By Jane Wells
The #MeToo movement gets more complex everyday. As politicians are added to the list of predators, red lines of acceptable conduct are now blurred to the point where our President can declare that keeping a Democrat out of the Senate trumps voting for an accused pedophile.
There are as many prisms through which to view the issue of sexual misconduct, of child abuse, of predation, as there are victims with stories to tell. But the dark world of sex trafficking, our shadow world of sexual dysfunction, offers some universal insights.
We have learned from listening to survivors of sex trafficking (or forced prostitution) the appalling sameness and predictability of tactics used by pimps to enslave their victims. Girls (and boys) are groomed or “boyfriended” into the sex industry through a combination of praise, presents and threats.
When Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman went public with the story of her abuse at the hands of Dr. Lawrence Nassar, the US team doctor, she gave a moving interview with 60 Minutes (thank God not with Charlie Rose). Her description of how the doctor had groomed her was articulate and haunting. It could have come from the lips of any of the young girls we interviewed making our documentary Tricked:
“He would always bring me desserts or gifts, he’d buy me little things, so I really thought he was a nice person, I really thought he was looking out for me…..I didn’t know the signs, I didn’t know what sexual abuse really was…”
After Aly and her fellow gold medalists told their truth they were shunned and shamed by leaders in their sport for speaking out. On social media people suggested that the girls had “enjoyed it”. When will the the broader culture learn that there is never anyone to blame for sexual assault but the perpetrator? Are we to persist in the belief that people who are forced to sell sex enjoy it?
For celebrities and gymnasts the long-term harm and trauma may appear to be mitigated by the trappings of success – a silver medal here, an acting award there. For victims of sex trafficking the mitigation might be a miraculous rescue or the sentencing of a pimp to 472 years in prison. But the harm is done. There are no happy endings in the real world. Decades later we know that girls who had the courage to speak out about their pimps still live in terror of reprisals, even from prison. For those who have recently made accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey et al, we do not yet know what the long-term risks may prove to be. For systemic change we need more than a #hashtag. Laws must change to protect those who speak out. There must be no statute of limitations on sexual crimes. Non-disclosure agreements that hide criminal acts must be ruled invalid. Pedophiles and sexual predators must be booted out of the halls of power, in every profession, in every workplace.
We must stop giving a pass to predators because they are talented or cool or powerful. In the words of the young, and wise Aly Raisman:
“Just because everyone is saying they are the best person, it does not make it OK for them to make you uncomfortable. Ever.”