Defending the indefensible

Today it became clear that in the course of a work-related Facebook conversion IndieStatik founder Josh Mattingly decided to ask a female game developer if he could kiss her vagina. And some other things that she decided she didn’t feel comfortable sharing.

Mattingly has apologised, which is a good call, to say the least. He says he’s going to get started on AA and therapy, which is great. It’s awful that his mental health issues have contributed to him harassing someone, and it’s entirely excellent that he’s taking responsibility for it and using it as a wake-up call to get help.

But away from his personal response, there’s been an unhappy sideline on Twitter today, with David Jaffe as its poster boy, in questioning the developer’s behaviour, and asking why she didn’t ‘shut him down’ or tell him, confrontationally, to stop before he escalated. Why she ‘let’ him make more than one crude sexual comment. Implying that it’s somehow her fault for not stopping him, rather than his fault for continuing; implying that silence is consent.

This is bullshit.

I wrote last week about how online harassment is a professional issue – how when people abuse minorities online they are often doing so in a professional context, not merely a personal one. McWilliams was in a professional space here, talking to a professional contact; the idea that she could confront him with absolutely no repercussions for herself is a cosy and pleasant one, but not necessarily a realistic one.

Even if it were, the idea that there’s a ‘right way’ to respond to abuse like this is completely wrong-headed. A lot of interactions with harassers turn unbelievably ugly when they’re called on their harassment. Ignoring it and maintaining a calm front can be the best way of de-escalating. Not everyone is happy or comfortable with showing that they’re upset to someone who’s potentially trying to upset them in order to get a thrill. Blocking is not always an option, especially in a professional context. And – let’s be clear – the point at which anyone would have to resort to blocking or shutting down is the point at which the harasser has already crossed the line. No response of any kind is going to negate that.

Mental health issues don’t excuse you from behaving well towards other people. A lot of people live with depression without sending people unpleasant messages (hi!). Depression doesn’t absolve you from responsibility, and it certainly doesn’t turn this situation around to put McWilliams in the wrong. Mattingly seems to be trying to own his actions and apologise. The people who’ve tried to defend him by attacking his victim’s responses should probably follow his lead.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

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