Flood of harassment claims have weight, en masse

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Posted 11/14/17 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

A floodgate of sexual harassment claims has opened, and that is both a good thing and a concerning thing.
The allegations are coming so fast and furious through the national media, it’s difficult to keep up. From the widely covered Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey cases, to a National Public Radio news head to comedian Louis C.K. to Senate candidate Roy Moore, on and on it goes.
As someone who has been candid about her own sexual abuse at the hands of one more powerful, I am nonetheless a little conflicted about all of this truth telling. Will the sheer volume of accusations inure us to their validity?
I don’t have many doubts about the allegations against any of the above-named alleged perpetrators. A key component in most of the cases has been contemporaneous (if private) reporting of episodes, sometimes decades ago. While I do see the potential for abuse of such accusations, there are some compelling tests when someone is accused -- the biggest one being, will more accusations follow?
When I hear of any single accusation, like a lot of people, I am initially skeptical. No one wants to believe an otherwise normal-appearing person -- regardless of their celebrity -- could behave so monstrously. Yet, it happens everyday.
It may seem like piling on when these victims start coming out of the woodwork, but the fact they do is startling precisely because the behavior of sexual predators is serial. A single accusation is easily dismissed. There’s little for any woman to gain by jumping on to the bandwagon unless she is hoping, finally, to win some vindication.
Why, people ask, have these victims waited so long to come out of the shadows? There’s the suggestion they do so purely out of political motivation, such as is in the Moore case, but to dismiss victims that easily only perpetuates the ability of people in power to abuse others.
I would have thought, for instance, that the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances by Donald Trump would have been enough fuel to burn up any chances of his election, but it didn’t. Likewise, Bill Clinton’s many sexual misadventures have done little, either now or while in office, to derail either his presidency or his stature. Clearly, inappropriate sexual relations, even in the White House 20 years ago, were not enough for an impeachment, though it could be argued it cost Democrats the defeat of Al Gore. 
So, what’s changed? Why, now, all of a sudden, are men in an array of industries having whole careers trashed over these actions, large or small?
The difference is the whole “me too” movement, empowering thousands upon thousands of victims to speak up. It may seem there’s safety in numbers, but look how their own reputations are also being trashed. Who would want their name forever associated with a predator’s crimes against them? To suggest any woman’s accusation could be bought for a mere $1,000 is ludicrous.
And what happens to the abuser? 
Even though many of the accused are now and will continue to be hurt in their pocketbooks, few will ever be criminally charged. Meanwhile, their victims carry the shame for a lifetime.
I believe wholeheartedly, and based on personal experience, that there ought be no time limit on victims being able to bring forward abuse, assault and harassment allegations. By their very nature, attacks of this kind can be traumatizing to the point of denial, disassociation and paralyzing fear. 
We have to, as a society, recognize this dynamic and quell the temptation to disregard a victim’s claims simply because of the number of decades elapsed between the crime and the report. Victims of sexual intimidation may experience so much self-blame it can affect all aspects of life. 
At the same time, courts must be rigorous in examining such allegations to guard against improper use of them merely for the purpose of trashing someone’s reputation.
Victims have a responsibility to report abuses in as timely a fashion as their trauma allows, in order to bring to an end the serial behavior of these predators.
It can be difficult for anyone to come out a winner in a “he said/she said” case, but when it’s a case of “he said/she said, she said, she said . . .” it’s very unlikely the allegations are false.