Witch Hunts and Straw Men: Internet Discourse

Hi there – my name is Anna Acosta. If you’ve (likely) never heard of me, I’m an alternative music writer and social justice advocate. You know, the kind that the greasier parts of Reddit probably warned you about. Past outlets include AbsolutePunk.net, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Infectious Magazine, etc. I currently mod and contribute to Chorus.fm and have been a regular on the local blog Buzzbands.LA since 2012.

These pieces were all originally published on AbsolutePunk, from a time spanning July 2015-February 2016. The site went dark in March 2016, and these pieces went along with it. I’ve elected not to change them, as I believe leaving them as they were in the moment in which they were written preserves their integrity as time capsules of sorts. If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, I can be reached on my socials or at anna.acosta@absolutepunk.net.

I believe these conversations are important, exhausting as they may be. For as many times as I’ve been called a man-hating harpy (or worse) for using my voice, I’ve gotten messages from people saying their perspective became just a bit broader after reading. Those people keep me going. Progress isn’t linear, and it isn’t easy, but at the end of the day all I and my fellow “SJW”s are looking to do is to leave behind a world that’s a little kinder than the one we grew up in for the people who look and feel like we did. Like we still so often do.

So here it is, for your convenience and consideration. Sometimes it feels like screaming pointlessly into the void, but maybe that void just needs a little more screaming before something gets through. So that’s why these are being reposted, and that’s why I’m here. As long as there is progress to be made, you’ll know where to find me.


Originally published on September 8th 2015 on AbsolutePunk.net

There has been a lot of discourse on the Internet regarding how we talk about sexual abuse allegations. In those conversations, the real issue – which is the epidemic of abuse going on in our communities – often gets lost in the shuffle as skeptics and proponents of the status quo throw distraction after distraction into the ring.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about the rare occasion where an allegation is unfounded and/or proven to be merely attention seeking (which is reprehensible and inexcusable). I am talking about the vast majority of incidents where that is not the case – and I am also speaking on behalf of victims whose abuse is not acknowledged by the law at all (see: most psychological abuse or continual domestic mistreatment).

So without further ado – I’m going to address some of the more common responses to allegations and start to explore why they are a problem:

The people talking about this are biased.
Yes, probably. But so are you. So is everyone, about everything. You can’t form a strong opinion on something without having some kind of bias, because our personal experiences are what leave us with strong opinions. Nobody is immune to that. We’re all shaped by our life experiences and by who we are, and by our perspectives, and there is no such thing as true objectivity. (More on that next week.)

It wasn’t even illegal, so who cares?
Well, for starters, the people you’re talking to probably care or you wouldn’t be commenting in the first place. To this point, I will simply say this: our legal system is broken, and to base your moral compass on it is to have no moral compass at all. To each their own, but I want better things than that for every single person in this scene, and being shitty shouldn’t have to carry a legal penalty to be considered unacceptable.

Nobody ever pressed charges.
Given the vitriol leveled towards women on the internet just for expressing a harmless opinion on pretty much anything, and the court’s historic lack of sympathy for victims of sexual assault and abuse (look up how many rape kits have never even been processed in this country for a moment – I’ll wait), general avoidance of the legal system is hardly surprising. Domestic violence – which can be physical or psychological – is an epidemic, and one that is a day to day part of life for a depressingly high number of people – many of whom are young women. The fact is, most women are taught, often subliminally, from a very young age to be submissive towards (and to take responsibility for how they are treated by) men.

This isn’t a conscious thought, but it is very much there. Thus, when someone you look up to – be it a famous musician or just your boyfriend – says they care about you and asks you to do something, that “please all men” training kicks in and it feels as though you ought to do it. Even if you don’t really want to do it in the first place. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on why it doesn’t feel right.

And this issue is certainly not new to the music industry. At the end the day, to put the responsibility of reporting abuse on the victim in order to even acknowledge their abuse or to hold their abuser socially responsible is ignorant at best, and downright cruel at worst. There is a multitude of reasons someone might not press charges, and only one of them is “it didn’t actually happen”.

I know so-and-so and they’re the best person ever. They wouldn’t do this.
This is a novel concept, but bear with me – our experiences are not universal. Just because someone didn’t present you with their worst side does not mean that it doesn’t exist, or that is isn’t part of who they really are. Just because someone else’s experience of someone doesn’t match up with yours, doesn’t mean they are wrong or lying, or that your experience is more important.

