The Burden of Proof in Community Affairs

This is not what I originally planned to write about tonight. I was actually planning on finally doing another Faces of Loki piece. But, this has been popping up in my head all week. Every time I started to say “nevermind, just let it ride”, it would pop up in my face again. So, if you know me, or have been following my blog for a while, you know that’s my sign that I need to get it out of my head. So, here it is. And sorry, but it’s a very long one

This past week, there was a lot of talk about a particular well known Heathen being revealed as a racist who spewed an absolutely inexcusable string of hate, bigotry and even threats at another group. This was quickly dealt with, and she was booted and cast out from multiple groups. And I applaud those who took a stand and acted so quickly. So that incident isn’t what this is about. But what it is about, is some of the reactions of people after she was removed that are all too common in cases like this. Namely, the way that people started crawling out of the woodwork claiming “so-in-so knew and never said anything because they wanted proof”, or “what do you mean you needed proof? That’s victim blaming!”. This is what I have a problem with. First let’s start with the obvious. It is NOT victim blaming to ask for proof of allegations that are that serious. Hell, it is not victim blaming to ask for proof. Victim blaming is when you act as if it is the victim’s fault that it happened or that they somehow were asking for it or deserved it. Not simply asking for verification. I know someone that says all the time, “believe but verify”. And that is absolutely important. Especially in matters that take place via the internet. We have seen over the past few years that people can twist facts, exaggerate, or even outright lie about something and it will spread across the internet like wildfire as if it were the truth. We see it all the time during every voting season. Do you really think politicians are the only ones who do that? No, people do it all the time. I am absolutely not opposed to people being held accountable or even punished for their wrong doing. But it is not wrong to ask for proof first. Especially in group and community settings. I have seen people tell lies about someone online that got taken as the gods’ truth and even after it was found to be untrue, there were still people who would not accept that it was found to be false no matter what proof was given. I have seen people lie about events I witnessed with my own eyes or been in the midst of when it happened only to have my eyewitness account attacked as sympathizing or even deleted and blocked because the court of internet opinion had already cast a verdict. I have seen other people done the same way. I have had a former member of a group I admin come to me to say another member verbally attacked them, only to find out it was a lie because they had stopped being friends with the other member. I’ve seen people be removed from facebook groups for causing fights and harassing others and then turn around and claim that group was (insert hate type) and full of bullies so that their new group starts treating the old one with caution; if not shame. And that’s just in regular everyday matters. So when it comes to racism, bigotry, hate speech and other very harmful misdeeds, there has to be some proof to go on because those issues are ones that can cross over into actual harm of others and legal repercussions. And we can’t just take one word against another and hope they were telling the truth. So when it comes to groups and communities, there has to be some form of verification before just giving someone the boot. When dealing with a group and you are in a place of leadership, administration, or any type of organization, you have to make sure you can back up your decisions. That is even more so the case when you are a legally recognized organization that can be taken to court or even have your legal status removed for cases of discrimination, libel and the like. In the offline world, if someone takes you to court with no proof and you’re still found guilty, you’re going to appeal to a higher court aren’t you? So why would it be wrong to ask for verification before casting a “sentence” in a platform that is known for spreading false information and rumors? To complicate matters more, a lot of times when an accusation is true, the victim is afraid to step forward. They tell a friend and the friend tells higher ups and then you have the added layer of not only a claim with no proof, but a second or even third-hand telling. Legally speaking, that’s hearsay. Then, even when there could be proof, the victim is often afraid to show it for two main reasons. One reason is the fear that the person who attacked them will come at them in some way because they told on them. This is a failing on the public’s part. Not in asking for the proof, but in not following through and making sure that when this is known, we protect the one that came forward. We make sure that we don’t just quietly act as if the problematic person just disappeared. We make sure it is known that this person was proven to have done a thing (without giving the victim’s name) and we stick to it. And we also need to start sharing some of these cases with other groups in the wider community as well. Don’t give them a place to hide and make you the bad guy in other groups and organizations starting petty wars in the community. Make it known to the others that this person was caught doing this thing and to be aware. You can do it privately between one clergy/leader/admin to another. That’s extra protection for the victim. But you have to make sure you have proof of reason or they also can’t do anything based on hearsay. Plus, without proof, it simply appears as more “witch wars” and petty discord to others in a way that all involved look bad except for the one who actually did the wrong. The second reason victims often don’t show proof when it exists, is the one I’ve unfortunately seen the most. And that is the fear, not of the attacker coming after them but, of being seen as smearing someone or breaking privacy by others in the community. Well I hate to tell you, that is the community’s problem for teaching over kindness even in the face of actual harm. That’s on US for letting people go so long thinking it’s bad to say anything that’s not completely happy, kind and positive praise. When it comes to hate and harm, if there is verification of the matter, it is not smearing. It is showing truth for the protection of the victim and the community at large. So if someone comes to you, make sure you let them know that it is NOT smearing and it is safe for them to come forward. Show them you have their back. As for privacy, when it is matters of harassment, harm and threats, (excuse my language but) screw their privacy. People who engage in that kind of behavior do not deserve privacy about that. Again, that is protecting them and not protecting the victim or the community. THAT is the actual “victim blaming”. And like I said earlier, very often, without proof the attacker plays the role of the victim. How many times have we seen that in the news? I’ve seen people be assaulted and their attacker be the one who gets sympathy because they claim the victim was somehow asking for it. Some even claim the victim was the abuser. We’ve all seen that in some form or another. We need verification; and shaming someone for giving a name and showing proof because of some imaginary privacy rule is absurd. You can’t act like people are “smearing” or doing something wrong by showing proof to help stop the attacker and then tell others “you were told and didn’t do anything” at the same time. In matters of community and group affairs, there has to be verification to justify action against someone. That’s not only common sense, but in many places it’s actually the law. And trust me, the admins and board members and everyone in like positions of any kind, hate to have to ask for proof. They want to believe people. But they also have to make sure that they can back up their decisions for the group as a whole. That’s the way it is in the physical world. Why would you expect anything different to be done online? And especially so in groups that have both a physical and online presence. I am glad that the case mentioned was met with quick action. And I am appalled at the people who somehow try to justify that particular person in what they did. But, the people who are saying it is wrong to need proof, are also helping the person who did the harm. Because without that burden of proof, you give them the ability to claim it is not true and move on to continue their actions in other groups. I know it sucks, but verifying issues before action is part of protecting others. Doing otherwise, is just giving them more ammo and potentially harming the actual victims. That’s all for now. Take care. 

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