The Private Ripples of Public Scandal

In my thirty-plus years of being a therapist, I’ve learned that public events tend to have a ripple effect. A bombshell hits – traumatic event or scandal or catastrophe. Shockwaves crisscross the public sector, finding resonance within heightened media coverage, as outlets pick up the energy of the moment and extend its impact, story after story. There is no escaping them; the accounts are everywhere. Media outlets of all kinds headline them, day after day, sometimes, hour by hour. In the pattern of these social temblors, they tend to weaken over time in the public sector, yet strengthen as they move into the bedrock of private lives. There, they jolt the foundations of every-day people, upsetting carefully placed protections, some of which may have been in place for decades.

As always happens, there will come a point when these stories are supplanted by something new and their energy will drain out of the public consciousness. Yet, I anticipate the ripple effect of these revelations will continue to resonate privately, not only because of their content but also because of the sheer number of people potentially affected. According to a Quinnipiac poll done last month, sixty percent of American women voters and twenty percent of American men voters say they’ve experienced sexual harassment. “Among all American voters, 64 percent know someone who has experienced sexual harassment and 30 percent know someone who has sexually harassed someone else. . . Among women who say they’ve been harassed, 69 percent say they’ve experienced it at work . . .”[i]

A study done last year by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), found that “Common workplace-based responses by those who experience sex-based harassment are to avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior. The least common response to harassment is to take some formal action – either to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint. Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct.”[ii]

According to the EEOC, those who experience sexual harassment, “attempt to ignore, forget or endure the behavior.” How can you refrain from noticing when you’re being sexually harassed? How can you fail to remember when you’ve been treated as a sexual object? How can you sustain without impairment such behavior? The answer, of course, is you can’t. The operative word there is attempt, which indicates an effort but does not guarantee a successful outcome.

Thirty years ago, right about the time I was starting my counseling practice, a young woman named Jessica Hahn accused then mega-televangelist, Jim Bakker, of an unwanted sexual encounter. She went public, faded to private, and has become public again. A recent story in the Charlotte Observer, reports Hahn, “finds herself identifying with some of the women now coming forward, often telling their stories of sexual harassment and abuse after staying silent about them for years.”[iii] Even after thirty years, Hahn says, “There are nights now that I get up (at 3 a.m.) and I’m sweating. I never had that before. I thought I was sliding through. I thought, ‘My life is fine. I didn’t get injured by this. Nothing affected me. . . I made it work.’ But no! I wake up now and go, ‘Oh my God, I’m so angry.’”[iv]

Jessica Hahn is not alone, given these numbers. Even after decades of attempting to move on, to ignore, to forget, to just endure the memories, I have a feeling there will be a groundswell of unresolved emotions from the past, brought out by what’s happening now. Because of these shockwaves, I think I’ll be busy in 2018.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

[i] https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2502

[ii] U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, June 2016, Executive Summary, page v. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf

[iii] http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/religion/article189940794.html

[iv] http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/religion/article189940794.html

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