concept: not insincerely using disenfranchised groups and the bigotry they face to criticize other ships and prop up your own
I’m not editing this, so I apologize if it’s long and rambly and messy. It needs to be. I’ve been measured and silent and obedient for so, so, so long, but if I’m going to write about denied humanity it needs to be like this. You need to see unsanitized, reckless honesty just as much as I need to write it. Targets of mob abuse take a risk every time we’re brutally honest in public, so we usually don’t, but I’m too frustrated to give you PR and I’m working against the clock. If I’m gonna get hurt for an update in my court case, it’s about fucking time it happens on my terms instead of his.
I just hung up from what I hope will be my last phone call with the District Attorney assigned to my case, and I choked back tears as she told me that I’d conducted myself with grace through this whole nightmare. I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m writing this and examining it as I go through the fog of someone with PTSD. I don’t know if the tears are out of frustration of having sunk a year and a half into this awful system for seemingly less than nothing, or if it’s out of relief.
My ex, who we’ll call Creep Throat because seeing his name makes a knot of anxiety rise in my throat, will be notified soon that the charges were dropped, but not why. I’m sure he’ll launch another salvo of flat out lies and spun truths to make it seem like the last year and a half was a byproduct of me “asking for it”, that the courts saw through it, while making him seem like a downtrodden hero of free speech. He managed to do that with previous court dates, leaving out things like a judge flat out stating that she believed he had physically assaulted me during the last time we had sex, and that he’d gone through my friends social media feeds of the day afterward to prove that I wasn’t “acting like a victim” by spending time with friends.
So, instead of just watching this happen for the who-knows-how-manyth time, I’m going to talk about it. It’s not really about me as much as it is an attempt to dispel some common bullshit assumptions the average person has about the justice system, and what it means to “press charges”.
One of the biggest myths that needs to die is that your first response to being abused should be to go to the police and seek justice. Leaving aside the fact that the police flat out murder unarmed citizens for their race all the time, and that sex workers are likely to be incarcerated when reporting crime done to them, and a myriad of other things I can’t get into, I have a certain amount of privilege and a well-documented case. I have one of the most public abuse cases out there, it started a hate movement that’s swept up my industry and hurt dozens of bystanders, and got international media attention. A lot of people don’t think of it in terms of domestic violence, they forget where the flashpoint of GamerGate came from – you might not even know the man responsible’s name. To make matters worse, I was unable to speak up during that time period out of fear of reprisal from the judicial system (more on that later) and watched as he was washed out of history (along with a lot of other people targeted). I was on my own on this front, until the Boston Magazine article was posted by a journalist who had been following everything and speaking with my ex. Shortly after, I got a call from the DA telling me that I shouldn’t have been told to simply go offline, and that she knew we had a very strong case worth prosecuting.
So why am I dissolving it then?
Ironically, getting a restraining order against Creep Throat was the least effective thing I could do in terms of getting him out of my life for good, and for protecting myself. I’ll discuss the hot mess of problems around that experience at a later time. Without getting into a long, complicated blow by blow, every time something happened or the case was updated, he’d run back to the mob and make promises and jokes and pleas for more money. The mob would respond by going after me, my family, and anyone else they decided was involved. The mythology surrounding me would expand, conspiracy charts would “prove” I am secretly rich and really deserved it all along, and inspire more threats, stalking, and abuse. The cycle repeated itself endlessly. People kept getting hurt for being close to me, for a poorly worded restraining order that did nothing.
This cycle was so vicious that I even vacated the order myself once he appealed, hoping to make it end. I gave him the legal relief that he’d asked for. It might sound weak but I’m not made of stone, I’m a scared person trying to escape her abuser in spite of the fact that he’s created a self-perpetuating faction within my own industry to continue to punish me for walking away. It wasn’t about him fighting a powerful evil woman, or gaining his oh-so-crucial right to sic a mob on me, it’s always been about punishing me. It was about using it as a way to hurt me further, so when I gave him what he ostensibly wanted he actually *showed up to object to my motion to vacate the order and hand him a win*. The court dismissed him, and the order has been dead for months, and yet he’s back on Kotaku In Action chumming the waters about the oral arguments they’re hearing on a nonexistent order next month.
He gets paid, he gets attention (he even brought a date to court once), and the cycle continues. All the while, shit gets worse and worse for me and my family. The simple fact of the matter is the criminal justice system is meant to punish, not protect. I don’t care about seeing him punished – I would rather he get better. And they’ve done nothing to protect me – it’s only made things worse and become another weapon in his arsenal, and the arsenal of the people out there way scarier than him.
This is the last email I sent to my DA.
It was a reddit thread that showed up in my Google Alerts for my name, that I had set up to help grow my indie dev business before all this started like so many people in my industry. The title was “if eron goes to jail, I will hunt zoe quinn down and rape her”. Alerts and direct contact like this, specifically discussing the court case, was only escalating and becoming more common. I’m used to things like this at this point, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect me. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect anyone close to me who becomes collateral damage in this sick crusade my ex started against me. The continual escalation only ever increases the chances that someone will make good on something like this. Trying to get the law to protect me has only continually put me in harm’s way.
Why, then, would I ever want to sign up for more years of my life spent flying back to Boston, a place where it’s not safe for me to be, to continue another chapter in this nightmare? Why would I want to keep digging at a giant scar?
“Establish legal precedent!” you might think. I did too. Then Elonis v United States offered little hope that a court wouldn’t skirt the issues of how domestic violence manifests online. Then Steph Guthrie and her co-defendant lost their case, the transcripts showing equal parts “she was asking for it” and “how did this get in there i am not good at computers”. Going to court is like rolling the dice, the precedent you established isn’t up to you, and I didn’t want to risk becoming a tool in the next Creep Throat’s arsenal if we lost. I have have worked with enough lawmakers, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges at this point through our work with Crash Override to know that education is sorely lagging behind on these issues, not to mention the cultural biases that come with any cases like that.
