In this episode of Reckoning, Kathryn Kosmides speaks with Eva Galperin about cybersecurity, stalkerware, survivor-centric justice. Eva is the Director of Cybersecurity at The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all people of the world.
In this episode, Eva discusses:
Welcome to Reckoning, a podcast that explores gender-based justice, safety, survival, and resilience in the digital age, through conversations with experts and advocates. I'm your host, Kathryn Kosmides the founder and CEO of Garbo, a tech non-profit building a new kind of online background check. Before we jump in, I'd like to warn our audience that we have raw honest conversations about gender-based violence, which may be too much for some listeners. Please put your safety and health above all else when listening.
Today, our guest is Eva Galperin the director of cyber-security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation where she's worked since 2007. She is also one of the founding members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, an organization founded in November 2019 in response to the growing threat of stalkerware her work has always been survivor-centric and focused on helping the most vulnerable populations. And while she talks a lot about cybersecurity and stalkerware, today's conversation is something she's just as passionate about: what justice really looks like when you put survivors first.
Kathryn: Would you tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and your work Eva?
Eva: Sure. I guess this is the pitfall of having a bio that focuses on what I did 14 years ago, as opposed to the things that I've done since. I came to work at EFF in 2007 and I have worked on a bunch of different teams. I have helped to put together EFF's advice to vulnerable populations on internet privacy and security, which is called surveillance self-defense, which you can get to at ssd.eff.org And I also helped put together our guide for how to teach privacy insecurity in the digital world, especially if you are a person who already has the technical skills and just really needs to learn how to teach and how to get ideas across, or if you're a person who is already very good at getting ideas across and understands the population that you want to reach out to, but who does not have the technical skills. For that, we have the security education companion, which is called SEC at eff.org I also spent a bunch of time doing security research because it turned out that a lot of the people that I was training were being targeted by governments with malware. And then I also did a bunch of outreach to survivors of domestic abuse and stalking and help to put together the Coalition Against Stalkerware which is made up of about 40 different organizations including activists, academics, security researchers, and security companies and we all work together to make stalkerware harder to deploy and easier to detect
Kathryn: Wonderful, such a career you've had. We actually had Tara on another episode as well. She was over at Kaspersky and helped found the Coalition Against Stalkerware as well. So you've been with EFF for a long while now, as you said, 14 years. What makes your work continue to be fulfilling there?
Eva: Well, I think a lot of the same thing that happens to a lot of people who stay at companies for a really long time, which is they essentially keep recreating your job into something new instead of going somewhere else. You make the place that you are into somewhere else. So I spent the first several years of my work really focused on the legal side of things. And then I spent several years working on just international free speech issues. Then I spent time working on censorship and government censorship and platform censorship, then safety and security online and malware, and finally stalkerware and sort of the intersection of all of these issues with gender-based violence, which kind of puts it all together and wraps it up in a bow. So really what's kept me going is that there's always something new on the horizon. I actually just had a guy reach out to me who was about to start his undergraduate degree. And he says, "well, in order to become an expert in cybersecurity, what kind of degree should I get? What are the certifications I should get? What should I study?" and I told him just to study whatever interests you, the rest of it is easy to pick up. The most important thing to remember is that if you are an undergraduate right now, your job hasn't even been invented yet.
Kathryn: That is very, very true. And I think that I recommend at least taking one Ethics class. That's the only thing I'd recommend to an undergraduate at this point.
Eva: Some Ethics is nice.
Kathryn: Get some ****Ethics in there. Well, I originally started following you on Twitter. That's how I originally came across you and your work. And you’ve been on there for quite some time, and I definitely appreciate your outspokenness on a wide variety of topics, but besides Twitter, you are quite difficult to find online. Unless it's one of the presentations or a podcast that, that you've been a part of, but what makes you stick around on Twitter specifically?
Eva: Well, the reason that I stick around on Twitter is I assumed masochism. Every morning I wake up and I doom scroll the internet and Twitter serves up to me the worst things that happened while I was sleeping. No, actually what's really interesting about Twitter is that it allows me to maintain contact with the information security community, in a way that's really useful. InfoSec uses Twitter a lot and it is one of the ways in which we sort of keep abreast of the news and we share information. And I think also that people come to Twitter for our security and privacy advice and for interpretations of what is going on in the news. So there's a lot of, “Here's this news story. Here's what I think about this news story.” And my audience is not just a bunch of my friends who already agree with me or people who want to see pictures of my cat. My audience is a bunch of people who want to know what news stories I find interesting. And what specifically I think about them, which is what makes it very different from the way in which I use other social media platforms, which are mostly cat pictures.
