I usually don’t write about current events. I do that on purpose. I want to keep the focus on recovery.
Too much focus on current events can be triggering. Triggers can be helpful in recovery by giving us access to our emotions, but they can also shut us down if they come too fast and furious. That said, I have been feeling a strong urge to ask a question about the reactions to the sexual harassment allegations in recent months. And I can’t avoid it any longer. Why is everyone so shocked?
I have noticed many posts on social media and announcements in mainstream media themed with shock and dismay. They don’t understand how there could be so much of this going on. How could so many people be unaware of it? How could it have been missed for so long? The abuser seemed like such a nice person. How did they get so successful and powerful when they were such a bad person? But all of these questions seem incredibly naïve to me. I just don’t get how the denial has run this deep for so long. Actually I do get it. It is convenient to deny it. It is convenient to ignore it. It is convenient to victim blame.
So today, I am going to clear up some of this shock with my own explanations. For those who read my blog regularly, you probably know this already. But this post may be something you can share with your shocked friends.
- Most people who knew the abuser and the victims were aware of this. Some were aware of it for a long time. But they chose to look the other way. Why? Self preservation. It is easier to ignore it. It is less risky. There is less chance of retaliation. They won’t have to initiate a fight with this powerful person (which they are likely to lose). They need this powerful person in their life. They are even potentially reliant upon them for their success. They don’t want to get a reputation among other abusers as a whistle-blower. And what if it’s not true? What if they were imagining it? They will look crazy. The abuser might make them look crazy anyway. Society doesn’t like crazy people.
- The abuser is powerful and successful for a reason. Bad people are often powerful and successful. We have a crazy belief in society which is perpetuated by abusers. That belief states that successful and powerful people are that way because they deserve it. They worked hard for it. They are golden children who are smiled upon by a higher power. They are better than others. Successful and powerful people want us to believe this. If we believe this, we will see them as deserving of their elevated role in society, even see them as a higher caliber of human being. This facilitates further accumulation of power on their part which is the goal. Sexual harassment is not about an addiction to sex. It is about an addiction to power. So of course powerful people would do this. (I do understand there are successful people in the world who are truly helping others. We need many more of them.)
- The abuser appears nice for a reason. Abusive people are desperately trying to look like everyone else. Their mask is extremely strong. It needs to be to cover up their indiscretions and bad behavior. Often they will appear nicer than others who don’t need the same mask. When those abusers are famous, it is even more important to wear their mask when they are in public. If everyone believes them to be nice, they will look the other way when the behavior doesn’t support that reputation. If everyone believes them to be nice, they will be less likely to believe the victim. This is the strategy and it works.
But over the past few months, there is something that is shocking me. I am shocked that people are listening to the victims and taking action. Don’t get me wrong, I see that it is highly selective. The victims are rich, famous, white adults. Society does love privilege. And while companies are firing media personalities to safeguard their profits, politicians seem to be sticking around. But it is still different. It is a starting point. Maybe some abusers are thinking it might not be so easy in the future. Maybe some abusers are considering whether they can still be safe behind their power and their “nice mask”. Maybe society is just a tiny bit less accepting of the denial. More importantly, maybe victims are giving more thought to speaking out about their experiences. And while we have a long way to go, particularly when powerful people are sexually abusing children, maybe this is a start.
So when you hear the shock and dismay reaction, take a few minutes to educate. If people can understand that it works like this, if they can see this is normal, they might notice things they haven’t before. They won’t be so quick to look the other way or dismiss the claims of a victim. Let’s use this as a foundation for a new normal where denial is not acceptable and victims are not blamed and the powerful are not invincible. It is time for change. And we will be the change-makers.
“The world will be saved by the Western woman.” Dalai Lama
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW