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.

Continue reading

Childhood trauma — is it a disability or injustice?

blog-1024x818You may have noticed the recent media attention being paid to the Compton Unified School District lawsuit (NPR and LA Times). The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of eight Compton students and alleges that the school system failed to properly educate students who suffered from repeated violence and other trauma.

Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that filed the lawsuit (along with Irell & Manella LLP), is asking a Federal judge to grant an injunction that will require the school district to provide training to teachers, administrators and other staff. Echo Parenting & Education is currently in discussion with Public Counsel about what that training might look like, given our experience in conducting trauma-informed nonviolent training for the staff of Sally Ride Elementary, our pilot project for the Whole School Initiative.

Continue reading

Echo Parenting & Education rides the trauma wave

Changing the Paradigm keynote speakers Dr. Janina Fisher and Ruth Beaglehole, Founder of Echo Parenting & Education

Sometimes we don’t notice when history is being made. We ride a wave of logical progression and don’t even notice when it peaks – that snapshot moment when we are lifted, arms outstretched, into the waiting air and remain suspended for one glorious second before the wave breaks and pushes powerfully to shore.

What the heck am I talking about? Our Changing the Paradigm conference. Last month, 120 participants, 22 speakers and a slew of volunteers gathered at The California Endowment for our two-day conference on developmental trauma. Everything went off perfectly. The evaluations were glowing (apart from the person who wanted avocado on the lunchtime sandwiches – I guess you can’t please everyone). But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some of the speakers had to say:

“It was a deep honor and a pleasure to be part of such a wonderful and inspiring exchange of hearts, minds

Continue reading

The trauma of domestic violence: reality v. the classroom

dv1“I need to use a phone.”

I had just arrived home yesterday and was surprised to find my neighbor — I’ll call her Sarah (not her real name) — standing in my drive. Then I realized it was her car that was parked on the other side of the street. She must have been waiting for me.

“Has something happened?” I asked, but not really needing to, given the pallor of her face and the way she staggered as we walked towards my house.

“I’ve been beaten up and I just need to call the police.” That’s when I noticed the hand she held to her temple was hiding a very nasty lump. “I don’t want to stay,” she added quickly.

At work, I am known as the trauma geek – in fact, just yesterday afternoon I was teaching trauma-informed care to our current class of parent educators who are getting their certification in nonviolent parenting. One of the participants is a domestic violence survivor and gave a description of how trauma affected her ability to think and remember after escaping into a shelter.

“It was like there was rain in my ears for a week. You could speak to me and I would see your mouth moving, but I couldn’t understand what you were saying.” She was far more eloquent than my slides on the neurological effects of trauma. And now here was Sarah sitting on my sofa probably in the same state.

A glass of water! I remembered the grounding techniques to soothe the alarm center (amygdala) of the brain. I filled a glass and then sat down and stroked her hand.

“Would you be willing to tell me who has done this to you?”

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: