Smash Talks: To Warn or Not to Warn

Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.

Dear Smashera,

I know a man in the community to be manipulative and abusive towards women.  The problem is, while some people know about his behavior, it tends to get swept under the rug and not talked about because he’s popular.  Every time he gets involved with someone, a big part of me wants to warn them about him but I don’t know how.  He has a new girl now and I feel like I’m about to watch a car crash.  Is there a way to let her know what she’s getting into?



Dear WatchGirl,

There’s a lot to be said about the current zeitgeist concerning the #MeToo movement.  Over the past year, so many cultural icons have had some ugly secrets come into the light.  Sexual harassment became a topic of conversation in the 1960s, and somehow the topic seemed to lay dormant until now.  I don’t know why these difficult, uncomfortable conversations are happening now, but I am glad for it.

The problem is, because so many are coming out now with accusations that span back decades, it’s a lot for us to chew culturally.  A lot of people are confused as to why victims don’t disclose sexual violence when it happens and are feeling blindsided by this wave of anger.  Those who have been victimized are finally gaining a greater chorus of voices and connecting in unprecedented ways.  Yet their stories will still be picked apart and they will often be blamed for the violence they endured.  Hence, why a lot of people never disclose.  You see the chicken and the egg here?

So, while in some ways, it’s easier to come out and say, “That dude did something awful,” there’s so much of that going on right now that a lot of people will say, “Yeah, sure, whatever.”  It’s like there’s so much pain surrounding the entire topic that a lot of us just went numb out of necessity.  Public outcries of violence get labeled as witch hunts, predators get away, and the cycle of violence continues on.

Which brings us to the current situation you find yourself in.

As painful as it is, I don’t think there’s a graceful or productive way to march up to a person you barely know and say, “Hey, that person that you care for a lot is a total bastard.”  If he’s abusive, he’s undoubtedly love bombing and gaslighting his new victim, so it’s really likely that your words will fall on deaf ears.  Think back to when you were a teenager and if your parents ever said, “You’re not to talk to that person!,” the first thing you did was stick by them, because then it was you and them against the world.  Bonnie and fucking Clyde. It is especially difficult to speak to her if you have ever had a romantic interaction with him.  It’s really easy to get spun as The Crazy Ex, turning a glaring eye on the Happy Couple.

While there’s no simple solution, it does not mean that you’re without recourse.  I think it’s really important that predatory people are identified, but it’s equally important to be smart about how that’s done.  Putting fliers up around their neighborhood is going to land you in the holding center.  Telling your friends when someone has done something concerning, frightening, or threatening is very different. I am not advocating spreading rumors.  If you don’t know something to be true, then it’s best not to say it.

If you don’t know this girl well, I would not approach her directly.  If you have mutual friends that you feel are trustworthy, it might be worth giving them a heads up for red flags to watch out for.  If you have some rapport with her and feel that you must talk to her, I would not lead the conversation with, “I MUST WARN YOU.”  Asking about his previous relationship history, and how well she knows him will help clue her in to watch out for patterns.  There may be temptation to find a way to anonymously warn her, but that could be pretty frightening for her.  Can you imagine responding well to a random email or letter telling you to watch your back?  I’m pretty sure there are like, six Law & Order episodes that start like that.

Unfortunately, I think the best thing to do aside from potentially warning her friends is to continue watching.  Lend support as you are able and as it is necessary.  If you’re able to, maybe you can start an acquaintanceship with her so your concerns don’t come out of left field.  Make sure that you’re maintaining healthy boundaries with this entire situation.  His toxicity does not need to be yours.