The Victim-Blaming Abuse Narrative Pointed at Chloe Dykstra
Victim blaming is alive and well. Last week, actress and model Chloe Dykstra posted a personal essay via Medium, detailing the emotional and sexual abuse of an ex-boyfriend. She didn't name the man explicitly, but it became clear to fans and the media that she was talking about Chris Hardwick of Nerdist fame, with whom she had a three-year relationship that ended in 2014. Hardwick has denied all culpability for the abuse, claiming he was "blindsided" and "heartbroken" by Chloe's essay. Let's look closer at the Chloe Dykstra/Chris Hardwick story, and why, in the age of #metoo, it's easy for the accused and the media to automatically blame the victim.
The Victim Blaming Narrative: Chloe Dykstra's Confession
Chloe Dykstra's essay, Rose Colored Glasses: A Confession, hit media headlines just hours after the post went live, and Hardwick's reputation was immediately called into question. However, despite the spades of men and women jumping to Chloe's defence (and others who backed up her story), it wasn't long before victim blaming crept into the narrative.
The hoards of social commentators thumping, "But his career!" and "Where's the evidence?" into their keyboards came as no great shock to most of us. Nor did Hardwick's flat-out denial of the allegations against him. What was surprising, however, was the language Chloe used in her "confession."
Despite feeling (understandably) victimized within the relationship, Chloe doesn't exactly point the finger at Hardwick. In fact, she says:
"I’m here to tell my story, not necessarily intending to point my finger at the man who did it (though that may be an unfortunate consequence for him), but for a different reason."
Chloe's justification for telling her story reads almost like an apology. Anyone who has ever been abused will understand why she was afraid to speak up and why she unwittingly contributed to the victim-blaming narrative through her confession.
However, the majority of readers may automatically discount her story on the basis that there's no real proof. Victim blaming is, sadly, ingrained in all of us, even victims. It has been for centuries (Abuse Victims and Responsibility), so this shouldn't come as a huge surprise to any of us. Chloe knows that people would sooner disregard her statement than accept an uncomfortable truth that cannot be "proven" with evidence.
Chloe Dykstra Unwittingly Blames Herself for Hardwick's Abuse
Chloe goes on to describe the "anger" trapped inside of her -- anger at Hardwick, but also at herself "for being naïve enough to stay there."
However, she wants to tell her story. She wants closure. Surely these are reasons enough to share her experience, and, arguably, what other reason could there be?
Anyone who's ever been abused knows Chloe has more to lose by speaking up than keeping quiet. She doesn't stand to gain anything financially by making this accusation and she knows her own reputation and career hinges on the public perception of her story.
Unsurprisingly, Hardwick has refuted the claims against him. However, his career has suffered a definite blow, which has caused a major backlash against Chloe.
Hardwick's Victim-Blaming Response to Chloe's Abuse Allegations
In a statement issued to Deadline, Hardwick argued that his relationship with Chloe wasn't perfect, but that he never emotionally or sexually abused her. I'm paraphrasing here, but Hardwick's response was so predictable that one could argue it's not really worth repeating. One part stuck out for me particularly:
“When we were living together, I found out that Chloe had cheated on me, and I ended the relationship. For several weeks after we broke up, she asked to get back together with me . . . but I did not want to be with someone who was unfaithful.”
Here, Hardwick does three things:
1. Undermines the victim's story by painting her as someone who is unreliable, promiscuous, and a liar. He claims he "found out" about her infidelity, which suggests she hid it from him. This may or may not be true, but his language is very persuasive.
2. Deflects blame from himself by reminding us of Chloe's misdemeanors. She cheated on him, so she is to blame for whatever happened afterward (Domestic Abusive Victims Think They Are The Abuser). Let's not forget that abusers are often possessive and jealous, and have been known to chastise, injure, and even kill partners they suspected of infidelity.
