Why now? Why # me too? Why are people surprised that sexual assault is painfully common and that women are silenced?
Is this an awakening, a new refusal to accept this creeping new normal that the socio-political environment champions? Are we less willing to turn down the volume on the assault on human decency now that there are daily assaults by a president who happily attacks the dignity of others? The bar keeps slithering lower.
Few women do not have a story to tell about sexual assault with details that their mind and body remember. Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery) speaks of the history of human atrocities, traumatic events that are by human design, as vulnerable to periods of episodic amnesia. We remember and forget, willing and unwilling to bear witness. Is that it? Have we moved into a window of knowing, of bearing witness to sexual assault and sexual harassment, shedding years and decades of not knowing, of collective amnesia of refusing to believe women?
Or were we frozen, dissociated, numb to the abuses from those who hold power?
Perpetrators are both strangers and people we treasure. For years as a trauma therapist I observed how those who were abused by someone they depended on or loved, learned to minimize or normalize cruelty and mistreatment. They feel shamed and unworthy, unable to hold those accountable who hurt them — people who are dangerous, disturbed or seriously impaired and who have power over them. Truth telling is courageous and often painful. I adored my father the ways people adore Louis C.K. and Al Franken, the ways we trust our bosses and our mentors. Can we tolerate seeing the parts of them that injure their daughters, their students, and those who have placed great trust in them? Betrayal without a chorus of other voices can be more than one can bear.
Are we emerging from a trance that protects abusers and silences the victims?
This new awakening is still on thin ice. Many will want to distract, to soften or change the narrative to something more palatable.
Accountability, as we are beginning to see, shifts the imbalance of power. This is the glimmer of hope. Accountability curbs our history’s favorite perversion of blaming the victim for the trespasses of others.
I hope the momentum will continue. That this is not just a moment but a movement. That allies will speak loudly and be ashamed for ways they have directly or indirectly abused their power at the expense of women’s dignity. That bystanders will refuse to close their eyes and be silent.
I want to keep alive the pain and refuse to soften the blow that can continue to move us out of complacency and complicity.