You probably know that judges and juries can be biased and hold backward views and assumptions, given that you’re a human in 2016 reading this blog and have probably seen at least one news story about a cop getting away with murdering an unarmed black citizen without so much as a trial. You may have seen it in any reporting on how unlikely it is for rape survivors to see justice combined with how backward everyone is about talking about it. This is at least partly because the US has a very specific idea of who is worth protecting, doubly so when the person in question is being victimized while marginalized.
When you seek charges, you’re on trial as much as the other person, if not more. The “asking for it” defense is alive and well even in 2016, and you have to be a “good victim” in order to give your case the best shot it has. “Good victim”, when it comes to women in domestic or gendered violence cases like mine, tends to mean a lot of loaded, even conflicting things. The courts do not favor a lot of women simply for being who they are – women of color, trans women, sex workers, I could go on. Even beyond that, you have to be well behaved and silent about the proceedings, or risk pissing off the judge and giving the defense attorneys ammo to work with. Even my Cracked article was waved around in court by my ex’s lawyers, citing it as “the most disgusting thing that happened during GamerGate” despite my almost one foot stack of threats and photos of me that people had printed out, jizzed on, and sent to my family. The defense, so far, had hung a hat on trying to prove I deserved all of this.
I have been open about my depression and my history in sex work. I have not gone out of the public eye during all of the abuse, and I don’t regret that. I believe in standing up for sex workers and people living with mental health concerns and anyone else I can, and I don’t know what would have happened if I had kept my mouth shut when I was targeted two years ago. But this comes with a cost – everything I have said and done will be held against me and spun by my abuser. The cost of being who I am in defiance of the abuse was sacrificing being a good victim.
The spin is even more successful in these cases, because of how disconnected judges, lawyers, police, and juries often are from the internet. One told me to simply give up my career and stop going offline if I didn’t like the abuse. He barely bothered to look at my huge stack of evidence before declaring he had no idea what the internet was about and didn’t want to know.
All the while, it’s hard to explain the indignity of having to sit through this and try to be a “good victim”. To sit in the same room as the man who did this to you and so many others and not appear too emotional or shaken, because the last time you said “uh” too much it became “proof” that you were lying instead of reliving trauma on command. To hide your anger and your outrage and your hurt so you don’t look like you’re seeking revenge, but to also not hold back TOO much because then you look robotic and unaffected like you haven’t been in fear of this man or in fear for your life for almost two years. To have to sit silently while everyone messes up basic facts of the case because they can’t tell the difference between usernames. To leave little bloody half moons in the palms of your hands from squeezing your fists tightly to try to look like you aren’t shaking from being in the same room with him.
What good does any of this do for anyone? It’s been almost two years now, and I desperately want to move on with my life. Even if I did win, I doubt locking Creep Throat away would do anything. Even putting aside my huge misgivings with the US prison system, he’s not going to change. The people who support him would see him as a martyr. I’d probably be looking at years of appeals and court dates and apologizing to my family for MRAs screaming at them in the middle of the night.
I’m tired. I have been trying to pick up the pieces of my life for almost two years at this point, and I’ve done a lot of healing, a lot of building what I feel like are more workable pushes to improve the lives of people being abused online, and a lot of self-improvement. I’m getting to a place where I’m kind of ok even while the abuse hasn’t slowed down. But every time I have to touch this festering part of my life, it drains the energy out of me. I have less energy to do casework at Crash, less energy to meet with tech partners to tell them how to do better and the ways they’re fucking up, less energy to make my goofy video games about feelings and farts, less energy for my friends and family and loved ones that have been helplessly watching me torn apart by this man for years.
In my opinion, it’s not time yet. I’m not the right person to win this fight or set this precedent. It’s too early, and I’m a messy complicated artist who has a hard time keeping her mouth shut while she watches other people hurt. I’m not the platonic ideal of a good victim because I’ve had a long past. I don’t even have any faith in the system to not totally fuck it up every step of the way even when it’s working as intended. The simple fact of the matter is that I’m less useful to the world as someone who fought this case, win or lose, than someone who can throw all hope of winning away to be honest with you, to educate you, to try and call for reform so I can set the next girl up for a spike instead of falling on my face. That’s even assuming the process doesn’t kill me – I’m still someone who was already living with depression, that now has complex PTSD on top of it.
I’m scared of posting this, but I’m tired of hiding and keeping my head down and plodding along. I know it’ll kick some shit up, everything does, but I also know he’s going to try to twist this stuff like he always has. I’m tired of letting him control me. I’m tired of being afraid of being honest. I’m tired of watching people hand out “just go to the police they’ll protect you” while I silently scream and bite my tongue, because I know the advice-giver is giving horrible, ignorant advice. It’s so much more complicated than that, and if someone decides to go to the cops about their abuser they should be doing it with a more informed and prepared plan than I ever did. They shouldn’t have to have their lives hijacked for years to find out that that’s what they were even risking in the first place. I wish I had those two years back. The least I can do to make that right is to be honest and open with the world while trying to reduce the cost of maneuvering through these systems. The least I can do is try to succeed at getting my life back where the courts have utterly failed.
I won’t ever get my life back, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live in the meantime. Hopefully the next girl won’t have years stolen from her in the first place.
And again, sorry if I’ve put my foot in my mouth through any of this unedited brain dump. It’s been a really, really long 2 years and I am more than a little tired.