Editor’s note: This commentary is by Stuart Stevens, of Stowe, who is an author, political strategist and extreme sports enthusiast. It was first published in the News & Citizen on Nov. 16, 2017.
It’s not just Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore.
Whenever a story breaks about men behaving terribly with women, there are always those close to the man who are surprised and shocked. It is difficult for these people to imagine the person they know doing what he did.
Which makes sense, since men who do these things can be very manipulative and skilled at presenting a public front different from their dark side.
I’ve seen it in action recently when a man who prominently held himself out as a feminist and community leader has been quietly exposed as a serial assaulter of women.
The first natural reaction is disbelief, followed by a search for an explanation, as if it must be a misunderstanding. Then, as reality sets in, each person who knows faces their own ethical choice. It is not a moment anyone desired but it cannot be ignored.
Encouragingly, I’ve seen many profiles in courage as support rallied for those women who had the courage to hold the man accountable. Often this meant ending a friendship and in some cases was done at personal and professional risk. It is moving to see such affirmation for what is right, even if it brings discomfort and awkwardness in small-town relationships.
Inevitably, there are a few who blame the women, not necessarily out of some animus but more in search of a way to convince themselves they could not have been friends with a man who assaults women, so it must be the other person’s fault. Some have had business dealings with the man and do not want to risk any potential financial downside.
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It’s sad to see such reaction, but of course the whole situation is sad and ugly. Men with even some small bit of power have learned that the odds are great they can get away with their crimes precisely because of the difficulty a society faces to admit such ugliness exists.
But hopefully that dynamic has shifted and women who come forward will be celebrated and praised. One thing is certain: Inevitably, when one or two women come forward, others will follow. No man in his 40s, 50s or 60s wakes up one day and decides to assault a woman. It will have been happening for years, decades.
For every woman who takes steps to hold the man accountable, there will be other victims of the same man who did not for all the reasons we know.
These men are criminals, but the criminal justice system is not currently well equipped to deal with these crimes. Our laws are too often based on assumption that sexual assault involves great violence rather than the power of power and the brute force of coercion. Until that changes, the best search for justice is more often found in the civil legal system. Often this is regrettably tied to nondisclosure agreements that limit a woman’s ability to name their assailant.
But for those who do know the truth — and there are always those who know — what is the right way to react to a man in the community who you know has hurt women? The nature of these men is always to deny any wrongdoing and never accept responsibility.
My view is that the answer is a simple one: Shun these men. Do not allow them to return to normalcy, which is the great sanctuary they seek. Sadly, many spouses are drawn into this deception, used to try to gain sympathy or proof the man must not be “that bad.” This is the path Bill Cosby’s wife has taken and it is not a rare one.
But when a society — be it a nation, small town or company — permits these perpetrators to be accepted, it is a little death of decency. There are no easy choices, but there are clearly right choices.
These bad men do not look like monsters. But the pain they bring to others is monstrous. Hold them accountable. Do not allow them to “move on” as if their crimes had not occurred.
If each of us does not do the right thing, who will?