With regards to the current ‘drama’ rolling around the furry fandom…

Sexual harassment/rape/other activities in which one person becomes a ‘perpetrator’ and another becomes a ‘victim’ aren’t some kind of social drama to titter about around the virtual water cooler. They’re events in which people have been hurt.

For the rest of us there’s obviously a need to talk about it – to express our shock, our dismay, or (even) our disbelief and denial. These kinds of betrayals and invasions force us to reconsider the natural order of our world. Social relationships that looked and felt safe might not look or feel quite so safe anymore, suddenly we may be more aware of others we care about potentially being hurt, we might discover that those we respected might not be acting in accord with that respect.

That this is happening in the furry fandom right now is less a reflection on the nature of fandom, and more a reflection on the social circles we’ve formed and the cultural values of the societies we live in. And in-fandom, as is the case everywhere else, it’s hard to talk about this kind of thing.

This is a discussion we (and society in the wider world) need to have, and keep having. Relatively recently (a couple of years back) the SF fandom at large had a lot of discussion on some very related issues, to the point where the SFWA (professional body for SF/F authors) wound up needing to make a statement about their sexual harassment policy. (http://www.sfwa.org/2011/11/sfwa-statement-on-sexual-harassment/)

This isn’t a discussion we can have while people – especially victims – feel unsafe to speak. So, when someone has something to say about something that happened to them, give them the benefit of the doubt. Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t get involved if the people in question don’t want you to be involved. If you don’t believe what they’re saying, perhaps it’s because you’re unaware that false rape accusations are vanishingly rare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape) and that there’s some logic to a claim that the average man is more likely to be raped than to falsely be accused of rape. Which isn’t to say a claim is automatically true – use your own judgment – but it’s fallacious to dismiss a claim outright because you think the victim ‘just wants attention’. Nobody in their right mind wants the kind of attention a claim like that exposes them to. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse are all major problems facing us, whoever we are, and whatever social circles and fannish groups we’re part of. It’s easy to become part of the problem, by acting dismissively, by refusing to acknowledge hurt, even by invading the privacy of others – I find it scary that so much has been made of private correspondence which was, in effect, stolen.

Things have been coming up, getting discussed, and generally treated seriously lately. This is a good thing – some of us will always react negatively, deny that there are problems, but the fact the conversation’s continuing and that people are taking concrete action can only send a clear message that those who’ve been hurt will be taken seriously by at least some of the fandom, if not the whole of it.

Sadly, a lot of allegations, and problems with denial, have been squarely lain at the doors of people who for one reason or another we feel are community leaders. Some of them haven’t lived up to the respect we may have previously held for them, be it through direct allegations or indirectly through their responses to the various troubling stories coming up through the furry fandom. Yelling at them, and throwing abuse their way isn’t very helpful, and in the end, all it really serves to do is push the focus of the issue away from where it belongs – on those who’ve been hurt and need support.

It can be terrifying for someone in a vulnerable position to see the argument turning to a he said/she said circus in the public, and quite honestly, the public issue here isn’t what individuals have or haven’t done – that’s for the people involved, their near and dear, and if necessary, law enforcement. The issue is whether or not you, me, and everyone else in the fandom feels safe. If we’re able to stand up and say, ‘I think that’s inappropriate,’ when something needs to be confronted. It needs to be about listening to and supporting those who say they’ve been hurt, and working out what action we should take to keep them safe.

So, please. Be careful, be considerate, be compassionate. Don’t turn a blind eye to these things, don’t assume they never happen – because they happen all too often.