The abuser must accept: Admission and affirmation within the call-out culture
(Second of three parts in an depth series. INQUIRER.net reached out to two of the men who were subjects of online call-outs in the first report. Only one of them granted a request for interview.)
Bryan* was as surprised as anyone when he was called out for sexual misconduct in 2019.
Trish*, his once-best friend, accused him of “taking advantage” of her five years ago when she was passed-out drunk. She claimed that he had not owned up the act and that their group of friends failed to listen to her.
“Before [the] New Year, people were saying in the music scene, ‘Bryan is such a gentleman,’” recalled Trish. “My friend who knew [about the rape] said to the manager, what if he did this? She said ‘no, he would never do that.’”
Trish’s Instagram post, meant for only friends who knew them both, made the rounds on Twitter in large part because Bryan was part of an indie band on the rise with a respectable following.
Bryan, a 25-year-old engineer, told INQUIRER.net he sensed something like this could happen— in 2017, sexual misconduct allegations against members of indie bands surfaced as the #MeToo movement exploded globally.
During that period, he confessed to his girlfriend of two years his past act, so “she wouldn’t be surprised” in the event of a call-out. Though she was upset at first, he said she understood and knew he was not “that kind of person.”
Now facing the music in 2019, he worried about how it would impact him and those close to him. “I wasn’t angry at her. You should be free to express yourself if someone bothers you,” he said of his initial reaction.
He wondered if people would think of him differently. Bryan decided to leave the band he had formed in high school and with whom he had been with in weekly gigs.
He messaged Trish an apology after the call-out. “I said, ‘I’m sorry that she still felt like this, I always thought it’s OK, but that was my mistake. I wish I could’ve handled it better so she didn’t have to feel like this now.’”
He got a response and before he could reply, she had blocked him. He recalled, “I remember it was still angry, ‘You only care now because this happened.’ Understandably.”
Bryan admitted that he could not bring himself to tell Trish what he did to her while she was unconscious. As Trish told INQUIRER.net, she found out about the incident months after, from a friend who assumed they had had sex after she had gotten drunk.
Their friendship ended after she confronted him about it, and according to him, he apologized to her. She would still contact him in the months after about how upset she was and eventually they were no longer on speaking terms.
Trish said in their few interactions after confronting him, Bryan would tell her he was hurting too and would beg her not to tell anyone. At one point, he said, “Huwag ka mag-feeling.”
Bryan said he changed his behavior after the incident. “I try to be more aware of my place. I drank less. I became more awkward with social interactions especially with women. I still felt guilty, I still do.”
“I tried to be more open with [consent], [like asking] ’sorry, is this making you uncomfortable?’. Not just consent but I became more aware how my presence affected the dynamic of wherever I was.”
He speculated that Trish resorted to speaking up on social media because she was not “taken seriously” by their shared group of friends.
“One of the things she would say in chats that she was upset that her friends that knew about it still talked to me or wouldn’t do anything about it upfront,” he said. “It was difficult for them. I wouldn’t know what to do either as a friend except to be there for the victim.”
He said he noticed that their friends would interact with him less, “but they didn’t cut ties or confront me.”
“Even back then — and now — I understand why she’d be upset. I wanted to talk to someone else about it but I didn’t know what to do,” he explained.
He thinks that if he had tried harder to address the issue, she would have been less angry. “Sometimes when you think you’re giving your effort to help someone or to remedy a relationship, sometimes it’s not what they’re looking for,” he said.
“Even if we’d confronted and talked about it, in retrospect I could’ve handled it better because I never really asked directly what she wanted me to do about it or what she wanted.”
‘Am I a good person?’
One of the concerns brought up by those who are critical of call-out culture is that it could affect the reputation of the person called out. It is argued that one social media post has the potential to derail careers and impact personal relationships.
Bryan opened up about the call-out to his teammates and boss to share his side. “My manager was the one who approached me because he found out about it. He was asking me if I was OK; he let me take a few days off from work. They were very understanding,” he said.
It was quitting the band that took a toll on him. He said it put him in a “quarter-life crisis” with weekends freed up; it gave room for anxious thoughts and issues he had been distracted from.
He was also reeling from the call-out and what it said about him as a person. “A few days after, I started to feel terrible,” he said, citing some “pretty vicious” comments. He said these were from people who were strangers or acquaintances who were “misinformed.”
“It amplified my insecurities. It made me doubt, am I a good person, am I an OK person?” He admitted. “I started to become more down, I had less ways to express because a whole part of me was gone from me and I didn’t know what to do.”
Immediately after the incident, neither he nor Trish had sought professional help. It was only after the call-out that his mom suggested he see a therapist. “I wish I talked to a therapist before. My therapist is great,” he said.
