Seventy Times Seven

I am relieved that American society is evolving to openly reject misogyny, sexual assault, and abuse of power. However, the recent spate of firings, calls for resignations, and abrupt distancing of ourselves from offenders seems as though we have been caught off guard and have no idea how to respond to the sudden outpouring of allegations of sexual misconduct other than to reject everything from an offender’s past, present, and future.

Yes, I want us to believe the women (as well as male victims), but we also need a more sustainable consequence to the crime of sexual misconduct. We could continue to erase offenders from public life, but as the list keeps growing, I estimate more names will end up on the list than off the list. We risk diluting the seriousness of different crimes by a one-size-fits-all approach, creating awareness fatigue in people sympathetic to the issue, and a sure backlash that will attest that if so many are doing it, it can’t be that bad.

Furthermore, the absolute rejection of all offenders encourages an accused to deny charges of wrongdoing because this allows him to continue his public path with the support of those who maintain his innocence. Whereas an offender who acknowledges his misdeed signals his acceptance of society’s judgment and allows ostracization.

There must be a more reasonable approach to holding offenders accountable during this cultural shift away from patriarchy. Parents and teachers regularly separate a punishable offense from a child’s self-worth. Christians believe that their offenses have been absolved by the love and sacrifice of their God, and are commanded to forgive their offenders likewise. Criminal justice reformers believe that we need to re-educate and re-integrate offenders back into society, not continue to mass incarcerate for low-level offenses. And who among us has not ignored someone who was suffering, enjoyed a privilege at the cost of another’s unfair treatment, or held hate in our hearts? A group that attempts to cast out every sinner will end up a handful of self-righteous liars.

To move forward together, it is imperative that we each acknowledge our role in a society that perpetuates social, racial, and gender inequality. We should not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form, and criminal activity such as rape and child molestation should be tried in the court of law. But we should tolerate each other as flawed human beings that are also selfish and culpable. For non-criminal offenders, we should allow room for acknowledgment of guilt and for making reparations. Immediate cessation of abusive behaviors and offering apologies being the bare minimum first steps, offenders can become allies of the feminist movement, or at least the human decency movement. Members of society who are willing to admit their wrongdoing, stop doing it, and work toward fixing the larger problem are much more valuable to progress than those who deny the problem altogether.