Kathryn: Mostly cat pictures, mine also. That's great. And I think you are right that people, the cybersecurity InfoSec community, is very much on Twitter, but why is that? Like, why did that become the social media platform for this community?
Eva: I think InfoSec loves a good argument.
Kathryn: Yes, true, true.
Eva: You were a contentious bunch of bastards. Well, we did not come here to talk all about Twitter and we also didn't come here to talk about the traditional topics you’re known for like cybersecurity and stalkerware. When I pitch being on this podcast, you kind of flip the conversation around and said, “can we do an episode on what justice really looks like?” And I was like, “Yes. Fuck, yes.” It's such an important piece of the conversation that is often left out. And you said in our first conversation, justice looks different for everyone. And it's so, so true. So let's start really this conversation on first, how do you define justice?
Eva: Well, I think the most important thing is not so much how I define justice, but understanding that everybody has their own definition of justice. And that is really up to individuals and usually when some great wrong has been done, justice is very much up to the person who has been affected by the wrong, and that even if I disagree with other people's opinions of what the appropriate thing is to do or what appropriate remedies there are, it's not my call. And I think that that's really important. For me, justice really centers around making sure that the victims of abuse have a sense of wholeness and safety. And I think that that's really the most important thing. Revenge is not important, even punishing the abuser and making sure that they are feeling bad is so much less important than making sure that the survivor feels safe and seen and heard. And that's really what I try to prioritize in my work.
Kathryn: That's such a powerful answer and I don't think I've ever heard that answer of justice being— we talk about survivor-centric justice all the time, but I don't think I've heard it of “no, their safety and wholeness as a human being.” And I think a lot of people do, when they hear the word justice, especially in today's kind of temperament we'll call it, they do assume revenge kind of and I think that that's a very difficult place to be in. And how do we navigate that right now? So like shifting the holistic definition of justice.
Eva: Well, when I talked to survivors, they very rarely are looking for revenge. They're very rarely looking to punish their abuser. They're usually just looking to get away and to be seen and to be heard and to be believed. Those are really the most important things. I think one of the biggest problems with our discussion around what justice looks like and what restorative justice might look like, comes from the fact that many people have an easier time empathizing with abusers than they do with victims of abuse. They imagine a situation in which they have abused someone, and then that person is vindictive and wants to hurt them. And suddenly the world is very supportive of their efforts to turn the tables on them. And they have difficulty imagining themselves as survivors of abuse. And thinking about a way in which, people like that might be made safe and whole, and that's really a very big problem because we're much more likely to be survivors of abuse than we are to be abusers. And we are, more likely to be able to stop ourselves from being abusers than we are to stop ourselves from being victims of abuse. I think it's also kind of problematic the way that we divide the entire world into survivors and perpetrators. it is not unusual for survivors of abuse to turn around and perpetuate abuse in turn. And that's really a cycle that it's very important to stop and kind of questioning the whole cycle of vindictiveness and revenge, is really central to that.
Kathryn: I really do believe that it is a lot about safety and wholeness. And in my own experience, when I was able to escape my abusive relationship, I was not thinking justice or accountability at all, period. No, I was thinking about my safety and then it started shifting a little bit into, “okay, you know, what does accountability look like? What does justice look like?” And for me, and you hear so many survivors say the same thing that it's about their safety, it's about being believed. And then it's about preventing the next victim. And we hear that continuously and continuously. And I think that's where kind of justice starts to break off from, “okay, my personal [level, to] how do we prevent this next person from being harmed” is a big kind of reckoning I think the whole world is kind of having right now because it's personal responsibility in a lot of ways of not on the victim, but on the person perpetrating these offenses. And like you said, it is often victims who go on to offend, and I'm a big believer in that statement, “hurt people, hurt people”. On the flip side, I also believe that hurt people can heal people if they do their own work. And I think that's a part of the conversation that is starting to come into play, but it's not just there yet. And I think there's also this big reckoning that injustice often lies in what you aren't doing, not only in what you are doing, right? And so it's not just what you personally do-am I perpetrating violence on another person-but it's what you tolerate others doing. How do you feel about that?
Eva: Well, I think that you have a lot of really great points. Definitely one of the big problems is that hurt people who hurt people is not an excuse or reason. And we have the power to move from being survivors to being healers or at least people who are not perpetrating the harm that has been done to us. And we have an obligation to do that, to not become abusers ourselves. And that's a really difficult thing to shoulder because it feels so unfair that you have already survived abuse and now you have a whole bunch of other work to do. That seems awful. Shouldn't it be the abuser who is doing work. But you also can't force someone else to do the work. And I think that one of the other most difficult realizations that I've come to from working with victims of abuse over the years is that you also can't save the next person and believe me the desire to stop the next victim from being a victim and to save the next person is tremendously strong because you have all of this empathy with this person because you've been where they were. And in many ways you wish that somebody had saved you. But it's not possible. You can't save everyone. And sort of the way in which I've approached this myself is through transparency and through education and through accountability, which is to say that I cannot prevent the next victim, but I can make it very easy for the next target to see how an abuser behaves and that they have a long history of abuse. And here are the people that they have abused that you might want to reach out and talk to. And this is what the pattern looks like, but I can't make your choices for you.
Kathryn: I think that's— I have chills right now because I think a lot of what we focus on here at Garbo is transparency, education, and accountability. But at the end of the day, I can only provide access to information, what you choose to do with that information I'm completely out of control of.
Eva: And abusers very frequently equate that to destroying their lives. They will say that it is vengeful and vindictive. But I think that the line between transparency, accountability and vengefulness and vindictiveness is that moment where you just go, this is what happened to me. This is my story. And you decide what you're going to do with this information. I'm not going to tell you and that's really aware where I have chosen to the line, and I understand that other people may draw the line in other places.
Kathryn: And how do you feel about seeing others perform bad actions or unjust actions, or somebody calls them offenses or crimes or whatever you want to call them. But, this idea that you are an innocent bystander to your friends the way in which that they behave or your colleagues, if you're in the workplace. Again, it's not just what your personally doing, it's what you tolerate others doing in a lot of ways. And so can you just go a little bit in[to] how do you react when you see something happening?
Eva: This is something that I wrestle with a lot because of the work that I have done in helping survivors. I am some sort of low spot in the internet where all the worst news about people just sort of pools. And so I constantly have people coming to me and telling me about abusers, about abuse that they have suffered, about bad things that people I know have done, people that I don't know have done people with very strong reputations as sort of social justice warriors. And I have to decide what I'm going to do with that. My first question is always, what would you like me to do because I really want to prioritize and to focus on the experience of the survivor. What do you want me to do? What would you need in order to feel safe and what do you need in order to feel whole, and can I provide these things for you? And sometimes when I think that they want me to sort of pull away from this person or denounce this person or something like that, often the answer that I get isn't that. More often what I get is I want you to think twice before giving this person a platform, or I just want you to know what they did, or if someone else comes to you, I want you to tell them that they're not alone. And I think that those are really important messages to listen to. So that that person's experience comes first. What I want is less important than what they want. And secondly, I think very hard about whether or not this is a first-hand account. I hear a lot of secondhand accounts of bad behavior and I take them seriously. But I take them less seriously than firsthand accounts of abuse from survivors because especially multiple firsthand accounts of abuse from survivors, I really prioritize those over sort of secondhand stories because those are the things that are most likely to get out of hand or are the least likely to be accurate. And so, I weigh them accordingly.
Kathryn: That answer is so powerful. Again, prioritizing the survivor and what they want, not your definition of justice, not what you want to do, but what do they want and why are they telling you this information and trusting you with this information to begin with? I think that's really, really powerful. And talk to a lot of victims and survivors, et cetera, especially of tech-enabled abuse. And so how has your work kind of defined or redefined justice? Before you started or before survivors started reaching out to you, et cetera, and you did this work, did you always have this definition of justice or has it kind of evolved as you've evolved?
Eva: I've really evolved on this issue. I used to have so much more belief in the power of going to the police or going to authorities or suing someone. I used to be one of those people who, if someone broke the law basically just said, well, you should sue, or you should go to the police. And then magically as if in a police procedural justice will be done. A cast of characters who are deeply devoted to law enforcement will stop at nothing until you have been avenged. And that's simply not true. I have watched so many survivors of abuse get broken on the wheel of the carceral system, of the court system, of law enforcement systems. Rape is really the only crime that I can think of in which the survivor is put on trial and I fully understand why people don't want to come forward, why they want to put this stuff behind them. Much earlier in my life, I very mistakenly thought that the people who didn't want to pursue justice in this way were weak somehow. And that's absolutely not true. I think that this is an instinct that survivors have that allow them to keep living their lives and not to live, sort of in this trauma forever. And it's a really important instinct that allows them to become whole and happy. Whereas the thing that I thought that they should do, is actually a thing that would make them not just unhappy, but would just be opening the trauma wound again, and again, and again. And again, that's not prioritizing the needs of survivors at all. That's playing into my very early ideas around what justice looked like and what the right thing to do looked like. and I think that in many ways I was just wrong. I hadn't talked to enough survivors. I wouldn't even say I didn't know enough survivors, just not enough survivors felt safe enough to tell me that their stories possibly because I was running around being a jerk saying that people who had been abused should go to the cops and that the cops will solve all of their problems. And that's simply not the case.
Kathryn: That definitely resonates with me of this idea of the traditional “justice systems perpetuating trauma and making you live in it continuously day after day after day”. And I was forced kind of, I felt forced. I did not choose to report my abuse. I don't think it's often a choice. I think sometimes it is, but oftentimes people are forced, right? You call 911 because it's an emergency. You need an order of protection to attempt to get this person to stop this behavior. And so I think I was simultaneously naïve about the justice systems and, and what justice meant. And I felt I am going to use these systems and I was very naïve thinking that they would work for me. And that's how really Garbo came to be, was like seeing how screwed up the justice systems were, how much they re-traumatize me, how hard it has been to move past this. And obviously, now I've made Garbo and gender-based violence work is part of my life holistically, but I reflect on it and I say, would I do that again. And if I was in the same scenario and I think the answer is no, honestly it has caused a lot more trauma and perpetuated a lot more harm against myself than it has healed. I've definitely not found any justice within the justice system. And I did even sue my abuser, right? To create a public record. Not really because I thought I was going to win damages there, do this, but really for me, it was, again that transparency. Telling my story was a justice eventually for me. And I know that you've went through your own experience that probably in part reshaped your definition of justice a little bit, not only your work, but your own experiences. And can you share a little bit about that if you’d like?
Eva: Well, I feel like I've told this story a lot in that I sort of made it kind of the origin story of my work. So there I was working for the electronic frontier foundation, traveling all over the world, helping journalists and activists, not be spied on by governments that they had pissed off. And one of the ways in which governments were doing this was by infecting journalists and activists with malware. And so I was working with a security researcher and we were analyzing this malware and writing reports about it. About two or three years into our writing reports. So we'd written more than a dozen reports together. We'd done a whole bunch of work together. We'd given a whole bunch of talks together. Our names were on a whole bunch of articles. It was brought to my attention that this guy was a serial rapist. He had raped a bunch of women in New Zealand where he came from and also all it turned out all over the world. He was a very busy rapist. And I read an interview with one of his survivors in, I think it was VICE. And she was absolutely terrified. She was a much younger than him. She had way less power than him. She was essentially a punk kid who had been a teenager at the time. And he was this very famous hacker who was on the news. Who'd written all of these articles who was in magazines, who was employed at big companies when he changed jobs there was a press release. And so she felt that nobody would ever believe her. And one of the things that she was most afraid of was that he would hack her phone and that he would hack her computer. And this was true of all of the people that were being interviewed by VICE for this article they were all like covering their microphones. They had stickers over there over the cameras on their laptops. And this is noted several times. And it really moved me. I didn't want anyone to be that scared again. I was personally offended that my name was next to this guy’s for ever and ever that so much of the work that I was proud of was associated with someone who had done so much harm. And I offered to help victims of sexual abuse who had been abused