First let me say, obviously I was a victim of rape myself, so I know this is an especially icky thing to talk about and I don’t want it to be misinterpreted. Therefore I want to be very clear that I am in no way condoning any illegal, predatory or rape behavior. I believe there are consequences to everything we do and we all make choices. I believe that if people break the law, there are consequences. However, I also think that it is important to not simply demonize and write off the perpetrators as “bad or evil” people. If we resort to casting people off, we are doing the same thing that was done to us.
As Brene Brown says in her book Braving the Wilderness
“There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and the left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization- the primary instrument in violence that has been used in ever genocide recorded throughout history.”
It may make us feel good temporarily, to write people off…we think, “these are bad men, they will pay for their mistakes and never hurt anyone again,” but ultimately, it fuels the issue because this provides no solution to the systemic problem.
You may want to snap your laptop shut or click out of this article right now…I feel you. When I first heard the news about Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer, my initial response was honestly “this can’t be true,” followed by anger and hatred. As I went about my days I was hit by the question, what would I do if this person were my CLIENT? What if this was my boyfriend or father? How would I cultivate empathy? As a therapist, I am clear that empathy and understanding are the most important tools we have. People do not get well when they are ridiculed and de-humanized. People get well when they are seen, heard and given an opportunity for healing and forgiveness.
I talked to one of my good friends who is a social worker about this topic and she said something so insightful, “Do we let a behavior define someone for the rest of their lives or do we teach them how to be better so that they can set an example for future generations?” I believe this is the ultimate question, how we respond right now is important because it will set the precedents for how we deal with such issues. The first part of that standard is being set. It is clear, no longer can men abuse their power in the workplace and get away with it. However, now we have a new standard to set. How do we create a culture where men don’t do that in the first place?
From what I’ve seen, the few brave men that have come forward and admitted faults have been scrutinized and shamed, even threatened, rather than acknowledged and appreciated. This only leads to more hiding, denial and shame, which equals less healing for everyone. What I do think so that everyone deserves compassion and understanding. “Hurt people hurt people” as the saying goes, and publicly crucifying people, even rapists, doesn’t diminish the rape culture epidemic. In fact, I would argue it fuels it.
In grad school, I was taught that it is possible to cultivate compassion and empathy for anyone by getting curious and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It’s definitely not easy, especially with a subject matter like this. It takes true COURAGE and VULNERABILITY to lean into the messiness, the discomfort and the unknown. We need to be sensitive to each other and seek to understand, rather than fall back into what is familiar and safe, like anger and frustration.
Maybe it’s just because I am a therapist, but I really make it my mission in life to look for the WHY behind someone’s behavior. I invite you to take on these questions…
What is the person going through?
What pain are they in?
Why do they feel like this is the best way to act?
What are they getting out of acting in this manner?
Imagine if a young guy, felt safe enough to go to someone and say, “hey I messed up, I think I did something bad and I need to talk to someone.” That could put an end to many more people being hurt, raped, taken advantage etc. We all make mistakes, of course some of them are much more extreme, harmful and dire than others. Of course there are also consequences to every mistake we make. However, as a person in recovery, I can tell you I have made many mistakes. I lied, cheated and stole during my active addiction.
I was able to heal and transform through being given the opportunity to hold myself accountable for my mistakes, forgive myself, as others for forgiveness and do whatever it took to make things right.
I see the transformation that happens on a daily basis, when people are seen, heard and given the space to forgive themselves. We can’t just talk about what is wrong, but we need to talk about what these men can do to make it right and how we can create a societal shift to prevent these situations from happening again.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Sources: Brown, Brene. (2017). Braving the Wilderness. The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC.