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.