by hackers who were worried about their devices. I made the software on Twitter. Again, we've established that Twitter is bad and it really struck a chord in people. It was retweeted more than 10,000 times. I started getting hundreds and hundreds of requests just over the course of weeks. I still get requests from people asking me to look over their devices. And what I learned from that was largely the devices were not the problem, that a combination of stalkerware and account takeover was the problem. And I ended up starting this coalition, The Coalition Against Stalkerware, in order to solve these problems so that I would not have to sit there listening to victim after victim telling me the same story over and over and over again, but I could actually make a difference in a more systemic way. And I think that's really important because it feels good to be the superhero. I'm not gonna lie. It feels good when you're looking off into the distance moodily lit in your profile and wired, but it's not sustainable. You can't just have one person answering the phone, fixing meals of the world. You have to look at it in a systemic way. You have to think about how you can make those little tweaks to the whole goddamn system that are going to make it so that you don't hear from individual after individual after individual. And the really satisfying thing is that in recent years we've put a dent in it. And that is a lot more than most people can say with their life's work. And a lot of that really came from changing the way in which the information security industry saw stalkers. That it went from a sort of—everyone understood that it was causing harm, but it was somehow okay because there were some use cases for it that people in information security approved up and reframing it as not just leading to abuse, but abusive in and of itself, really changed the game. And, that is what led, security companies to really start taking it seriously and to flag it as malware as stuff that you don't want on your device when they see it. And so that gives you a sense of transparency. It doesn't mean that people can't buy stalkerware, it doesn't mean that people can't install stalkerware on your device. But what it does mean is if you're wondering if there’s stalkerware on your device, there are now ways to find it. And then you have the option of removing it. And again, you want to leave the option with the survivor because there are situations in which removing the stalkerware might tip-off the abuser, that you're onto them, and might lead them to escalate their abuse. So again, you just want to put all of your power, all of the decision-making in the hands of the survivor. Don't make any assumptions about what they're going to do. And don't sort of push their hand in the decision-making process. One of the most frustrating things about working with survivors is how often they go back to their abusers. And that is something that if you work with survivors, you need to be prepared for and if you're not prepared to watch that happen again, and again and again, this is the wrong line of work.
Kathryn: Everything that you're saying really, really hits home. And especially with that last point of I think what the statistic is like it takes it to an average of seven times for someone to leave a situation, an abusive situation. And it took me quite a few times to leave. And it was not a lot of like, “oh, I wanted to stay” or I saw this person as good person. A lot of it is he threatened suicide. He threatened to ruin my entire career. He threatened to tell people that I was a victim of sexual assault previously. And so it's very nuance of why people go back, why people stay. But I think it's a larger picture of just not telling a survivor what to do. It's empowering them with information and access to resources, but at the end of the day, they are a person who's entitled to make their own decisions.
Eva: Absolutely. And some of what helps is information about how abuse functions because if you are not a survivor of abuse, if this is your first rodeo, then when an abuser suddenly accuses you of being an abuser or threatens to out you in some way or threatens to commit suicide, it works. It's really effective if you've never seen these tactics before. Whereas if you've seen these tactics a thousand times and you understand that this is something that abusers do in order to keep you on the hook, then that can speed up your decision-making process a bit. So, information helps, but in the end, the decision is always up to the survivor.
Kathryn: That's that focus, that proactive prevention in our mission statement is if you don't know about these things, what these things are, if you've never experienced them, you don't know what they are, when they're happening to you. And I always give the example of love bombing. So many people have no idea what love bombing is and they view it as actually something very positive in the beginning of a relationship. And for those listeners who don't know what love bombing is, love bombing is the overextension of affection early on in a relationship. So think, giving elaborate gifts and wanting to spend so much time together and almost like summing it up as like being prince charming at the beginning of a relationship. And it feels too good to be true. And I always say, if things are too good to be, feel too good to be true, they probably are. But again, if people don't know what these things are, if they don't have the education, then they're just experiencing them. And it's hard to make sense of abuse when you're in the situation. And it's hard to have that perspective when you're so close to the problem. And I always like to say, ”it's hard to see red flags when you're wearing rose-colored glasses about a situation”.
