A Survivor’s Guide to Coming Forward About Your Harvey Weinstein

 

After publishing my blog “My Encounter with Harvey Weinstein and What it Tells us About Trauma”, I am left feeling like I've been run over by a speeding train. Harvey was a powerful man who tried to manipulate me for his own ends. Interestingly, that is not dissimilar to my experience with some elements of mainstream media covering the scandal. They really wanted to be empathetic, but I now realize that media outlets shape the story based on their own assumptions and understanding. There is no prior conversation with the interviewer, just the producer, so all your carefully thought out communication is conveyed second hand and under immense time pressure. That leaves very little room to speak out in a way that is empowering; we are cast as ‘victims’ and by taking away our power and control, we are indeed again victimized.

I agreed to speak on Democracy Now! because I know the producers are serious-minded and want to get to the larger issues. But guess what? To my huge dismay and embarrassment, I ended up revictimizing myself, furnishing exactly the kinds of details I had studiously avoided in order not to be forever linked in Google searches with parts of Harvey’s anatomy. Given only 10 seconds at the end of the program, I urged other women who have experienced sexual harassment to come forward, despite in reality having a more nuanced message for anyone who finds themselves with a big, dark secret and the agonizing decision of whether to tell.

So here is my advice to anyone – male or female because this doesn’t just happen to women – who is considering coming forward about a predator, famous or not, regarding a recent encounter or one from long ago:

