I say he did it.
He says I’m lying.
Who do we believe? The victim or the perpetrator? Which is which?
What is our belief based on?
Where does the truth lie?
Whose truth is the absolute?
Is there an absolute?
Gaaaaaaa!! It’s so confusing!!!
In my experience, I’ve learned there are 3 or more sides to every story. One persons side, the other persons side, and the vast middle ground – that space where the combination of story, facts and relative truth lies.
The headlines are full of stories about victims coming forward and not being believed. Anita Hill, children who were abused by Michael Jackson, the many women in the Harvey Weinstein case, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the latest R. Kelly debacle, just to name a few. Oh, and let’s not forget Catholic Priests.
For me, it isn’t hard to know who to believe. I rolled my eyes when the documentary came out about Michael Jackson. Of course he molested children. I never, for even a second, thought there was a question about that.
My perspective, or set of beliefs, may be different than yours. Maybe you believe Michael Jackson was about to be anointed to saint hood. Maybe you believe that what he did to young boys was okay from his position of perceived power. Maybe you believe his super star persona and amazing talent allowed him to act in a way that was above the law.
One thing in common all these cases have, is the accused are rich men. The people in our culture, and most cultures, with the most power.
My perspective comes from my experience. My life was lived with a dual persona man. Outside our kitchen door he was affable, lovable, fun and kind. As a local politician, during his acceptance speech he broke into tears stating his love for me, his then wife. That persona was the one he built in public, the mask he wore for the public to see.
When we went home and the kitchen door closed, his other persona came out. His public mask replaced with his family mask. The only ones who saw both masks were the people who crossed this threshold on a consistent basis and were wise enough to notice the difference. A difference often hidden by the two distinct lives he was living. I rarely saw the mask of work, his employees never seeing his mask of home. He could hide behind whichever mask he chose to wear, showing his choice of persona for the crowd at hand.
The tears flowing during his public speech amazed me. Not because his tears looked so emotionally raw and honest, but because I rarely saw that kind of raw expression behind the kitchen door. His family mask the face of a different person, not the outwardly loving one created for public appearances.
This experience gave me a perspective and built a belief that others in honest and loving relationships can never understand. Their perspective comes from a place where what a loved one says, then how they act, are in sync and consistent.
People who wear masks cannot synchronize the many personas they live. The only way to sustain their many faces is to hide their true identities by constantly creating new relationships or maintaining friendships with other mask wearers. Relationships that can’t be real and honest because the masks hide their true identity.
To maintain their power they have to know how to manipulate, or change their masks to fool those around them.
So when I hear that a presumably powerful and upstanding man has been accused of something indecent, I believe the accuser. Because in my life, I’ve learned that masks allow those with something to hide a way to hide it.
So I am willing to listen to victims. Their demeanor in many cases speaks more loudly than the anger of the accuser. That anger being misunderstood as innocence by those who don’t understand masks. When we allow those who manipulate, lie and cheat to gain their power without retribution, as a society we begin to fail, allowing ourselves to be led by tyranny. Fear of not being believed allows and enables the abuse to continue.
People who have a conscience are easy to manipulate. We want to believe the best about people. Believing in one another is what makes us human. Our compassion makes it hard to believe there are manipulative people among us. But there are.
Facts show that:
1. Two-thirds of rape survivors were in an intimate relationship with their attacker, and 39 percent considered their attacker an acquaintance, according to these statistics. Simply put, abusers abuse those they know.
2. As few as 23 percent of incidents of rape and sexual assault were reported to the police in 2017, according to the the National Crime Victimization Survey—making it the least likely crime to be reported out of every kind tracked. Survivors fear retaliation, believe the police won’t believe them or won’t/can’t help, and research has confirmed a powerful stigma against the abused.
3. According to Jim Hopper, a psychologist who specializes in the brain’s response to fear, inconsistencies in the story, looking away from the officer, having memories that are incomplete or sound incoherent—are consistent in both the perpetrator and abused – and can lead officers to believe that the abused person is lying. A double standard that needs to be addressed.
Hopper taught investigators that these are normal responses to fear and trauma. And many police departments are beginning to significantly reform how they deal with rape allegations to be more evidence-based. The new rape kit bill in Idaho is just the latest example.
5. According to this Podcast on Empathy, empathy for the abuser comes at a cost. Showing empathy to one side zaps the strength of the other side, making their side seem weaker. When we boost the side that already holds the power, we boost their power, essentially silencing the weaker side, creating a hopelessness. The term for this, named by Kate Manne is “himpathy”. When we have empathy for a position that is illogical but seems to makes sense when we are allowed into their thoughts, it confuses our conviction of right and wrong. When our perception of perceived success conflicts with the story they tell, empathetic beings become confused. This puts at risk populations at further risk. When there is a stand off, it’s hard to empathize with our perceived enemy. Terrorists feel empathy for their cause. Those who stand up to terrorists have empathy for their own cause. It’s too much empathy. Our current concept of only our side of empathy is tainted.
4. Most importantly, after abuse happens, the abused is scared, often hiding that fear in the tissue of the body. This fear, if not addressed with help, creates trauma which in turn changes how the victim sees and interacts with reality. That’s how the abuser wants it. Fear of retaliation keeps the abused quiet, shamed and bullied into silence. This shame keeps the cycle of abuse going.
Instead, maybe we as a culture can begin to see and understand that who we often see in public isn’t the totality of the person who we are really seeing. They might be wearing a mask. Then, we can have the courage to open up conversation and discuss differences without name calling and blame, we could see that a compromise with empathetic nuance can be met.
When the abused steps out from behind the kitchen door and exposes their abusers, we as a society must be willing to listen. Only then can change happen and consequences take place. Because change can’t happen when fear creates an environment where the truth can’t be spoken.
The more we are willing to listen and hear people who face their fear and out abusive behavior, even behavior we don’t understand, the more we can create opportunity for others to come forward. Then abuse can be defined by professionals, acknowledged by society and new norms can be established in our legal and medical systems.