When Harassment Appears Harmless
ETA: After I posted this, Reddit removed JDA’s comments. Per the r/fantasy rules, “Acting in bad faith in this community can and likely will have consequences.“
A friend of mine was doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over at Reddit. Among the comments and questions, someone posted the following:
“You’ve been integral in helping me grow my career to where I’ve made six figures on writing in less than 2 years in the biz. So thank you for the support! Look forward to joining you in SFWA. :)”
Seems innocuous, right? Even friendly and flattering, if a bit boastful and self-aggrandizing.
Here’s the thing. The author doing the AMA was SFWA president Cat Rambo. The individual leaving the comment was Jon Del Arroz. You may remember Del Arroz’s name from an earlier blog post documenting his history of trolling and harassing. One section of that post covered his attacks against Cat Rambo, including:
- Accusing Rambo of defending pedophilia
- Accusing Rambo, without evidence, of trying to “destroy” him
- Generally trolling SFWA and Cat Rambo
Rambo repeatedly told Del Arroz to stop contacting her. It reached the point where she had to tell him any additional emails would be forwarded to her attorney.
Now take another look at that comment Del Arroz left on Rambo’s AMA.
There’s nothing friendly about repeatedly, deliberately violating someone’s boundaries. When someone has again and again told you to leave them the hell alone, and you keep following them around, popping up to leave comments or whatever? The words might be friendly, but the behavior is creepy/stalker/harassing.
It’s an attempted power move on the part of the creeper. “Ha ha, I don’t have to respect your boundaries, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” And if the victim complains, the harasser immediately blames them. “I was just trying to be friendly. Why does she have to be so hateful?”
How many times do we see this kind of stalking, harassing behavior get downplayed because, from the outside, it seems harmless? “Oh, he was just coming up to your booth to say hi, that’s all. Why do you have to get all upset about it?”
Maybe because, again and again, there’s more to the story. There’s a history of harassing, threatening, and/or controlling behavior. But it’s easier to accuse the victim of overreacting than it is to recognize that a lot of this nastiness is deliberately intended to appear harmless. Not only does it let the harasser flaunt their power to violate the victim’s boundaries at will, it also sets the victim up to look crazy if they try to respond. (See also: gaslighting.)
How many times have we heard about a conflict and thought to ourselves, “I don’t get why the person is so upset. It doesn’t sound like this was a big deal.”
Just like a friendly comment on an AMA — in isolation — doesn’t seem like a big deal.
I’m not saying nobody ever overreacts to a slight. But people are awfully damn quick to downplay and dismiss complaints by refusing to consider larger patterns of behavior. And that dismissal is one of the reasons creeps and stalkers continue to get away with this kind of harassment.