Recent news regarding movie executive Harvey Weinstein has Hollywood in a flurry of allegations. Weinstein co-founded Miramax and produced countless blockbuster movies such as Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love. He raised money for Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. Ronan Farrow tells us, “He has been thanked more than almost anyone else in movie history, ranking just after Steven Spielberg and right before God.”[i] Although trailed with abuse allegations for 25 years, very little broke the surface until a report by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment, leading to Weinstein’s resignation from his eponymously named company.[ii]
Those of us who work to end sexual abuse know that when victims hear the testimonies of other victims, they find courage in numbers and speak out. And we’re glad they speak out. We’re glad for the “me too.” But we’re really glad for the victims who speak out first, because we know that without victim testimony, we’re powerless to protect the innocent. In the interest of increasing the number of brave souls willing to be the first, I share both my story and three points of advice.
In my early 20s I worked with a ministry led by a wildly charismatic man named Larry. Like Weinstein, Larry perpetrated on just about everything in a skirt. And like Weinstein, he’d “ruin” you if you didn’t cooperate. “Ruining” in that ministry context was demoting you to a lower position and subtle, public belittling. He would ignore you, give your responsibilities to someone else, flatter another in your place, and lie about you.
Larry worked systematically. He’d first create an emotional vacuum through coldness and disrespect, triggering women’s natural desire for approval, which he would then exploit by first encouraging, then complimenting, and eventually downright flattering her until (in most cases) she became a puddle of compliance at his feet. Then he’d stage some kind of drama—a car breakdown, an appointment missed, a weather-related disaster—heightening emotionalism and creating space for more drama.
In my case he arranged things so that I’d drop him off at the airport in the midst of handling a small fire in one of our ministry buildings. The others had to stay behind because of the fire, so Larry said we needed to break the normal no-unmarried-couples-traveling-alone code of our ministry. I rather think he calculated that so that a certain sense of taboo would hang in the air as he attempted to twist his way into my psyche. In fact at one point when the car slowed, he put his hand on mine and seethed, “You should never go anywhere alone with me.” When we rolled to the departures curb at the airport, he lunged at me, flopping down on top of me as I coiled into a kind of protective fetal position. He persisted his advances until I slammed the door in his face and drove away.
The hate seethed out of him after that, especially after he learned that I leaked the truth. It took courage for me to tell. Surrounded with purity culture, I knew I’d be blamed for bringing it on by “being too familiar,” or not being modest enough, or riding alone with him, or some other infraction. In fact, Larry himself later gave me a long letter detailing my sins of enticing him, leading him on, and basically making him lunge at me like a rattlesnake. To a degree, I fell for it, such that when I finally worked up the courage to tell higher-ups, I was carrying a hefty load of self-blame. I spoke up more to come clean than to accuse him.
The higher-ups blamed me into a silent little hole from which I watched him prey on woman after woman. Every woman in the ministry except myself and one other accepted his advances. Over the course of the next ten years he seduced a teen, got a woman pregnant three times, and carried on a sexual relationship with one of the women to whom the ministry was “witnessing.”
When the folly of this man began to bear fruit in the spiritual downturn of the ministry, one person after another left. My husband told me he was leaving whether I came with him or not, but I also knew it was time. I told Larry of my plan to leave with my husband and he accused me of searing my conscience by leaving “the work.”
Larry went on to take advantage of many other women. He should have been summarily fired with the first offense, but the governing board protected him, thinking the ministry needed his leadership. Years later the same board, albeit with new members, issued a formal apology to myself and the other victims.
So from experience, let me give you three simple points as to how to find the courage to speak up. Maybe you’ll even be the first.
-Don’t blame yourself. Now, to be fair, some victims bear some blame. Sexual abuse spans a gamut from forcible rape to consensual sex with a subordinate. You may have enjoyed the ride on a level, while hating it on another. You may have lied out of fear of being blamed. You may very well have complicated things; but if he was your superior, it’s still abuse because someone stronger exploited someone weaker. Even children experience sexual pleasure in the context of abuse, but this doesn’t change the fact that it’s abuse. Take responsibility for your part, but don’t let that keep you from placing responsibility on the one who bears the most.
-Don’t try confronting him. I’ve heard of church leaders telling abuse victims to confront their perpetrators because Jesus said we should (Matthew 18:15). This is a misapplication of Jesus’ counsel. Jesus said “when your brother sins, tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Brother indicates horizontality and equal power. Admit you’re the chicken that got bitten by the fox and don’t be foolish enough to go back and confront the fox.
-Tell other people. Don’t wait until others have come forward. Be the brave one, and others will follow. You may subject yourself to a firestorm of immediate stress by blowing the whistle. But over the long haul, you relieve your conscience of the greater stress of knowing your silence put someone else in harm’s way. Do the right thing in God’s courage, even if it’s messy.