• My encounter with Harvey Weinstein and what it tells us about trauma

    Aharvey

    Harvey Weinstein, 2014/ Photo by Georges Biard

     

    I have been watching the scandal about Harvey Weinstein emerge with great interest – in the early ‘90s, I too was one of the young women he preyed upon.

    The details of what I have learned was not unique to me are out there now – the office tour that became an occasion to trap me in an empty meeting room, the begging for a massage, his hands on my shoulders as I attempted to beat a retreat… all while not wanting to alienate the most powerful man in Hollywood.

    This morning I learned he was fired. His misdeeds are now common knowledge and I don’t see much mileage in adding my name to the list of women he abused, especially since those who were brave enough to come forward in the New York Times article are the ones who had to ride out the inevitable attempts to shame and discredit them in the face of Harvey’s denials, only to emerge vindicated. I salute these women. I would be a footnote to their courage. Thanks to them, this genie will not go back into the bottle.

    What is more interesting to me are the issues this story raises. Reading the comments online, I see in black and white the reason I spent a whole weekend wondering if adding my voice would encourage other women to come forward or whether this would just bring a barrage of unwanted attention, forcing me into a defensive position and upsetting my family.

    Why is it that women carry the shame of their abusers? We deplore the ‘honor killings’ and Old Testament thinking that blames a woman for getting into a situation where she becomes vulnerable, and yet that is exactly what is happening to the women who have spoken openly about Harvey’s abuse. Read the accounts: Each women is at pains to explain why she was in Harvey’s hotel room, alone in a restaurant corridor, sharing a Miramax rented house. Why? Because a voice in their head is saying, “Why did I let myself get into that situation?” Then there are the Internet trolls who chime in with, “What did you think was going to happen?” and accusing a predator’s victims of “wanting to sleep their way to the top.”

    I know, because these are exactly the voices that have been occupying my head since the story broke on Thursday. But also there is the voice of the girlfriend who had introduced me to Harvey and was angry with me after he called her wanting to make sure I wasn’t going to make a complaint about his behavior. He was her ‘silver bullet’ and even though she had not warned me about him, it was somehow my fault I found myself alone with him and he tried to take advantage of me. The industry friend who drove me to meet Harvey has no recollection of the event, even though he took me home, shaken by my encounter. He asks me to keep his name out of it: “I don’t need that kind of publicity.”

    No one needs ‘that kind of publicity’, least of all the hundreds of women Harvey must have propositioned over the decades. He will remain rich and powerful, the women will remain unknown, silent, hurting, because to speak up would be even more painful in this climate of victim-blaming.

    And let us give a thought to the women who did not manage to escape gracefully from the hotel rooms, or even those who were so desperate for advancement that they paid the price of having sex with the person Meryl Streep calls ‘God’. You must feel sick to your stomach but can never reveal your secret because if this is the shame and blame we encounter for having fought off the predator, how much more would follow you for submitting to a powerful man because he made that your best or only option at the time. And so the predators continue, unaccountable, because society – the comments on the Internet, the friends and families who urge silence, the conditioning of women to be ‘nice’ and excuse men’s behavior or take the blame on themselves – allows the predators to transfer their shame onto their victims.

    How is this happening when we know better? In fact, the science behind childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences – ACES) tells us exactly why many women will have frozen like I did when Harvey appeared naked or put his hands on their shoulders. It is one of the three possible conditioned responses – fight, flight, freeze – stemming from a time when you were powerless to protect yourself from an older, stronger person. As a child, you have very little ability to defend yourself from the abuser who is also your caregiver, or from a predator who assures you no one will believe your stories. And when that situation repeats itself as an adult, your survival brain protects you by dialing up the behavior that kept you alive in the past.

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  • Wisconsin aims to be first trauma-informed state; seven state agencies lead the way

    Here in California, many people think that it’s only liberal Democrats who have a corner on championing the science of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and putting it into practice. That might be because people who use ACEs science don’t expel or suspend students, even if they’re throwing chairs and hurling expletives at the teacher. They ask “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” as a frame when they create juvenile detention centers where kids don’t fight, reduce visits to emergency departments and shrink teen pregnancy rates….among many other things.

    Because they do all this and more by abandoning the notion of trying to change people’s behavior by punishing, blaming or shaming them, and instead using understanding, nurturing and healing, some people might think this approach belongs to the purview of one political party.

    Mmmmmm….Not so fast.

    To paraphrase Tonette Walker, the First Lady of Wisconsin, married to Republican Governor Scott Walker, who was a GOP presidential candidate in 2016:

    That’s ridiculous.

    Her exact words were: “It’s ridiculous that people say this is a Democratic or Republican issue. We all care about issues concerning families and children. We all care about the outcome of people’s lives, no matter who you are.”

    Tonette Walker

    In fact, many residents of Wisconsin might think that it’s only conservative Republicans who have a corner on championing ACEs science. That’s because the state — and Tonette Walker — have some serious bragging rights about how they’ve implemented trauma-informed practices based on ACEs science. Since 2012, 43 counties and three tribes have participated in the Wisconsin Trauma Project, as shown in this project maplist of project sites, and an interactive map. Here are some examples of the results:

    • The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has become the “poster tribe,” according to U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), in educating and integrating practices based on ACEs science. Hundreds of tribal members have been educated about ACEs science, starting with historical trauma. The schools have integrated trauma-informed practices with the result that graduation rates soared from 60 to 99 percent.
    • After all staff members of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services learned about ACEs science and the Child Welfare department started becoming trauma-informed, workers’ burnout rates dropped 23 percent and secondary traumatic stress rates dropped 42 percent over three years. In addition, the number of children placed outside the home dropped 15%, and kinship placements increased.
    • In January 2014 the Wisconsin legislature was the first in the U.S. to pass a joint resolution addressing early adversity and noted the “role of early intervention and investment in early childhood years as important strategies to achieve a lasting foundation for a more prosperous and sustainable state through investing in human capital.”

    There are other states where Republican governors are helping lead or are supporting ACEs initiatives —Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont come to mind. And there are states with Democratic governors that have robust ACEs initiatives in their cities, counties, regions and sectors such as education: California, Washington, Montana, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts.

    But the focus of this article is on what no other state is doing: In 2016, Wisconsin Gov. Walker directed seven state agencies to learn about ACEs science and to implement practices based on that science for their own workforces. His and his wife’s goal: To make Wisconsin the first trauma-informed state in the U.S.

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