Content warning: predatory behaviour and sexual violence – general references
On Wednesday my phone rang. I didn’t recognise the number but I had recently done some media so figured it might be a follow up call from the TV station. The person on the other end of the line appeared male. They did not say their name which was odd. They asked if I was Jeanette, I said no, I am Yenn and that I used to be Jeanette but had changed my name ‘Don’t change your name’ the person said. ‘Your name is beautiful.’ They went on to say a bunch of creepy stuff. I told them I was going to hang up and block them. They hung up and I blocked them. I have no fdea who they were, why they had my number or where they might be located. It was a very unpleasant experience and left me quite shaken. I reflected that I was a lot more assertive now than I would have been in the past. I was glad they hung up. In the past I would have been worried about upsetting them and would have probably stayed on the line.
I posted about the experience on social media and had a lot of people relating similar incidents. Being victimised by creepy predators is a very common experience for autistic people. When I was younger I felt like I had a sign on my head saying ‘bother me.’ Predatory men featured very heavily in my life. I didn’t know what to say to deter them and I lacked any kind of assertiveness or self protection skills. I worried I would upset them if I didn’t do what they wanted. I found myself being attacked and victimised quite a lot. This experience is far from unique to me. Many others have the same problem but I think there so a particularly difficulty or autistic people and probably more often autistic women.
Autistic people are often taught to be compliant. Some of the ‘therapies’ out there are all about teaching compliance and doing what you are told to do. Often there is no distinction between compliance which is helpful and that which is damaging in this ‘training.’ Even for autistic people not subjected to unhelpful therapies, we often want to please others. People who are bullied or ostracised often develop a strong sense of wanting to be accepted. Sometimes this acceptance is by a predator. This can be the case with domestic and family violence situations. The will for acceptance by a partner can be so much that an abuser takes advantage of this. Another difficulty in this area for autistic people is related to the fact that e are generally quite kind and trustworthy. People tend to assume that other people have similar motivations to them so if you are kind and decent you might expect others to be the same. Some people re unable to imagine that another person could be predatory. We also tend to be very trusting and open. Another issue in this space is the difficulty many of us have in understanding facial expressions, body language and other non-verbal cues. Where others might realise someone’s intentions from these cues, we often struggle to decipher this information, leading to creepy situations which others might have spotted a lot earlier and taken steps to avoid.
So what is the solution to this? I remember a few years ago I posted a meme saying autistic people need self-protection skills. I guess this is true but I’m not sure it is the key issue. There is that saying ‘how do you stop rape? Don’t rape people’ which I think is apt here. Putting all the responsibility for self-protection on the victim fails to address the actual problem which is predatory behaviour. So how do we stop predatory behaviour? I tend to think that crime is both a social problem and an individual one. There are societal issues which drive sexual violence and predatory behaviour. Things like misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism etc. are influenced by society so if we can address that then it is going to help address predatory behaviour. Advocacy and promoting respect is one way of achieving this. The individual nature of crime is difficult to address but there are ways it can be achieved. If everyone (or more people least) modelled respect and inclusion it would go towards addressing this issue. It can also help for autistic people to gain some self-protection strategies and that can go on at the same time of addressing societal issues. This is not an easy problem to solve.
It is not OK that anyone is victimised, ever. It can cause lasting trauma and mental illness. It is bad for self-worth and a person’s sense of pride in who they are. I am glad I was assertive with the person on the phone but I would have preferred not to have the experience. I would not wish any kind of predatory behaviour on anyone.