3. Raises doubt about the truth of Chloe's claims because she was clearly in love with Hardwick and wanted to get back together after they split. He's saying: "If I was so terrible, why did she want me back?" Of course, we all know that these kinds of relationships are far more complex than they appear to the outside and that abuse victims are often in love with their abusers.
The narrative spun by Hardick gives Chloe motive to destroy his career -- although four years on, this doesn't seem very likely.
Chloe's Story Is One to Which Many Abuse Victims Relate
To those of us who've ever been in an abusive relationship, Chloe's "confession" feels a little too close for comfort. Chloe recounts that she fell for an older man whom she admired, and he quickly established rules that kept her under his control. This is a narrative many of us relate to, including me.
However, the part of the story that particularly got under my skin was Hardwick's response and how quick he was to point the finger away from himself.
I also know, without even scrolling the comments sections of Twitter and other social platforms, how many people will preach the "innocent until proven guilty" argument, disputing Chloe's account due to lack of evidence or undermining her for any of the reasons listed above. There's no way of knowing for sure what the truth of their relationship was, but Chloe was certainly brave for coming forward, knowing what's at stake.
What about you? Did Chloe Dykstra's story bring back triggering memories of abuse, or are you in a similar relationship right now? What did you think of Chris Hardwick's response? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Read Chloe Dykstra's story: Rose-Colored Glasses: A Confession.
Smith, E. (2018, June 19). The Victim-Blaming Abuse Narrative Pointed at Chloe Dykstra, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2018/6/the-victim-blaming-abuse-narrative-pointed-at-chloe-dykstra
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
Two sides to any story, it is also very easy for alleged/accused to suffer consequences through the court of public opinion, without proof. Even a blog is a public statement, not a vacuum free of consequence. The phrase I believe, as in I almost 100% believe an accuser, takes away from due process and can result in some immediate consequences for the accused, even if not law enforcement consequence. When the law is not involved , but straight to court of public opinion, the Evidence can be hearsay, an after thought, a tragic follow-up to the public lynch mob. Let's not let I believe trump innocent until proven, there has to be some measure of balance and reasoning. People can lie or exaggerate on either side, there are plenty of news stories of falsehoods that had to be surfaced by investigative journalism.
Now that AMC has completed their internal investigation, after Hardwick released SMS messages, after his wife and ex-gf came out to defend Chris, and after he has been reinstated as series host, I'm waiting for your follow up post. After all, you had already decided Hardwick was guilty while writing this and created a narrative of abuse from someone you don't know.
You can't play both sides. You can't claim #IBelieveHer while believing in due process.
As a male sufferer of sexual abuse I looked at Chloe's post from the eye of a victim and didn't believe a word of it. Frankly it struck me as the writings of an ex girlfriend who wanted to get back at someone who had moved on and was happy.
If you’re a consenting adult who can leave at any time and only stay because you like the fame and money your an idiot. Period.
Dont come at me claiming you can't leave in a situation like this. She comes from a wealthy hollywood family. She could have left at any time and been perfectly fine. There are kids, women and men out there in relationships that are truly sexually abusive. To call what she claims happened sexual abuse is insulting to all of us.
She was raised wealthy in Hollywood around famous people and then proceeded to date one. When she wanted to go drinking and partying he said no because he was recovering from alchoholism and didn't want to ruin this life by falling into that pit again.
He made her get rid of the pictures in her house of herself with other random men. Stop partying until 3am at clubs with her guy friends.
Probably because he felt threatened by them , who knows . I wouldnt want my girlfriend doing that either.
She complied and grated under the rules of the relationship.
So she went out a few times anyway, messed up by screwing around with another guy and got caught. She messed up knowing he would find out eventually anyway. Chris broke off the relationship . She missed the aforementioned fame and tried to get him back. He refused. Then after years of festering anger lashed out in a way guaranteed to bring her attention.
People that pointed fingers at innocent women in Salem and called for "justice" we're just as guilty of murder as the ones who lied about them being witches in the first place and had them burned at the stake.
