Empathy is not enough: Thoughts on #MeToo

A really sad and frustrating thing about all the #MeToo posts is that inevitably, the perpetrators remain silent and anonymous. Even when, in many cases, we ALL know their names.

Today I’ve seen people calling for abusers, harassers and rapists to out themselves. I’ve seen suggestions that men ask questions like “did I?” to open up discussion about consent. I have my own views on outing known abusers, and this is something I’ve thought about a lot.

While all of these approaches have some merit, the elephant in the room remains: Consent, and the lack of respect, understanding or even awareness of what consent means to some (perhaps even most?) men. Full understanding of consent is not taught; or at the very least, we have not taught it effectively.

In the minds of men and boys who are failed in this way, consent becomes another porous border in a world characterised by them. Disrespect or disregard for consent is absolutely commonplace — it is the subject of cheap jokes and toxic folk wisdom; its routine violation produces only the smallest of cultural gestures in response. The merest of shrugs. “Locker room talk.” “Boys will be boys.” This normalization of abuse is so harmful. The tide of #MeToo hashtags appearing in my feed today — from nearly every woman I know — feels shameful. A heavy thing to admit, to even think about. But think about it we must.

Men are first introduced to the concept of consent at the height of their teenage years, raging with hormonal impulses, enmeshed in a hideously Darwinian race to sexual ‘maturity’ with other, equally confused young men. Mistakes made and lessons left unlearned in this horrible context are almost impossible to fix. How do you redeem a rapist? It’s too late. And the consequences for their victims are life-shattering. We are failing our young men and our young women, and the results are brutalising — literally.

Which is not to transfer blame to the parents, educators and mass media — men make a choice to rape, or lie to themselves about having made that choice. Both are reprehensible. But to pretend the problem is unsolvable is not good enough.

This day of #MeToo posts has me questioning myself, too — asking if I have ever been the one who tore up that fragile contract between two people… consent, denoting mutual respect, denoting empathy, denoting acknowledged and shared humanity.

The thought that my actions could have been experienced as abuse by another person is almost too horrific to contemplate — but the fact I have to ask the question of myself shows how utterly precarious and complicated any man’s understanding of consent can be. It is something we must all understand better. It is also something about which anyone with any ethics cannot continue to lie to themselves, and something which anyone who claims to be an ally to their wives, mothers, friends, sisters and daughters cannot afford to ignore.

As men, we all need to ask ourselves these questions, and try to better teach our sons. We have a duty to believe those brave enough to come forward. The system, the law, the procedures for justice around rape and abuse are woefully inefficient. We HAVE to be on the side of the victim when this happens, no matter who the alleged perpetrator is. There is no other option that isn’t inhumane and irresponsible.

31% of young women aged 18–24 report having experienced sexual abuse in childhood. That’s a third of the women you know — your mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers, friends.

Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police. Because they know the outcomes are pathetically inadequate.

Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence. It’s not a problem of a few bad apples — rape is commonplace, it is utterly normalised in our culture.

Conviction rates for rape are far lower than other crimes, with only 5.7% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction for the perpetrator. So the percentage of false accusations brought to police is 3% of 15%, That’s absolutely minuscule. (Source: Rape Crisis)

The system is statistically stacked in favour of the rapist or abuser. So ethically, you give the accuser the benefit of the doubt. Every time. It’s the very least you can do — along with carefully examining your own attitudes and behaviour.

Extending love to every single person posting today, and those too angry or bitter or hurt to speak.

You are believed. You are loved. We are listening.

Bram E. Gieben, Glasgow, October 2017