Depending on what generation you are from, when you think “bad boy,” you might conjure up an image of James Dean, Marlon Brando, J R Ewing, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Mark Wahlberg or Shia LaBeouf—to name only a few. There is clearly no shortage of these guys, though most of us are a bit surprised at just how many can be described this way.
#METOO has been an eye-opener, to say the least—even for those of us who have worked with sexual assault and abuse victims and have been surprised at times by who the perp turned out to be. That rough around the edges, down on his luck, from bad circumstances Neanderthal may be the gentlest and most respectful guy towards the women around him, and the guy in the 1500 dollar suit may be a dangerous predator.
Since the story about Harvey Weinstein broke and was followed by the #METOO avalanche–story after story about guys we have been big fans of, respected, thought of as safe and cuddly, and believed to be liberal supporters of women and feminism, have been coming out, one after another. Some even fear a potential witch hunt backlash by vindictive/rejected/unhappy females looking for revenge. While false accusations happen (remember Duke lacrosse team and Jackie from UVA), they are rare and usually with careful fact checking, they are exposed as fabrications.
There is also concern about more “innocent” gestures being interpreted as over the line—like a hug, a complement to someone about their appearance, or a suggestion to get together for coffee, lunch, or a drink after work. Indeed, I have expressed my thoughts to my millennial sons, reminding them to be mindful of not only their words and actions, but how they are received by the other person. When false accusations are made and accepted too easily—it takes something away from all the victims who need our support and trust.
And yes, there are many victims out there, and a big problem for all of us is what to do with the accused. After all, the accusations vary widely—some are of rape, sexual aggression towards underage girls, flashing and exposure, and/or holding jobs and promotions hostage to sexual favors. While others are inappropriately touching someone during a photo shoot or when offering condolences, of making lewd or inappropriate remarks to a co-worker, or of kissing a woman without her permission or cooperation. While none of these is appropriate and all are a violation of some sort—shouldn’t the punishment fit the sin, and how are we to determine what is right for each?
There is one very positive thing that has come from this awful mess—and that is women who have been victimized now have a voice and no longer have to feel guilty, responsible or as if they somehow were to blame—which are the kinds of feelings that all victims have in common. Women will be heard, believed and finally get the support they have often had to live without, sometimes for years. The scars that this kind of thing leave can be very deep and very damaging—depending on so many variables, and the woman (or man) herself/himself.
It’s a sure bet this thing has not run its course and many names will be coming out over the following weeks and months. However all of us should avoid that high horse—as it is a long way to fall and fall we will if it turns out our husband, son, or close friend is one of those outed. No one is immune—we have all loved people who are less than perfect, and if it turns out to be someone close to you, where will you stand? Definitely something to think about. We are all human and flawed—and before we issue a siren call to have them all locked up or beheaded, we should take a deep breath and give justice a chance to sort all this out and decide what is appropriate for whom.