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

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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.

It’s not just physical or sexual trauma that makes people vulnerable to becoming victims again in later life. Harvey also was able to take advantage of those of us who were brought up in an environment of compliance and submission because that’s what our parents and teachers wanted from us, instilled in us, and made us fear the consequences of ‘disobedience’ through their wrath and ridicule. Not only does the ‘obedient child’ become the easily manipulated adult, but also an adult who lives in fear of disclosure because we perceive that we are in the wrong, not the abuser. Why? Because it was always our fault as a child that the parent became angry, which evolves into our adult selves accepting the blame for provoking our partner’s violence, for dressing that way, for entering a hotel suite and have Harvey appear in a dressing gown…

The tragedy of trauma is that it doesn’t end with the person who experiences it. The harshly parented often become harsh parents, the sexually abused frequently go on to abuse, those dominated, ridiculed and made to feel insignificant create huge movie empires, sit crying on the bed because they fear they are ‘fat’, and eventually let down everyone they love. I don’t say this to give Harvey an excuse but to extend understanding to everyone whose lives have been touched by trauma and to say it’s time we brought the conversation around to what really lies beneath sordid sex scandals and what will soon be yesterday’s news. Without an understanding of the role of trauma, it may be that your parenting today, how you treat your partner, or interactions with your employees will produce the next round of news stories and continue this toxic cycle of human beings hurting one another.

27 responses

  1. Pingback: One Woman’s Thoughts On #MeToo – Hope and Wellness

  2. I scored a 7 on the ACE test. I found myself meeting many Harvey Weinstein’s in the business world. For years I asked myself why I seemed to attract so many of these jerks, wondering if it was some pheromone clinging to me. Always, always these incidents occurred in situations where money, power, and career success were intertwined. In the early 80’s, my boss – a beautiful successful marketing manager (who would have scored at least an 8 on ACE) making huge amounts of money – simply told me – “all you have to do is sleep with (whoever) once, and then you can do business.” I told her in my experience it was hard to get rid of these guys later and she laughed and said “when they hit on you again, just look deep in their eyes and tell them you are afraid you are falling in love with them and will want something permanent.” That would make them reject you and feel great about it,,,regardless, I have made it to 65 and have no serious medical problems although I have to take a minimal dose of Xanax daily to have any quality of life. I have PTSD (I had to leave home early and survive the streets) and am hypervigilant, but am amazed I survived my life at all. I vacillate between being angry every day between hating that my parents ruined my life and being grateful that I see the world through the eyes that I do. Joan Didion wrote “What makes Iago evil, some people ask. I never ask.” That’s how I see the world.

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  3. What he did was entirely wrong, but do you think theres a chance that his behavior is pathological and based in his own mental issues As in possibly caused by something in HIS childhood perhaps? I do read something in his face, theres something that i cannot deny. I have heard reports of males becoming hypersexualized by male on male child molestation, and sometimes that constant reaffirmation of masculinity is a technique used to reaffirm the now grown man that he is still a “man”… I have a childhood sexual violence survivor friend who expressed those feelings to me and his history was spattered with multitudes of failed relationships and cheating.
    Its still wrong what he did to you, but I hope you look deeper. It might help you to think about the contagious effect of sexual abuse of all kinds. Comfort to you.

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    • Thank you, Kirsten. Actually, that was part of what I was trying to say – Harvey is a product of his upbringing, as are we all. Of course, immense power means you get to play out your history without ever being brought to account. Until now, in his case.

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  4. I applaud your courage, it’s always a really wondrous thing to see victims of predators come forward in spite of personal and social pressures to keep silent. It’s also very heartening to see an increase in general social awareness of the connections between early trauma and adult addictions, physical disease and socially destructive behavior, to name a few of the numerous possible detrimental outcomes. I do find it disheartening, however, that many professionals and so-called “experts” continue to omit the topic of dissociation when they speak or write about trauma (a subject that has been very effectively eradicated by the perpetrator-founded and still very powerful FMSF), and especially the fact that many abusers exploit this natural survival mechanism to make sure their victims don’t remember the abuse and report them later. Author and senior lecturer in criminology at the Western Sydney University Michael Salter recently published a very astute article about this phenomenon: “Dissociative identity disorder exists and is the result of childhood trauma.” It’s vitally important that people, especially in the health provider industry, understand and recognize the symptoms of psychological dissociation. To end discussions about trauma at PTSD (or PTSS, post traumatic stress syndrome, the more apt and less derogatory term), is to deny thousands of extreme abuse victims proper understanding, care and respect.

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  5. Great presentation on democracy now…thanks for taking such a high/deep road on these issues and modeling another way forward!

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    • Thank you, Rachel. I’m glad you were able to make out what I was trying to say! I was running on 3 hours sleep and so wasn’t even coherent to myself!

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      • Definitely Louise…if you have a link maybe you can post it here so we can all support your efforts!!!!

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  6. Linda thank you…this is the most touching and compassionate piece I’ve seen so far in this era of blame and shame. I have no knowledge of Harvey Weinstein’s childhood and I’m glad for all, including him, that he is being held to account…and I do hope some restorative justice can truly restore everyone who got caught in this trauma cycle on all levels. Warm Blessings and thanks for your wisdom and courage!

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  7. Louise, you are so brave and I suspect your experience is what drives you at Echo. I want so much to share your powerful words – particularly because of how trauma affects parenting – but I can’t because of his photo. Do you have this beautiful powerful blog post in another place without the photo. Thank you for your courage and passion and for helping so many others – helping us break the cycle.

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  8. That appears to be sound thinking regarding trauma and needs to be investigated further….especially the feelings of unwarranted shame by the person who has been traumatised. Possibly talking through to an understanding of forgiveness could enable these people, and it is not just women who find themselves in these situations, to move forward into a life of freedom from shame and abuse from strangers.

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  9. Wow, I think Louise is actually expressing compassion for Weinstein, am I right Louise? For someone to abuse others it is an almost certain indication that they were abused themselves (including Weinstein). We repeat behavior that we learned as children….both good and bad. Altho I could never advocate for not holding adults accountable for their behavior as adults (and I don’t think Louise is doing that), I do believe that moving our culture towards treating ALL children with kindness and respect, educating the community about trauma and teaching good parenting skills is really the only way forward.

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  10. Thanks for writing. What a nightmare of a person he is, and as a teacher of abuse prevention, I try my best to help teenagers to put themselves in another person’s position and know that whether a crime is reported or not, to believe the victim and listen without judgement.

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  11. I know Louise, it’s all maddening and sad. I’m glad you could find this safe space and share your story with us. I heard recently, that we really need to address MEN about these issues, and that we must have a paradim shift with us now, especially. The focus should be on men, and boys before they grow up. I agree with that view.

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      • I think you might be taking offense to what was said because what was said wasnt all inclusive.

        Remember she is a women speaking about trauma inflicted on women.

        Just because someone only speaks out about elephant poaching doesn’t mean that they are advocates for rhino poaching.

        Just because something isn’t inclusive doesn’t mean it’s dismissive.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this on behalf of all women who have had to deal with or avoided dealing with the Harvey Weinsteins of this world.

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  13. Victims of any predator need to add their names to the list of sexually abused women. One in 4 women will be sexually assaulted before the age 18. Some of those by multiple offenders and/or multiple times. I refuse to be silent. I refuse to be invisible. I was victimized multiple times by my father. I was victimized by multiple offenders – a cab driver, a former boyfriend, a friend, a stranger driving by, a man on a playground…

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