We are currently experiencing a sea change in terms of the number of victims coming forward accusing successful, powerful, and narcissistic men of sexual harassment, assault, and sexually inappropriate behaviors. These despicable practices are being employed by a diverse range of professionals: politicians, actors, movie producers, news anchors, and television executives. The common denominator is the confluence of delusional feelings of entitlement and immunity, combined with the fear instilled in their victims that their present and future careers and livelihoods will be threatened if they speak up or refuse to comply. The additional fear that the victim will not be believed or their silence or compliance will be misinterpreted as “willing participation” has helped to fuel this exploitation and abuse since the early days of the “casting couch.”
Although I am heartened by the domino effect of these disclosures, it’s a powerful and sad reminder that it’s a pervasive and rampant problem. Clearly, it’s an issue that has long gone unchecked, enabled, and kept underground. In many cases, it’s shocking to hear that staff members and colleagues knew about sexually exploitive behaviors long before anything was disclosed. A culture of “looking the other way” or maintaining “open secrets” of sexual misconduct is a culture that is just as culpable in promoting and passively participating in that exploitation. In addition, when secret funds made up of taxpayers’ money are being used to cover up and settle allegations the collusion continues.
As we focus on processing with clients their outrage and disappointment … we should also remember to address the positive and powerful impact of speaking up and speaking out.
The good news is these disclosures are not being kept hidden. They’re being transparently reported in the media. However, we also know that the media’s voyeuristic reporting of these disclosures can be profoundly triggering for clients:
- reactivating their own abuse memories;
- tearing down their already fragile ability to trust, creating distorted dichotomous thinking that says, “all men are predators,”
- or exacerbating their sense of the world being a fundamentally unsafe place.
If our clients have never spoken out about their trauma and abuse, that reluctance was rooted in legitimate fear. And frankly, until now, allegations and disclosures were not adequately supported on a familial or societal level. I am hopeful that the courage these male and female victims are demonstrating, along with the surprisingly swift consequences befalling the perpetrators, can be a source of inspiration for our clients.
We are all struggling to process the pervasiveness of the problem as well as a sense of betrayal and shock when “beloved,” admired, or trusted public figures like Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, or Matt Lauer are unearthed as predators. As we focus on processing with clients their outrage and disappointment, and help them navigate their personal triggers, we should also remember to address the positive and powerful impact of speaking up and speaking out. Perhaps this avalanche of brave disclosures and the admissions of perpetrator guilt will encourage our clients to bravely share their experiences, too.