It feels never ending. The flood of women accusing men of sexual harassment and assault. It didn't start with Harvey Weinstein. But his accusation last month, finally crossing the too steep threshold of publicity and concreteness, was a levy failure. It won't end with Louis C.K. either. The prevalence and momentum behind this issue has forced this to the front of mind for many, myself included.
I've never been more aware of the prevalence of the threat women face, especially in the workplace. And, as a man, I'm clumsily trying to figure out what my responsibility is in relation to these situations. And unfortunately, my responsibilities can be be terrifyingly immediate.
Someone close to me was recently sexually assaulted. Myself, the victim, and the assaulter all work for the same company. It happened outside of work. The victim no longer works in the same location, but the assaulter and I work in the same place. I see the assaulter around at work sometimes. That's as specific as I'll be.
This is a situation that I don't want to ignore. I can't if I tried. I have to see them around work, reminded every time of the horrendous violation they committed against someone I care about. I very rarely get angry, but I often have a strong impulse to just publicly, loudly, in the middle of an office, proclaim their crime for all to hear. That would probably be the least helpful thing.
But what can I do? I'd love to report them to HR. Name them and use the system to execute justice. But these systems so often fail. And if it does, I've taken my one chance to no avail. What escalation is there after that? And if it does fail, the situation becomes more dangerous and fraught. And what a powerful statement to the abuser that they can get away with it, that they are safe, accepted, above consequence. Even direct professional channels of justice are not powerful enough to combat a mere scumbag without boundaries.
Admittedly, all this is about me and my response to the situation. But it shouldn't be. The person in this whose wellbeing matters is the victim. My decisions and priorities need to be subordinate to their own. Any action I take against the abuser will inevitably have some consequence for the victim as well. I can't force a victim to relive their trauma because I didn't allow my discomfort to remain secondary to their pain.
But I worry about others. I don't want this abuser to be a danger to anyone else. Can any action I take against them be protective of others? Anything short of a loud and public outing will still leave others vulnerable to their threat.
A common theme of the celebrity accusations lately has been the open secret. Weinstein, CK, Spacey, etc. have all been whispered and talked about for many years. It didn't take much familiarity with them as public figures to know that people were afraid of them, to know who they truly were. This is not the case with this abuser. They've been an acquaintance of mine for years. There are no whispers, rumors, or group chats of women warning each other. Everyone who knows them sees them as a normal dude. I see them as an otherwise normal dude who sexually assaulted my friend.
The dawning awareness, the dismantling of my naiveté, that there are plenty of sexual-assaulting normal dudes, is another driver behind my impulse to do something. I want it to be normal behavior, standard procedure, to learn about an abuser and report them. I want to encourage and build the pattern so that next time I discover one of these people, I can take action more easily. So others can take action more easily for their first time or next time. My work is full of normal dudes. How many of them have sexually assaulted their friends? How many more times will I face this crisis?
I feel like I have an opportunity to do something here. To contribute in a small way to my corner of the world. It's a shame that I do not know how to take appropriate action in this situation. But I hope, through not ignoring the problem and focusing on the victim's needs and not my own desire for justice, that I can contribute to a solution. I hope I never have to deal with this situation again, but I'd like to be capable because that's awfully wishful thinking.