Thoughts: essays galore

On Enabling Predators

Examining our role as bystanders to sexual assault

by Ariana Ortiz



The reality of powerful men sexually abusing women, getting away with it for years to come and continuing to thrive in a culture that rewards this behavior, has once again been brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness. 

Within the multitude of conversations this has sparked, there is a worrying narrative that is being perpetuated by otherwise well-meaning people: That abusers are all Harvey Weinsteins or Bill Cosbys, men who sit comfortably at the heads of their veritable empires.

These kinds of occurrences are not isolated to Hollywood, and their perpetrators are not unique to men with fame, wealth and seemingly endless support (courtesy of their cronies and others seeking the perks that their association brings.)

I guarantee that even if you have not directly experienced or witnessed sexual abuse, it is closer than you think. It is in our homes, our schools; interwoven into the fabric of every community. It is strengthened by silence, in what people carefully choose not to say. 

Many of the women in your life have experienced this, and elected not to say anything for fear of the resulting isolation. 

Often, victims of sexual abuse victims do not relay their experiences because when people claim to support and care about them, it too frequently ends up being a performative, empty promise. When we speak of supporting sexual abuse victims, we tend to have a sparkling hypothetical scenario in our heads—one where everything is clean-cut and simple, where there are perfect victims who have done everything correctly and have therefore earned our support and empathy. 

By electing to ignore this behavior in our communities, we are not only being negligent—we are choosing to be complicit.

This is the truth: When people’s own friends or family members are accused of sexual abuse, they choose to stand by them, feeding into that culture of silence that tells victims that they’re delusional, that they’re inconvenient, that no one wants to hear their voice. Rather than remove the predator from our lives, we choose to alienate their victim for daring to speak out. 

We are creatures of comfort, and ignoring allegations of sexual assault is far easier than confronting them, than rightfully ousting these abusers from our spaces and cutting our ties with them. This may seem like a passive thing, a lack of action. To a victim, it is further confirmation that they should have kept their mouth shut and let that secret fester within them quietly. 

Another hard pill to swallow is that many social justice-centered communities choose to house, protect, and excuse predators.

Groups that bill themselves as being bastions of safety for marginalized people and organize for the liberation of these groups—for people of color and members of the LGBT community, for example—are not exempt from this behavior, and tend to protect these predators fiercely while maintaining an unblemished public face. Why they do this can be chalked up to many factors, a chief one being an unwillingness to give up the benefits that these abusers may bring to the table with their established social capital. 

The participants of these organizations often deem the perceived credence that the abuser brings to the movement as being far more important than the humanity of any victim. They may justify this evil with an insistence that it is all for the good of the cause, that the end will justify the means. But how can we claim to oppose any kind of systemic inequity when we readily defend sexual abuse?

By electing to ignore this behavior in our communities, we are not only being negligent—we are choosing to be complicit. Like those other powerful men in Hollywood who knew about Weinstein but stayed silent for the benefits, we are accomplices in the actions of these predators unless we dedicate ourselves to exposing their behavior. 

We all need to begin taking a closer look at ourselves, at our own behavior and how we may have enabled abusers in the past or are currently doing so. It is on us to look at our friends and our family members, and start asking those questions that others have not yet found the courage to voice. It has never been enough to say we will support victims of sexual abuse. 

Now is the time to lift that veil of silence and start acting to expose and distance ourselves from these predators, who should never feel safe or validated in their behavior. It is only through doing this that we can truly be allies to victims of sexual abuse.