Sexual abuse: What if it really IS as simple as being about the Golden Rule?

So we’re having a national conversation about sexual abuse…and that’s a very good thing. No woman should have to go through life carrying the memory of being sexually assaulted (or worse) by a man- especially one she may have trusted or looked up to.

As a society, we need to have an open and honest discussion about the social norms which fuel and enable sexual assault:

1) Men are entitled to sex, and
2) Men call the shots

Men need to understand that sex is not theirs for the taking; it’s not something due them because they’re in a position of power/horny/entitled/immature/insensitive. Women need to recognize their power and learn that no one can abuse them unless they allow it to happen. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but any conversation needs to begin somewhere.

For me, the bottom line is about respect. It’s about having respect for others and treating others as you would wish to be treated in return. The Golden Rule isn’t just a trite aphorism; it should be a minimum daily requirement.

Not only should we be examining the norms of appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior, we need to determine how to deal with those revealed to have crossed those line. We should also examine how long society holds someone culpable. Is there a statute of limitations on sexually inappropriate behavior? Should there be?

What happens when a Harvey Weinstein, a Kevin Spacey, or a Louis C.K. are exposed for being sexual predators? Do we treat them as human beings who’ve made mistakes and can/should be reclaimed because they’re worthy of a second chance? Or do we toss them aside like garbage and consign them to the trash heap of history, forever to reside in a place of shame and opprobrium? Can they ever be considered safe enough to be allowed back into our good graces?

I’m asking these questions because I don’t have the answers…and I believe any conversation about sexual abuse must include the search for those answers. Are abusers simply to be shunned as unsalvageable…or is there a way we might see our way clear to welcoming them back into polite society? Are we a society that believes in forgiveness and second chances? Or are some crimes so heinous, so unforgivable, and so far beyond the pale that those guilty of them should never again be allowed to walk in the light?

I don’t know where we should go from here. I DO believe we as a society need to encourage and respect women and girls willing to tell their stories. We need to believe them and do whatever’s necessary to help them heal and lead lives in which they can trust men to treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.

Men need to take a good, long look at their own past behavior towards women. We need to acknowledge our mistakes, apologize when necessary and appropriate, and resolve to be better going forward. I don’t believe ANY man- myself included- can claim to have never behaved inappropriately towards a woman. Being sexually attracted to a woman doesn’t provide a license to act on that attraction simply because one possesses a penis. Sex should be something shared between consenting adults, and it should be a mutually agreed upon experience. When someone abuses their position in order to take sex, that interaction crosses the line to abuse, perhaps even assault.

Someone once told me there’s a very good yardstick to be used in any situation in which sex becomes part of the equation? They always asked themselves if it’s something they’d want to happen to their daughter. Or they’d ask themselves if their mother would approve of their behavior If the answer is “NO” on either count, one should be asking themselves why they’re doing it. It’s just a variation of the Golden Rule, but they’re very good questions.

I get it. Having a penis is a wonderful thing…but it can, if not properly managed, lead to situations in which a power imbalance is used to take something which should be given freely. Or not, depending on the feelings and desires of the woman in question.

It’s about respect. It’s about treating women as if they’re more than just sexual beings. It shouldn’t be about men believing they have a right to sex because they’re the ones with the penis…and they have “needs.”

This conversation we’ve started is a good thing, but there’s a long way to go before we can consider the matter resolved. If every journey begins with a single step, at least we appear to be heading in the right direction.

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