Bill Cosby is a convicted felon. A jury has declared him guilty of three counts of indecent sexual assault.
If you’d told me a few years ago that I would one day be writing lines like that about the actor called “America’s Favorite Dad” I would have thought you were nuts. But there it is. The first post #MeToo trial conviction and, I daresay, it probably won’t be the last.
Producer Harvey Weinstein is still being investigated for multiple sexual crimes in both California and New York. Actor Kevin Spacey is under continued investigation in Los Angeles and London after several claims of sexual assault. Following Cosby’s conviction Weinstein and Spacey should be worried – very worried. The social attitude on groping, grabbing and forced sexual contact has definitely evolved to one of zero tolerance.
Now the conversation has turned to this question: What about all the other accused men who are not headed to court? What status do we afford men like TV personalities Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose who were forced out of their jobs and publicly shamed following charges of serious sexual transgressions?
And this is not just about celebrities who have fallen from grace. What is next for all the other men — from CEO’s and symphony conductors to tech-execs and politicians – who now wear the modern-day Scarlett Letter?
Yes, they selfishly acted with lust in their hearts and without concern for others. They caused humiliation and, in too many cases, forced victims to abandon their careers rather than face another day of harassment. But after the aggressor’s public flogging, their loss of employment and maybe their marriages should their exile from polite society be permanent or is there a path to redemption for serial sexual harassers?
Journalist Katie J. M. Baker has written extensively about sexual assault movements including the one that forced university administrators to confront their response to reports of rape. Baker quoted a young man in 2014 who was kicked off campus following his sexual misconduct.
“At first, I thought they didn’t want me to participate in campus activities,” he said. “Then I thought they didn’t want me to graduate. Now they don’t want me to have a job or be part of society. Do they want me to commit suicide…is that the end game?”
His question is important and goes to the crux of today’s conversation. How long do we ostracize the abusers? How much punishment is enough? Do we ever accept the idea that once caught and exposed the perpetrator might see the error of their past ways and repent?
I say it depends on the individual’s original actions and their follow up after being outed.
There have been a wide range of sexual misconduct allegations in the news the last six months. What dozens of women have accused Cosby of and what he was found guilty of – deliberately drugging a young woman in 2004 and taking full sexual advantage – is much different than, say, the boorish comments and clumsy advances of a boss at the holiday office party. Yet there seems to be a move to lump all the accused under one umbrella and permanently banish them. That’s not fair. There are degrees of abuse.
Seeking character growth and redemption is a personal thing. I doubt it can be achieved the way Charlie Rose has reportedly been planning. The idea has been floated that he return to the national airways to interview men who, like him, have been accused of sexual harassment. Such a program would feature Rose speaking to the likes of comedian Louis C.K. (accused of exposing himself to unwilling females,) the aforementioned Matt Lauer (accused of taking sexual advantage of underlings) or other high-profile types who have reacted badly to their hormonal urges.
While some are aghast at the idea of a comeback plan I’m wondering if it might not be a positive step. It could be like a modern day televised pillory where the fallen could publicly admit their sins and ask for forgiveness. Such a program might start a whole different dialogue about why aggressors ever felt they had the right to violate others.
I think forgiveness can only come after the perpetrator takes private time to sincerely reflect on his or her behavior and should only be granted after a heartfelt admission of guilt and a promise to become better person.
In some of the carefully crafted written statements the accused released after they were exposed there were vows to retreat for personal reflection. I wonder if any of them reached honest enlightenment about the true impact of their behavior?
As there are degrees of abuse there are probably degrees of understanding among aggressors. Take Bill Cosby, for example. I wonder if he came to any realizations while listening to the testimony of five women who swore he sexually assaulted them? His attorney insists he did nothing wrong and will appeal. For some there is no enlightenment.