Alyssa Milano , Kesha, Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gabrielle Union, Barry Crimmins, Anna Paquin, Javier Munoz, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Patricia Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Evan Rachel Wood, Ashley Judd and I all share something in common, and it wasn’t our early 1990s love for New Kids on the Block (well, maybe all share that, too). More commonly, we are just a few of the many who can say, “Yeah, #MeToo.”
Unfortunately, accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault aren’t the outliers. They’re universal experiences. The reported numbers are far lower than actual numbers. Why, then, does society treat those on the receiving end of these unsolicited acts as some weird, freakish anomalies?
Silenced Into Shame: #MeToo
It seems many neck-in-the-sand people are ignorant of how their reactions serve as silencers on abuse disclosures. For example, some of “friends,” falling into the mythological “just desserts” theory trap assuming victim’s mistakes caused their victimization. These folks think themselves smarter, wiser, persons, and they make authoritative judgments about what they didn’t experience:
“No, no–he didn’t really ‘assault’ you … I can assure you, that never happened … he only touched you once … he admitted that he touched you inappropriately and I have to forgive him … I can’t judge him for something he did in the past … no, I didn’t know about that [other] time … are you sure you didn’t just put yourself in a bad situation … it was so long ago … well, it was just two times … you didn’t tell me [back then] it happened more than once, so why should I believe you now … no, I can assure you, he has no other victims … well, no, I don’t actually know [if he has other victims] … I don’t get why you’re bringing this up now … well, it is a little weird he [just a few years ago] named his child [my first name] … no, I don’t know why he named his child [my first name] … maybe you should ask his wife … I thought [the naming of his child] was a slap in the face to his wife … his wife’s the one who should really be upset, not you … well, there’s no reason he shouldn’t volunteer around children, he’s a father, you were a teenager when he did that to you, not a child … people who touch children are the real sex offenders … he only did it once … you act like it was horrific, like he raped you … there was no penetration … did you ever tell him his coming into your [home and around your child in recent years] made you feel uncomfortable … maybe you should just talk to him … I don’t agree with involving [the community] … I question your motives … seems to me this is a great platform for your career … he isn’t like Bill Cosby because Bill Cosby’s victims couldn’t fight back … well, if you were asleep, then, I guess that is worse … what happened to [me, my husband, etc.] was real abuse, way more traumatic than anything you ever experienced … you need to just go to therapy like everybody else and deal with this privately … I believe you, but we’re good friends [with the offender and his wife], though, so this is tough for me … even though I don’t support you in this, it doesn’t change the way I feel about you ….”
These responses aren’t unique to a few of my so-called friends. They’re classic responses to disclosures of sexual assault when the offender isn’t a stranger. The assault endured wasn’t as minimal as my above friends would have liked me and others believe (I should point out these were mutual friends of both mine and the offender, and to understand the fullness of the minimization and marginalization you should read my letter to the offender here for the full account). Yet, experience had taught me this offender had a propensity to wound–he’d undressed me in a locked, moving car, put one hand down my shirt, another hand up my pants, tried to get into the elastic of my underwear–all while his friend continued driving the car. Yes, I was conditioned for that danger. What I wasn’t prepared for was being abandoned, disregarded, devalued, and assassinated by the people I held dearest to my heart–my trusted, lifelong friends.
Truth Hijacked: #MeToo
Especially appalling (disgusting) was how others would hijack the truth and twist, distort, or reshape it into something more palatable for them (read my post ‘Only Touching’ for more on this). What’s sad is, just as I always suspected, more alleged victims have apparently come forward. This type of truth twisting isn’t only hurtful to the victims who come forward–it’s naïve, it creates public danger, and it puts unsuspecting individuals in harm’s way.
We need to stop hijacking others’ experiences. Sexual harassment and assault survivors aren’t lottery winners. There are no prizes, jackpots, handed out to persons who brave speaking about their most private, personal traumatic experiences. There’s no service medal given to those who make themselves publicly vulnerable, who risk their lifelong communities, families, and friends.
Health Harmed: #MeToo
Sexual assault isn’t a club. It’s not a competition. There’s no “real” sexual assault, “pseudo” sexual assault, or “quasi” sexual assault. It’s all real. It’s all traumatic. It’s life. Deal with it. Each single act of assault is a traumatic violation of personal autonomy. Period.
