Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

Newsflash: Nuanced Thinking Would Help Fix our Sexual Violence Problem

Maisha’s Z. Johnson’s post at is a great read for both those who want to stop sexual abuse and those trying to end our 20-year experiment with heaping ever more exacting public humiliations on those who have committed sex crimes, with its attendant hydra of consequences.

Several misconceptions lie at the root of the system we’re now using to convince ourselves that we’re serious about sexual violence. The idea that those who have done wrong are completely evil. That they can’t change. And that vengeance is the best way to help their victims.

None of that is true. Here are extracts from the post, but I encourage people to read it in full.

Bill Cosby: Responsible for creating iconic television, or raping dozens of women?

Sean Penn: Exceptional actor and philanthropist, or domestic abuser?

The leaders you admire in your community: People who have a positive influence on those around them, or people capable of causing harm?

If you answered these questions with another question–“Why can’t they be both?”–then you’re on the right track toward understanding the true nature of sexual and intimate partner violence….

The truth is that people can be both well-loved and capable of perpetuating violence. Humans are complex beings, and we’re all capable of both wonderful and terrible things.

But too many of us think in absolutes when it comes to who we believe is capable of perpetrating rape or abusing a partner.

Which means that if someone you know and love has caused harm, you might feel like you have to take one side or the other. Either they’re the wonderful person you thought they were, or they’re a complete monster.

This approach really doesn’t leave much room for recognizing people’s humanity–and that’s a big problem. Because the people responsible for violence in our communities aren’t all monstrous strangers–they’re people we know, people we love, and even people we idolize.

True accountability–the kind that can foster positive change and healing–doesn’t look like violent vengeance. Holding your relative accountable doesn’t have to mean you stop loving them, never speak to them again, or wish for horrible things to happen to them….

You can be angry, horrified, and disgusted about what someone’s done–and still treat them with the dignity that all people (even those who have done wrong) deserve.

Being close to someone who’s caused harm means you can understand their fully human complexity. They’ve done an awful thing, but you know that they’re also capable of doing good.

So holding them accountable can look like supporting them to be their best self, guiding them to recognize what they’ve done wrong, and helping make sure they respect what the survivor needs to heal.

This doesn’t mean you’re excusing their abusive behavior. In fact, you’re holding them to a higher standard, letting them know that you, as someone who loves them, expect them to do better.

Responding to violence with violence can actually cause more trauma and rip communities apart, rather than providing healing.

It’s possible to center a survivor’s need for healing and justice and still have love for the person who has abused them….

If we stop thinking in the absolute binaries of “good” people and “abusers,” we can actually begin to free ourselves and our communities from cycles of violence. We can support survivors and stand up for accountability, knowing that healing and change are possible.

I’ve worked closely with many survivors, and as I mentioned, I’m a survivor myself. So I’ve experienced and witnessed the damage that comes with denying people’s humanity by seeing them as all good or all bad.

And I also know that it doesn’t have to be this way. And if we stop thinking in narrow absolutes, we can all get some healing.

So what does all of that look like in practice? Well this, for starters.

3 thoughts on “Newsflash: Nuanced Thinking Would Help Fix our Sexual Violence Problem

  1. Vicki Henry

    This is a very informative post.

    The question I have asked many times is simply, “What is the worst thing you have done in your life and you don’t have to tell me, but the other part of my question is “are you the same person that you were in that moment?”

    When does redemption begin?

    When will the modus operandi change?

  2. concerned citizen

    We are becoming a country that creates criminals. In civilized countries they treat people with these problems. Often those who are convicted of sexual abuse were victims themselves as young children. They need treatment not torture. I am ashamed of my country. We have not evolved from the Salem Witch Trials. We have allowed any accusation of a sex crime to turn into a conviction. Good luck if you’re innocent. Deeply disturbed by how this has all evolved. Oddly, the same people willing to crucify these people are happy to have guns or if not, they will never condemn a celebrity hero of a crime. It is the poor and middle class that are destroyed and eaten by this system. They can’t afford to defend themselves. These laws are designed to take away the voices of those on the list so they can’t fight for change. Shame on America. I am ashamed. There is redemption. There is forgiveness.

  3. E. O.

    I am in a very difficult situation! I am a disabled mother of two disabled children, one of whom has Autism. My husband was accused and convicted for alleged possession of a few CP files on his home PC. The bail amount was so unreasonably high, assuming he was the only provider for his beloved disabled kids, strangely even the private attorneys never questioned the $500,000 bail!!!!!! Conspiracy, nothing else! This almost drove our poor disabled family to starvation and insanity!They stuck the rifles into my kids face during his arrest!!!! The family had suffered a huhe and debilitating PTSD as a result, making our conditions worse!!! My husband got fired from his job! Kids and I (I have a chronic neurologic condition, which might put me in a chair soon) lost necessary therapies. Both attorneys charged a huge amount of money, never questioned an unconstitutionally hig bail!!! Why??? Promisec things they never even tried to do! As a result, my husband got bullied into taking a horrible plea, as 95% of other degandants thanks to our horrid system of Justice!!!He is unable to gain employment due to criminal record to support his family!!! We will become homeless soon as they have listed him as a preditor on that Registry for life, having to pay for $100 per year for this humiliation and, therefore, endangering his poor family as the address is listed! We have been bullied and harassed by neighbors and school! Why???? We are the victims of Lisa Madigan’s project and entrapment schemes!!!! The entire family bond has been destroyed forever as we were explained: “The elections are coming up. The prosecutor is covering his behind!” At what cost???? My kids and I are innocent. We are at the point of destruction and bankruptcy thanks to the Illinois AG and her team, who, in turn, got extremely high raises, approved by L. Madigan!!!! At the cost of autistic children’s ability to survive and disabled adults who happen to love their father and husband and the only provider because they believe in his goodness and innocence and NEED him! When will this horrible opression end??? This human branding!!!! The registry you MUST pay to on!!!! This is outrageous and I am determined to go all the way, trying to prove that those government porn stings violate our human constitutional rights! What to do??? We are ruined, tortured, lied to, haressed to the point of insanity just because it benefits our corrupt politicians, the AG of the state of Illinois! How long will they ruin the lives of people who simply downloaded by accident a few illigal images? Is demonizig them (the alleged offenders) a common trend, an easy target, a modern witch-hunt? I am outraged by what I have seen in the court of law, the 19 Judicial District. Someone has to say “ENOUGH”to opression, harassment and torture!!!! Nobody seems to care! It seems like an organized conspiracy to help the corrupt politicians stuff their pockets with OUR (the tax payers’) money they stole from disabled families of the ” accused”. Sos!!! What do we do???!!!


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