“Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never its victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.” — Elie Weisel
I sat in a dark fog the other night reading dozens upon dozens of heartbreaking stories from victims of sexual abuse as they fell into the top of the #notokay Twitter feed.
They kept coming — faster than I could read them. One by one women from all over the world shared gut-wrenching details of sexual assault at the hands of men, boyfriends, fathers, uncles, teachers, and strangers.
And, as I read to honor their brave shares, I noticed a shocking trend.
There was a third party in many, if not most of the stories. It was the police officer, the bouncer, the university official, the parent, the passerby, the guidance counselor who was either indifferent or downright indignant when the victim asked for help.
As I kept reading, I found myself getting more and more angry. Not just at the perpetrators, but even more so at the men (and women, but mostly men) who knowingly let it happen or did nothing to punish it when it was their job to do so.
So, to anyone who has ever ignored, denied, or belittled their daughters, sisters, friends, or strangers who suffered at the hands of a man when you could have helped:
You’re no better than the abuser himself.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winning author Elie Weisel spoke at the White House in 1999 about the Perils of Indifference. In his speech, he rebuked the U.S. for waiting so long to put a stop to the death camps. Millions more would have survived had American troops arrived sooner — or had we bombed the rail lines that were used to transport Jews to the camps.
His riveting speech reminds us starkly that innocent people suffer every day all over the globe while the rest of the world pretends not to see it. He argues eloquently that taking swift action to alleviate the suffering of others is a moral obligation, not an option — especially when that suffering comes at the hands of another human being.
Every day, in every city, in every country around the world, victims of every kind of abuse cry out for help, and more often than not, no one comes to their aid. Or worse, someone does come, but denies it or blames the victim.
We use any number of excuses to avoid intervening in abusive situations:
- It’s her word against his
- She asked for it
- Did you see the way she was dressed?
- What happens between two people is their business
- I just don’t want to get involved
- She’s always been a drama queen
- They were dating
- He didn’t actually penetrate her
- It’s not our family
- We can’t know for sure
- It was so long ago
- I really don’t want to get involved
- (Or in my case growing up) It’s none of our business
The common denominator here is that every single one of these statements is an expression of cowardice. Unabashed cowardice. Any excuse to say, “It’s not my job to deal with that.”
In my own case, the physical abuse I suffered growing up was made much worse by the shame and abandonment of knowing that my neighbors must have known without a doubt what was going down in my suburban Philadelphia house. Although the houses were forty feet apart, the windows were open all summer and the screams of a child being abused are unmistakable to anyone with ears.
But no one ever came. And no one ever said a thing. They just lowered their eyes when they walked by or looked at me like I was the bad apple in the neighborhood. (FYI — My father and I have made our peace. He’s a good man, and we have a great relationship today.)
In retrospect, I know that my own suffering was but a tiny fraction of the pain endured by the millions of victims of sexual abuse around the world today. But my own story allows me to feel the stories of others with a knowing nod and a complete lack of indifference.
And that’s why it’s time for me and my fellow men to make it our jobs to stand up against sexual violence and misogyny. Not being a creep yourself is not enough. Inaction is indifference.
No. Instead we must be proactive and make it our job to halt violent acts, violent words, violent jokes, violent images, violent “locker room banter,” violent lyrics, etc.
How can women feel safe in this world when we allow a culture of objectification and glorification of violence against them to grow around them — not just to continue, but to actually GROW like it has in my lifetime?
So, don’t just sit there. Don’t think this is a women’s issue. This is a human issue. Tell the women in your life you’ll make it your job to stamp out the culture of rape.
Tell them you will commit to the following code of conduct:
- I will proactively make women feel safe. You interact with women on a daily basis in various ways. You work for them. You manage them. You ride with them on the subway. Make it your job to help make them feel safer. Give them space in crowded places. Cross the street rather than walk behind them on a dark street at night. And call out creeps who are obviously being creeps. I’ve stared down creepy guys who wouldn’t leave a woman alone on a subway. You should too.
- I will believe a woman if she tells me she’s been assaulted. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty. That works well to prevent the government from running all of over our rights. But one unfortunate result of that ethic is that we look at accusations of abuse with skepticism. But remember this: Most women never say anything about abuse out of mis-guided feelings of guilt and shame. So when a woman is brave enough to come forward, to make it your job hear her out and believe her until proven otherwise.
- I will call out my friends if they brag about misogyny. It’s fair to say that both men and women share scandalous stories with each other sometimes. Sexual gossip is normal. But gossiping about assault, abuse, or other forms of mistreatment of women is NOT normal. If a friend of yours goes there, make if your job to call him out. Darkness cannot exist once you shine a light on it.
- I will prosecute the S.O.B’s if I can find them. Most sexual assailants make a habit of it. They hurt many women over long periods of time. And the reason is people let them get away with it. We move the victim out of harms way and let the abuser off to continue the pattern because we simply don’t want to get that involved. That is little better than the Catholic Cardinals who simply moved child molesters to different churches. If you know a man has sexual abused someone, make it your job to make sure he gets prosecuted.
- I will halt the abuse of young boys. Men aren’t born sexual deviants. They aren’t born to be abusive. They are conditioned to be so. And one of the most common denominators among misogynistic and abusive men is that they were abused themselves as boys, either emotionally, physically, or sexually. If we want to populate the world with good men, make it your job to raise good boys.
Women should not have to fight the culture of rape on their own. Tell them you’ll make it your job too.
This article originally appeared on Medium
Photo credit: Getty Images