Now, that I have your attention, allow me to qualify. No amount (or scarcity) of clothing, no attitude, no level of intoxication, no sexual history, nothing ever justifies perpetrating sexual violence. In short, there is no excuse for rape; save the moral outrage for what I say down further in this piece. I'm using the pronouns her and she because women suffer the most in this regard but my comments also include the male victims of sex crimes.
Life is not simple and a sexually aggressive act is not always clear cut. What we have are a lot of grey areas. Survivors in the sexual assault community have advanced the idea of affirmative consent. It’s an ethic that goes a long way to inform sexual partners how to proceed with the needs of another in mind. This new framework is a positive step in curbing unwanted sexual contact.
Still, we have another grey area that arises with unwanted sexual contact. The recent #MeToo meme is a stark indication of the scope of this silent problem (and a disgrace to those who share my gender). While most cannot or do not, some women will make a strong objection to the sexual predator in their midst. When they voice that objection they’re often faced with a choice. That choice is called the payoff, hush money paid to the victim that we euphemistically refer to as a settlement. Lawyers like Gloria Allred are proud to list her “thousands of confidential settlements. We do them every day.”
There are tons of reasons for a woman to accept the settlement, especially if it’s 32 million dollars.
A settlement is punitive, the funds will defray mental health expenses and lost wages, windfall sums promise to improve the victim’s standard of living, the agreement provides relief for the victim for public exposure, and it puts the issue to bed (pun intended). Sadly, for a very long time, the non-disclosure settlement was the only way out for a woman seeking some sort of closure. There’s this long-standing conviction that speaking out ruins careers, reputations and all future prospects. The threat has loomed large in the past. But does that cash settlement actually improve anyone’s quality of life?
Indeed, settlements do improve quality of life—for the perpetrator.
Allred concludes her boast by conceding, “complete confidentiality is usually the condition for a settlement. This can be very difficult for our clients. They want to be compensated and they want to tell the world about it. I tell them that’s just not going to happen.”
It’s not going to happen because the perpetrators and the personal injury attorneys like Allred have a vested interest in a monetary payout. It alleviates any culpability for the guilty and enriches the lawyer. The only person who looses is the victim. And what she looses is her voice, her freedom from the continued abuse of power, and her ability to avoid re-victimization through her forced silence.
It’s about power. Who has it. Who doesn’t. Sexual predators prey on people who possess very little power or at least people with little information about how to use their power. It’s why Cosby preyed on naïve young women we’ve never heard of before. There’s a reason Cosby didn’t try to slip a Quaalude to Cheryl Tiegs, a reason Weinstein never groped Jenifer Lawrence. These men are cowards and women in positions of power are no match. Instead they attack those who seem weakest and least credible and incidentally, these are the same reason why a child molesters get away with so many crimes. For adults, that power dynamic shifts once someone commits a sex crime.
This is when an individual must act to take the power back. Once that NDA gets signed, it’s your deal with the devil, a contact stating you’re willing to be re-victimized everyday because he holds the power to silnece you at anytime.
I know a thing or two about this. I was kidnapped and sexually assaulted as a small child. Afterwards, my mother forced me into silence about the occurrence, telling me I should keep it secret from the rest of the family. You can hear my account on this podcast. And while we pretended it didn’t happen, I sank further and further into depression and dysfunction. All because I had no voice to tell the story I needed desperately to tell.
My mother berated me for my symptoms. She told me time after time I should buck up and pull myself together. She psychologically abused me for decades and anytime I brought up her emotional neglect, she shut me down. She cut off my voice. When I finally ended all contact with her and started telling my own story, I felt, for the first time, like I had the power in my life. I felt free of victimization. She married rich and the man has died so she now attempts to lure me back into her web with the promises of an inheritance. But I don’t take the payoff.
My power, my freedom from re-victimization, my mental health is far more important than money. In the words of Roger Ailes accuser, Laurie Luhn, ““The truth shall set you free. Nothing else matters.”
In the grand scheme, payoffs are next to pointless for a victim’s well-being and yet, there’s an even more important reason to stop accepting the bribes of sex criminals. It’s the social reason. Trigger warning. This is where the victim blaming starts. Every time a person accepts hush money, it emboldens the predator to continue. Each payoff becomes a license to victimize someone new and it’s why we have three men of means (Cosby, O’Reilly, Weinstein) accused of assaulting dozens, if not hundreds of women. Now, it’s a complex issue and these men got away with their crimes because of society’s bias toward powerful men and mistrust for women (I believe you Anita!)
My point is the men who act this way aren’t going to give up that power so easily. It’s up to the victims (male and female) to ride this changing tide in attitudes and take their power. If people decline that obligation, present-day victims are chosing powerlessness. They're chosing to perpetuate the problem rather than help to solve it. It’s been asked, why is it up to women to keep men from raping them? It’s because these men are sheltered and emboldened by the silence they've imposed upon women. Break the silence, break the cycle.
There will undoubtedly be other sex scandals that emerge, hopefully due to the successful prosecution of Weinstein and despite his NDAs. If the present day victims of sex crimes continue to take their useless payoffs, then they’re abetting further abuses of people, including themselves. It’s impossible to fully heal while legally gagged and bound. I’m going to look very hard at the next big group of public accusers and ask the victims, “where was your cry for justice and your moral outrage while you were taking all that money from this asshole?”
Women are screaming for change from men, and rightly so. They've been screaming for decades with glacial progress. But the men who must change the most won't. And so a change will occur not because a gender suddenly decides to behave. A change will occur because victims make the tough choice. No, it isn’t fair. But it is right.