Jewish In Seattle Magazine Op-Ed
How Should We Respond to Public Figures Accused of Sexual Misconduct?
Originally published 9/23/2019 at 1:16pm
As sexual assault survivors have come forward with their experiences of trauma, our society has grappled with — and so far has not concluded — what to do about the perpetrators.
Instead of seeing a perpetrator as an indiscriminate, monstrous shadow looming in the background, we now see him in true form. This is the person who may be funny and charming and light up a room. This is the person known to us, with whom we as a community have built a trusting relationship. A person who then exploits this relationship and utilizes his powerful status to sexually harm others.
The vast majority of the time, those who sexually abuse take advantage of an established and trusting relationship. This presentation of trustworthiness not only provides the cover for violence, but it also immediately shuts down real conversations about accountability.
The fact that the narrative has, in many ways, shifted to focus on powerful men, as opposed to the people they harmed, is reflective of the problem. Society is uncomfortable seeing consequences for our known, loved figures precisely because they have the power to be known and loved. In contrast, the consequences of trauma for the countless people who have experienced abuse exist out of the spotlight.
Within Jewish Family Service’s Counseling and Domestic Violence Advocacy Program, we intimately witness the years of trauma that follow an assault. But because the survivors of these assaults are less known and less powerful, their pain is less visible. Perhaps when people find themselves asking, for instance, “are we being too harsh to Bill Cosby’s legacy?” it’s time to wonder why the conversation has so quickly shifted away from the experiences and realities of those he has harmed.