“Lenore Terr, a child psychiatrist who did the first longitudinal study of traumatized children writes, ‘psychic trauma occurs when a sudden, unexpected, overwhelming intense emotional blow or a series of blows assaults the person from outside. Traumatic events are external, but they quickly become incorporated into the mind.'”
Sexual assault has many immediate and lasting effects on victims. It effects the victim’s physical, psychological, emotional, social health. It is a public health problem–not a personal health issue. The level of trauma victims suffer depend on many factors:
- Age of Victim & Duration of Assault(s): The greater a person’s exposure to trauma, the more of an impact it will have on a person’s social, physical, and psychological development. This means those who are very young and those who endure multiple, longer episodes of assault have their physiological survival system permanently altered. Not only does it alter the victim, though. Research shows it alters the physiological systems of the victim’s offspring, too. Yeah, impacts of violence are that far reaching.
- Circumstances of the Assault(s): The more sudden and unexpected an attack, the higher the threat of physical danger associated with attack (e.g., physical confinement, use of force or weapons, etc.), and the more an actor exposes a victim to social, public, or community harm, the greater the impact.
- State of the Victim When Assault(s) Occurred: Victims who were mentally incompetent, drugged, sleeping, very young, or otherwise incapacitated are more likely to suffer greater neurochemistry changes in their responses to dangerous situations. Humans, like many other biological species, naturally adapt to situations they are powerless to change. Their bodies involuntarily become tonically immobile. This adaptation causes later social, sexual, and immune system impairments.
- Response of Others Following Assault & Disclosure: Sexual assault is a public problem–not a private problem–where public community and institutional response to disclosed assaults directly impact victims’ recovery, health, and well-being. Negative reactions, in the form of interrogations, displaced anger, and/or disbelief, become secondary assaults on the victim. This multiplies and compounds the trauma.
“Often victims of sexual violence are simply not believed. These circumstances make it much more difficult for victims to seek help and recover from their experience.”
Each case of sexual harassment and assault is a problem with our society, our culture. It’s a problem with our media, our entertainment, our workplaces, our churches, our universities, our K-12 schools, our military, our sports leagues–it’s a problem with us.
Blamed For Someone Else’s Actions: #MeToo
It’s a problem with how we respond when brave victims come forward to expose abuse. You can see the problem in this Corey Feldman interview on The View. When Corey Feldman speaks of the abuses he and his deceased friend, Corey Haim, endured as children, Barbara Walters levies this attack to shame him: “You’re damaging an entire industry.”
No, Barbara, Corey Feldman didn’t damage the industry. He shouldn’t be the one apologizing. Actors who commit violent sexual crimes damage the industry. Actors who commit violent sexual crimes damage our communities, institutions, businesses, schools, churches, and homes.
But–real talk–the blame doesn’t end with the sick, disturbed violent actors whose hands violate others. No. There’s some culpability to be shared by those, like Barbara Walters here and my friends above, the compliant, complicit “shamers.” Yes, to you who’ve stuck your necks in the sand when confronted with direct evidence of sexual assault, only to stick your nose in a victim’s disclosure later, those who’ve responded to victims either with detrimental arrogance or cool indifference, those who’ve withheld authentic support–you are culpable. You are part of the reason someone out there’s social media status reads #MeToo. You have permanently scarred. You have compounded trauma. It’s on you. It’s on me. #itsonus
And–real talk–to the friend who couldn’t “support” me, but who said it didn’t “change the way [she felt] about” me? It is obvious, you never knew me. If you did, you wouldn’t have to question my motives. Your dismissive words show how little you valued me, and that hurt. But that doesn’t even bother me anymore. What does bother me is your recklessness left others at risk. I told you there were other victims. I hope you watch the Kesha video below because, yes, my old friend, I’m praying for you. You don’t have to answer to me, but you will have to answer to a higher authority one day. #thatsonyou
Taking a Stand & Changing the Culture: #MeToo
Below, I leave you with these three videos. May you watch, not to judge, not to condemn, but to empathize. It is far easier to prevent this crime than to heal those broken by it. 1. Lady Gaga’s official video for “Til It Happens To You.” 2. Kesha’s official video for “Praying.” 3. Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens To You” at the Oscars (with sexual assault survivors joining her on stage).