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Letter: Victim shaming and blaming on full display in recent coverage

A person holds a letter with the text "letter to the editor" overlaid on the image.

I write to criticize the recent, extremely problematic media handling of the sexual abuse allegations against Kipp Gabriel, in particular, the June 30 th Forum article by CS Hagen , the July 1 st opinion column by Robert Port , and, to a lesser official capacity but no less influential, comments by moderators on the Fargo reddit.

Hagen’s article began with a smiling, heaven-gazing picture of a man who had been accused of sexually assaulting 11+ women. Perhaps the intention was to show that most abusers are charming and nice at times because that’s how they get away with abuse, but intention and reception are different things. The article was framed as a “he said/she said,” an extremely outdated, sexist trope. It began with an interview with Gabriel, who denied or minimized the allegations (most abusers do), and then an interview with his father, who referred to the accusations as “smut” (minimizing) and implied the allegations, or a past break up, were the reasons Gabriel committed suicide (victim-blaming). To my knowledge, this has been the only article through The Forum to address the allegations. I know journalists are constrained by many factors and survivors are now afraid to talk, but I urge the newspaper not to let go of the issue of abusers, especially those with power, in the community.

Now to Port’s argumentation. Port’s comparison of “social media justice” or “cyberbullying” to lynching is extremely problematic, not only because he equivalates racial injustice and trauma to text messages, but also because his one-to-one comparisons do not take into consideration the crucial factor of power. Gabriel allegedly used his position of power within the music community to target and assault young women. Additionally, “witch hunt,” a favorite metaphor of Port’s, comes from Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible," a play everyone read in high school, which has taught us that women are hysterical in groups and make false accusations against more powerful men out of jealousy. Historically, most of the targets of witch hunts were women and other people on the margins of society.

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Lastly, the moderator(s) of the Fargo reddit, consciously or unconsciously, engaged in victim-blaming and denial. After Gabriel’s death, a moderator wrote “an individual in our community recently died by suicide, largely suspected as a response to the allegations and the comments pouring in against him (again, this is not victim blaming, but a reminder that these are the most serious of serious issues.) ….” The moderator’s comment was victim blaming because it connected Gabriel’s suicide with the allegations. The survivors of Gabriel’s abuse cannot be punished for his decision when confronted with accusations of his history of sexual assault and abuse. They should be allowed space to be heard and his death by suicide should not take away from that. The moderator’s claim that they weren’t victim blaming was denial at best, gaslighting at worst.
Whether the moderator was trying to adhere to rules of reddit by deleting comments and allegations is not within my legal knowledge of the website’s conditions. What I do know, however, is that the moderators’ use of language, as in the example I gave, and in the emphasis on discourse being “civil” and “rational” (People can be emotional and rational at the same time. Read Audre Lorde.) are other cogs in a system to keep survivors quiet.

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Our society and legal systems are not built for survivors of sexual abuse. Like dysfunctional families, dysfunctional communities, consciously or unconsciously, try to silence or shame people who speak out. Survivors owe these communities nothing. These survivors made the truth known through some of the only resources they had. Individuals who had called out these abusers in person were allegedly harassed by abusers and their enablers.

If you are wondering why survivors didn’t go to the police, look at statistics on the number of rape cases that are actually investigated or prosecuted. If the survivors had outed themselves, like with Christine Blasey Ford and the recent Kavanaugh allegations, and been made to testify, they would have been raked over the coals. The last I heard, Blasey Ford was still unable to return to her job and Kavanaugh still has his.

Support survivors. If people feel sad, angry, or uncomfortable that they have to rewrite their mental narratives about their community or the people close to them, imagine how the survivors feel right now.

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