How to help if someone you care about is being cyber-abused
One thing that has made this whole ordeal more difficult for me is when well-meaning people offer advice to me that is so far off the mark, that it only adds to the stress and isolation of the experience. Here are some things NOT to do:
- Do not assume that you know all about this phenomenon. No one does. This is very new and common folk wisdom about what to do (e.g. do not ever respond to attackers) might not be the best choice. There is no real evidence that not responding to a cyber abuser will make that person stop. It depends on the situation and what the person's goal is. In my case, the goal is to make an example of me and intimidate me from speaking out against this particular abusive therapist. My colleagues are also being attacked and they have responded very little, if at all. I am in a situation where I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.
- Whatever you do, do not respond publicly to the victim in a way that blames the person. However things may appear, remember that the term "willing victim" is self-contradictory. Victims are, by definition, not willing. Saying things like "you're really not handling this very well", "you need to see a therapist", "you really are bringing this on yourself by responding" and other publicly given statements like this do not help the victim. What they do is give the cyber-abuser more ammunition, so if you really care about the victim and have something to say, say it via private e-mail or in person.
- Also recognize that it is the cyber abuser who is the one who is mentally disturbed and needs a therapist, not the victim. The victim might need therapy to deal with the tremendous amount of stress this experience brings, but again, if you feel that way, say it privately to the victim, not publicly. Saying it publicly only adds to the humiliation and provides the cyber-abuser with the idea to then start calling the person "crazy". Most therapists are also clueless about cyber-abuse and could end up doing more harm than good and it is possible that they could add to the trauma by blaming the victim, unless they are among the very few therapists who specialize in this and know that cyber abuse is not the victim's fault.
- Realize that unless you have experienced cyber abuse yourself, you have no idea what it is like to experience cyber-abuse, so don't condescend to the victim. You might want to sit in armchair judgment of the person, but really, there is no way to know that you would be handling it any better and it is arrogant for you to presume that.
- Listen to the victim. Really try to understand what her experience is about and if you care, try to learn, rather than assume you know what this is all about and what to do because you don't. Nobody really does at this stage of the game because this is such a new phenomenon.
- Support the person when she is being attacked. Do not criticize the victim publicly. Instead, if you are going to post on the thread, call the cyber abuser out on his or her behavior. Unless you want to support the cyber abuser, this is not the time and the place to deliver a lecture to the victim about how you think she should be handling this.