This week’s topic is a sensitive one, and I realize that by addressing it I’m playing with fire, not to mention a big damn powder keg. And so, in the spirit of Wile E Coyote, I figure I’d light it up and see what happens. All jokes aside though, I will attempt to be as considerate as possible.
“Creepy” is very commonly applied label, and there’s a good reason for that; a lot of people truly earn the title with their disrespectful and malicious behaviour. As somebody who is generally not the target of such conduct, I realize I’m not qualified to tell anybody how they should feel about it. In fact, I applaud the courage of those who deal with this crap, and I feel we should all call this behaviour out when we see it.
Having said that, I think it’s very easy for social awkwardness to come across as more sinister than it really is. People on the autism spectrum, for example, can find it very challenging to understand social etiquette and boundaries. They may be trying very hard to socialize appropriately, and may not realize that their behaviour is being interpreted as rude or “creepy”.
Now, I’m not saying this should get anybody a free pass. All I’m suggesting it that, in the case of someone who genuinely means well but may not be expressing themselves appropriately, all it can take is to explain their mistake to them. They may very well stop immediately, take this feedback on board, and be very apologetic.
Of course, you’ll get some who will refuse to accept they were in the wrong and try to blame the person calling them out; sadly, there are unpleasant people both on and off the spectrum. But while I firmly believe in taking a stand against “creepy” conduct, and that nobody should have to put up with it, I don’t think our first line of defence need always be unmitigated hostility. By giving somebody the chance to recognize that they are in the wrong and correct their behaviour, we can potentially de-escalate the situation, and address the problem without crushing those who may genuinely have meant no harm. Education can often get better results than punishment.