WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE
ACCUSED OF HAVING COMMITTED A
When you are accused of having violated someone’s boundaries, the first thing to do is to take a deep breath. Your reaction may be crucial in regards to the consequences your behaviour causes!
First of all, what violates someone’s boundaries differs depending on the situation, your actions and the perception of the affected person. It could be a verbal and / or physical action of yours, and what you did could have been an action or a reaction. Your intentions may vary, as may your relation to the affected person. These circumstances are influential, but not determining: after all, a basic and decisive factor of every violation is the violence that you exerted and might still exert. When someone’s personal boundaries are violated, this is always happening against the will of the affected person, and related to manipulation and taking away their power and ownership of their physical, emotional and personal needs. This can be any form of exerting power, be it physical assault, verbal reproduction of sexism, pressuring or intimidating someone, denying or attributing intentions, triggering behaviour, etc. Its appearence differs, as does its consequences. Because a violation is always, no matter in what form, related to violence, your behaviour was – even if you are not aware of it and even if it was not intentional – violent.
This should be obvious in regards to physical assault and sexualized violence. However, sexist violence has more than one face and despite wide-spread opinions that say otherwise, it is not possible to objectively judge and categorize it according to an inspection of variables and „factual events“. Sexist violence is commonplace and usual, every womyn* is continually affected by it and unfortunately we often ignore it because we are afraid, distressed, annoyed or overwhelmed, or we try to qualify violence by comparing it to standardized images of assault that are defined by the law and society as a „violent crime“ („well but it’s not like he raped her“). What gets lost in all this discussing, justifying or ignoring is that a categorization of rape is not possible and the same is true for any other form of boundary violations, as every categorization would exclude the perception of the affected person, and therefore ignores structural sexism and oppressions. After all we do not exist in a vacuum; our personal history and position in society are always important and make every situation distinct, especially in regards to its perception. Another thing that is often ignored is what the affected person is feeling. There is fighting / suffering / giving up / looking away / positioning / supporting / comparing / discussing / defending – and only rarely allowed space for a recovery of integrity and empowerment of the affected person. That would require a considerate examination of one’s behaviour by the person who has committed behaviour the violation.
We’re sick of the fact that womyn* and people of other not privileged gender identities have to struggle. With wet eyes we watch the work of support groups, the circulation of texts by survivors and sharing of information about how to cope with trauma. We experience small acts of resistance in safer spaces and on the streets, we talk to people we trust and we publicly call out sexist violence – we are happy about this productive (queer-)feminist output, because it is needed. And in that, we must appear with such a contention and assertiveness that we rarely remain with the incentive or strength to deal with the perpetrators* of our hurt. Because we recognize that confronting perpetrators with their behaviour and focusing on the needs of the affected person can be crucial, but on the other hand womyn* can’t be expected to continually provide some kind of FAQs on how to analyze a violation, we decided to muster the empathy and patience to directly adress perpetrators* in a personal manner with this text, and thus provide an impulse for this confrontation.
You might now feel like you are being treated unfairly, because your intentions are ignored. You might feel like you want to be heard, perhaps you are angry, aggressive, or maybe just hurt, because you feel you are „unfairly“ accused and don’t know how to react.
First of all you should take a step back and realize that your perspective is not the one and only. How other people are feeling is just as relevant. Try to understand that it was not easy to name that boundary violation and that this most definitely was not done casually. Furthermore you need to understand that being subjected to sexist violence often causes a feeling of powerlessness and can be triggering or (re-)traumatizing. You need to be aware that the consequences for the affected person may be grave and can’t be compared to just being offended. This is why it is crucial for you to take a back seat and focus on the needs of the affected person. An aggressive reaction or one that tries to qualify the affected person’s perception can worsen the consequences of the violation you comitted!
So someone confronted you with your behaviour that violated someones boundaries – what now? Here’s a couple of ideas that might help you and thus also the affected
person to deal with that situation:
♀ The only one who gets to define whether or not your behaviour violated someone’s boundaries is the affected person!
A contention of this definition means that you do not accept that person’s perception and feelings. Your behaviour possibly was not meant to violate someone’s boundaries, but you need to understand that it did. Don’t discuss that! Don’t try to „objectively“ judge it, that’s not possible. Don’t qualify your behaviour according to qualifiers such as „right“ or „wrong“, but accept the perception of the other person and that you violated their personal boundaries.
♀ Because of how hard it is to name violence, you should appreciate the courage that is needed to do so!
