We need to break silence around assault

December 13, 2017

The words ‘‘Me Too’’ have turned up in the Facebook feed of too many of my family and friends for me to ignore them.

Some of these I had known about.

Some I had suspected.

Others came as a shock.

Following sexual misconduct revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and dozens of other prominent men in US politics, media and entertainment, millions of people worldwide have shared their stories about being sexually harassed and assaulted.

The movement began in October after actress-activist Alyssa Milano tweeted: ‘‘If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.’’

The hashtag was tweeted nearly a million times in 48 hours.

I have known predator males, men who see themselves at the top of the food chain.

Young men who psychologically had such thick skin that the refusal and offence caused by their behaviour seemed like water off a duck’s back.

There seemed to be men who would ask and ask again, and if one young woman said ‘‘No’’ they would move on until another young woman said ‘‘Yes’’.

Personally, as a teenager I was so unsure of the mutuality of desire that, while I dated a number of girls, my fear of rejection meant that I held hands only twice and never kissed a girl until I was dating the girl who would become my first wife.

From what I had seen of my parents’ marriage sexual desire seemed to be very one sided.

I have mental images of my mother ducking her head to avoid my father’s attempt to kiss her on the neck.

I remember asking just once about how things worked between men and women and was told it was ‘‘the same as between cows and bulls’’.

That wasn’t a very encouraging thought as the only time cows and bulls had mated on our dairy farm was when we put them together.

It was brutish and short. I didn’t want to be that bull.

I may not have understood the predator male, but I knew some.

Unfortunately, the habits of these young men don’t change as they age, but if they manage to gain a measure of power and authority over others, the scale and scope of the problems they cause grows.

To achieve success in Hollywood, politics and big business requires a mix of talent, good fortune, perseverance and patronage.

A powerful sexual predator can use their power to manipulate, harass, assault and damage so many less powerful, aspiring people who come under their influence.

I’m ashamed of male sexuality at times.

These are respected and respectable looking men.

I am tarnished by their behaviour.

To the extent that this has happened in our churches and church-run institutions I am doubly ashamed.

It is a heavy weight to bear.

Churches need to break the silence around sexual harassment and assault.

We men must speak words of confession and repentance for the narratives and attitudes that continue to empower sexual harassment and abuse.

One of the common criticisms of Jesus by the authorities was that he was a friend of prostitutes and sinners.

Some of Jesus’ first followers were sex-workers.

They knew abuse, harassment, and the feelings of shame, complicity, fear, and emptiness shared by so many posting ‘‘me too’’.

Yet Jesus welcomed these women as followers, ate with them, even allowed himself to be touched by them.

Jesus’ actions declared these women were loved, accepted, and free.

Most importantly, he provided a safe, non-threatening, power-free place for women; as all men need to do.

This is the gospel, and it’s good news.

— Brian Spencer, Minister, Tatura Uniting Church

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