When it comes to discussion of abuse of any kind, the abuser oftentimes tries to absolve themselves of blame by saying that their victim is telling stories. While this accusation of lying is rarely ever founded, storytelling is, indeed, a part of coming forward with the truth about your abuser. Abuse is generally a cyclical journey perpetuated by a perfect storm of context and manipulation. The painful process of putting these pieces together weaves a tale told to promote understanding of the situations in which abuse arises, as well as to be wary of those who commit these behaviors. Of course, abusers often belittle these accounts by simply dismissing them as untrue. An even more insidious form of gaslighting occurs when the abuser implicitly obscures the narrative, or, its close cousin, when an outside party publicly misframes the story.
Okay, so that’s a lot of words and concepts being thrown around, but what does the obscuring of victims’ narratives look like? Fortunately/unfortunately, the alternative arena provides more than a few case studies. Today we’re examining Blood on the Dancefloor vocalist Dahvie Vanity’s response to assault allegations and the online Horror community’s dissemination of scary stories.
MySpace-famous scene kid David Jesus Torres, or “Dahvie,” has been publicly-outed as a pedophile, rapist, and abuser for quite some time now. Unfortunately, due in part to the reality that his victims were teenagers who internalized the self-blame that Dahvie’s manipulation inflicts, not much justice has been achieved on the legal front. Nevertheless, countless individuals have come forward under the guise of anonymity as time has marched on. Just recently, another round of accusations against the musician have emerged. The bravery of these women has yielded real consequences for Dahvie, including, but not limited to, Blood on the Dancefloor being booted from a tour with Combichrist. Sadly, keeping Dahvie away from one of his favorite spots to offend—music venues—is a start, but it is not the end-all solution
As someone who can personally vouch for Dahvie’s perpetuation of the cycle of abuse via manipulation, I am confident in saying that Dahvie is not teachable. He is dangerous and will continue to offend as long as he has access to a phone, a public platform, and his bodily freedom. While character assassinations can be short-sighted when devoid of larger social context, the crossover from, say, a poorly thought out joke to substantive abuse and assault justifies putting someone on a public blacklist. As much as I’d like to see Dahvie put in jail for life, I know it is unlikely. This is a world where rapists like Brock Turner get caught in the act and receive suspended sentences of a couple of months. However, raising awareness both inside and outside of alternative circles will keep individuals safe as Dahvie enters social solitary confinement (i.e. being stripped of fans and colleagues alike).
The biggest threat to the success of this game plan is Dahvie’s response to his continuous public outing – he flips the narrative to make himself look like the victim. If his social media is any indication, silencing accusations of sexual assault made against him is as easy as tuning out haters via the power of positivity. Sure, Blood on the Dancefloor does, indeed, have a good deal of haters, largely because it’s music that can’t even be enjoyed ironically, a la Millionaires or Jeffree Star. Most troublingly in the context of Dahvie’s pedophilia, it’s music that’s not exactly marketed to grown adults. Unfortunately, Dahvie exploits this blowback for all it’s worth, lumping his victims in with BOTDF’s larger pool of haters. The issue becomes increasingly complex when you consider BOTDF’s core fanbase: vulnerable young emo kids who, more likely than not, are victims of hate from school bullies. Thus, Dahvie’s status as a persecuted christ and his victims’ status as heartless attackers are reinforced to remaining Dahvie fans. Of course, the true roles of Dahvie and his victims couldn’t be any more different.
Preserving the status of victims is at the heart of how Dahvie’s false narrative can be undermined. You may be wondering what this course of action looks like. The answer comes down to tactfully framing victims’ stories during the third-party dissemination process. It applies to Dahvie’s victims, but also victims more generally. Another subsect of victims who may watch their stories be twisted are those who get boxed in with fictional horror characters.
