Follow-up Statement Regarding Santino Hassell & Apology
A few days ago I posted a preliminary statement regarding Santino Hassell. At the time, given what I was still learning about the sheer extent of the accounts and accusations being made against him, I kept my statement fairly straightforward while I examined the information more thoroughly.
First, I’m deeply sorry so many people were hurt through the actions of Santino Hassell. I’m even more sorry for the people I hurt by publicly vouching for him and by making his accusers less credible. I recognize my platform and position as an author gave me the power to influence and/or harm people, and I’m sincerely sorry for the damage I caused.
Now that I’ve read accounts and had numerous conversations, I’m completely dismayed by what I’ve learned and the gaslighting and manipulation I’ve seen described. It’s led me to reexamine every conversation or interaction SH and I ever had, and while doing so, I recognized a disturbing pattern of behavior, of lying and pitting friends against each other, that’s made me realize I never truly knew the person behind the name.
As I said before, I do not condone or excuse gaslighting, coercion, manipulation, or harassment. I’m horrified by the idea that someone I trusted and considered a friend could behave in such a manner—and that I could have been ignorant for so long.
I believe the people who’ve come forward, and I’m sorry it took me so long to say so, and that my support of SH helped to harm them.
I took Santino Hassell at face value. Like many people, I believed what he told me. When he claimed people were trying to harm him and his family, I blocked accounts without engaging or looking into them too deeply out of respect for his privacy. A couple of months back, when he posted pictures of his face, I spoke up on behalf of the person I thought I knew—because at the time, I believed him. I sincerely regret that my support of him caused people to cast their own doubts aside and made others more vulnerable to his manipulations.
When SH mailed me a paperback a year or two ago containing an invoice that listed a male name, I kept that name private, as I would’ve done for any other person, because I’d never give out anyone’s legal name under any circumstances without their express permission. The name didn’t raise any red flags or hold any particular significance to me, beyond the fact that I assumed it was his because it was tucked into the book. Earlier this year, when we drew up a legal contract for the series we’d intended to self-publish—which has now been cancelled—SH signed that contract using the same male name I’d previously learned.
In all the time I’d known SH online, we only ever hung out in person during one trip—the weekend we and some friends spent as a group in New Orleans this past November. Back then, I had no reason to suspect SH was anyone but who he claimed to be, or that I was writing the book with anyone other than the person I believed him to be—a bisexual man, who’d published books I loved and who’d told me he lived with a roommate.
We plotted Bishop’s Move through a series of chats. We wrote our sections from our respective locations, in separate states. We never wrote together on FaceTime or on Skype or in the same place at the same time. Even when we had writing marathon days, it was me looking at my screen, working on my own chapters, in my own home, and checking in via chat. So, as much as it humbles me to think I could have been so thoroughly fooled by someone, I have to acknowledge that I can in no way be certain who was behind the keyboard on SH’s end throughout the writing process. The entire time we were writing and editing, I assumed I was working with the man I’d met, the man who signed our coauthor contract.
I’ve been publishing M/M romance since 2011, and I have so much love and appreciation for my readers and the friends I’ve made in the community. Please know, I would never knowingly engage in any type of deception. Nor would I ever risk damaging my career or my reputation by trying to cover up for anyone, nor by helping someone perpetuate a false identity. I value my readers and friendships too much for that, and if I’d had any suspicions that SH wasn’t who he claimed to be before we started, or at any point during the process itself, I never would have started writing with him or continued doing so. I would never intentionally try to harm anyone. But I realize my intentions are meaningless in these circumstances. Only the impact of my actions matter—and I know my actions caused people to believe SH and made them disbelieve his accusers. For that, again, I’m profoundly sorry.