One of the lessons we’re teaching my five-year-old is that “sorry” doesn’t fix everything. He doesn’t get away with not-pologies, but even with his real apologies, he’s having to learn that there’s more to it than that. When he loses his temper, throws something, and breaks it, the thing is broken. “Sorry” doesn’t fix the thing. Even beyond that, if he’s hurt my feelings, saying sorry doesn’t un-hurt my feelings. I may forgive him but still take a little time to feel better toward him. I still have a right to the feelings I have, and he doesn’t get to control that. Maybe if we can teach him these lessons when he’s five, he won’t be fifty and trying to police other people’s reactions to his actions.
It is not, to a lot of us, surprising that the next step in the MeToo movement is not “and now these people’s careers are destroyed forever” but “and now people are saying what a shame it is that these people’s careers might be destroyed forever.” There is not even a word for the level of irony it takes for an accused sexual assaulter to do a surprise comedy set with a rape joke in it, is all I’m saying. Some people have been coasting for literally decades, using their power over others to get sexual pleasure, and it’s not exactly unexpected that they’re gifted in framing discussions in being about their rights and needs.
It is true, mind you, that a lot of valuable conversations should be had on the place of rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. One of the reasons for the recidivism problem in the United States is that criminals literally cannot find legal jobs; they find it impossible to be hired upon release, because people don’t want to hire known criminals. That’s a serious problem that is absolutely not what we’re talking about here. For one thing, we are primarily talking about people who have not and will not face any criminal prosecution, generally because the statute of limitations has expired for the crimes where the victims have come forward.
There are a few cases I know of where the person has said, “Yes. I did a horrible thing. [Usually ‘multiple horrible things,’ because that’s usually how this sort of thing works.] I am stepping out of public life, and I am donating money to [cause benefiting victims of sexual abuse or similar] or in another way making amends.” That is my best-case scenario in a case that isn’t going to involve a guilty plea of some kind. Even then, I’m kind of done with the person, because you shouldn’t have to get to 2018 and have the horrible things you did revealed in order to realize that you shouldn’t treat people like things. But, okay, it’s a start.
Mostly, though, we get the denials. They’ll often resign from shows or drop out of movies—or get kicked out of same—but still, they’ll deny allegations no matter how many of them there are. Heck, I still know people who defend Cosby. And he got convicted. And then there’s this kind of holding pattern; I think people are currently waiting to see how Louis CK’s set went over to see if it’s safe for people to start drifting back in. To see if MeToo is blowing over.
This is part of why I’ve gotten more vocal than usual about the Tom Cruise thing, I think; I’ve heard some nasty stories lately that absolutely implicate him as more than just a brainwashed member of a cult. That suggest that he is at very least fully aware of how women are groomed to be acceptable choices to be his brides and that he doesn’t fight that, which is not okay. And there’s no push-back on that. Just as there’s been no push-back on so many other aspects of how women have been treated in the industry for so long; are stories about mistreatment better because we can say it’s due to the influence of a cult?
In five years, in ten years, in fifteen years, if some of these people come back and say, “I was a sexual predator and I have taken these steps to atone,” what do we do about it? I guess we start by looking at whether the steps are actually steps atoning for sexual predation; I’ve heard of one instance in which the steps were things like seeking treatment for addiction. Which isn’t a bad thing to do, of course, but isn’t actually atoning for sexual predation. If you are a sexual predator, it isn’t because you’re an addict.
You also acknowledge that you have burned your bridges. Can they be rebuilt? Maybe. But it is a long and slow process, and you have to rebuild them. We won’t do it for you. This is why, for example, I think it in appalling taste to cite victims’ forgiveness in insisting that we must forgive rapists. That’s nice for the victims, but that doesn’t mean the rapist has done the necessary work to prove that they have bettered themselves. It’s putting the work on the wrong person. It starts from the ground up—it starts with admitting fault, for one thing, and goes up from there.
I also don’t believe the victim is ever obligated to forgive, even if the work has been done. That is up to the victim, and it is no one else’s business. I don’t even necessarily want to know. Their feelings have nothing to do with the work of rehabilitation as it concerns society at large. They have a right to be left alone if that’s what they want, and the person still owes society atonement. Only after they’ve met that obligation can we talk what happens once they’ve met it.
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