By the last episode of the new Netflix documentary Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, I found myself unsatisfied and disappointed.
For me, true crime is a genre where the best narratives focus on condemning violence against women. However, this documentary fluffed up Bundy’s childhood and school career, while splicing his victims’ pictures with provocative pin-ups.
It was just as disappointing when I read that Thirteen Reasons Why author, Jay Asher, was suing the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for defamation. Asher’s suit came as a result of SCBWI removing him for violating the SCBWI code of conduct in regards to sexual harassment. An act he feels ruined his career.
Before then, singer R. Kelly admitted creating the Facebook page, Surviving Lies, a riff of the recent docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. His plan was to gather support for a documentary of his own to counter the recent criminal investigation and allegations of abuse he faces due to the Lifetime documentary.
And while these men might seem unrelated, they do have a very important element in common: all of them have been given a chance to explain themselves in light of their accusations. A service that is rarely given to the victims.
It doesn’t matter how vicious their alleged crimes were or whose lives they ruined, the mic is extended in their direction in the form of documentaries, book deals, and other media platforms as if to suggest that society still values what they have to say.
In comparison, victims find it harder to speak up against their abusers.
Asher’s lawsuit is receiving coverage from notable publications, while his alleged victims struggle to find a mic for their stories.
At one point, a comments section filled up with anonymous stories and confessions of experiences with Asher and other male authors including Matt de la Pena, Daniel Handler, and Sherman Alexie. These were the spaces survivors found to speak.
Some victims put names and faces to their stories. Others never went public. Many talented authors often quit because of the abusive men threatening their careers. How much talent are we sacrificing while serial harassers are celebrated and supported?
It doesn’t help that men brought to justice often return, due in part to allegations not being believed, or the statute of limitations running out. Money often talks louder than victims can hope to. This is why so many movements are starting with a pseudonym.
So while the Surviving R. Kelly documentary was a platform for R. Kelly’s survivors to speak up against him, it’s important to note that it was the result of years of silencing and discrediting black women. He was able to produce music and tour for years despite credible accusations made against him because he was given a platform to profit without accountability, thus burying his crimes.
This is why so few actually report.
According to RAINN, only 230 out of 1,000 sexual assaults get reported to the police. Any cases that trickle into the justice system have already faced a gauntlet of doubt from authorities, fear of retaliation, and the victim’s own concern that the incident wasn’t “big enough” for anyone else to find credible.
And if the accusation is made against a celebrity it runs the risk of public scrutiny and conjecture.
Hashtags such as #YesAllWomen, #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #NotAllMen trend on social media, often times at the cost of their creators and survivors personal safety or erasure. Creating a safe space often means these activists are losing their own.
This is an experience that strikes very close to home for me.
As a vocal feminist and activist online, I am familiar with my mentions and feeds turning from something comfortable and intimate into a channeling of anonymous hate. These brigades often lead to my locking down and anxious over the reminder that it isn’t always safe to speak up against violence towards women.
One of the tensest moments in the Bundy documentary is survivor Carol daRonch testifying in court. She seems aware of Bundy’s eyes on her. In contrast, he is visibly angry at her speaking out.
“A professional witness,” Bundy sneers.
Again, this is his platform. He gets his chance at condemning her, even after victimizing her.
While daRonch’s account has a half-hour of footage, Bundy is given hours to ramble about his life. He glorifies his childhood while ignoring the agonizing details of his crimes.
Without those details, he avoids being a monster. Instead, he becomes a man who made a mistake.
These men are not victims, regardless of their claims.
Asher may have lost his publisher and agent, but Netflix continues to air their adaptation of his book. Meanwhile, Bundy’s story will reappear in a new movie, played by Zac Efron. This film is planned in “celebration” of the anniversary of his execution, despite survivors thinking it’s not in good taste.
And despite being removed from his record label and the canceling of his U.S. shows, R. Kelly’s music saw a major leap at the release of the Lifetime documentary and is currently scheduled to do an international tour.
While these stories are worth telling, they need to be told from a different perspective. It is time to consider who these men hurt. If we are speaking of abusers, we should be honest in why they are not heroes.
Other voices should be uplifted now. Their victims who bravely speak in the comments of articles, in hashtags and interviews should be offered the mic.
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