Again, I get it. If it’s hard to watch an idol fall from grace, then watching it happen to a friend or loved one is excruciating. But when you effectively start putting your fingers in your ears, choosing to scream I’M NOT LISTENING over and over because this time it’s one of your drinking buddies in the hot seat, you’re sending a loud and clear message that this doesn’t really matter, and the people that your buddy hurt don’t matter. (Note: this still applies even if you are a woman.)

He might be the greatest guy in the world (to you), but if he’s abused even one woman, he needs to be held accountable for that or it won’t stop at one. Just because you don’t know someone’s dark side doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it isn’t a problem. Instead, try asking yourself this: Why are you more concerned by the possibility of your friend facing repercussions than you are with the fact that so many women are being mistreated?

I’m a woman, and so-and-so has always treated me well.
This is similar to the last point, but it’s more nuanced so I’ll address it here as well. To avoid beating a dead horse, I’ll just say this; if a man has to know a woman personally (or not have a sexual relationship with her) in order to treat her well or to think she matters, he is a misogynist, and actions speak so much louder than words.

They should get a second chance.
I agree. Everyone makes mistakes, and I am not advocating for sending (all of) these “embattled” young men to an unpopulated island where their only company is each other. What I am advocating is a world where second chances do not include putting an abuser back in a prime position to abuse.

What I am advocating is lasting consequences for people who have proven that they cannot handle the most basic tenets of responsibility to their fellow humans. I am advocating that the power be stripped from these abusive people, and in some cases that means they should have to start over in another career path.

Does that suck? Yes. But they made choices, and in the world I want to live in choices have actual consequences with the potential to set examples, not a tongue-in-cheek faux-pology and a tour announcement.

It’s none of my business/it doesn’t affect me.
And that’s your call to make. But when you choose to ignore someone’s behavior and to continue to associate with them, be it professionally or personally, you’re endorsing it whether you like it or not, and that says an awful lot about you.

This is nothing but a witch hunt.
Contrary to what the founders of certain very popular (and recently “embattled”) music festivals have vocalized, accountability is not the same as a witch hunt. This isn’t new, and it isn’t made up. The systemic mistreatment of young women by men in the industry has been going on for as long as there has been a music industry. The rash of accusations (most of which provide evidence and almost none of which have been proven to be false) isn’t evidence of a witch hunt or hysteria.

The rash of accusations is because the internet has emboldened young women to speak up for themselves, and to find community in knowing that they’re not alone in their mistreatment, and to find solidarity in that.

It might make it more complicated for festival organizers to do their jobs, but despite that, this change is absolutely a good thing. Using the term witch hunt – which, by the way, was a form of hysteria that targeted, tortured and killed almost exclusively women – is nothing but a hyperbolic silencing tactic that does nothing but show a deliberate resistance to understanding the issue at hand, and does a grave disservice both to the victims of actual witch hunts and to the victims of the young men in the music industry today.

The court of public opinion isn’t fair.
You’re right. But when we’re talking about dismantling a system that has been historically unfair to everyone except the abusive young men in question, I am somehow okay with that. Abuse isn’t fair. Mistreatment and manipulation aren’t fair. A few hurt feelings and having to face the fact that you treat approximately half the population horribly by default are quite mild by comparison. The internet isn’t the problem. The fact that this isn’t considered a problem is a problem.

It is worth noting that in the case of statutory rape/harassment/etc, this whole argument becomes irrelevant because of the very nature of what statutory violations are. There is no such thing as underage consent, because it is the adult’s job to make the right call. (It is also worth noting that many of history’s most prolific serial killers have been described as being wonderful, charming guys by people who knew everything but their darkest side.)

The fact is, the good ol’ days are over. Victims have internet connections and voices now, and silencing tactics will only work if we as a community decide to let them. Skeptics: What if you’re wrong? Do you really want to be on the side of this issue that condones sexual violence and the systemic mistreatment of young women?

Musicians, do you really want your fans – the people who enable you to live out your dreams – to be unsafe around you or your contemporaries?

We have to change the conversation. We have to listen, and to decide collectively that we want the biggest issue between ourselves to be whether or not we like that new so-and-so record that just dropped. And we achieve that not by covering up the problems, but by putting them in the light so we can make the necessary changes so that those problems no longer exist.

We’re not advocating sending every young man who genuinely makes a mistake to prison, or to destroy people arbitrarily. We’re advocating for a world that holds those young men accountable for their mistakes and tells them that it cannot happen again. We’re advocating for a world where basic human decency is considered standard. We’re advocating for creating a world where women feel safe, and that starts with changing the conversation.

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Author: Anna Acosta

Writer for Chorus.FM, Buzzbands.LA, Infectious Magazine and more. Previous outlets include Alternative Press and Substream Magazine. I'm in a band. Go listen to Staircase Spirits.

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