Remember That Abusers Also Love Consent.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

You can’t hit “delete” on an abuser, unfortunately: kick them out of your parties, and they stubbornly continue to exist in the real world.

Nine times out of ten, they’ll find some other group to go to, or start their own.

And in some ways, kicking an abuser out is helpful for the abuser. It gives them a fresh start – they get to go to a group of people who mostly don’t know them and reinvent themselves. If called on their personality shift, they’ll say they’ve changed.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that former abusers are getting big into this whole “consent” thing.

Because it’s easy to speak the language of consent: talk loudly about how you respect people’s boundaries, condemn those jerks who stepped over the line, offer to comfort the people who’ve been hurt. You can be a real good friend to a lot of people very fast by sympathizing and doing the right work.

And it’s also easy to give up small pleasures for greater gain. A lot of the time, if you’re initially respectful of your partner’s stated desires, they’ll let you move past those limitations a lot quicker. And since it’s hard for someone to determine the difference between “I’m respecting your boundaries, which has the nice side effect of getting me into your pants quicker” and “I’m respecting your boundaries because it gets me into your pants,” it’s a stratagem that’s surprisingly effective.

And when the abuser does push boundaries hard, just to see what they can get away with, they’re cloaked in the right ways to have it written off: it was a mistake, they didn’t mean to do it, could happen to anyone.

Except, strangely, it keepsĀ happening.

Over and over again.

This new wave of reinvented abusers is starting to look a lot like today’s upstanding citizen. Which is entirely predictable, because the shape of what today’s “upstanding citizen” looks like is changing, and a smart abuser will to do everything they can to blend in.

Back when the upstanding citizen was a leather player who worked his way up through the ranks, the abuser worked his way up through the ranks. Back when the upstanding citizen was someone who volunteered a lot in his community, the abuser volunteered a lot in his community.

They know what you think a good guy looks like.

They’re going to become that.

And the problem is that mistakes do happen in kink. Negotiation is hard, yo – yeah, I know, “Consent is easy as tea,” but sometimes you spoke unclearly and they were expecting coffee, and sometimes they should have specified green tea and now they’ve drunk black tea and their heart is racing from the caffeine, and sometimes both sides feel pressured into offering and drinking tea because it’s socially expected of them and then it turns out this whole thing kinda sucked.

Honest consent violations happen all the time. In fact, they’re probably the majority of what happens. Sex is complex and confusing, and while the base concepts are difficult, the devil is in those details.

Good people fuck up.

And when I’ve said that, people have told me “You shouldn’t say that! Abusers will just take that information and twist it to their own ends!” To which I always reply: You sweet summer child. You think they’re not already?

Look. There is no good habit you can create that an abuser will not mimic. That is why they are insidious.

The main difference between an abuser and a non-abuser is patterns. A non-abuser will make a mistake once and do their damndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again. An abuser will make a mistake once, and then make it again, and then make it again….

Which is why it’s important to listen to victims’ complaints. Yeah, there’s always some level of false accusations mucking up the scene. But abusers know that, too, and they’re mighty quick to whip out the “false accusation” flag proactively, going on the offense to ruin the reputation of someone they abused before that person can hurt them.

Yeah, you don’t like drama – nobody does – but you know who really benefits from drama-free scenes where nobody complains? Abusers. Because that blissful silence lets their every mistake be their first mistake, as far as you know.

So you listen for someone’s mistakes. And then you stay tuned to see whether someone’s mistakes are one-offs that got cleared, or a pattern that indicates this person is someone you do not want to trust with your body.

Because abusers are starting to speak and manipulate the language of consent. Abusers are starting to write essays talking about how great consent is, because that gets people to trust them.

And here’s the scary part for me: Yes. Yes, I am saying that abusers can look a lot like me. They can say the same shit that I do, give the same fiery lectures, look every bit as impassioned – and they can use that behavior to mask a consistent pattern of consent violations.

Which is why I tell you: question me, and people like me. Ask the people we’ve played with how it went. Interrogate our mistakes. Ensure that we’re not making the same mistake twice, or three times, or four times. Call us on our harms, keep us honest, don’t let us shrug off an error that hurt someone as trivial.

Because the good news is, the culture is slowly changing. The concept of consent is taking root. Yet the bad news is that the abusers will mold themselves to any conception you have of what a good person looks like, as they have always done. They will be counting on your good will to write off their long trail of mistakes as a series of one-offs.

The paradox is that people can be strongly for consent and still make mistakes. We have to allow for our champions to have human foibles without excusing patterns of consistent neglect that become abuse.

That’s a hard line to tapdance on, but we have to do it.

Because abusers thrive whenever we assume what a good person looks like.

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