DOCTOR’S NOTE: Today’s column is by Cliff Jerrison of The Pervocracy.
In 2012, I wrote a blog post about the missing stair – a person who is widely known within a community to be dangerous, but is allowed to stay while everyone else works around them. Welcome to the club, we meet Thursdays, the bathroom’s down the hall, call Alice if you’re locked out, and if Bob invites you to his house you should say no because he’s kind of our resident date rapist.
It’s like living in a house with a missing stair, where the inhabitants have become so used to taking that one extra big step, they’ve forgotten it’s a problem at all.
But it is a problem, and sooner or later someone’s going to break an ankle. Not everyone gets the whisper warning, sometimes being forewarned isn’t enough to protect you, and even if Bob never touches you, it’s not exactly a welcoming vibe. A lot of women quietly withdraw from the community. A visible dividing line emerges between Bob apologists and the Bob-wary. Because of this one person, and the well-intentioned actions of the people who work around him rather than against him, the whole community is poisoned.
My experience with missing stairs has mostly been with men who sexually harass and abuse women, and that’s the context I’m writing this post in, but similar dynamics can emerge with other genders, with people who have explosive tempers, racists, financial scamsters, and so forth. The details are different but the pattern of a community silently reshaping itself around a half-open secret is the same.
So that’s the problem. Harris has asked me to write about the solution. This is where things get messy and uncertain. There’s no single formula for fixing communities stuck in this pattern, I haven’t always had success with it, and a lot depends on how much the people with the most influence in the community are willing to help. But here’s some things you can do besides entrust lives to the whisper network.