  • Process. Ideally, make sure you have done your processing beforehand - the incident with Harvey Weinstein brought up the sexual abuse as a child that I had not talked about with my family. The depth of my fear of disclosure, shame, and anger at not being believed, was all tied to that other circumstance and hit me out of nowhere.
  • Resist the pressure of the prurient. Resist the pressure to supply salacious details to reporters. This can be retraumatizing. My hands were shaking after I got off the phone with a British TV producer who fired off questions, fishing to see if I too had been raped by Harvey.
  • Don’t confess to be believed. When you do feel safe to disclose (as I did on Democracy Now!), don't feel you need to 'confess' the lurid details to be believed (see below).
  • Practice your statement. Here's advice I could have used: Don't recount the details of the event/s for the first time on national TV! (Arghhh! I said ‘sight for sore eyes’ when describing the sight of Harvey naked, when meant the opposite!) Practice what you are going to say beforehand. 
  • Take control. Make sure you are comfortable with where, when and how you speak about the incident/s. Unlike the time of the abuse, you are in control.
  • Become empowered. Find the most empowering way to share the information, deciding how to present your message and through which medium. (I chose ACESConnection.com and it has been a very safe and supportive place to share, in stark contrast to the unmoderated media sites where the vicious trolls roam.)
  • Don't read comments from vicious trolls.
  • Be the expert on your own story. It is better not to BE the news story, but to see yourself as the expert on the news story. I was empowered by being able to draw on my professional life and talk about trauma and resilience.
  • Resist the temptation to vilify. I was asked over and again about whether I felt satisfaction seeing Harvey get his comeuppance, whether I felt angry about the women who hadn’t come forward beforehand and therefore allowed me to walk into his grasp. (Really? You want me to throw other women under the bus?) It is so easy to blame. So clear when there is a villain. The truth is that some of those tut-tutting with disapproval also abuse their power. (When I worked in the industry there was a woman producer famous for throwing things at her assistant.) The most gleefully censorious may also be covering for a predator by staying silent about abuse in their own family, company, or industry. By creating enemy images it moves the scandal comfortably away from us but we lose the chance for self-reflection and for the recognition that given the right ingredients of adversity in childhood, unbridled power, and a society that makes jokes about the casting couch rather than reeling horrified, we have incubated and colluded with the Harveys of this world.
  • Understand your stress hormones. Recognize that the cortisol produced by recalling events may stay in your body for up to 96 hours. You will be told to practice self-care but you might find it hard to sleep, to eat, to think clearly. You may cry at the drop of a hat. 
  • Be kind to yourself. At Echo Parenting & Education we educate legal professionals that trauma memory is held in a different part of the brain. This is not the chronological memory you can access and view from different aspects, such as recalling last year’s vacation. It is vivid, comes back in uncontrolled flashbacks, and is all jumbled up. Often, a victim’s story changes or they are confused about details. Even if that isn’t the case, having to recount the story as I did on Democracy Now! after only 3 hours sleep and awash with cortisol, twice I garbled important details, and for the life of me couldn’t make that succinct, powerful statement about trauma and the importance of Echo’s work that made me want to do the interview in the first place. Be kind to yourself. Your brain may not work the way you want it to, even though this feels like the most important time you’ve ever had to be clear in your life. (And perhaps because of that.)
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. The support I would have most liked would be from other women who were preyed on by Harvey. It would be very healing to compare notes on our encounters with this man, but also incredibly supportive to hear how others are doing in the midst of this media storm.
  • Educate those who downplay the abuse because maybe you didn't react as strongly at the time as you do now. Dissociation, numbing, avoidance, compartmentalizing, these are all ways we cope with overwhelming events. It is a sign of healing when we are able to thaw and the long-suppressed feelings surface.
  • Ask for what you need. People will say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you,” as if everyone is reading from the same script. The truth is that no one knows exactly what to say and that makes the victim feel even more disconnected and alone. Suddenly, you have become radioactive, tainted with something sordid. As a society, we don’t know how to talk openly about sex, let alone sexual assault. Remember, this is the predator’s shame, their embarrassment. All you can hope is that the people who surround you react as authentically and compassionately as if you’d just told them you had your purse snatched. No one would respond, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” Let people know what you need from them. I told my boyfriend I didn’t need dire warnings or caution, but for him to hug me and say, “You brave, brave girl.”
  • Weigh your decision. Listen to those who tell you (out of love and concern for you) that your name will be dragged through the mud, that it will be 'his word against yours' and that you don't need this kind of publicity. (You don't, but the abuser needs it even less.) Weigh the implications of your decision carefully - you are right to be scared and intimidated. Until more people are educated about trauma and sexual abuse, it is a tough world in which to go public.
  • Protect yourself. People don't realize that the abuser does not lose their power over you overnight, and you continue to carry a very real-feeling but misplaced shame. You get to decide how to protect yourself. You get to decide if and when it is safe to disclose. You were once robbed of control by the abuser; none of us who have been in the same place will ever pressure you. The principles of trauma-informed care are choice, empowerment, collaboration, cooperation and trustworthiness. Just remember this when the media is cajoling you to ‘get your story out there’ with half an eye to their ratings.
  • Strength in numbers. My own big learning from the Harvey story is that if the predator did this to you, then they have probably done it to others. We believe we are alone and that somehow it was all our fault – blaming ourselves for getting into a compromising situation and forgetting that the predator is always looking out for or creating opportunity, and that we just walked into his trap. Thankfully, there is safety in numbers. That is why women are coming forward now, not because they are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’. The more women who speak up, the louder our voice grows until we drown out the ignorant, the judgmental and the misogynistic,
  • Keep on fighting. Getting free of secrets means reliving the things you've shut away for so long. It means overcoming the very understandable reasons you have kept quiet. I am not brave - I just want to get free. I don't judge those who are not ready. By calling me 'brave' that makes other people who stay quiet 'cowards'. You are not. You are a beautiful, precious soul that someone trampled on and yet you are still here. Every day you get up, it is an act of victory and defiance. You are strong and you will keep on winning this fight. 

 

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Louise Godbold, age 28

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Kathy Brous posted:

Dear Louise, 

I don't watch TV but was impelled by your excellent discussion here about how to handle interviews, to watch your Democracy Now clip. If I ever give a live interview, I will follow your steps above rigorously!

 But just wanted to tell you that despite the misgivings that society induces in us: in my eyes, you came across absolutely beautifully in that clip!  You were gracious, you spoke very seriously and made the necessary points about trauma. You did not and do not need to meet any particular "standard"!  We do not need to be perfect or meet anyone else's expectations. "We didn't break it; we don't have to fix it!" You have the right to share your heart, especially in any outlet like Democracy Now which portrays itself as a safe space for Truth.

This is not to disagree in any way with what you wrote above!  Just to tell you that you did give a very dignified interview with a good description of trauma - and that I am very very angry that you would have to worry about anything you said or that it might result in Google searches which will upset you in future.

