Should We Forgive Men Who Are Accused Of Sexual Assault If They Apologize?

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sexual assault

This shouldn't be up for debate.

When the news first broke that Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted dozens and dozens of women over the years, the reactions to the fallout were mixed.

Of course, anyone who has a heart and half a brain was appalled and disgusted, but then there was the other group who all but said, “Well, didn’t we all know this is how Harvey does things?”

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But whether or not they were shocked, everyone agreed it was wrong, an abuse of power, and disgusting. Within a matter of days, he was dismissed from his own company and went to seek “treatment” for his issues.

And any man who acted in the way Weinstein has, clearly has issues. And lots of them. But that was just the beginning.

In the next few months that followed, we’ve seen other actors accused of sexual assault and, in some cases, rape. Women were crawling out of the woodwork, finally unafraid to come forward with their own stories about this actor, that director, this costar, and that boss.

The Weinstein Effect, as it was dubbed, trickled on down to women outside of Hollywood who had also been forced to deal with such behavior and stay quiet about it. With all these women speaking up, we saw the “#MeToo” social media campaign launch, along with the Times Up movement.

We also saw Men’s Rights Activist declaring it a war on men. Which, of course, it’s not. At least not the good men; the ones who know that pulling their penis out of their pants and masturbating in front of women without consent is pretty foul behavior.

As more women come forward, there’s a question that needs to be asked: At what point do we forgive, if we forgive at all? If they apologize, do we let our guard down, pat them on the back, and tell them that all is forgiven?

It takes a big person to admit they’re wrong and apologize. There’s no denying that. Especially if the apology is sincere. But there’s also the thinking that it’s easier to apologize than ask for permission, which, in a breath, negates the apology.

If it would have been harder for Weinstein, and those like him, to ask permission before doing the despicable things they did, should we allow them to apologize after the fact, if it’s the easier route, and forgive them for it?

No. We don’t forgive. No matter what excuse a man gives to justify his behavior, all while profusely apologizing, is bullsh*t.

Weinstein pointed to the fact that he came of age in an era where things were different — that Mad Men era where telling your secretary she looks hot was “acceptable.” While there’s no denying that that’s a very true statement and the term sexual harassment didn’t even make its way into the workforce until the 1970s, there’s a huge jump from commenting on someone’s looks to sexual assault.

Granted, the former isn’t appropriate either, but for Weinstein to turn to that for his reasoning, is absurd. No matter one’s age or in what era they were raised, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Sexual assault is wrong. Whether it’s 1803, 1964, or 2018.

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While commenting on your female coworker’s looks may have been “acceptable” at one point, sexual assault, any and all forms of it, certainly wasn’t and never has been.

When a sexual predator like Weinstein and others apologize, they’re not apologizing for the harm they’ve done. They’re apologizing because they got caught and it’s easier to say, “I’m sorry” than to get the initial permission to do the deviant things they did.

There’s no depth to their apology — no heart, no feelings of remorse, nothing. They’re saying it because they have to say it; because it’s the “right” thing to say under the circumstances.

But it’s also too late. If these men were thinking about what was “right” in the first place, they wouldn’t have done what they did.

In my mind, forgiveness is far more difficult and complicated than an apology. I have forgiven people I never thought I’d forgive, and not forgiven people I assumed I’d eventually forgive.

But when it comes to sexual assault, there is no room for forgiveness. To forgive sexual assault is to say that it’s OK, that it’s a forgivable act, when it isn’t.

The impact of sexual assault is something that lasts a lifetime and something the victim has to walk around with forever. It’s not just about the physical assault, but the mental assault, the emotional assault, the assault on one’s ability to trust and feel safe again. It’s a robbery, and no amount of apologizing can return what was stolen or make it all go away.

Even if there were a way to make it all go away, it’s still unforgivable. It’s not up for debate.

So, do we forgive men who have been accused of sexual assault if they apologize for it? No, we don't. When we start forgiving them, we start condoning such behavior. When we do that, we allow them to go back to the lives they had before they got caught.

Sexual assault victims don’t have that option; they don’t get to go back to the lives they had before their assault. That, alone, is unforgivable. 

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Amanda Chatel is a writer who divides her time between NYC and Paris. She's a regular contributor to Bustle and Glamour, with bylines at Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic, Forbes, Livingly, Mic, The Bolde, Huffington Post and others. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, or her website