So this Hollywood media mogul named Harvey Weinstein spent years getting away with predatorial sexual behavior — because everyone wanted something from him, and because everyone assumed his power made him untouchable. Right up until he wasn’t.
It really couldn’t be any more appropriate for this to be the news cycle during October’s Abuse Awareness Month.
On Thursday, October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an expose stating that Weinstein had paid off victims to keep them silent. Nobody’s been talking about anything since. New information has poured out from the cracks of celebrity society every day. Hollywood is agog with condemnation for the man who got caught acting out a real life version of the same kind of lifestyle glorified and glamorized by every movie and hit song.
Why now? #becauseMONEY, of course… “They aren’t turning on Weinstein because they suddenly found out what he was like. They always knew. They’re turning on Weinstein because America found out what he was like… Exiling one mogul won’t bury this question: If people realize the system is exploitative and inhuman, will they still watch movies?” (USA Today)
Suddenly, it’s cool to take a stand against sexual abuse. That’s niiiiice….
But if the moral outrage were genuine, celebrities would have stood up against Hollywood’s pervasively predatorial culture all along. I could pen a blistering post about why this is only happening now instead of all the years Weinstein and men like him have been taking advantage of vulnerable young women (and maybe men), but what good would that do?
Sexual abuse is, at its core, the abuse of power. It’s not a sex problem, it’s a heart problem. The many and varied ways to abuse power — including sex — have been with humanity since the onset of the very first sin. So stop acting shocked everybody — this is nothing new. Feigned moral outrage gets our culture nowhere. What matters, is what we do with this teachable moment. How we move forward with the next steps…
Awareness is good.
Awareness is a first step.
Awareness alone is a paltry response.
But awareness can help reverse the assumption that abuse is a rare occurrence. That’s the mentality behind the #MEtoo social media blitz with women everywhere courageously admitting on a public forum that they too have experienced assault/abuse/molestation and they aren’t going to keep going along with the status quo of silence.
I’ve had male friends who simply don’t get it, and who respond to my passion for anti-abuse advocacy with comments like, “Well… maybe you just hang out with a lot of broken women.” The #MEtoo campaign is a great way to show the world that this is pretty much EVERY WOMAN OUT THERE, not just a select few.
The difference is — my tribe stopped cowering in silence.
There’s this pervasive attitude among the non-abused, that “X person hasn’t made ME feel unsafe, so obviously, you feeling unsafe must be in your head.” Kind of like vultures discussing whether or not their pals the eagles are predators, just because Mouse told them so. But since eagles don’t makes vultures feel scared, Mouse must surely be making it up.
This commitment to blindness is nowhere clearer than Ryan Gosling’s tweet about his own level of oblivion. At least he has the nerve to admit it.
But “real accountability and change” is hard stuff. Real accountability means being willing to accept that some otherwise charming and powerful people — people you’d like to stay friends with — are going to be proven guilty. Like Weinstein…
Regardless of Hollywood’s dubious motives in speaking out against abuse culture — this is an incredible, teachable moment for those who work in advocacy against abuse every single day without all the limelight this current reality brings. It’s a golden opportunity to educate, before the news cycle shifts to the next distraction…
I like how Tom Ziglar put it:
Some say, “Everyone has the right to feel safe,” in regard to the Harvey Weinstein news. It sums up what many believe about society’s evils: racism, bullying, prejudice, abuse… But what if we reworded it to: “Everyone has the responsibility to make others feel safe.”
Which place is safer — a room of 9 friends and 1 stranger who all have a right to feel safe, or the same group who all take seriously the responsibility to make each other safe?
That’s really where change-making starts. With those who do hold power taking personal responsibility – male and female – to reject silence and purposefully stand in the gap between predators and victims. To make it their human obligation to create environments where others know they are safe. But how do we make that happen?
Step one: Bring abuse into the light.
Abuse creates fear.
Abuse brings trauma, and terror, and a deep-seated belief that since no one stood up for you or stopped it from happening before, no one will believe if you now if you speak out. The #MEtoo firestorm is a great public way to push back against that. But that’s not enough.
My advocacy colleague, Nicole Parker, has a mantra:
What you do not confess, you can not repent.
What you do not repent, you repeat.
But we also have to realize that as a recipient of abuse it’s paralyzingly difficult to go to someone who can tangibly help you, tell them a current + shameful + painful story, and be vulnerable enough to ask them for support and help. Not least because you have no idea if they’ll believe you, or side with your abuser. After all, abusers tend to be far more charming and persuasive than their victims. Which leads us to step two:
Step two: Stop minimizing.
