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Sexual Abuse & Harassment: Why Aren’t We Asking the Real Question?

It is healing and liberating that women are coming out of the closet to talk about sexual abuse, and that’s cause for celebration. But our men have to heal too. Yet we’re ignoring the question: Why are men acting out sexually against women and children, and how can we help?

The problem is glaring. Today we’re talking about Roy Moore, George H. W. Bush and other prominent political figures. Yesterday we were talking about the entertainment industry and date rape on college campuses. Every day it seems there’s another revelation of sexual misconduct, usually by a man. Revealing these painful and damaging behaviors is important, because we used to push sexual abuse under the rug, leaving the victims alone, shamed and unsupported. But let’s come out of denial. Sexual abuse by men runs throughout our society, from the Hollywood couch to the home. And if it’s so widespread, there must be a reason.

We can no longer pretend that sexual abuse is committed by a few “monsters.” On the contrary, it’s an epidemic. And if it’s an epidemic, it must have a cause. Something is wrong. Something is causing our men to turn to sexual violence, pornography, harassment, exploitation and abuse. Men are desperately seeking something — Closeness? Power? Relief from anxiety and stress? An outlet for their sexuality that is distorted by repressive religious beliefs or socialization.

It is easy to get on the partisan bandwagon and gloat over Roy Moore’s exposure as a sexual predator. But his actions are not part of our political game. His actions are yet another wake up call that reminds us that our men are hurting. Of course, we recognize the obvious abuse of power that is often part of sexual abuse, the abuse of power that can be physical, emotional, economic and social. Some men have felt that they could get away with anything, and so they acted with impunity. But even that begs the question: Why do they feel the need to do so? How can they be so cut off from their deepest selves that they can pretend they are causing no harm?

Men who are well, fulfilled and supported don’t need to abuse, violate, dominate or exploit anyone. That is the point we must all face. And so let’s stop using these harassment revelations as an excuse to punish and humiliate a few guys. Let’s use these revelations to awaken us to the fact that we have a huge problem. We live in a society that doesn’t meet our real needs and we are driven to all kinds of behaviors that are destructive to ourselves and others. That includes all kinds of addictive behaviors, including sexual exploitation by anyone.

We don’t need revenge. We need healing. Let’s get honest about the alienation, pain and fear that underly the violence and sexual abusiveness of men, and let’s overturn a system that causes men to feel so desperate that they have to exploit others to give themselves a false sense of power or gratification. The shame does not belong to these men alone. The shame belongs to us all if we are not willing to look at the society that gives rise to this behavior.

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