It’s Creep Week on Paging Dr. NerdLove – we’re talking about reforming creepers, how to handle them when you’re confronted by them and how to not be that guy at popular nerd gatherings.
Today we have the letter that kicked things off: a reader who wants to know how to handle a creeper in the fringes of her social circle:
Hi Doctor NerdLove,
I’ve been following your blog for a couple months now, and I think you could really help out with something, or someone in this case.
I’m a cosplayer, and I like being connected with the cosplay community in my area. However, there is this one cosplay photographer (let’s call him J) who has a history of being problematic and frankly, a creeper.
To sum him up, J is in his mid-30’s, single, and really looking for a girlfriend. He uses his photography as an excuse to meet younger cosplay girls (some of them underage). He often asks for private photoshoots (usually in a public area, but still alone with a girl), offers to buy them things, or takes them out, usually for meals or a movie.
I will admit that I was one of J’s… “targets” for a while, when I was fairly new to the cosplay scene. He would constantly IM me on Facebook, to the point where I would only check Facebook for a few minutes before he had the chance to start chatting. He also would hover when I was at cosplay meet-ups, and asked for photoshoots that separated me from the group. One time I did cave to an offer to hang out, and there was some photos taken that made me feel uncomfortable, which I asked him to delete later. All his attention stopped as soon as I got a boyfriend though, which I’m grateful about. Other girls however, have had to deal with a lot worse.
J’s behavior has been going on for a while; it’s happened to enough girls that there’s a Facebook group all about him and trying to prevent him from creeping on other girls. Some of his guy friends are in said group too, but more because he has other problematic qualities that make him difficult to deal with. He invites himself along to group hangouts when he’s unwanted, he owes some of them a fair amount of money, and he often complains and makes himself out to be a victim.
This past summer, there was an intervention for J where a few friends pointed out his behavior, and asked him to start changing. He said he would work on it, and for a few months there didn’t seem to be any major new developments; no bad news, but not a lot of good news either. However, he seems to be up to his old ways and unwilling to change. His few friends are at the end of their ropes and want to cut ties all together.
How can you help someone who’s unwilling to change? How can you make him see that he has to change, or else alienate everybody he knows? Personally, I would like to just sit him down at a laptop and make him read the entire Doctor Nerdlove archives, but hopefully you have a better solution.
How do you help someone who’s unwilling to change?
You can’t make someone change against their will, nor is it your responsibility to try.
Lots of social groups have someone who can be creepy; often it’s just a case of the individual not knowing any better and having a firm come-to-Jesus meeting with him can set him straight. It’s the ones who refuse to change even after they’ve had their behavior pointed out to them who are worrysome… especially since many geeks don’t like confrontations.
You, Concerned Cosplayer, are not responsible for J’s behavior. You’re not his mom, his doctor, his girlfriend or his manic pixie dream girl sent by Heaven to shake him out of his rut and magically turn him from a creepy caterpillar to the beautiful sexy butterfly that exists deep within his soul. The only person who is responsible for J’s behavior is J. You can’t force him to change; the only way he’s going to change is if he wants to.
Now that being said: you can provide plenty of incentive to change… by not putting up with his shit and making a point to exclude his creepy ass. Because quite frankly, this isn’t just creeper behavior; a lot of what you describe is predatory behavior. Trying to get girls alone, especially young girls- and underage ones WTF – who don’t know better is a huge motherfucking red flag.
He’s abusing a position of trust – that of a pro or semi-pro photographer – as a way to try to find impressionable and potentially vulnerable women and that is not cool.
It’s not surprising that J’s targeting younger women – the sort of shit he’s pulling as a photographer would get him shut out of working with the modeling community. I’ve done my share of semi-professional photography and let me tell you, the modeling community is small and very connected and they love nothing better than to make sure everybody knows not to work with the creepy assholes.
This is exactly what you need to do: make sure word gets out far and wide about J until such a time that he’s proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that he’s reformed.
It can be difficult to make this stick. Lots of insular groups, especially ones composed of individuals who’ve been excluded or shunned, have a hard time with the idea of excluding someone even when they fucking deserve it. It’s a common geek social fallacy that ostracizers are inherently bad and this makes them prone to letting people get away with behavior other social groups would never put up with. Moreover, many people will insist that they don’t “do drama” – that is to say that they are hoping to involve the stress involved in confronting an uncomfortable situation. They may even turn against the people who bring it up because it’s their fault for “causing drama” and making people feel uncomfortable rather than the predator in their midst. It ends up silencing the people who are trying to help because they’re stirring shit up and nobody wants to to handle the awkwardness of social confrontations.
This ultimately enables the predatory types – refusing to take a stand is de facto siding with them.
You’ve said that his friends have had discussions with him that went nowhere. Fine. Under different circumstances, I’d say having a second, much more pointed discussion – one with some very definite ultimatums – would be warranted but J is already showing signs that he refuses to man up and take responsibility for his actions. If his behavior has been as widespread as you say then it’s time to start limiting his ability to interact with people.
First and foremost, this means blocking him on your social networks – and encouraging others in the cosplay community to do so as well. Secondly: document everything. Have people share their stories, with as much detail as possible, so that others understand what he’s like and why. Stick strictly to the facts – who said what, how they felt and why. The more people who share their stories, the harder it is for others to say that you’re exaggerating or overly sensitive, or that there was a simple misunderstanding. This isn’t just your imagination; you said it yourself – he pressured you into working outside of your comfort zone. Imagine some of the younger girls who may not have the strength that you had to say “Hey, I’m really uncomfortable with these photos, so please get rid of them.”
Third: you and your friends are going to have to be willing to be confrontational. I know it’s difficult – women are socialized to avoid confrontation and nerds are particularly conflict-averse – but your’re going to have to be willing to cock-block the shit out of him. If you see him talking to a newbie to the scene, someone who doesn’t know better, move in and pull her aside to explain things – especially if you can share your experiences with her. Don’t let him separate people from the herd and make sure others know not to let him pull people away.
Don’t let him hover around you at cons or cosplay events. Go to security and tell them that he’s making you uncomfortable. Let them deal with him wherever possible. It’s also worth bringing him up to the head of con security and the event organizers.
Don’t let him force himself into being part of the group. You can’t just try to avoid him or hope he doesn’t find out – you have to be in his face and make sure he knows in no uncertain terms that he’s unwelcome and why. If he tries to come along or “just happens” to show up, tell him to leave – and have others back you up so he can’t appeal to the group by trying to make himself out to be the victim. Don’t debate him or argue with him or justify yourself – this only implies that you feel as though you’re doing something wrong, which he will take full advantage of. Stand your ground: he is not welcome and he needs to go away.
Frankly, his friends should cut ties; he’s proven that he’s not willing to listen to them and he’ll go back to the status-quo as soon as he sees the chance.
It says a lot about you that you want to help him and that you’re afraid that he’s going to alienate everyone he knows. You’re a good person at heart and your desire to help is admirable. In this case, it’s severely misplaced. It’s not your duty to fix him or to drag him kicking and screaming to the light. You’re afraid that he’s going to get shut out when that’s exactly what needs to happen.
If he’s not willing to change on his own, then you have to give him a reason – in this case, cutting him off from the social circle he’s trying to take advantage of.
He’s not misunderstood. He’s not being creepy by accident. And he refuses to change.
Cut him out.
By the by: Captain Awkward has an excellent post about handling creepers in your friend circle. I highly recommend everyone check out her blog.