Blessings on your journey, your courage, and let me know if ever I can help.

Kathy

Thank you, Kathy! 

Jane Stevens prepared me well for the interview - answer with the points you want to make... only the previous guest covered the ground I had wanted to cover. I sat in a dark studio with no monitor, in my earpiece hearing her say exactly what I had wanted to say and then, "Moving now to Louise Godbold..." My heart was in my throat and I think it's only because I was tied up in microphone cables that I didn't bolt! 

Anyway, thank you for your words. When I watch it again it doesn't seem so bad. That day I wanted to go find a cave and live in it for the rest of my life! 

Lou xxx

Dear Louise, 

I don't watch TV but was impelled by your excellent discussion here about how to handle interviews, to watch your Democracy Now clip. If I ever give a live interview, I will follow your steps above rigorously!

 But just wanted to tell you that despite the misgivings that society induces in us: in my eyes, you came across absolutely beautifully in that clip!  You were gracious, you spoke very seriously and made the necessary points about trauma. You did not and do not need to meet any particular "standard"!  We do not need to be perfect or meet anyone else's expectations. "We didn't break it; we don't have to fix it!" You have the right to share your heart, especially in any outlet like Democracy Now which portrays itself as a safe space for Truth.

This is not to disagree in any way with what you wrote above!  Just to tell you that you did give a very dignified interview with a good description of trauma - and that I am very very angry that you would have to worry about anything you said or that it might result in Google searches which will upset you in future.

Blessings on your journey, your courage, and let me know if ever I can help.

Kathy

Jondi Whitis posted:

Bravo, Louise.  I appreciate your article very much, and especially translating the kinds of experiences too many of us have had into tangible, actionable steps.  Great stuff.  (So good I gave you a shout-out on FB.)  For those of us that have had to live through this kind of thing (and there are way too many of us), I appreciate that even though I am no longer in the entertainment industry, our experiences and generation were probably hardest hit by the kind of non-consensual access and behaviors you talk about.  Thank you for such a fine, balanced, erudite and useful essay.

Thank you, Jondi. Let us hope that by talking about these experiences we can change things for the generations coming after us. I'm sorry that you too had to pave the way by being one of the waves that got sent over the trench. 

Bravo, Louise.  I appreciate your article very much, and especially translating the kinds of experiences too many of us have had into tangible, actionable steps.  Great stuff.  (So good I gave you a shout-out on FB.)  For those of us that have had to live through this kind of thing (and there are way too many of us), I appreciate that even though I am no longer in the entertainment industry, our experiences and generation were probably hardest hit by the kind of non-consensual access and behaviors you talk about.  Thank you for such a fine, balanced, erudite and useful essay.

Thank you Louise for trusting us with your story about Weinstein and also with your experience about sharing your story. This is SO IMPORTANT AND SO POWERFUL to talk about - we help support each other to break our feelings of shame about the abuse itself and our feelings of shame about opening up about the abuse.  Your courage is inspiring - we are here with you, you are NOT alone!

Dear LOU! I'm so glad because I SO get it and am sure MANY others do as well. I shared it on my own personal social media site as well for all my "professional survivor" friends, co-workers doing this important but difficult work. It's important for those who haven't shared either and maybe validates the reasons why people don't share easily, often or without repercussions. How can we want to make sure breaking silence doesn't break us in the process? It often takes reshaping how the conversations even happen and who drives with the leading questions, and that's not always easy or even possible.  You gave sound and helpful advice about how things can and often do happen when survivors speak up. THANK YOU. he HOW and what it feels like to tell the truth - for the person telling the truth - whether we're talking to media, law enforcement or a friend, is not a minor detail. What one might expect, and how one is often received (or not) is all central, crucial and often overlooked. And depending on age, stage of life, career, internal/external supports this can be a costly decision (in risks and rewards). So again THANK YOU for being so candid about it all! It's SO appreciated.

Cissy

P.S. It's a nice reminder that this is such a safe place to be honest without the vicious or personal attacks/blaming. 

Christine Cissy White posted:

Louise:

This post is so wise, helpful, instructive, practical, generous and protective. Thank you! It will help ALL survivors who speak out to media, online and even at conferences and hopefully help those who speak WITH survivors as well.

