[cw: slurs]

There’s one particular abusiveness pattern I’ve noticed that I think is worth talking about.

In this pattern, a person is, most of the time, not abusive. They understand and respect boundaries; they are not controlling of the behavior of those around them; they are capable of having perfectly healthy relationships. You wouldn’t necessarily get any red flags from them.

And then the worst thing in the world happens.

It’s different, for every person of this sort, what causes them to break. For one person, it might be their spouse seeking a divorce and actually meaning it, or refusing to have sex with them for years and years, or deciding that they do or don’t want to have children. For another, it might be fear of becoming homeless, or their child not wanting to talk to them, or a sexual partner having an abortion, or any number of other things. But the point is that their back is up against the wall, and they’re desperate, and they don’t know what to do, and not getting what they need is unthinkable

A man’s girlfriend is going to have an abortion, and he’s pro-life; from his perspective, his girlfriend is going to murder his baby. What will he do? Where is the line he draws of “no, that’s not okay, I would rather my baby be murdered than I do that”? Does he promise that he will love her forever if she has the abortion even though he plans to leave her? Does he call her a stupid murdering cunt bitch for even thinking about it? Does he put a GPS tracker on her phone so that he knows if she gets close to an abortion clinic and can stop her? Does he hit her when she says she’s made the appointment? Does he tell her that if she goes through with the abortion he’ll kill her?

I don’t mean to criticize pro-lifers; anyone can find themselves in desperate straits, regardless of political beliefs. Pro-lifers are no different from anyone else. When someone doesn’t know what else to do to prevent the worst thing in the world, much of the time, they will answer “yes” to many more of the questions on that list than you’d expect they would if you observed their normal behavior.

I suspect some number of more pervasively abusive people are, in fact, similarly wired. It’s just that for them ordinary events, such as a partner coming home late or not being in the mood for sex, get processed as existential threats, the way other people would process being about to become homeless.

To be clear, it’s not okay to abuse people, no matter what. It’s wrong to threaten people with murder or to call people stupid murdering cunt bitches or to put GPS trackers on their phone without their consent, and it is almost always wrong to hit people. And there are many, many people in equally desperate situations who found out that, no matter how desperate they are, there are things that they would not do. There are many people who, no matter how desperate they are, will never commit rape or threaten someone or hit someone.

But the list of people who would, if just the right set of things happened, is much longer than you would suppose.

I am not sure how to deal with people who are dangerous but only when they are very very desperate. It seems unfair to punish people for having been once in their life very desperate, when there are other people who would behave similarly but simply have never been in the same situation. And… they’re safe, people like this, most of the time. Our hypothetical pro-lifer would not abuse anyone if they didn’t have an unwanted pregnancy they planned to end in an abortion.

It is important to take care when you declare someone to be safe. I had conversations before the Brent Dill events went public where people said that they felt like Brent was safe as long as he didn’t talk to any conventionally attractive women in their early twenties. Of course, we now know both that Brent was completely unwilling to avoid women in this category, and that he was not safe to people outside that category. But I have met people who are totally safe to be around as long as that one thing doesn’t happen, and I think it is important to acknowledge that this is a thing.

But… you can never be certain that that one thing isn’t going to happen. If you’re having sex with someone, you might have an unwanted pregnancy; people who will abuse you if you want to have an abortion are very dangerous to have sex with if you think you might have an abortion. In some ways, perhaps, people of this sort are more dangerous, because they lull you into a false sense of security, because most of the time it is okay.