The Problem of Misplaced Outrage

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When there is abuse of power, things get wonky. And wrong.

We’ve had this experience before, haven’t we? A high profile person, a man in power, who demeans, abuses, coerces, silences and marginalizes women–gets away with unlawful behavior for years. His influence is so strong and fierce, it’s taken a decade for folks to tell their stories.

#Metoo frenzied into the wider conversation and suddenly we’re forced to look again at this issue. But soon after, outrage emerged. Not outrage (necessarily) over Weinstein’s behavior (although that rightly came), but wrath towards victims who didn’t come forward earlier.

Coercion and control are the hallmarks of predators. They are bullies cut from a unique cloth–a personality typically tending toward narcissistic personality disorder, sociopathy and or psychopathy. They are used to charming people into silence, experts at forcing compliance through any means necessary. If you’ve ever befriended or married someone like this, you know what I’m writing about. They spend their lives perfecting their techniques. Predatory behavior is their very successful side hustle, and when the first few victims are silent, this emboldens them to keep perfecting, keep preying, keep pushing every possible boundary.

Couple that with this myth: We’ve heard about fight or flight, but my friend David Pittman reminds us that there are actually three ways to respond to predatory behavior, the third being FREEZE. This is what happens to you on a small scale when you have an argument with a bully, say nothing in the moment, then think of 20 clever comebacks an hour later. When we are violated, many of us freeze. And this frozenness stays with us.

Add threats to the mix, and you see why victims are reticent to come forward. If the perpetrator threatens (in my case they said they’d kill my parents) and looms more powerfully, it’s no wonder folks shrink from telling. Not to mention our society has not been great in receiving this information. So many times, victims are blamed for being victimized. (Read my 21 sentences NOT to say to a Sexual Abuse Survivor to see some of the insensitive things said to victims). And they experience secondary violation when they bravely bare their story.

It’s also nearly impossible to be the first person to out an abuser. Pioneering is desperately lonely and hard. But did you notice that when someone discloses their abuse, a flood of others follow? Did you know that most pedophiles perpetrate against 260 victims in their lifetime? (It makes me want to vomit).

Then add unbelief. Some people disclose only to be dismissed casually or flat out NOT believed. Is it any wonder it takes most people about 20 years before they feel they can disclose? I’ve met women in their 70s who entrust their story to me for the FIRST time. This happens often. Shame has kept them silent their entire lives.

So let’s not be outraged at someone’s fear to share, or their “lack” of forthrightness to disclose on our perceived timetables.

Let’s shift our outrage from victims to perpetrators.

After all, the victim would have no disclosure if they hadn’t been violated.

  • Let’s shine the spotlight on the criminals in our midst who unabashedly prey on hundreds of victims with nary even a hand slap.
  • Let’s change the culture where we worry too much about the poor sexual predator’s life being ruined by a disclosure and instead be outraged that their evil acts ruin countless lives. (And isn’t it awful to think their 15 minutes of preying can deeply mar a victim their entire lives–minutes for a lifetime?)
  • Let’s criminalize criminals (and put them in jail) and stop marginalizing victims.

When I’ve heard, “You should’ve told me sooner,” what I hear is this: It’s your fault for not coming forward. We need to educate our world about just how terribly hard (and consequential) disclosure is. For some, it will mean losing their family. For others, it may mean losing their faith community. For some it may mean risking reputation. For others it may mean opening their hearts to further judgment and abuse. For many (particularly those with a public platform), their disclosure will invite tabloids to dig up and disseminate painful information (because if you can demonize a victim, you can let the perpetrator off the hook).

Outrage should be reserved for evil, not for those who have experienced the depths of it.