THANK YOU. I wish you boatloads of whatever restores you, lets you rest deeply and reinhabit your own center. I'm also ticked off on your behalf because it's ridiculous how often survivors are asked to recount and speak about the predatory details of being abused, harassed, assaulted rather than our own experience of being preyed upon which is not at all the same. How can that not be revictimizing? We don't ask survivors of other kinds of violence to do this. How could words not get jumbled? How could old feelings not get stirred up? Isn't that the essential pain of sexual assault/abuse/harassment - to have our own experiences trumped/snuffed and overpowered by someone else? Argh...  

Despite the constraints, I admire your writing and think your nuanced views about trauma and ACEs DO come across. You DO steer the conversation in more complex directions. Thank you for that as well. But no wonder people don't speak out more often or regret doing so after and/or require a lot of recovery time later. I almost said, "I'm sorry THIS (media crap) happened to you." But your post helped instruct me as well to reach beyond those tired and hollow words. SO thanks for that as well and for doing warrior, educator, awareness work and sharing wisdom, practical tips, and strength. Cissy  

Cissy, yes! You are the best tonic in the world. Just knowing you get it and that this has helped you makes me beam from ear to ear. 

Lou xxx

Lynn Eikenberry posted:

Louise,

Thank you for sharing your courageous decision and the consequences, particularly in the way that trauma lives in our bodies and continues to exert control and influence over our neurobiology years, decades later. I'm feeling so much sensation in my body even as I write this. I too am a survivor of sexual violence--a different producer/agent in Hollywood; same story;  as you know. I have been literally released from so much of the shame through the shared empathy of the stories and women coming forward. So I thank you as well for continuing this process.  

 

Lynn, I feel for you. Thank you for adding your voice. I'm sorry that your abuser is not also getting public opprobrium for what they have done. It hurts so much to see these stories and feel as if you are behind a glass wall shouting "me too!" but no one can hear you. I am so gratified that at least you are feeling released from shame. Together, we can change this culture where women are fair game and men feel entitled to help themselves to our bodies, often with the cynical calculation that we won't say anything to bring disgrace to ourselves when it is they who should be ashamed. 

You are not alone, sister. My warmth and support to you. 

Lou

Louise,

Thank you for sharing your courageous decision and the consequences, particularly in the way that trauma lives in our bodies and continues to exert control and influence over our neurobiology years, decades later. I'm feeling so much sensation in my body even as I write this. I too am a survivor of sexual violence--a different producer/agent in Hollywood; same story;  as you know. I have been literally released from so much of the shame through the shared empathy of the stories and women coming forward. So I thank you as well for continuing this process.  

 

Louise:

This post is so wise, helpful, instructive, practical, generous and protective. Thank you! It will help ALL survivors who speak out to media, online and even at conferences and hopefully help those who speak WITH survivors as well.

THANK YOU. I wish you boatloads of whatever restores you, lets you rest deeply and reinhabit your own center. I'm also ticked off on your behalf because it's ridiculous how often survivors are asked to recount and speak about the predatory details of being abused, harassed, assaulted rather than our own experience of being preyed upon which is not at all the same. How can that not be revictimizing? We don't ask survivors of other kinds of violence to do this. How could words not get jumbled? How could old feelings not get stirred up? Isn't that the essential pain of sexual assault/abuse/harassment - to have our own experiences trumped/snuffed and overpowered by someone else? Argh...  

Despite the constraints, I admire your writing and think your nuanced views about trauma and ACEs DO come across. You DO steer the conversation in more complex directions. Thank you for that as well. But no wonder people don't speak out more often or regret doing so after and/or require a lot of recovery time later. I almost said, "I'm sorry THIS (media crap) happened to you." But your post helped instruct me as well to reach beyond those tired and hollow words. SO thanks for that as well and for doing warrior, educator, awareness work and sharing wisdom, practical tips, and strength. Cissy  

Great work in helping yourself and others with this list full of solid counsel. Hormones and body chemistry, lack of sleep and hydration, not watching our nutrtional and exercise needs -- missing any self-care exacerbates any situation. Your putting yourself out there is a pressure of epic proportion. I commend you for your courage and thank you for your post. 

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