"Undermines the victim's story by painting her as someone who is unreliable, promiscuous, and a liar. He claims he "found out" about her infidelity, which suggests she hid it from him"
Uh yeah, that's how infidelity works. Most people don't just immediately ANNOUNCE to their partner that they cheated on them, unless they're a total sociopath intent on emotionally hurting them as much as possible. Have to ever even met another human being? How can this possibly we a strange concept to you? And what if the person making the accusation IS unreliable and known to be a habitual liar? The entire basis of psychology is that past behavior is an indication of future behavior. You would CERTAINLY take the past sexual abuse behavior of a man as evidence that he likely committed another sexual abuse, so why wouldn't you take a woman's past behavior of excessively lying as evidence that she was likely lying now? Its a double standard
I wonder how all of this holds up under the revelation of texts in which she admits to cheating on him, causing HIM to leave HER, and her asking for forgiveness and to be reunited? If you want to post an accusation online, fine, go for it. I draw the line at people being punished before even an iota of evidence is brought forth, (which is exactly what happened here) even if that evidence consists of nothing more the a similiar accusation from another person. Hysteria and knee-jerk reactions brings justice to no one, the victim/accuser or the perpetrator/accused. Also, scrutiny is not the same as discrediting, it is a neccessity if any semblance of truth is to be derived from a testimony. This is why cross examination is practiced in court.
If an abuse victim is just looking for closure by posting anonymously online then why reveal yourself the very next day via Twitter, or include personal information that can easily be traced back to the alleged abuser? Unless you didn’t get the level of response you actually wanted when the article was first posted.
Why accuse somebody of something and claim to have evidence to prove it, but then not reveal anything? If a person did sexually assault someone, and there’s proof, then they deserve to be called out and face the consequences. Oddly the person showing all of the proof is the alleged abuser!
If all a victim wanted was an apology why not contact the person directly or via email or text? Then if they didn’t respond you could always threaten to post the information online. Unless you didn’t actually want an apology and were seeking revenge instead.
Maybe he did sexually assault/violate her, maybe he did blacklist her, but where is the proof? If you had proof that someone committed a crime/injustice wouldn’t you reveal it? Unless you already got what you wanted in the form of destroying someone else’s life. Maybe this proves that he did blacklist her, otherwise why would she be trying to get revenge?
She needs to reveal the proof she supposedly has that he’s an abuser so this whole situation can come to an end. Wouldn’t that be a truer form of closure?
Jacob, thank you for your comments, although they are offensive for a number of reasons. I'd prefer to think we can address our differences of opinion like adults without personally attacking one another, but perhaps that's too optimistic of me.
Once again, I am not automatically siding with women. I'm saying that there are reasons why we victim blame. And we do. Neither you or I will ever know what went on inside someone else's relationship, and it's not for us to speculate. Regardless of whether or not you know someone personally, there is no way you can know what happens behind closed doors. This is what is so insidious about abuse.
Just because Chloe is mentally ill or has lied in the past, doesn't mean she's lying about this. Just because someone hasn't abused their previous partners, doesn't mean they're not capable of it in another relationship. All throughout history women have been discredited for being "histrionic" (and even locked up for it), so you're only further underlining my point by using that term.
I am not saying that Chris Hardwick is an abuser. He has been ACCUSED of emotional and sexual abuse or "violation" -- whatever you want to call it. And Chloe's account rings true for a lot of victims, as does the general response to it. I am just saying that Chloe has a right to her story not being ripped apart by people who automatically discredit her.
This piece, although it refers to Chloe's story, has a wider context, but I can see it is one you don't agree with and that's fine. You are entitled to your own worldview, just as I am entitled to mine. You are not, however, entitled to chastise women for speaking up about their experiences of abuse or for sharing their opinions.
Society does and always has treated sexual assault victims less than favourably, and your comments are evidence of that.