Don’t feel like you’re under attack, but realize that it’s a possibility to work on your own behaviour. No one is free from sexist thoughts or behaviour, but we should work on seeing that, question it and avoid further violence.
♀ Because your relation to the affected person is likely to influence both of you in regards to the confrontation, you need to not ignore it.
If both of you are moving in the same social circles, it might be evenharder for the affected person to confront you with your behaviour, because your reaction could and will have a decisive influence on her social environment. Many affected people are inevitably excluded from some social circles because people refuse to support the affected person. Social dynamics and gossip shouldn’t be underestimated. Attributions to the affected person such as for example saying that she „overreacted“, „reacted emotionally“, or that she is „too sensitive“, „too radical“, „revengeful / vindictive“, „a liar“, or that her boundaries are „too limited“, etc. reproduces sexism and can destroy the affected person and her social contacts and thus negatively influences her supply of possibly much needed emotional support.
Your reaction and its consequences could be an even greater violation, so you need to be aware of that and think about what you are doing before you decide to act or avoid confrontation.
♀ Violations often happen especially in sexual relationships.
Realize that consent to one action does not imply consent to another. When someone says that it’s ok to kiss them, then that means that it’s ok to kiss them and you should not infer from that that it’s ok to do more. When a person voices discomfort, any further attempt to perform sexual actions puts them under pressure. In that case you need to first establish what’s ok and what isn’t. Sexual acts on a person that is heavily influenced by drugs, does not respond or is sleeping is not consensual! Just because you are in a relationship with a person doesn’t mean that their body is at your disposal. It would be best if you thought about the concept of consent. It is an antisexist practice that of course you and the people you are in a relationship with don’t need to practice if you decide not to. Generally however, it is absolutely necessary that consent is at the basis of your sexual actions, because otherwise you are committing sexualized violence.
♀ If you are aware of having violated someone’s boundaries, you don’t get to ignore that just because the affected person does not call you out on it.
There are many reasons why she* might remain silent, be it because they are afraid, weary, used to it or because they forgive you, etc. Sexist violence still needs to be examined in any case and it is your responsbility to do that! If that person ignores or avoids you though, you should understand that perhaps a confrontation might not be in their interest. So first of all try to find out whether a confrontation is ok for her*.
♀ If it appears to be hard for the affected person to talk about it, don’t pressure her!
You could maybe suggest to find another supporting person.
♀ It could happen that you are confronted by a person who noticed the violation you committed independently of the affected person.
Don’t think you don’t need to be responsible just because the affected person is not confronting you, or even defending you. You need to understand that „outsiders“ could be made uncomfortable by your behaviour as well, because sexist violence is not just personal and needs to be named publicly. Furthermore your behaviour does not need to be directed against a specific person. It is of course possible to violate the boundaries of many people at once. Fundamentally, a sexist violation of boundaries is one that violates the boundaries of all of us.
♀ Depending on how the affected person experienced the violation and on how this was dealt with afterwards, you might be confronted by a third party or a support group.
In that case you still need to focus on the needs of the affected person that are voiced by these people without argument. You can express your empathy, perhaps confront your behaviour together with these people and maybe create a space where you all can discuss the issue safely. But understand that the person you hurt does not in any way have the responsibility to deal with you or your actions. In any case it is important to adjust your handling of the issue according to the needs of the affected person, to respect her wishes and don’t again impose yourself on her* decisions.
♀ Don’t talk about the violation to other uninvolved people!
* Because this is not primarily your experience, but one of the affected person, and one that she* might not want to be made public.
* Just because you are confronted with it doesn’t mean that the violation can be made a public issue. Only talk about it to people who the affected person is ok with.
* Look after your own boundaries and acknowledge if you need support. It can be distressing for you to have violated someone’s boundaries and to confront your own behaviour. In that case you should look for people, support groups or counselling that can help you with the situation. Make sure that such a person of trust is not one of the social circles of the affected person, and require them to be supportive of her and to treat the issue with absolute discretion.
* Don’t talk about it with your friends to have them approve your „innocence.“
* Depending on what kinds of mechanisms and intentions caused your behaviour, you should consider doing therapy.
♀ You should generally concern yourself with sexualized violence and its possible consequences.
Read texts about the issue or talk about it with others. It’s important that you try to understand and empathize with the experience of the affected person. You will not gain an exact idea of the individual feelings of that person, but it will help you in generally finding empathy and a way to treat other people with consideration.
