Others have said it before and better and for some time I have indeed believed or understood those who have it said before. However, it seems that I am only coming to feel or, not really to feel, but to have those beliefs rub against, agitate, a deeper formation in me that, it seems, has remain largely undisturbed.
Almost by definition a culture (perhaps this is not the right word, we may be talking about a world here) can only convict and condemn that which is not culture, uncultured. While we might talk about a culture of violence or abuse this designation proves the point of what tends to be signified when we talk about culture in itself. To be cultured is to be good. This remains the track record of black, indigenous, poor, mentally ill and other populations. These groups and individuals (not to fully equate them) are often defined apart from, are deviant from culture. What I am coming to more deeply understand is how this relates to questions of abuse.
When abuse is perpetrated by people who already occupy an uncultured position then the conviction of abuse tends to be easier. However when an individual occupies enough of a cultured position then allegations of abuse tend not to stick. This is logical. Explicitly, our culture denounces and condemns abuse (the term itself of course remains contested). Culture condemns abuse. Therefore if a cultured environment cannot readily identify an experience or event as abusive and yet an individual emerges with an accusation of abuse then that individual is not only accusing an individual but is also accusing a culture.
That is, if a person is cultured and has not themselves admitted or confessed to abuse then the culture itself has little resources to convict one of its own. Culture has no inherent capacity for siding with those making accusations of abuse against a cultured person. An accusation against such a person is an accusation against the culture. I have not fully appreciated this reality because I also have been intimately and fundamental formed in contexts that have explicitly normalized, enculturated actions and individuals that are abusive. I was brought up in a logic that dismissed and rejected the disruption of accusation. This is not as easy to dismantle and discard as I once thought.
If the connection between culture and cultured (or the in the church you can substitute the words ‘faithful’ or ‘righteous’ here) individuals is true then accusations of abuse may be by definition unreasonable. As I have begun wading into my own experience of those speaking out about their abuse I can testify as to how quickly and easily rationalizations emerge. I remain a deeply cultured person. Within this logic there is always a reasonable explanation for what happened that softens (at the least) or can fully discredit the accuser’s claims.
I suspect that the working assumption in dominant culture is that real abuse will be self-evident, that a clear outlining of the ‘facts’ will render a verdict irrefutable. Perhaps we can accept that ‘good’ and cultured people do from time to time abuse and then deny it to protect themselves but surely we as a civilized culture will be able to discern these matters clearly. But if we listen to advocates of abused individuals we will hear the refrain that our culture and courts create an environment that benefits and protects abusers. We may agree that such injustices occur but have we interrogated our own enmeshment with a culture that by definition exists to protect its own? What follows are observations that I have read before but now they come more as confessions of my own enmeshment and as validation for those who needed to break this ground pioneering outposts rejected by culture.
- There will always be a reasonable explanation to deny or minimize abuse allegations. The accused would never do such a thing. The account is exaggerated. The accuser has ulterior motives. The accuser is not well. There was a misunderstanding. I knew these things but when in closer proximity to such accounts I was astonished at how quickly and how naturally these responses came. Do not underestimate this.
- You will probably never get the ‘victim’ you want. We likely have an image of a victim we want to help save (and it should be noted that image was likely produced by our culture). It may feel easier to support a victim who seems victimized and needs our protection from an easily identifiable predator. Perhaps it is someone unsure needing our confirmation. This image may well fit some situations but there is also a good chance that you will encounter a victim who is also, by personality or circumstance, a bit of a jerk; or, if not a jerk tends towards hyperbole in expression or uses ‘inappropriate’ language or characterizations. The accuser may be exceedingly angry or disarmingly confident. And unless you have a lot of experience in this area most accusers, in whatever form they express themselves, may well seem unreasonable. Be prepared for this.
- To side with an accuser is to take a risk. To side with someone who has experienced abuse is to leave your investment in power and your cultural protection. You won’t know the facts first hand and you may never feel like you know ‘the truth’ or that some lingering doubts remain. This is the risk. Reason, reasonableness is culture’s terrain of safety. To side with someone making accusations of abuse is almost by definition to be unreasonable. Culture tells us that abuse is in fact unacceptable and so the fact that someone needs to make accusations is to already make an accusation against the culture. To accuse the culture of at the very least being inadequate. This is a risk, understand that.
- If you are like me you will make mistakes. Your formation, despite your best intentions, will work against you. Expect this. Apologize when you have actually seen the error but don’t make the apology about you. My sense is that there will be times when you just need to get out of the way if you are no longer the person to be trusted.
These are expressions, articulations that I have read often enough but slowly I am trying to articulate them from my own experience, particularly as my own formation is working against my attempts to be consistently supportive. This is not as easy and not as clear as I thought. For those of us who have fit well enough in our culture there tends to be little reason to articulate the negative conditions and forces of that environment because to do so means questioning an authority that has protected us and perhaps being criticized for biting the hand that feeds us. Rearrange your humility and your defensiveness so that it might better serve those vulnerable to our culture. It is unreasonable to consistently walk with those making accusations of abuse. Learn to be unreasonable and keep walking.