Circling the rubble of Harvey Weinstein’s imploded reputation are an assortment of buzzardly lies and rumors. Some people don’t understand the motivations of an abuser. Others don’t understand why abuse victims would keep silent for years, even decades. Here are a few of the misunderstandings, and a bit of clarification, regarding the chemistry of an abusive relationship:
Rumor: Sexual Predators are addicted to sex.
While this may be true to some extent, abusive people are ultimately addicted to power and control. They don’t just enjoy forcing themselves on their victims. They also enjoy manipulating their victims into doing things that they don’t want to do. This includes intimidating the victim into submitting to abuse. It also includes pressuring the victim into lying or keeping quiet about an abusive incident. Abusive people get a thrill out of their victim’s silence. Knowing that they’ve frightened or pressured someone into submission stokes their ego and makes them feel clever and powerful.
Rumor: Real abuse victims would speak out immediately.
Sometimes, but not always. If a victim is afraid that their reputation, career, or future chances at a happy relationship will be damaged or ruined if the truth comes out, they may keep silent. If a victim is afraid that their abuser may retaliate if they tell, they may also remain quiet. If a victim erroneously feels responsible for what happened to them, their shame may outweigh their desire to seek justice.
Admitting that you’ve been sexually assaulted is extremely embarrassing, particularly for male victims. And remember, abusers are addicted to power and control. Their victims will understand quite clearly that they are expected to keep their mouths shut.
Rumor: Some of these reports must be fake. Why are so many are coming out at once?
When the initial victim comes out to report that a high profile person is abusive, it can set off a domino effect of accusations. Suddenly, victims who were once too afraid or embarrassed to talk, feel safe and motivated to share their story as well. There are perhaps several reasons for this:
First of all, abuse victims often feel isolated. Once they realize that they’re not alone in their victimhood, they may take courage and discover a much needed sense of camaraderie. It’s an awful club to be a part of, but at least you’re not alone.
Conversely, if the victim knows that they are one in a long string of silent victims, they may feel that their suffering is insignificant, normal, and part of the way things work in the entertainment industry. They may also feel hopeless knowing that so many other people have been abused, yet none of them have received help or acknowledgement. Knowing that your abuser has the power to buy silence is terrifying.
Thirdly, there is safety in numbers. Once the first victim comes out, the threats dangling over other victim’s heads suddenly lose their weight. The abuser is accused. He’s been revealed for what he is. The police are jotting down notes. He’s branded a pervert and nobody trusts him. He can no longer ruin your reputation, because his is ruined. He can no longer hurt you, because he’ll be in jail or under very close scrutiny.
Rumor: Harvey Weinsein seems so calm and denies everything. Isn’t that odd?
Not really. Remember, abusers love control. They don’t just control their victims, they also control themselves. Abusers (at least, the successful serial type like Weinstein) are usually consummate actors. I remember when I was a teen, my dad taught Adult Sunday School at church. Everyone was so impressed by his knowledge of the Bible and his understanding of complex theological concepts. Then he’d go home, throw violent temper tantrums, and look at porn online.
Just because an abuser gets caught, doesn’t mean he or she will drop the act. In fact, they may take things up a notch, appearing heartbroken that anyone would think such terrible things about them, and accusing their accusers of conspiratorial plots. The only thing an abuser might enjoy more than fooling people into thinking they’re nice, is tricking people into thinking they’re a persecuted martyr.
Rumor: The victims didn’t fight back hard enough.
First of all, saying “No” should have been enough to make Weinstein stop. Secondly, it’s quite likely the victims either tried and failed to fight him off, or froze in shock and didn’t know what to do. It’s very difficult, when confronted with a surprising and disturbing situation, to know how to react. Many people panic. Many are too afraid to fight back. Many are overwhelmed and have no idea what to do. Sure, the next day they probably wished they’d broken his nose, but in the horror of the moment it’s very common to go into survival mode. Sometimes, a victim will submit to abuse in hopes that it will be over quickly with as little violence as possible.
Rumor: The victims are partly at fault. What were they wearing / doing / thinking?
Trust me, the victims have probably thought this too. Sadly, unjustified guilt is an almost universal byproduct of abuse. In fact, a feeling of being partly responsible often makes victims reluctant to report a crime. “If I hadn’t been wearing that sexy dress,” or “If I hadn’t gone alone into the room with him,” crosses everyone’s mind.
Several of Weinstein’s victims were deceptively lured into secluded rooms. They were told that they were auditioning for a part in a film, or that they’d been invited to attend a party in a hotel suite. Some may have gone in suspecting that something was up, but couldn’t believe anything so horrible would happen to them.
What we do know, is that none of this was their fault. I don’t care if a woman cartwheels through Central Park naked at 2:00 AM, she doesn’t deserve to be raped. Remember, abusers are consummate actors. A person can take all the precautions imaginable and still be duped by a sexual predator. If every criminal was obviously evil, no one would ever trust them.
Featured photo by Kat Jayne.