Eva: Absolutely. It's also part of the way that popular media characterizes abuse is also just not accurate. Abusers are not abusive all the time. Abusive abusers are not abusive from day one. They don't show up with a great big sign saying, “hi, I'm a monster”. They show up telling you that you're the best thing that ever happened to them. And we don't teach people to look out for that. We don't teach people to look out for the cycle of abuse, followed by apology, followed by a charm offensive, followed by more abuse, followed by another charm offensive. And unless you're really familiar with those patterns, they're very hard to see because you're taking them at face value. And if it was a non-abusive person, you would be doing the right thing. If your abuser was an ordinary human being and not out to abuse you. And this is also one of the hardest things about coming out of abuse is that you feel like you can't trust your emotions anymore because your emotions lead you to such a very bad place. Your instincts led you astray. You thought you knew how to recognize a good person. You thought that you were a good judge of character, and then it turns out you were entirely wrong. And I certainly felt that in the situation that led me to sort of taking this on as a project, was that I thought that the person with whom I was doing research was a good person. I thought he was doing great things. We were doing good things for social justice and for journalists and for activists together. And I could point to them, those were definitely good things. And I never suspected that on the other side of that was a person who could just rape lots and lots and lots of women. I cannot overemphasize the number of most of which never came forward. I think that is another thing that we really missed when we talk about, sort of the outing process and abuse, that the number of people who actually come forward, whether anonymously under their own name or under their own name, is often just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of people who just don't want to talk about it. We want to put it behind them, for whom this is too difficult. And it's very easy for people who have never experienced abuse to assume that what they're seeing is not the tip of the iceberg, but a sort of an exaggerated one-time incident. Well, people who have seen abuse up close and personal, know that if you're seeing a little bit of it, there's a lot more to come.
Kathryn: There's actually this alarming statistic that I came across the other day that was about adolescent sex offenders, but it rings true to other studies that I've read as well, but it says, without treatment or incarceration, a sex offender perpetrates an average of 181 acts against an average of 380 victims over the course of the perpetrator's lifetime.
Eva: God damn, that's insane to me.
Kathryn: And so let's shift the narrative a little bit into this treatment and incarceration side of the conversation, like the traditional routes of justice that people think of when they hear the word justice. So just give it to me straight. What's your opinion of the criminal justice system when it comes to gender-based violence?
Eva: I think it's tremendously ineffective. And you have only to look at the statistics, the number of rapes compared to the number of rapes that get reported compared to the number of rapes that actually go to trial compared to the number of rapes that actually end in incarceration for the rapist. The number of rapists who end up going to jail for rape is vanishingly small. And so we need to figure out what to do with the rest of them.
Kathryn: And what do we do with the rest of them?
Eva: I'm going to make a very nerdy reference, back in the 90’s at the Dawn of time, when dinosaurs were roaming the earth there was a science fiction writer who still exists named Neal Stephenson. He wrote a book called “Snow Crash”. And in “Snow Crash”, governments have pretty much collapsed. And so the penal system doesn't really exist. And this means that when someone is bad, you can't just send them to jail. You can't send them to court. So what do you do with bad people? And he had a bad character and the way that the world had dealt with him was by tattooing across his forehead, poor impulse control. And I feel that in some ways, Neal Stephenson did in fact, like a good size of a cyberpunk, writer see the future, which is that sometimes transparency is all you're ever going to get. For people to know that a rapist is a rapist. For people to know that an abuser is an abuser. That a person hits or financially abuses or stalks or harasses a series of strangers or romantic partners, and then just leave the world to draw their own conclusions about what they should do about that. Sometimes that's all you're going to get and surprisingly often that is enough for the victims of abuse because it accomplishes that thing where you are seen and you are heard, and then you can move on with your life. And the person who is followed forever by the things that they have done is the abuser, which I think really puts the blame and the work in the right place.
