Silencing Fellow Advocates
Casey Taft, Ph.D.
I recently wrote an article about psychological abuse in animal advocacy that seems to have led to some important discussions. Despite some predictable attempts to dismiss and minimize the impacts of psychological abuse in animal advocacy by some of the perpetrators themselves, I’ve received a supportive response and many have recounted the devastating impacts that this abuse has had on them.
I want to build on this discussion by focusing specifically on one aspect of psychological abuse that I have seen a lot of recently: the manipulative silencing of other advocates. I have observed some notable advocates who work to remove or silence the voices of those who are from marginalized groups, or those who speak out against controlling and abusive behavior.
I will start with a personal example. Prior to the publication of my book, I sent out a manuscript draft to a well-known advocate for feedback. This individual told me that if I didn’t remove references to certain pro-intersectional activists, all of whom were women and/or people of color (and therefore already struggle to have their voices heard), he would withhold support for the book. His threat had nothing to do with the actual book content, and he said as much. He said he wanted them removed because he didn’t want others to think of them as credible.
I am aware of other instances of manipulative silencing being done by the same individual, such as having speakers removed from conferences and causing others to lose their jobs on the basis of personal grudges, which has had an obviously damaging impact on them and has helped create a toxic environment in various animal advocacy spaces. Attempting to vindictively erase others’ work entirely from the world of ideas is abusive. It is also coercive and controlling to threaten others to be complicit in this silencing.
For the record, I retained the citations that this advocate most objected to, and since the publication of the book, he attempted to silence me as well. He continues to allude to my work when it suits his arguments, even using direct phrases I’ve written, while never mentioning the book itself.
It’s also important to recognize the work of those who have come before us so we don’t end up silencing them as well. Discussing those whose ideas were helpful in forming our own views is important in our writings, so that we’re not giving the impression that we have come up with things all on our own. Too often, I’ve observed younger advocates who don’t seem to have any conception of the important work done by their predecessors, and established advocates who give the false impression that they’ve developed entire approaches to advocacy without giving proper credit to those who originally developed these same concepts.
Failure to give others credit is academically negligent and dishonest, and should never be used as a manipulative weapon against anyone. We should hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of conduct if we want to help teach others to behave ethically with respect to nonhuman and human animals. Creating a vibrant movement that represents the voices of our broad community is necessary if we’re going to see the great change that is needed.
Casey is co-owner of Vegan Publishers and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. He’s an internationally recognized researcher in the area of violence and abuse prevention, winning prestigious awards for his work from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters, and scientific reports. He has authored the recently released Motivational Methods for Animal Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, and has a book forthcoming on trauma-informed violence prevention, to be published by the American Psychological Association.