How do you define an "actual victim?" I'm interested to know.
How do i define an "actual victim"? The same way i define an "actual victim" of any other crime: evidence that a crime occurred and that the person claiming to be a victim of that crime actually was a victim of that crime. People live their entire relationships in texts and social media these days. If criminal abuse occurred, even EMOTIONAL abuse, there would be a MOUNTAIN of timestamped digital evidence to support it. We're talking about two nerdy pop culture minor celebrities here, not Luddites.
How can you keep referring to someone as a "victim" if that narrative has changed a half dozen times?
This seems exactly like you're in her corner, no matter what the evidence shows! It's people like Chloe and yourself that hurts the movement that you're trying to support!
Oh, and by the way, I know Chloe personally. She's mentally ill, histrionic, and a habitual liar. She has even since edited her medium post to modify her sexual assault claims. Three of Chris's ex's have come forward supporting him.
This isn't some sort of example of how "society treats victims". It's an example of how society treats baseless hit pieces on medium.
You are a sad excuse for a journalist, and I hope people like you become politically marginalized so that we focus on actual victims.
It is the height of dishonesty to "just believe" a career destroying allegation without evidence.
You internet feminists get confused about why the rest of us have slowly come to hate you, and yet you have supported the following liars:
Duke Lacrosse girl
Stanford Matress Girl
Aziz Ansari Girl
And now Chloe Dykstra.
Women are people, not ethereal creatures who fart butterflies and always tell the truth. The fact that you're automatically siding with women instead of properly contextualizing a situation where either side could be true, is what makes this a Gender War. And many of us are responding to it by just assuming that women are lying. So you're just hurting yourself here.
Emma, you raped me at that one thing last year. According to your logic, people need to believe me. I'm going to go write a medium post about it, and see how you feel being lied about.
She is being "victim blamed" because she is not a victim!
A "victim" does not have multiple narratives of the event they've described! Also, a "victim" does not try to get back into the supposedly horrible situation that they were in 7 months after the so called abuser ends the relationship!
She is upset that he ended things, possibly even the way he ended things... and wanted to retaliate!
Multiple sources, friends, ex-girlfriend/wife's, current wife, and employees have all said he's never been this way, but you want to take the word of someone like this for whatever reason.. is somewhat baffling, and questionable!
Gosh Emma-Marie, I do not “Twitter”, but I read that you are getting a lot of flack for writing about your “take” on how the media handles the victims of abuse. Please keep writing! If what you write gets people thinking - even if it makes them mad! - it means that you are an excellent writer! Doesn’t matter that some, like me, think differently. I don’t think of myself as a “victim”, but you and I have shared experience. (The man who assaulted me went to Attica State Prison.) Although we see the Hardwick/Dykstra situation differently, I want you to know that I admire your writing. Your goal is clearly to help lift up victims who may be margenalized. Keep writing! You are a thoughtful, talented young person, so do not be dissuaded from trying to help victims of abuse.
Thanks Darla :)
No question that we want victims to come forward.
And I must say, it pleases me to know that there are still wonderful young women in the world who really cannot conceive of a person being capable of claiming to have been a crime victim when, in fact, they were not.
That's a good thing. A really good thing.
Chris Hardwick’s accuser has changed the words in her essay from “sexually assaulted” to “sexually violated”. You can do that sort of thing when you self-publish on the internet. Literally, facts DON’T matter in the Wild West atmosphere of the blog!
Generally, I’m all for that. I draw the line when someone makes criminal charges without filing criminal charges. Essay writing is not nearly as therapeutic as knowing that the person who sexually assaulted you is going to prison.
Accepting the word of any one individual accusing another of sexual abuse without asking any questions - without doing any investigation - is senseless. And in some cases, it’s a crime. I am every bit as interested in protecting my loved ones - and your loved ones! - from false allegations as I am in seeing that rapists are brought to justice.
