Content Warnings: sexual assault, emotional abuse
I’m 19 and for months, my “best friend” has been abusing me. This friend wants to fuck me. I’m in a relationship.
So the logical thing — for this “friend” apparently — is to systematically break down my mental and emotional wellbeing, place landmines of distrust in my own partner of three years, and attempt to get me drunk and/or high. (Note: I am sober and if the attempts to get me drunk and/or high fail, the friend’s rational response is to trigger my mental illness to get me into a state of disassociation.)
We walk into an empty fountain on a night in December together and I walk out alone, sobbing and completely out of mind and body.
In the spring, after a few months of no contact and increasing dissassociative episodes I write a post on Tumblr, explaining what happened. A handful of people contact me and tell me they did the same thing to them. We are all LGBTQ.
We ask the community to stop organizing with, giving attention to, and praising this person.
This person gets published by Buzzfeed and several other poetry publications. This person befriends rising LGBTQ artists like Mitski. Like PWR BTTM.
When the news that Ben Hopkins, 1/2 of PWR BTTM, had been assaulting people (including, according to some accusations, minors) at shows and after shows — I was shocked. I was— No, I am betrayed and hurt. I’m devastated.
And as reports starting to come, in real time, on the night of Wednesday, May 10th and after other reports came in. People saying, “I’d heard rumors”. People saying “I’d seen this.”
The constant thread in all the allegations were people saying that they had known something not right was happening for at least three months.
That troubles me.
Because, here’s the thing: this is a community that — supposedly — prides itself on being a “safe space” or creating “safe spaces” and supporting survivors and victims of sexual assault.
Being there for victims isn’t just sharing their stories online when they finally have the guts, emotional strength, and bravery to come forward. Usually (or at least for me, and maybe too, for the person who spoke with Jezebel) coming forward on the internet is the final act of desperation. This is the scream, the shout, that final yell that has the most pain and ferocity bound in one moment.
The internet is an amazing place because it offers us quick, instant communication. It allows people involved in movements around the world to come together and organize in common struggle.
The internet, however, does not create safe spaces.
Safe spaces are created by people committing to them, in their neighborhoods, in their local scenes, in the physical space they are in the moment that safety is being breached.
It is 2014, I am at a local venue in Rhode Island. They put on all-ages shows, usually of the punk variety. I am seeing one of my favorite bands. This band is The Menzingers and if there’s anything you should know about The Menzingers it is that most of their fans are burly punk dudes.
The pit at this venue is always rowdy. The security is minimal. I have hearing damage from another show here. My head was smashed into a monitor by a stage-diver. This is not that show.
I have seen the three openers and The Menzingers are about to take the stage, so the pit is rushed. I have a very simple method for seeing punk shows: get there early as hell so I can be pressed against a barricade or stage. I only have to defend my back, if I’m up front. Also, I’m short.
In the first song, I feel a hand go down my shorts. I kick out behind me, then there’s another dude, on my back, clawing over me to get to the stage. I’ll have claw marks, later.
Two songs in, the hand is back.
I whip around, screaming, “Don’t fucking touch me.”
It’s a dude, with the Macklemore haircut and a denim vest with studs and patches. A girl is between us, glaring. The dude explains he thought he was touching his girlfriend.
I don’t ask why he’s trying to stick his hands down his girlfriend’s pants at a show, but. Fine. I scream at him not to do it again.
Another song. It happens again.
I kick backwards, again. I know I make contact, either with the girlfriend or him I don’t know but I’m whirling, coming around to scream again.
Time slows down.
The girlfriend is no longer between us. The dude’s fist is back, arm arched, elbow pointing up the ceiling. I am going to get hit. I don’t know how to brace for it. I am wearing glasses and all I can think about is that if he breaks my glasses, I could be blinded.
And then, out of nowhere — moving faster than either of us, is another guy. Not wearing a venue security outfit (they have t-shirts, they are on the wall, watching). Just a tie-dye shirt.
He moves between myself and the vest dude, pulling him back before I can even finish my scream.
That is bystander intervention. Not a venue employee, not me the victim of assault–just a dude, trying to keep the pit safe. I have no idea how much the dude knew of what was happening. I’ve never seen him again, but I’ll never, ever forget his face.
As members of a scene — DIY, queer, punk, whatever you want to call it — that prides itself on being safe, we have an obligation to affect change in the moment.
When you hear a rumor, or see something happening, say something. Don’t say it just online, either. Change happens when people do something on the local level.
“Bystander Intervention is based on the fact that people make decisions and continue behaviors based on the reactions they get from others. For instance, commonly-asked questions in adult bystander intervention trainings are: Why don’t we pick our noses in public? or Why don’t we eat hot dogs for breakfast? The answer, once analyzed by the participants, tends to examine the expectations social interactions place on us, and the cultural conditioning and norms taught to us through subtle reactions from others. A question for secondary students might be: If you wore an outfit to school one day and no one said anything, but everyone made a horrified face at you, would you wear it again?”
We have a responsibility, as members of a community, a scene, the planet to step up when we see actions of injustice, of violence against others.
Ben assaulted people. Ben did that and it is horrible, it is disgusting, it is abhorrent and I am glad that Ben is finally being exposed.
But we have to talk about the fact that no one stepped up. That people knew for months and no one stepped up. And this doesn’t mean just holding Liv Bruce accountable, because I have seen a good deal of people going after Liv — it also means holding the people at their shows, who saw this happen accountable. T-Rextasy is the only band I have seen admitting culpability in this, but that is not enough. (And I admit, I have distanced myself from the internet in the last 24 hours to process and unpack, for the sake of my own PTSD.)
When I see people saying that they didn’t step up for the victims of Ben Hopkins because of fear for their careers, or because of the kind of person Ben presents themselves to be — I come back to being 19.
I have seen people contribute to the discussion about Ben and comment on abuse in the scene whom I know protected my own abuser. They did not distance themselves from them when I took to the internet with my story, or when others came forward.
I’m not here to name names. I’m here to ask you all to be accountable to each other. Be active bystanders.
When BLEDFEST dropped PWR BTTM from their lineup, they announced a panel called “Safe Spaces, Not Boring Spaces”. I don’t know what this means, but please, BLEDFEST if you’re going to go down this route… if you can impart anything, impart this:
When you hear a rumor, confront it — you don’t have to name names. You really don’t. Ask the accused about it. You have the luxury of not being their victim, which gives you a privilege. If you say you support us victims, then hold our abusers accountable when you hear things.
When you see things happening at shows, step in. If you see someone uncomfortable, check in. Ask how it’s going in a low key way. Place your body between theirs. Do something, say something.
Please. We shouldn’t have to beg you to commit to this.
You can read more about bystander intervention here, at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.