Those of you who have been waiting for the third and final installment of my series on Literary Sexual Abuse—the Ritual for Healing from Sexual Abuse—may have noticed that it’s taken a while to post.
The main reason for the delay is difficult for me to write about. In addition to getting a new low-residency teaching job, moving, and finishing the manuscripts of two new books, I had a disturbing and daunting reason to put off my healing post. About six months ago, I learned that several of the people who had posted comments in response to my first and second posts on Literary Sexual Abuse were not real people. The “women” named Samantha F., Emily, and Casey turned out to be not real commenters at all but what is known as “sock puppets”—fake online identities used to mislead others, hijack discussions, and basically to troll.
I guess I tend to be trusting to a fault. Even though—as is clear looking back at the discussion threads— Samantha, the most prolific of the sock puppets, raised flags almost immediately among some of the wise folks commenting on my blog, during the initial discussion I never imagined that Samantha, Emily, and Casey were not real people. Even when I was tipped off that the poet these commenters were all defending, Ravi Shankar, had disguised himself online with false identities repeatedly in the past, I never expected to find that my own blog had been the victim of such manipulation and deceit. But sure enough, when I finally checked out the IP addresses of all the commenters on these posts, the IP addresses of two of these three “women” (Samantha and Casey) matched up with the IP addresses of Shankar’s own comments, and a third (Emily’s) turned out to be located, as he was at the time, in Hong Kong, a city where nobody else who comments on my blog has been located. The evidence seemed clear that Shankar had been creating a mini “sock farm” on my blog, and when I checked in with others with more technical know-how and experience, my suspicion was confirmed.
I was of course shocked, disgusted, and extremely disturbed by this discovery. It felt as if I had been invaded, as if I and all the others who count on my blog as a safe space had been violated yet again, as if the perpetration had extended itself. And I’m deeply sorry to say that, in the face of this additional layer of abuse, my first tendency was, again, to freeze. When Shankar had first accosted me with his tongue in my mouth in the middle of the hotel lobby in Chicago so many years ago, I felt and acted the way I had in seventh grade when my mother’s brother did the same: powerless, petrified, not even aware that I had the right to my rage. And now Shankar’s online behavior had triggered a silence again. My blog was frozen. My series on Literary Sexual Abuse was based entirely on the crucial importance of speaking out openly. How could I publish the final post when I had been protecting a new kind of abuse with my silence? Knowing that I had to deal with this situation before I could post the promised third and final part of the series, the healing ritual which many of the readers and friends who had appreciated my first two posts were enthusiastically awaiting, I barely posted anything at all for six months.
I wasn’t really mad at Ravi during this time—or if I was, I didn’t let myself feel it. Not at first. The poetry world is a closeknit one, and we had been acquaintances and colleagues there. I felt sorry for him, compassionate and pitying towards any person whose faith in others and in the truth is so thin that they think disguising their identity is the only way be heard. I had more than enough going on in my own world to keep me busy, and I was tempted to just take the easy way out, to let Shankar and his psyche go their own way, and to let things rest as they were. But, I guess because I knew that if I gave in to the power of silence and freezing, my voice would pay the price, I kept struggling, unable to take that path. I finally wrote a draft of a long blog post on the topic of the sock puppets and their effect on me, several months ago—after which I promptly and irretrievably lost it somehow or somewhere on my computer, thus extending the freezing period by several months more.
But freezing is not in the service of truth, nor of healing. I am a double Scorpio, and my time to speak up about all this has come at last, here at the time of the blessed full moon in Scorpio, the time when the power of love and growth and joy is so strong that it sweeps away all that interferes with growth. So I speaking up for these reasons and with these intentions:
1. I intend to re-assert my blog as a safe space for the truth, both for myself and for my readers. As you might imagine, after all this I was tempted to delete the comments made by the sock puppets, but I decided to leave them up for educational reasons. At the same time, I am posting this as a cleansing post before getting on with the real business of this site and blog, which is to celebrate magick, love, poetry, and women-honoring spirituality.
2. I want to let all of you wise readers who posted that you suspected Samantha, Emily, and/or Casey were not genuine know that your instincts were absolutely spot on. To all of you, I’d like to apologize for the naivete and online inexperience that made me take so long to wake up and to act. And for all of you who were taking part in that beautiful, empowering, and healing conversation that these sock puppets invaded and forever changed, I am sorry I did not do a better job of keeping my blog a safe space for you. I have learned a lot, as you will see below— and I will be vigilant in the future to protect the conversations on my blog from any more of this kind of abuse.
3. I want to raise awareness and educate everyone who has a blog—especially women— about the dangers of invasion and to remind you of the usefulness of checking IP addresses— and even more of the importance of trusting your instincts about disturbing or suspicious commenters (it seems that in the case of very technologically sophisticated trolls, the IP addresses may not even match, but the comments could still be from sock puppets.). If you are like me, your natural instinct may be to be polite, inclusive, fair, and respectful and to make room for all points of view. But just as happened in my case, such good intentions can backfire. Like a teacher who allows a domineering student to hijack a class, I would have done far better by all the readers who count on me if I had been less polite. I hate to think how much time was wasted engaging with Samantha while an urgent and genuine healing conversation was sidelined by “her” agenda.
The wider lesson about hosting a blog that I have learned is this: we don’t owe it to anyone to approve and post their words. If a comment feels wrong, it could be because the writer is a sock puppet–or it could simply be that their vibe is bad for the discussion. Either way, we have the right to curate the comments on our posts as we see fit, in order to guide the discussion for the good of the core guests we serve (of course keeping in mind that sometimes a dissenting view, even if it does come from a sock puppet, may help to stimulate better discussion).
4. I want to take a more general stand against the kind of horrific abuse that women suffer all over the web. Whether it takes the form of disgusting obscenity about women cultural icons spewed into the comment stream on Youtube, violent misogynistic threats to female thought leaders on Twitter, trolls ganging up on posts supporting women political candidates on Facebook, or a man posing as women to hijack a conversation meant to provide women a safe space to heal right here on my own blog, it is wrong; it is deeply damaging to women, humanity, and the planet; and it is not acceptable. I am angry at this abuse—angry on behalf of my blog, myself, and all who have been disrespected online.
5. I vow to continue the tradition of speaking out openly and not protecting the identity of those who have done sexually abusive things, extending this openness to online abuse as well as in-person abuse. As I said in my first post, I feel strongly that the time for this kind of protection of the secrecy of perpetrators is OVER and that only through speaking up and speaking out will we all (those who have suffered abusive things and those who have done abusive things alike) begin to heal.
6. I am creating a clear space for the healing post which will be published next. So please consider this post as a sweep of cleansing white sage smoke through the space of my blog. I hereby purify this space of the unwanted energies of past perpetration and abuse on behalf of myself and all my readers, to make space for the healing ceremony to come.