Why do we accept approximations of apologies from serial perpetrators of sexual violence? What if it were that easy to accept the testimonies of survivors who are still trying to piece together their own stories? During my upcoming Sexology podcast interview with Dr. Nazanin Maoli, she and I dug deeper into the nature of sexual violence, particularly expanding it beyond rape to groping, attempted rape, and masturbation as a means of intimidation.
We covered so much! I defined the Three Big E’s that routinely underlie sexual violence: Self-Entitlement, Lack of Empathy, and Systematic Exploitation. But I ended the interview wanting to say more about the mindset of men who routinely abuse others. I wanted to share more about how many abusers choose to maintain their violent behaviors even when confronted with evidence as to why their abuse was harmful and not reciprocated.
How I Learned to Recognize Lack of Accountability
For 6 years, I challenged men who had perpetrated violence to do better. I used to volunteer as a co-facilitator of the then oldest batters intervention program (BIP) in the country, RAVEN. When I read statements from the likes of Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Louis CK, and others all my alarm bells go off. I immediately question their desire to change, and I suspect you might, too. Perhaps you just can’t put your finger on it, but something about their statements seem insincere. Here are a few common tactics that serial perpetrators use to convince others and themselves that their behaviors are not harmful. These denial tactics are even how they garner sympathy.
1. Forgetting What Happened
I have a lot of respect and admiration for [Anthony Rapp] as an actor. I am beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago.
Kevin Spacey has recently been revealed to have perpetrated multiple acts of sexual assault against younger men usually by laying on them or cornering them in isolated parts of movie sets and theater houses. Anthony Rapp, best known for starring in the play and movie version of Rent, was one of the first to come out against Spacey claiming Spacey tried to assault him after a party when Rapp was 14. Spacey acknowledges the attempted assault as though he learned about someone not himself perpetrating it. I believe he remembers because he pursued Rapp, including attending Rapp's play, inviting him personally to the party, and waiting until the dinner guest had left before cornering him. Studies routinely show that most sexual assaults are planned.
2. Blaming An OutSide Factor
But if I behaved then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.
Ah yes! Blame it on the alcohol
Or the temper, or the work stress, or the way he was treated as a child. Even for friends and partners, it can be tempting to enable abusers in this tactic. It’s hard to see people we love as willingly choosing to harm. Helping abusers through a disorder like alcoholism makes the issue medicalized and treatable. Even if the drinking does not reach the level of substance dependency, we can wave away mistakes by saying the person was not themselves, rather under the influence. However, some abusers bank on our tendency to forgive by feigning being drunk or getting drunk with the intention of abusing. Quite frequently the behavior of preying on greener, young men is still there when he’s sober.
Kevin Spacey may very well be gay, but sexual assault is about power and control, not sexual attraction. His sexual orientation has nothing to do with abusing Rapp (and dozen more teenagers and young adults). Spacey used his position of influence in a theater company to capitalizes on vulnerable actors and journalists. An anonymous British journalist discussed with Buzzfeed, that there was no way to discuss Spacey grabbing his genitals without outing a closeted gay man. In my experience, men who were court-ordered to our BIP for abuse against women sometimes had histories of abuse against men as well, and would often perpetrate very violent assaults against men before being caught for lesser misdemeanors against women. They are calculated in their choice of victims. Men who sleep with men often have the added fear of wondering how coming forward about their assaults would reflect on the greater GBTQ community.
3. Staying Stuck In Self-Pity
This story encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me, and that some have been fueled by the fact, that I have been so protective of my privacy[…] and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behaviors.
Spacey seems to steer the conversation towards how sad it must have been for him to live closeted for decades. He was rightly dragged by Dan Savage, Zachary Quinto and others gay celebs. Spacey shows no regard for how homosexuality is frequently, and erroneously conflated with child molestation. When an abuser wants to stay stuck in how life has been hard for him, as if his victims have not had it harder, we call that a Pity Party.
Does Kevin Spacey Get Anything Right?
He says he wants “to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining [his] own behaviors.” So we should hold him to it. Supposedly, he has been seen going into a treatment center in Arizona known for specializing in sex “addiction.” Even so, his half baked apology would lead you to believe that he would rather examine his reclusiveness and homosexuality as it has led him to coming out. A true examination of his sexually violent behaviors would instead look at his patterns for targeting certain men under certain circumstances with the expectation that they would probably not report him, nor have the power to do so.
If you have been victimized by another person’s sexual harassment or sexual assault, please do not hesitate to seek help. I am available for a free 15 minute phone consultation if you need to make sense of a perpetrators behavior.