By Jen O’Ryan, PhD
Cross-published at goodmenproject.com.
Last week, a man lunged at his daughter’s attacker during a courtroom appearance.
Moments before, the father had requested “time in a locked room” with the attacker as part of his sentencing. Considering the profound history of systematic victimization, this emotional desire for revenge is not uncommon.
As a parent, and a human, I completely related to this impulse. Learning your child has been exploited and watching their pain is almost incomprehensible.
The rage and helpless guilt that comes with feeling unable to protect them would be overwhelming. Working through these emotions while supporting the child’s healing process takes tremendous energy. Unfortunately, that is only the first part of your responsibility.
Yes, it’s instinctive to crave revenge against the predator. But it’s more important to dismantle the environment that allowed it to persist.
Insidious victimization and betrayal of trust abuses are far more common than we let ourselves realize.
People tend to think about opportunistic assault – sexual violence committed by a stranger, or being a victim of random crime. Threats we see as somewhat preventable by being cautious. There can be a much greater risk in places that are familiar, because it’s easier to talk ourselves out of seeing red flags.
The question that keeps being asked about the training camp situation is — How? How was this abuse allowed to continue for so long, even after multiple people reported inappropriate behavior and sexual abuse? If you ask most women this question, they’ll likely respond with several personal experiences.
To better understand, take a step back and see what else is happening. Betrayal of trust abusers behave differently than more opportunistic predators. They rely on cultivating relationships with potential targets. By establishing themselves in positions of authority, the power imbalance makes it difficult to surface inappropriate behavior.
Complicating things further are the biases that prevent women from being listened to and believed. Reported incidents often went unreviewed. Cases that were investigated managed to be explained away without charges.
Eventually, registering complaints becomes a painful and humiliating exercise in futility.
Predators are remarkably adept at exploiting socially expected behaviors to control their targets. Women and girls are typically socialized to be polite, not make a scene, and consider other people’s needs above their own. Unfortunately, they are also conditioned to question themselves and their own experiences.
So while your first instinct might be to lunge at the predator, instead:
1. Listen to those who may have been victimized and encourage them to listen to themselves. We tend to have a ‘gut sense’ of when something isn’t right.
Women are conditioned to dismiss this feeling if it conflicts with socially acceptable behavior. They can talk themselves out of running away or screaming when situations feel unsafe, because it could be seen as rude.
Think about that for a minute.
2. Educate yourself and others about how to recognize signs of victimization. We teach kids about ‘good touch / bad touch’, without ensuring that those in authority are equipped to listen.
3. Use your access to disrupt ‘locker room talk’ and other types of exploitive objectification toward women. It normalizes the sense of being entitled to another human’s body.
4. Become aware of how frequently a woman’s personal agency is being infringed upon. Women don’t need to smile, or be nice, or make small talk, or laugh at your jokes. We’re actually allowed to be here without somehow serving a purpose.
5. Lastly, take these steps and advocate for other men to do so as well. Not because girls and women are your daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters. Because they are people.