“Men sexually harassed because they could. Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can.” ~ Salma H.
Salma actually responds to the most important question these allegations bring up in this very last sentence of her essay (linked below).
I have mixed feelings about these slew of allegations we’re seeing. I don’t agree with the subtle encouragement to wait until years later when you feel removed enough to accuse someone, rightly or wrongly, for something they did to offend you years ago. Life or death issues aside. That’s a different level of crime.
Now remember I work with victims, and I am a survivor myself. But I’m also a therapist and agent of change. I see things from all sides. I do think it’s important to call a spade a spade, and to express compassion for all, but I’d also like to see people respond more honestly to situations like these.
It takes courage to come out and talk about these stories in public. For these persons to really put this behind them and heal from the potential traumatic impact, it is also important for them to admit that they were seeking something in return. That they chose not to give up on their dream or lose their investment or feel embarrassed and perhaps ostracized. Even if that outcome doesn’t seem fair, it was still their choice to respond the way they did rather than call their offenders out at the time.
I don’t judge them for their choices AT ALL, but I also think there’s a lot of displacement of guilt happening rather than admitting: “I didn’t like what he asked me to do, but I was willing to do whatever it took to get what I wanted as well. I could have walked away and chosen to lose everything,” … not a nice outcome but still a choice. And you know what there are plenty of survivors that did chose the latter, but we probably don’t hear their stories. Nor do we hear the stories of the “survivors” who don’t feel like victims because they made peace with their choices somewhere along the line.
Sexual harassment is like the adult version of “child sexual abuse.” It’s not always penetrative, the victim can have some level of consent or agency and/or choice. The difference is that minors CAN NEVER CONSENT. Their brains haven’t developed enough nor have they socially matured enough to process moral ambiguity or manipulative tactics. However, as an adult, the brain is mature enough to handle moral decision making. Adult victims of sexual harassment have different cognitive capacities then minors. We have to make sure we aren’t enabling adults to bypass moral resolution or rationalize morally questionable behavior.
Watch my TEDxTalk on Sexual Abuse here
My position is holistic. It’s difficult to find resolution in such complex offenses; perhaps we can accept that blame is not useful here. Can we consider responsibility instead? Responsibility can be shared, it’s not a black and white dualistic construct. We all share some responsibility.
In her disclosure I hear her taking some responsibility, but public expectation is for her to play the victim. What we need is a more balanced perspective and an acceptance of the grey areas.
Click on the picture for the article from the New York Times