Tweeden's report of her long felt anger in the face of a revealing photo of sexual harassment by Al Franken makes big news for several reasons.
We know sexual harassment knows no political boundaries. It's not just a problem for conservatives who have been under fire. But now there is evidence of a Democrat's sexual assault-- plus a photo and an apology.
Leeann Tweeden says she accepted Franken's apology, which adds to the complexity of how to handle sexual harassment in society.
Sexual harassment is wrong. No one of a sound mind denies the obvious. Different groups concerned about people who are accused of sexual harassment handle reports differently. This difference raises the issue of what consequences should apply to Franken and others when there is evidence of harassment. Voters will judge when they have an opportunity regardless of what any official administrative group (ethics panels etc.) decides. So, politicians have consequences of a different sort than do other predators or those accused of harassment.
Consumers decide how to respond when the rich and famous are guilty of harassment. Movies are cancelled. Products are trashed or personcotted (neologism). But this can happen even without evidence. Accusations of sexual harassment carry emotional weight.
Religious people decide what to do when clergy and religious leaders are guilty. As is the case with politicians and celebrities, some people offer support, some denounce the predators, others sue for damages. Some leave faith altogether.
All of us must decide to take action to create a safer society.
What's the role of an apology?
Ms. Tweeden was the one offended. Sincere apologies help offended people forgive and let go of the past. In some cases, apologies provide the basis for reconciliation. These decisions are for Ms. Tweeden--not the rest of us.
The rest of us get to decide what to do when we learn of sexual harassment allegations.
Sexual harassment and assault produce psychological harm that lasts for years.
Anger is one common strong feeling that persists. Anger can be inflamed when we are reminded of times when we were offended.
The images of harassment and assault remain in the mind even when there is no photo evidence.
Humiliation is a common experience that keeps people from speaking out.
Fear of reprisal can keep victims from speaking out. The experience of fear is real even if the risk of reprisal is low.
Deciding if an incident is worth the personal cost of disclosue can keep victims from speaking out.
Self-blame and guilt can keep victims from speaking out.
The examples of others bold enough to speak out can encourage others to come forward.
Constant news stories can stimulate old memories, which will affect people in different ways.
Sincere, apologies help victims forgive and become survivors.
Apologies do not need to be accepted by victims or those who must judge the accused.
Forgiveness is for victims to gain release from the pain of the past--to let go of the anger and move forward.
Those of us who have not been offended by someone in a news story have no particular reason to accept their apology or consider forgiveness or reconciliation. But we may be in a position to influence consequences and restoration--for example by voting or supporting / not supporting sources of income.
Forgiveness does not require reconciliation with the abuser. Reconciliation requires trust.
Apologies do not mean we should restore a person to their former status whether politican, actor, member of the clergy, or spouse.
To move from victim to survivor usually requires letting go of the past. But self-forgiveness may be required when "victims" feel partly responsible for the abusive event. This is especially true for those manipulated by predators.
Restoration of abusers to their former social position requires evidence suggesting a repeat offense is unlikely. Restoration is something decided by voters, employers, organizational boards, and spouses.
Human memories are dynamic and not like photographs or videos. This applies to observers, abusers, victims, and survivors.
Sexual Assault Allegation Research
Psychology of Hurricane Harvey (Weinstein) and the "me too" flood
Psychology of Sexual Harassment
10 Beliefs about Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Forgive? Yes. Reconcile? Maybe.
What I write
Geoffrey W. Sutton