Abuse of all kinds is rooted in disrespect for other human beings, and the mis-use of power. Power over someone’s body, or their mind, or their emotions… Abuse that isn’t rape and doesn’t leave visible bruises is no less terrorizing.
Verbal and emotional abuse IS physical abuse…
of the brain and organ tissues.
Abuse happens far less in a balance of power, or between fully equal individuals. It is the imbalance of power in a corrupted soul that lends itself to dominating another human being and taking pleasure in removing their personhood and free will for one’s own satisfaction or gain. Weinstein is merely one example where young actresses needed his approval in order to move ahead in their careers, and he felt justified to abuse his great power over them.
But abuse of power is also highly prevalent among faith communities where additional power is handed to male leaders, and women are doctrinally encouraged to show “submissiveness”. This unbiblical power-over model vilifies anyone who speaks out about men who abuse their power or control or leadership.
This faith-based arena is where I spend a lot of time — mentoring women who have been abused by church leaders, by pastor-husbands, by those in positions of perceived spiritual power. Most often, the perpetrator appears to be a wonderful, charming, dedicated, spiritual person in public. This adds to the pressure to stay silent — because women are convinced that anyone they tell will view them with contempt.
Step three: Love abusers well.
The unpopular activity of pointing out abuse is often categorized as “unloving”, which means nobody ever says or does anything to make it stop.
Silence allows abuse to continue unchecked — which is actually the MOST UNLOVING THING YOU CAN DO for the abuser. It means abusers aren’t faced with their need to confess, nor with the expectation of genuine repentance. When church leaders prided themselves on mocking Mary Magdalene’s sexual abuse, Jesus sent them packing by writing their sins in the dust, and exposing them in a public forum.
Letting someone continue hurting others and sinning with impunity IS NOT LOVE.
And the longer it is allowed to continue, the more victims will accumulate.
Jesus preached this message with intensity.
Three different gospels (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2) quote Christ’s philosophy on those who abuse their power and the trust placed in them by “little ones” (the original language could be interpreted as both ‘children’ or ‘those of lesser power’). Jesus’ solution is that it would be better for the perpetrator to be dead.
Hardline stance? Just a wee bit.
But this firmness implies that Jesus knew something about the level of soul-corruption that comes when power goes to someone’s head and they no longer value trust that vulnerable innocents place in them. Nowhere is that more pervasive than in cases of sexual abuse.
No one is beyond the transforming power of the gospel, but power corrupts, and when a cycle of power-abuse has taken root — it is rare for an abuser to submit to powerlessness and to fully transform back into a safe person.
Back in 1998, the Department of Justice practitioner’s guide for treating incarcerated male sex offenders indicated statistics that 80 percent or more of sex offenders re-offend. Meaning, the recidivism rate is sky high, and the rehabilitation rate of those who act out their lust for power through sexually predatory behaviors, is terrifyingly low. Combine this with the fact that sexual abuse, molestation, and rape are extremely under-reported across the board, and the statistics are even scarier.
But what we often fail to acknowledge — even in faith-based circles — is that abuse of every kind is never merely about altering dangerous behaviors to safer ones.
Abuse is a heart issue.
Just like salvation is a heart issue, so sinning through any abuse of power is a heart issue. The longing for power and self-exaltation originated with Lucifer and it is no less devilish now — not even when the world may endorse certain socially accepted interpretations of it. The character of God that Jesus exhibits to us, stands in counter-cultural opposition to power-seeking — because Jesus Christ set Himself aside and took the lowest place to serve with God-honoring humility.
Abusive behaviors and their resulting disrespect toward the personhood of another human being, are in direct opposition to the example of Christ. Without authentic heart change, behavior modification is merely a facade to be maintained when people with greater power than the abuser are watching.
Does that mean God can’t change the heart of an abuser? Of course not.
But silence in the face of abuse cuts a direct path to allowing it to continue, rather than bringing it to light so the offender begins to feel the full weight of consequences from their choices. Silence prevents victims from being supported into healing and recovery.
Weinstein may be this news cycle’s poster boy for the heinous fallout of abuse — but when the kerfuffle dies down, there will still be perpetrators who flew under the radar and victims who need to be heard. The question is, when Hollywood isn’t talking about it, and #MEtoo is no longer trending on Twitter — will you still be standing in the gap and speaking out?