Although my situation is domestic violence and not sexual harassment, my abuser’s behavior is the same as these men – Deny deny deny and make the woman out to be the crazy one. And then there are the enablers who shame us more…
What would have happened last year if—upon hearing of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment debacle and forced exit from the company he created—CBS CEO Les Moonves had decided to take a radically different path?
What if—knowing that a police report was being filed against him, and that news of it and other abuses he had never admitted to was inevitably going to come out in the current environment—he had chosen to come clean instead of continuing to stonewall? In fact, what would have happened if he had come clean long before?
While this is not the crisis advice one would necessarily give, as the #MeToo movement marches on we need to find some new strategies not only for curtailing abusive behavior, confronting it and making reparation but also for potentially modeling how one might recover honorably.
So since Moonves has said that the stories of his past behavior no longer reflect who he is, what if he would have decided to prove it: to talk honestly about how he had abused his power and position, how sorry he is, the lessons he learned and how he wanted to pass them on? What if he sought to set an example of culture change and recovery within his own organization, and more broadly? And what if he were totally authentic in his desire to do so?
Might that have made a difference? Might he have been spared his job, even as a battle for corporate control raged at the board level?
No #MeToo Abuser Has ‘Fessed Up
Well, we’ll never know, because insofar as we are aware, not one individual on my company’s #MeToo Index of more than 701 high-profile individuals accused of sexual harassment since Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein has done this so far. Not one.
Is recovery even possible?
So as yet another public figure reacts to newly released accusations of sexual harassment—and continues to stonewall the way he has for years—one has to wonder if this scene is going to replay time and time again, ad infinitum?
Beyond trying to keep the long-buried truth 10 feet under, aren’t there any new stratagems for stepping up to past abuses, bearing the weight, making retribution, learning the lessons and then setting a new standard moving forward?
We are not talking here about Louis CK’s coming back simply because he’s been out of the limelight for six months. Nor am about the magical thinking that says recovery happens from no work or insight at all. A time-out in the wilderness has no value whatsoever unless you do the right soul-searching, work on yourself first and then make amends to those you have abused. See what Sex Addicts Anonymous has to say in their 12-Step Program.
But given that sexually abusive behavior in the workplace has been standard practice for . . . ever, there must be a lot of executives, entertainers and others who are quaking in their boots just now.
Old accusations are gaining new light, as victims are no longer willing to be ignored or punished simply for being a victim. Old settlements that were sealed are being unsealed by victims who dare abusers to make them give the money back. And sitting executives could even be blackmailed by third parties who had knowledge of the settlements, and who now want money, power or something else, in exchange for keeping silent.
So perhaps it is time to put our innovative minds to work to come up with alternate scenarios that can possibly raise the bar for everyone.
In that spirit, here are some suggestions for Les Moonves’ alternate universe, and for all those who, deep in their hearts, know that they—and their organizations—are seriously at risk. Please note, this is not a prescription, and it is probably a pipe dream. But it is a different possibility:
- See clearly. When each successive sexual harassment crisis hits, understand what your exposure is. Consider all the unresolved—and resolved—claims leveled at you over the years and understand what risk you are under.
- Then, if the claims are true, instead of stonewalling, admit it—first to yourself, and then to others. Be a first-mover and a model.
- In a strategic way, as appropriate, let your board or boss know as soon as you have a course of action to suggest.But don’t be naive: Such a conversation could trigger a morals clause and cause the very scenario you are trying to surmount.
- Reach out to those you have harmed, apologize unreservedly. Offer some meaningful penance, and ask nothing in return, not even forgiveness.
- Just as #MeToo victims have crafted their own stories and narratives that have been so powerful, consider sharing your own story. Why did you act the way you did? Why did you continue? What would/should you have done differently? What can you do now, to become part of the solution, and not the problem?
- Resolve to change the culture in your own organization — starting with yourself.
- Resolve to help change the culture as a whole, and to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. Catalyst’s MARC Program—Men Advocating Real Change—has had some extraordinarily positive results around the related field of unconscious bias.
- Step up in a visible way to the challenge and help others to do the same. Model the kind of personal and social responsibility that we all so desperately need.
Is this possible to do? Will it work? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends upon will, character and strategy. It also surely depends upon the nature and viciousness of the abuse, the damage done to those abused and the response by the victim(s) and organizations.
Again, this is not a prescription, it is just a possibility.
As we are all confronting the continuing train wreck of #MeToo stories, there must be some way to put a stop to the predatory behavior that caused them. Of course, fear is a great deterrent. But it is not enough. We need self-awareness too. We need to create an acceptable narrative of repentance and recovery—and growth—at the highest levels.
Davia Temin, CEO of crisis management firm Temin & Company, helps create, enhance and save reputations at board and executive levels. She is also an Advisor to Springboard.ai. Twitter: @DaviaTemin
On Friday, Aly Raisman shared a lengthy message on Twitter in which she asked her followers for their help so that she create change in regards to the treatment of women and victim shaming. In the message, the three-time Olympic gold medalist wanted to clarify that a sexy photoshoot or sexy outfit “does not give a man the right to shame [a woman] or not believe her when she comes forward about sexual abuse” and that victim shaming is the reason “so many survivors live in fear.”
“Women are allowed to feel sexy and comfortable in their own skin, in fact I encourage you all to wear what you feel good in,” Raisman wrote. “I will not put up with any woman or girl being shamed for wanting to wear a skirt, dress, etc. I do not tolerate it. Are we clear? Oh and one more thing. STOP VICTIM SHAMING. It is because of you that so many survivors live in fear.”
Raisman then retweeted someone who added the following to her message: “Also another life lesson, Just because we are nice to you doesn’t mean we want to sleep with you. #TheMoreYouKnow”.
Raisman told 60 Minutes earlier this month that she had been sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in the past, who is expected to plead guilty to two of his criminal cases in the coming weeks. Simone Biles, one of Raisman’s teammates in the 2016 Rio Olympics, tweeted her support the morning after the interview aired, telling Raisman she inspires her “day in and day out” and that she will always be in her corner supporting her.
“You are so brave and courageous,” Biles tweeted. “Keep your chin up!”