In an earlier commentary on the #metoo movement, I spoke of the corrosive non-apologies we are hearing from men in power who are being called out in new ways for sexually abusing, harassing, assaulting, and violating women and children and sometimes other men.
I asked us to consider how to bring about similar accountability structures to the men who have abused their status and privileges, as we do to our children, friends, employees, and others with less power. As we consider creating an accountability structure for these men who have abused their power, I would like to ask us to ALSO think of how we can collectively empower and support those who are at the receiving end of their abuse. Such advocacy would not only be good for those who are abused, but for the witnesses of such actions, society as a whole, and those who abuse.
Empowering and validating the people, mostly women, who are speaking out is critical – no matter how long ago the abuse occurred or how “minor” we may think the event was. It behooves us to buoy these women, so they can come out of the shame, isolation and the secretive clouds they live under. The personal and societal costs of their shame and isolation are huge, as they suffer from ill health and lowered capacities to engage in life.
They and we deserve better. By validating and empowering them, we will set a precedent that will help others who may have even less power, to also come out so they to can be free of the grips of being traumatized by sexual abuse, harassment, assaults and violations.
We can begin the empowerment process by educating ourselves on trauma responses to abuse, so we do not re-victimize these women by subjecting them to the same undermining and questioning tactics that were used historically as they came out with their truth.
We don’t have to force conversation. We need to create safe spaces that welcome the articulation of their history. It takes time and energy to heal from trauma. Instead of shaming and questioning, we can thank these courageous people for speaking out. We can offer them time and space to rest and be – letting them be in the driver’s seat as they retell as much or as little about the trauma as they are ready to divulge, as a way of releasing it.
We can give them the choice to retell their stories one-on-one and/or in support groups. The advantage of well-designed support groups is that they can help these people come out of isolation, realizing they are not alone as they heal and create a new life narrative. When the abuse survivors are ready to talk, we can attentively listen to them tell their stories and validate their experiences.
By listening, we convey the message: “I care deeply about you. I believe that is what you experienced and that is how you were harmed. And, I want you to have a better life.” As we listen, we can offer them empathy – helping them connect to their basic human needs of safety, dignity, self-authority, community, belonging, love, respect, understanding, sovereignty, etc.
As part of helping them connect to their needs, we can accompany them as they shift from being survivors to thrivers, by reflecting back their strengths so they can create doable plans to rebuild their faith in themselves and other people, and take steps to reclaim their personhood, dignity, worth, value, skills and talents, and steadily and systematically reclaim their sovereignty and place in their communities.
We can stand by their sides as their cheerleaders – offering support and encouragement. If they want, we can bring them together with men who will give them a validating, respect-based, and dignified experience, as way to reprogram their nervous systems and reduce their susceptibility to the familiar pattern of abuse.
As a society, we will be paid back manifold by empowering those who are speaking out in the #metoo movement. As their strength, dignity and value are restored, so will our society be restored. I ask you to consider what little behavioral changes can you make to support the courageous people who are coming out and speaking their long held secrets of abuse.
Jessica Dancingheart is a personal and organizational consultant. Find out more at openingtopossibilities.com.