When asked if he would go back to music, he shook his head. “It’s painful. I don’t really wanna explain. Even if I liked it, I can’t right now. I wouldn’t feel right, I wouldn’t be comfortable.”
No public apology
Bryan considered issuing a public apology after the call-out, but reconsidered after talking to his therapist and to close friends.
“I wanted to say something. Something the victim would tell me always is that you’re not owning up to it,” he explained.
He said he realized that “owning up to it doesn’t always mean that you have to do something about it publicly.”
“You don’t owe the public an apology. You at least owe the person,” he quoted the advice given to him.
Trish, however, was displeased with the statement released on the band’s official Facebook page, describing it as “watered down.” She felt that it was a “cover-up” for stating that he merely left for “personal matters.” There was no apology or mention of the details of the incident in the separate statements from Bryan and his bandmates.
Without Trish’s knowing, there were some netizens posting screenshots of her call-out on the comments section. She said she did not feel like someone had to speak for her and left comments on the page herself. However, her own comments got deleted, which she took as being “silenced.”
If initially Trish wanted privacy on the issue by posting to a limited audience on Instagram, she decided to post her allegations on Facebook with a new account. “I didn’t mind being silent but I minded that I was being silenced,” she explained. “It’s already here, why are you still trying to cover it up?” As of writing, her statement is still up on the comments section of the band’s page.
Handling a social media crisis
Jason Cruz, executive strategy director for ad agency Wizard Manila, admits that calling out on social media can be divisive, but “is effective because it puts accountability in the hands of people who are doing the abused party wrong.”
“And because it’s on social media, you can’t hide it. Once it’s posted, it’s forever,” he said.
His advice for those faced with an accusation online? Do not panic, and there is no need for a public apology—unless you are a public figure. “I think you need to tell as many people as you can that you’re repentant. That’s public records. People will hold you accountable for your apology. I think [especially] government officials, company heads, celebrities,” he said.
“Celebrities have an insane amount of power. They affect how people think, rightly or wrongly,” he said. “To see that they’re willing to change, and they are repentant, might be a good example to younger fans and followers.”
On how not to apologize, he said, “A lot of celebrities, the way they apologize is a non-apology with a defiant tone. ‘Sorry na, tao lang (Sorry, I am only human),’ that’s very defiant.”
“I think a genuine, honest apology is how you would apologize to your parents,” he explained. “I was raised in a single-parent home, so the last thing you want is to fracture that relationship. So when there’s a mistake, and my mom taught me this, if she was wrong, she says sorry. But she doesn’t explain why she did something because for her, [there is no point in explaining, someone got hurt]. It’s not my right to explain what I did.”
“I think the longer you go without saying sorry, the worse it is,” he said.
He cited the case of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who quickly apologized after he was snapped taking a hit of marijuana from a bong in 2009. “I think he realized, ‘oh right, I have kids who look up to me.’”
Cruz noted, “It helps if you’re a fairly decent human being; [if] you admit quickly that you made a mistake. The world is forgiving [especially] in the Philippines.”
Psychology of a sexual abuser
Social worker Nellen dela Fuente, 35, has been working in the rehabilitation of sexually abused street kids in the crisis intervention and recovery center Tahanan Sta. Luisa, located in Antipolo, Rizal.
During the course of her work, she has gained an understanding of abusers, stating in an interview with INQUIRER.net that they are those you do not expect — one should not stereotype because an abuser can look decent and respectable in society. In many cases, perpetrators have experienced abuse or neglect themselves during childhood and have not been able to properly process their feelings about it.
“Most abusers do not understand why they commit the [abusive] acts,” dela Fuente said. For her, those who do not accept that they have any wrongdoing need to be imprisoned. But for those who seek healing, she believes they should be assessed and rehabilitated. For those called out, she advises apologizing in person and seeking spiritual healing.
“It is such a burden especially if you are not forgiven. When you admit it and feel sorry about it, but the person you abused does not accept the apology, that is a big burden to bring as you grow older,” dela Fuente explained.
She said if an abuser approaches you for help, your reaction should be similar to how you would treat someone who is abused: with listening and no judgement. “It is a privilege to the one who was shared to — it means they are calling for help.”
Dela Fuente said depending on what is shared to you and if you know the person’s character well, reminding the abuser that s/he is a good person helps.
She warned that when an abuser doubts his or her character, s/he can commit acts worse than what was initially committed: “Always [remind] him or her that s/he is a good person. One word like that to an abuser can do good.” JB
(Coming out tomorrow, part three of this series.)
[Editor’s note: The real names of the parties, whenever noted (*), have been withheld per their request.]
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