Always ask questions! Always discern! Never “just believe” anything. Human beings do a lot of things that we regret. Sometimes we color our perceptions in order to deal with loss or depression or anger. Sometimes we need help with problems that no amount of essay writing can resolve. If it does come to light that these accusations were a stretch of the truth, who is going to make reparation to the man and his family being subjected to such vitriol?
As for showing empathy for those who have been horribly harmed, I will sign myself simply as one who knows.
Thanks for your comment. I totally agree that we should always ask questions and that no one should blindly believe everything they hear. I just don't think we should treat those who come forward as victims as if they are the ones on trial.
It's an interesting debate, and naturally, there are two sides to every story. I just don't see what Chloe (or anyone really) has to gain by "stretching the truth." She must have known people would doubt her story and try to colour her as a liar. This article is more focused on the way the media and other people interpret these accusations and report them. It wasn't supposed to present a biased view. Though I think most people who've been in an abusive relationship identify with the essay and therefore find it difficult to imagine she is lying.
As someone who's been in a similar relationship, telling the truth and potentially being ripped to shreds for it is preferable to acting like it never happened, even if no one believes it. I imagine as more of these cases of coercive control come to light, we'll be forced to rethink the way we deal with both the accusers and the accused.
Thanks so much for your input!
So, I am obviously late to the news cycle game... but I am only just finding out about all of this.
As someone who watched my mother be in an incredibly abusive relationship for almost 20 years and then a decade after her death, found myself in one (that I am currently trying to get out of, hence the absence from knowing what’s going on in the world around me). I can most definitely identify with her essay (or at least with parts of it). But just because I identify with it and it “rings true”... it’s my own truth that I am identifying with. I am in no way victim-blaming or accusing miss Dykstra of lying, however, just because her essay is something I can identify with because of my own truth, does not mean her story is, in fact, true. That has yet to be determined (if it ever can be).
I think it is important that we as a society stay vigilant during this precarious attempt at a shift in social thinking. I am so uplifted that people are having the courage to come forward and find a voice. I do not want any victim to fear coming forward, ever... but I also don’t want to see a situation where we automatically ingest and identify with someone’s story just because they publish it as their truth. The accused shouldn’t just automatically become “The Abuser” just because they were accused of it. We need more.
Unfortunately, sometimes people legitimately have a false self-truth and even if they truly believe it to be true, it simply isn’t FACT. It is absolutely their own truth, but that doesn’t make it actually TRUE.
I say this because my abuser still tried to convince me that things are actually true other way around. He would hear me making character judgments or criticisms where there were none. He would experience personal attacks where there were none... all of which spawn from his own insecurities, cognitive distortions, etc.
As for analyzing the actions of the accused... Have you ever been accused of something completely egregious that you most definitely didn’t do? Do you know how you would react? I don’t automatically see dark intentions or actions aimed to provide distractions. Is it possible this is is what he is doing? Sure. But is it possible he is also just rightfully defending himself? Yeah, that’s possible too...
In this very specific instance, because the person who came forward as the victim makes claims of having evidence to support her truth, I wish she would at least release it to the proper authorities or through the proper channels so that there could be some form of decisive action taken. If not, then it all feels a bit gimmicky and perhaps maybe even vindictive. Why go through the trouble of not naming the accused, but making sure he is recognizable? Why mention evidence and not provide it?
As I struggle with my own abuse, I think one of the things that strikes me about all of this is that if I had evidence I would provide it. No questions asked... without hesitation. I think I am feeling perhaps a little fearful that leaving this accusation open to the interpretation that he is innocent (when she claims to be able to prove he is not) potentially undermines everything that the MeToo movement is working for. One false claim and then the seed of doubt is sewn. This is obviously a huge part of the problem and is in no way shape or form fair... but why leave that possibility on the table if there is proof? That or why mention the proof, if you don’t intend to provide it? That would have also made this a different story...
