By Hannah Krieg, UW News Lab/Special to CHS
In the early hours of a morning in October, Abi heard a familiar voice outside her window.
“He left me with a bodily response,” she said. “If I see him in public or I hear his voice, I’ll go into full panic mode and think I’m dying.”
The voice belonged to an old flame, a skater who frequents Cal Anderson Park who Abi, in her early 20s, claims emotionally abused her during their relationship. When she looked out the window, she saw his graffiti tag sprayed across the wall opposite her.
“I felt like that was a tactic to gain more control over me,” she said. “It had gotten to a point where I couldn’t accept that anymore.”
It was then that Abi decided to share her story online.
The #MeToo movement can also exist at a small scale, in a neighborhood, or in a community like the skaters who meet in Cal Anderson. There, an online document detailing one woman’s experience began collecting stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse within the Seattle skate scene. It grew with people adding their own accounts of abuse. Abi transitioned her Instagram feed to post these experiences, out abusers, and ultimately create an avenue for survivors to seek justice.
Seattle’s restaurant industry, writing sphere, and most similarly students at the University of Washington with Make Them Scared have all exposed patterns of abuse within their respective communities. On the morning of October 5th, a list of accused abusers and sexual predators hit Instagram. It was the skate scene’s turn to add names to Seattle’s ongoing vigilante abuser registry.
“There’s multiple goals when these [online accusations] happen: supporting the survivor, identifying the consequences for the person who caused harm, and figuring out our community responsibility,” said Heather Wehr, legal advocacy program coordinator at Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Abi and the survivors that followed her lead were ready for a reckoning in their own community. To her, these instances of abuse within the Seattle skate scene were well-known and widespread.
Abi said she decided online accusations were not enough and took to Instagram to crowd-source solutions to “uphold progress and hold these people accountable.”
“As a community we do have a responsibility to respond when violence happens,” Wehr said. “This is survivors taking the first step to bring their experiences to their community and it matters what happens after that.”
For these survivors, the next step was drawing up a list of demands.
The demands laid out a path for reconciliation for the accused: cut ties with the community, issue a public apology, be transparent in involvement with communities in the future, and finally, seek professional help. Abi also says she sent the demands to those accused.
Abi felt this community action was more humane for both the survivors and accused than pursuing a case within a legal system that is punitive rather than rehabilitative.
“The experience of surviving a pattern of exploitation and control is by definition disempowering,” said Shannon Perez-Darby, an advocate who works in community accountability and transformative justice in the Seattle area. “People use all sorts of different skills in order to feel powerful again. If you don’t feel like you have access to institutional power, social power, economic power, one way people can feel powerful is through social media.”
Both Wehr and Perez-Darby agree that demands, when they are what Perez-Darby calls “right-sized”, can give survivors greater agency.
Abi says her demands were met to varying degrees.
While some of the skaters ignored or denied accusations, one person involved in the accounts said they were impressed by how someone they claimed “really fucked [them] up” handled the apology and that the effort helped bring closure.
In the days following the initial outing online, Abi noted the courts at Cal Anderson were empty. She believes that many of the accused went to skate in a different location.
Are there lessons here for other communities in Seattle as the issues of the #metoo movement continue in waves?
Asking abusers to leave a social group can “increase immediate safety for the survivors” and Wehr says ostracization of the accused is “one of the potential issues” with the demand to cut ties with their community.
“When someone we are close with ends up on a list like this, we should bring that person closer and tell them, ‘we need you to do better’,” Wehr said, careful to stress that this responsibility should not fall on survivors or people who otherwise do not have the capacity to help.
Skaters have, of course, returned to the court in Cal Anderson. Abi says she’ll continue to be vigilant.
“People know where to find me,” she said. “If people continue to be abusive, we’ll call it out again.”
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