigger changes and movements started and awareness was raised. Overall, these two individuals were not happy about what had happened and complained about being held accountable. But the people and women of the community felt safer because these disclaimers were put there. Women w ho may have been trusting of them were more wary.
Disclaimers are not intended to be an invitation for a witch hunt. When a person is convicted of a sex crime, they are put on the sex offender registry and this can be accessed as a public “disclaimer” on the internet. However, many sexual assaults go unreported and even those which are tried are not always convicted.
By placing your own disclaimer in the best way you see fit, you are not telling people that they need to go find and hurt abusers. You are taking your own story and your own hurt and you are making yourself vulnerable because you care about the safety of your friends and community. That is a brave and wonderful thing. Remember that self-care is always the most important thing and only you can define your own self-care.