The past year has seen a remarkable purge of many high-profile men from their jobs in government, media, and the arts---with the notable exception of President Donald Trump---for accusations of sexual assault or abuse in some form. Although none of the men have, yet, been charged with crimes, monetary settlements by the accused’s employers or the accused themselves have occurred. But, because of financial compensation, expiring statutes of limitation, and a disinclination to formally pursue criminal or civil legal action on the part of many victims, almost all other reported “cases,” aside from some reported police investigations of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and James Toback, appear to be closed. That does not imply, of course, the victims’ various forms of damage have necessarily ended.
A question that should arise, but has not, regards the proper nature and duration of extra-judicial “punishment” for this class of offenders. One does not have to feel sorry for celebrity perpetrators to raise this issue. It has been sympathetically discussed quite often about the vast numbers of, typically under-the-radar, former felons who, having served prison sentences, experience grave difficulty re-entering civil society because employers, among others, discriminate against them.
Many, if not all the famous men involved in the current sex abuse scandals, although wealthy enough to weather a loss of income, have seemingly retreated from public life--- a severe form of self-punishment for those accustomed to the limelight and adoration. Whereas some might feel shame, while others may not, they all reasonably anticipate shunning by some acquaintances, friends and family members. These men also have social circles containing other celebrities who do not want to be pilloried for continued association with them, making their risk for ostracization greater than even for ex-prisoners. Also, if they appear in public they invariably will encounter swarming paparazzi and hostile words or actions by random members of society.
But, keeping in mind that the ship has sailed on criminal charges for virtually all the accused and the plight of former prisoners who have served time for their crimes, what other deprivations should there be which fit the specific offenses each man has presumably committed? Lifetime exclusion from doing the kind of work that made them famous, or just for the standard length of a prison sentence after conviction for a sex felony, and lesser punishment for a misdemeanor, or gross but non-criminal behavior. There could also be extra time in “purgatory” if justice were escaped only by intimidating or paying off victims? Perhaps a public confession, apology, restitution to victims, and relevant community service could also be required before someone could be hired again? Finally, those resuming their careers would have to be monitored as parolees are, and periodically evaluated by management and co-workers?
Apart from what one thinks should be appropriate, the probability, under current conditions, of lasting unemployment in one’s field may depend more on the nature of an accused offender’s work, not of their transgression. Ryan Lizza, might not return as the Washington correspondent for a prestigious magazine, but could be accepted a free-lancer, write books or screenplays. If, on the other hand, he faces black-listing, he might, like members of The Hollywood Ten, employ a pseudonym or even find others to “front’ for him.
Louis C.K., by contrast, can produce, as he has, pay-per-view stand-up comedy shows and will undoubtedly be able to find a vast audience utilizing an internet platform. His daunting challenge will be seamlessly replacing his sex-centric humor. But, what if one has no outstanding skill beyond a pleasing television persona and the ability to ask famous people innocuous questions? Charlie Rose, whose offensive, but apparently not criminal, sexual behaviors seem comparable to that of Louis C.K., would need some company to find a favorable cost-benefit analysis to hire him. Right now, that seems like an impossibility, but is it? The case of Marv Albert is instructive.
Marv Albert is one of the most famous American sportscasters ever. He was the play-by-play “voice” of the NBA’s New York Knicks for three decades and NBC’s network basketball coverage for more than a decade, while also covering other major sports. Albert made famous certain “calls” (e.g., an emphatic “Yes!” for a basket; three-point shots were taken from “downtown.”). Everyone loved him. Then in 1997, it all came crashing down when Albert was arrested for biting and forcibly sodomizing a woman who had consented to come to his hotel room. But, the sexual assault charge was the least of Albert’s troubles. Apparently, he also had a penchant for wearing panties and a garter belt. The tabloids had a field day.
Albert eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and received a one-year suspended sentence. He was promptly fired by NBC, and his career seemed over. Nevertheless, two years later, NBC rehired him. He subsequently has worked for TNT and CBS, and, at 76, is still at the top of his game. Should his career have ended in 1997?
One might imagine the current barriers to reinstatement are greater than Albert faced. Victims are speaking out as never before, and with greater media resources to do so (at least those who have some prominence, unlike those who work in small offices, factories, or have service jobs). The threat of advertiser boycotts and endless lawsuits worry media companies more than audience defections, which would vary in size from one case to another.
Still, it’s unwise to think a Marv Albert-type “rehabilitation” can never happen again. Regardless, it might be more humane to consider which disgraced perpetrators, famous or not, are possibly “redeemable,” as we do most others who have done bad, even criminal, things. Then we can also consider if, when, and how current and future sexual abusers, can be given another opportunity to do the work they do best while neither condoning their past behavior or failing to protect those they interact with in the future.