A female comedian anonymously contacted me on Twitter direct messages in 2012 divulging Louis CK’s predatory sexual behavior and seeking an outlet. The urgency and detailing of despair left no room for inaction, though I had no prior relation or interest in his professional pursuits, nor knew her personally. With her blessing I contacted journalist John Cook who investigated her story and published a blind item.
Back on Twitter, one woman, perturbed that the allegation was unsubstantiated, publicly unfollowed me. Also upset were some male fans whose comedic idol was beginning to lightly court a tainted reputation. The anonymous woman who had originally contacted me quietly disappeared from view, and I never heard from her again.
Open secrets left untreated fester over time. They reveal to all involved—except the predating individual and the alliances that buttress that violence—their lack of social agency. Rumor and gossip become an underground channel for those shaken up by the feelings this canceled agency evokes: outrage, despair, helplessness, shame, and so on (it is revealing that even a global mega-star like Angelina Jolie reported that her way of dealing with Harvey Weinstein’s predation toward her was by warning other women). Every system of supremacy produces victims, but in a masculinist one—and this culture is masculinist to the core—it produces silenced victims.† Rumor and gossip are often the only valves of those whose agency has been callously debased, until the dam of public naming breaks.
After all of the high-profile cases “ordinary” men still say they fear false accusation and “ordinary” women still say they live in fear that a sexual crime against them won’t be believed. Unsurprisingly sexual predation is highest in communities where accusations are not brought to justice, whatever justice may look like.‡
Truth to power is not an abstract or slogan, it’s the pre-condition to the reduction of harm. And freedom.