Kathryn: I 100% agree that it is often, as you said, what kind of survivors want is just to be believed and to be listened to. And I think part of that is being able to have space to say what happened to them and in my own experience, I went to criminal court first. Well, I went to file a police report, right? In New York, they recommend filing a police report before going and getting a family court order of protection. I got my family court order protection. He violated it. And then I started not pursuing criminal court, but I just started filing a lot of police reports. Every time he violated, I go down to the police station and file another report. And eventually, I had a friend of a friend of a friend who knew the Mayor Security, who called in a favor. And not really a favor, he just said, “Hey, this guy is like stalking this girl relentlessly and you can do something about it”. And so he was arrested with I think three felonies and two misdemeanors, which eventually got pled down to a disorderly conduct. And again, for me, justice was preventing the next person, or just at least, like you said, allowing the next person to know that this person has a history of this kind of behavior and that public record of this violence was ripped away from me when it got reduced down to a disorderly conduct, which is why I then chose to sue him, right? I wanted to tell my story. I wanted for the next person to know that this person does have this behavior, but suing takes a lot of privilege and a lot of money. It's at least a $10,000 retainer, plus thousands, thousands, and thousands of dollars. I've spent over $150,000 in the justice systems to date, as a survivor. And you often hear people, like you kind of said at the beginning of this conversation, “well, why don't you just sue them?” like it's easy and it's definitely not mentally or financially easy. And so, how do you think about that system, the civil system and suing abusers?
Eva: Well, as you pointed out, it does neither easy nor cheap. And so, while that is a tool that is available to some people, that very often people who haven't thought about this problem very much think “Well, that's it. We have a problem and we have a solution for it. You just sue him, you wave a magic wand, and then justice is done.” And that's simply not the case. To begin with, even if you are extremely privileged and very rich, your guarantee of justices pretty low. And if you are neither privileged nor rich, your chances of getting justice is nearly zero. And that leaves so many people out in the cold and that's not justice. If it is justice, only for the rich, only for the powerful, only for the people who can call up the Mayor's Office, then it's not a just world. And I'm not interested in perpetuating it.
Kathryn: 100%. That privilege that it takes to sue someone, that it takes to have a friend of a friend who knew someone, to have friends who helped me pay my lawyer bill and loans me money to pay bills at times, all of this privilege is just reflective of a very, very broken system.
Eva: Yep. I think that's one of the reasons why we need to have this conversation about what justice looks like and how you can create transparency and accountability around abuse because the carceral system and the penal system and the justice system are just a joke. They are not useful for most people and they are not the tools that are going to get us to a place that will create wholeness and safety for survivors of abuse. So we need to look elsewhere.
Kathryn: And another place that folks are starting to look or at least talk about is transformative justice or restorative justice. What are your thoughts about that?
Eva: I think it's really interesting. I like the way in which restorative justice focuses on the needs of survivors. Having said that, one thing that abusers are really great at, especially in your sort of malignant narcissist, is subverting systems. Once you start evoking a system with a set of rules, it is not uncommon for the abuser to find a way to walk right up against the sort of limits of the rules without ever really going over them. And when then you end up with an encounter that is not transformative or restorative justice. And so I think it's really important to be wary of that. And again, to center the needs of the survivors over anything that the perpetrator might tell you because the perpetrator is going to do a whole song and dance about why it's really all about their pain and why it's really all about them and they've done everything they can, and really they're the victim here. And it's the job of the other people who are involved in the transformative or restorative justice process to understand how abuse works in the same way that it's really helpful for survivors of abuse to recognize abuse when it's happening because they understand what the cycle looks like. I think it's also very important for the other people who are involved in the transformative or restorative justice process to know what the cycle of abuse looks like and what an abuser looks like when they're cornered and how to continue to hold them accountable instead of just falling for their schemes.
Kathryn: Yeah. I'm honestly a little jaded when it comes to transformative or restorative justice. Now I love it in theory, right? I think it's fantastic in theory because like you said, it does center the survivor, but it requires an offender to acknowledge their behavior, be held accountable for their actions, and then heal their communities. And honestly, most people who harm just aren't willing to do that work and it is work.
Eva: I agree. I think that not only are most abusers not willing to do this work but, there are abusers who will tell you that they are absolutely willing to do this work because what they're doing is they're running out the clock. They're using up time. Time that you are spending on this process is time that they are not being held accountable and that they don't have to face what they have done, where they can sort of subvert the whole process to their own ends instead of actually doing any kind of healing or helping the survivors. So yeah, I view the whole thing with a certain kind of wariness. But I think that the more we educate ourselves and the more understand how the cycles of abuse work out, toxic personalities work, how narcissism works, the better armed we can be when it comes to holding abusers accountable. Having said that, it is often up to survivors to find a way to survive and to gain wholeness, without any help from the abuser, without the abuser ever acknowledging what they've done, without the abuser ever being held accountable, without any kind of transparency, without any help with no apology. And I think that not counting on your abuser to heal you seems like a good way to go forward because abusers don't really have a great track record of looking out for their survivors.