I guess what I am saying is that being abused by anyone in your life is an awful experience and can be incredibly difficult to work through (I’m still in therapy and will likely be for quite some time). How someone who is abused chooses to move forward is completely up to them. However, just because something is my truth doesn’t make it fact. If I want others to believe it as fact, I need more than just my story to back it up. I would need to provide some form of proof/evidence. We need to be more evidence-based and less feelings/identify-with-based because everyone has their own truth and only objective evidence can show us what is FACT.
I know that was a bit rambling, but I’m tired and scared and hate to think that we live in a world where one person’s word is enough to condemn another in the eyes of the world. I also hate that so many of us experience the levels of abuse that we do all while having to deal with so little support and very few people who “believe” us... I don’t know... just some food for thought I guess?
Hi everyone! Thanks for your comments,
You raise some interesting points, but I have a few questions:
How do we establish someone as a victim? With the proof she presents, or through witness accounts, both of which she has? Perhaps through a detailed description of the relationship by Chloe herself, which she has given? I don't think we're talking about automatic acceptance here.
And then there's the sexual assault she describes. However quick we are to doubt victims of rape, between 2 and 10 percent of rape claims in the U.S. are found to be false.
Men who abuse women (and women who abuse men) are always somebody's brother/dad/uncle -- does that mean they shouldn't be held accountable? Notice how rape and abuse against women are the only crimes where we automatically assume the side of the abuser rather than believing the alleged victim's account.
I do think there are some questions to be asked about the nature of these claims and how they are proved or prosecuted, especially in the post #metoo era. But where does it leave us if we don't allow people to self-publish essays about their abusive relationships? If we automatically assume that everyone who does so is lying unless there is concrete proof?
I write for HealthyPlace about the man who abused me. Do you know who I don't accuse of emotional and physical abuse? People who haven't emotionally or physically abused me. Our collective silence on this issue has allowed abuse against women to thrive until now.
It needs to be established that you are, in fact, a victim, in order to be “victim blamed”. Where are all these people mentioned here that support Ms. Dykstra’s allegations? I have only read about one. Do you want to live in a society in which one individual can self-publish an essay on the Internet accusing you of a crime - that’s it! - just an accusation- and have this accusation automatically accepted as fact? If the accuser had brought her essay to The New York Times, or The Washington Post, do you think it would have been published? No. And for good reasons, not the least of these being slander and defamation laws. Slip in the name of your dad or your brother or your friend in place of the name of the accused. Still okay with automatic acceptance as fact of horrible allegations?
Wait a second... but what if Hardwick is telling the truth? Then it’s not victim blaming at all, it’s simply the accused’s side of the story. And there is no way to know for sure as of yet. There has to be a balance in all of this, because just as we can’t blame the victim, we can’t automatically condemn the accused.
My comment is directed solely at your bolded statement above, namely, "Chloe knows that people will sooner disregard her statement than accept an uncomfortable truth that cannot be "proven" with evidence." My issue with this is that Ms. Dykstra claims to have both audio and video evidence to support her claims and her current significant other Robert Kazinsky claims to have viewed such evidence. In light of the tendency of some to doubt such claims, and in support of her credibility, would it not have been more practical to name her alleged abuser and present the evidence, where, according to Ms. Dykstra, her uncomfortable truth CAN be proven with evidence?
Hi Blaine, thank you for your comment. You raise a very good point.
However, I do believe Chloe's story, and the purpose of the article wasn't to try to convince others of her truth, so I didn't think the evidence was really relevant to the point I was making. The reason I wrote about the Dykstra case was that her story is so familiar to anyone who's been the target of emotional abuse. Many survivors of coercive control and abuse are victim-blamed whether or not they have supporting evidence. Even when evidence is presented, abusers (and, in fact, courts) will still argue that there's no concrete "proof" unless it's completely irrefutable. However, that's just my experience and my opinion, and I welcome yours.
You could take Chloe's name out of that sentence and replace it with another; the reality rings true for many of us, don't you think?