It is possible that the violation you are accused of may appear absurd and incomprehensible to you. That is because you are judging it as a result of your own experiences and perceptions. In that case you need to understand that pretty much every womyn has in her life made some kind of experience related to sexualized violence, that sexism and violence are intrenched in the fundaments of society and that a violation happens in the context of these things! Violations are obviously related to each other and our environment, so it’s not possible for you to decide when another person’s boundaries are violated. Only that person themselves may decide that. A violation thus doesn’t have to be „obvious“, it doesn’t have to be comprehesible and it doesn’t have to be intentional. Due to all these „grey areas“ it is impossible to create a handbook in dealing with violations, that’s why we need to continually stress the need for empathy, respect and acknowledgment! And exactly because there are many factors that play a part, we try not to allow a specified structure for types of boundary violations within this text.
One very common form of violations that often stays obscure and that we still want to deal with here, is triggering behaviour – a behaviour that triggers memory of past experiences of boundary violation. When someone is triggered, that can mean they have flashbacks, that they are directly re-experiencing this memory as if it was happening right there in that moment. Being triggered can also mean that our body remembers, that we feel sick, start shaking, get angry or have panic attacks. Triggers can be retraumatizing, might cause the beginning of processing a previous trauma and are not bound to temporal limits. (Re-)traumatization often has unforeseeable, scary and draining consequences for the affected person, who can barely influence this reaction and it is therefore important that these processes are not inconsiderately reinforced. If you are dealing with a traumatized person, it is necessary to deal with this issue and behave carefully.
Not every person who has experienced a violation of their boundaries has triggers, but generally sexist violence can always have a triggering effect and because of how deep-seated sexualized / sexist volence is in our society, we should always be aware that another person could be triggered by our behaviour. On the other hand, apparently „benign“ (and not necessarily sexually connotated) behaviour can be triggering, and thus it can be complicated to deal with that for you as the triggering person. So if you are confronted with having committed a boundary violation that was triggering that may seem incomprehensible to you, then don’t try to justify yourself or to „clear things up“ or anything like that. Back away from the issue of „guilt“ and acknowledge the fact that things happened the way they are communicated to you. Always be aware of structural sexism and the ever-present violence that we need to fight together. If possible, try to find out what to do together with the affected person, so that you can find a way to make her feel better and to avoid such violations in the future.
Always keep a watch on your own boundaries though! If it’s hard for you to stand the confrontation, perhaps because you have made your own experiences with invasive or violent behaviour, or because you are afraid of doing the wrong things, or can’t hold back your anger or maybe just don’t understand anything, get support!
One thing that happens way too often, which practically means pretty much all the time, is that only the affected person and maybe their supporters deal with the violation, and that the perpetrator* has to be forced to a confrontation. We think it is necessary that the needs of the affected person are acknowledged and that her* demands are consequently implemented, with or without the perpetrator’s* agreement. If the affected person does not wish to be involved in the confrontation or prefers to stay anonymous, any further confrontation is out of the question! However if a confrontation is requested, it should be made possible. Unfortunately it seldom is, and in most cases there aren’t even any supporters, or the affected person has a hard time articulating their needs. Additionally, many violations that fall into these „grey areas“ are often not even called out at all. Affected people are expected to be „above that“, not to „cause a stir“, and not to „force others to position themselves“ – that basically means they have to deal with it on their own. Because criticism and demands are much more visible than the violation committed in private, affected people are often decried a „nuisance“ and additionally burdened. A joined, understanding confrontation that could reduce negative consequences for the affected person usually doesn’t happen, which isn’t only irresponsible, but also a great pity.
So it’s presumably rather likely that you already have commited many violations without even being aware of it, independent of the individual form of the violation, and differing in regards to how relevant it is to the affected person. The first step is to be aware of that. A next one is to think of possibilities to allow for more communication. If all of us would concern ourselves with sexism and violations more often, it would be possible to build a trustful basis on which we could find a more liberated way to treat each other. It’s also not fair to leave womyn and people of other disprivileged genders alone in their fight against sexism and the onsequences of violations. It is important for womyn* to stand for themselves and that men don’t try to co-opt feminism. But much too often, the neccesity of resistance is put on womyn and people of other disprivileged genders, who will probably recognize it first, but shouldn’t be the only ones to do so!
LET’S PREVENT BOUNDARY VIOLATIONS TOGETHER