Kathryn: And the other form of kind of reporting or justice that comes to mind is going to the media. Like you kind of mentioned that VICE article that inspired your journey and your understanding of what was happening around you. And so how do you feel about the media and the way in which they, one report violence, and two, do you think it can be a tool to create accountability?
Eva: It depends. It depends on the media. It depends on the reporter. It depends on the nature of the abuse and it also depends on how comfortable the survivors are coming forward. I think that there are many, many ways in which going to the media can go wrong, which is one of the reasons why talking to people who have done it before talking to people who have sort of negotiated this whole landscape, prior to you is so important because there are so many pitfalls you can get outed when you did not want to be outed. You can have all kinds of information about yourself leak. You can have the whole thing turned on you. And it is actually very rare to see justice, even as a result of a media exposé. The Harvey Weinstein of this world are actually kind of rare. And even if you consider Harvey Weinstein to have been a great win for Ronan Farrow and for his victims, he got away with it for so many years. And every year that Harvey Weinstein's behavior in Hollywood was a running gag in movies. And it was an open secret among people who worked in the industry was a year in which he won and he got away with it for so many years. So I think counting on media exposure is probably not great. But there are some situations in which it can be very helpful if done correctly.
Kathryn: And what are your thoughts about outing an abuser on social media? That's definitely picked up over the last few years. I've seen just an individual posting on Twitter or Facebook, et cetera about their experiencing and naming their abuser. But you've also seen whole pages pop up or secret Facebook groups. I've seen a lot of these over the last few years that are city-specific, usually, where women it's the digital whisper network essentially, it is another form of it. What are your thoughts as social media relates to justice and accountability?
Eva: Well, I think that there is a difference between the private sort of invite-only groups and a sort of public statement, especially a public statement that names your abuser. A public statement that names your abuser potentially opens you up to a defamation lawsuit by your abuser. And that is a thing which I have seen several times. Now the truth is an absolute defense against defamation, but in the same way that, hey, just sue him is not magic. Hey, those are just the facts is also not magic. It takes money, it takes effort, it takes time and a tremendous emotional toll to defend yourself in a defamation suit, just for having told the story of your abuse. So there are people who are absolutely willing to risk it and to endure this in order to tell their stories. And I think that that's really admirable, but that it does not work for everyone. And I fully understand why this is one of the reasons why people stay quiet so often is because more often when you out an abuser, you will be the person that under scrutiny, you will be the person under attack, instead of the person that you're trying to create accountability and transparency around. And I think that the only way that we're ever going to fix that is in a much more broad societal systemic way. We need to change the way that we think about abuse. I think that there's still a stigma around abuse that blames the victim, that it's some sort of weakness on their part that it's some sort of misunderstanding and it's absolutely not.
Kathryn: It really is all a personal thing and a personal decision. Justice itself, just like safety is a very personal thing. Justice and accountability are also very, very personal things. And everyone has the right to feel and heal in whatever way serves them best. And so, is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know about justice or accountability and what it might look like for them?
Eva: That for victims of abuse, one of the most important things to know is that your ideas around justice and accountability can change over time and that's okay. No one should judge you for it. The thing that makes you feel better or that gives you a feeling of safety and wholeness, or vindication now may not be the same thing five years ago, or 10 years ago, or five years from now, or 10 years from now, or 15 years from now. And that's not just fine, it's normal, expect it. Things are going to change for you. And for people who support survivors, expect that. Have some sympathy for it. As with all other things, don't judge it. Let everybody move forward at their own pace. And don't tell them what to do or how to feel because that just doesn't work.
Reckoning is a podcast produced by Garbo, a tech non-profit building a new kind of online background check. Our executive producer is Imani Nichols with whisper and mutter. Please subscribe to the show via your favorite podcast app. And as always, please send your questions and comments to hello@Garbo.io
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