For better or for worse, many horror plots are indebted to brutal violence – torture inflicted by a shadowy stranger, but other times by someone who the protagonist knows and trusts (the latter being the predominant way through which sexual assault occurs). Personally, as a lifelong horror fan I can generally tell if a film will be too upsetting by watching the trailer. Paranormal haunts are among some of my favorites and serve as my sanctuary away from the monotonous pain of the everyday. I used to love getting ready in the morning to creepy story/creepypasta compilations on YouTube, but I found it increasingly hard to find anthologies that didn’t have stories of abuse and sexual assault casually peppered in. While I’ve come to terms with the fact that interactions I’ve had with men like Dahvie will prevent me from enjoying things that others can, there is a larger issue that comes with presenting tales of abuse as spooky fun, particularly when creepypastas don’t do a lot of context-setting.
Just recently I clicked on a compilation that had a picture of jack-o-‘lanterns as the thumbnail. It was titled as being a collection of true scary stories, with “true” being a bit of an ambiguous word in horror. I assumed it would be subscribers’ experiences with Ouija boards, bumps in the attic, and so on. Right of the gate without warning, the first story was a graphic account of a woman who had been beaten and raped by her husband which resulted in a severe eating disorder. After years of this abuse, she narrowly escaped after overhearing him making plans with his buddy to kill her. I glanced down at my phone, the Halloween pumpkins staring back at me. Eventually, I scrolled down to the comment section to see if anyone offered a critique on the video’s tone. One of the top comments did address the first story, but not in the way that I had hoped. wHy dIdN’t sHe jUsT lEaVe?
Surely what the woman experienced was horrific, but was it Horror with a capital “H” in the way that, say, the Halloween franchise is? I would argue that there needs to be a clearer distinction between the two.
Firstly, it is unclear that if this story, originally found on Reddit, was told in a “hey, I have a story for your creepypasta compilation” thread or if the channel operator usurped the story from a space to speak candidly about abuse with fellow victims. Sure, putting a story on an open internet forum (particularly one like Reddit) makes it up for dissemination. It becomes problematic when the person doing the disseminating alters the tone via alternative framing (ex. a spooky Halloween tale fit for the campfire).
Secondly, interjecting abuse narratives into common culture is, of course, important for spreading accessible awareness. However, this awareness may do more harm than good if the victim’s narrative is not presented appropriately. Lumping abuse victims in with Horror characters may decrease the chances of empathy towards the former’s plight. While some Horror characters are painted as being resilient survivors, more often, they’re presented as passive and hapless. Because Horror is notorious for axing developed characters and plot lines in favor of atmosphere and gore, it becomes easy to yell at the family refusing to leave their house when the kitchen cabinets start opening by themselves. Thus, the woman from the YouTube compilation was subject to the same scrutiny in the comments section. Blurring the lines between true abuse stories with fictionalized horror alienates victims by bringing up past trauma without warning, but it also scrubs some of the nuance needed to understand the nature of abuse.
So, if you are a Horror channel genuinely looking to promote the understanding of abuse, pursue dissemination of victim narratives on an alternative, less-charged platform. If you want to use your numbers on your Horror channel, at least watch your presentation. Clarify intent. It’s as simple as that.
I’m probably coming off a bit idealistic here, but trust, me I’m all too aware that the world is not a safe space. Let me illustrate: I was grabbed and pulled by the arm by a customer at work the other day and I momentarily blacked out. But, I know this individual didn’t have malintent, so I decreased my proximity and moved on. I was walking down the street two weeks ago when a man came up from behind me and started tugging on the bottom of my shirt. But, I know this individual is one of life’s inevitable shitlords, so I told him to fuck off and kept walking. I pick my battles because sometimes it’s not worth going to bat over situations that I’ve found in my 23 years to be unpreventable. However, I speak passionately about the two cases I presented today because they are preventable with just a little mindfulness. Victim narratives can be addressed in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the integrity of their experiences, which ultimately encourages justice, understanding, and most importantly, safety.
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Tune in next week to Thirsty Thursday for more from Jenna.