Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Brett Ratner, Roy Moore…the list goes on and new names are added every day of those men who have been publicly outed as being sexual predators, men who abused their power by harassing and assaulting women who were in less powerful positions. It’s easy to come to a general consensus when the crimes of these men are splashed across the media for us to see. The facts are loud and in our face. We identify with these women; we are sickened by these men. We agree that voices should be raised, consequences should be dealt, change must take place.
We also know that for every man like Weinstein, just like for every rat we see, there are fifty more hiding in the walls. And for each of these men who are out of the public eye, wolves who conceal themselves in men’s clothing, there are as many girlfriends and wives who live within those same walls who are not only witnesses to the predator’s crimes, but sometimes the prey as well.
I wasn’t able to recognize that I lived with a sexual predator until I was no longer living with him, the day when I could finally take off the rose-colored glasses I wore that had enabled me to endure daily life by downplaying both his behavior outside our home and the emotional abuse he inflicted within it.Over a sixteen-year period, I became ever more adept at excusing his conduct toward women and teenage girls because by all other accounts I had already formed the belief that he was a good guy who simply made mistakes.
When he flirted with our babysitter who was not even half his age: Mistake. When he made suggestive remarks to women we knew: Mistake. When he ogled the teenage daughters of our friends: Mistake. When he “accidentally” entered unannounced into one of the rentals we owned, where a 19-year-old girl lived and whose father then got involved because of his daughter’s discomfort around my husband: Mistake.
And when he befriended a group of young immigrant girls who were in our town for the summer: Mistake, and the one that would finally open my eyes to the truth about the man I had married.
The vocabulary I used to describe his behavior also became limited to only a word. Everything became “inappropriate” because that way it was still forgivable. What he said to that young girl was inappropriate. What he texted to that woman was inappropriate. How he behaved the other night, the other day, last month, last year…it was all inappropriate; a mistake.
If Harvey Weinstein would have been outed as the sexual predator he is while I was married, I would not have been able to make the connection. I would not have had the clarity to see the similarities between him and the man I loved. In fact, I probably would have gone out of my way to find every possible difference between the two, since the already abusive relationship I was drowning in compelled me to construct false scenarios of reality in the effort to maintain my sanity. Top that with being a mother to three children, and my plate was full with simply trying to get from one day to the next.
Now that I’ve escaped that darkness, however, freedom allows me the perspective to see things as they are instead of how I pretended them to be. Unlike the public outing and multitude of witnesses to the predatory behavior of such men like Weinstein, though, I was the only one with behind the scenes access to the man I had married. Much like Georgina Chapman, Weinstein’s wife, I could claim innocence in all actions my man took while not in my presence, but I could not in good conscience claim ignorance to the fact that there was a pattern, a theme to his treatment of women and girls right in front of me that happened consistently over a long period of time.
But what exactly makes a man a sexual predator? Does he have to be like Weinstein, whose overt and repulsive gestures toward women are loud and violent, easily traceable, and corroborated by famous actress after famous actress? Do we need Hollywood or the media to point them out? Or shouldn’t we be able to spot a sexual predator — no matter how charming they may be — as easily as we would spot a lion on the hunt, their motives and intent clear for all standing near enough the savanna to see?
And what’s the difference between a sexual predator and a man who is just overly flirtatious, a womanizer, who crosses lines with such finesse that a woman might doubt her own hearing, even doubt her own recollection of the event? Could I really put the scary and shameful label of sexual predator on a man who had never been accused of sexual assault (at least not to my knowledge)? Use the old “Well he was never charged” excuse to cancel out any possibility of guilt, even if past events hinted otherwise (like when he was let go from his managerial position because of sexually harassing a female employee)? And what gave me the right to make such bold statements about a man I stayed with and loved for sixteen years, had children with, and — especially in the first decade of our relationship — had nothing but positive praise and admiration for (albeit I had an equal amount of excuses at hand for all the “mistakes” that he made)?
Sexual Predator: a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically “predatory” or abusive manner. Analogous to how a predator hunts down his prey, so the sexual predator is thought to “hunt” for his or her sex partners.
In other words, not mistakes, not innocent slips of the tongue that were inappropriate but forgivable because of any lack of awareness. A predator has forethought, intent, and while he may act on impulse, it is still an impulse that derives from a deeper objective of using one’s place of power to take what they want from those who are less powerful.
Maybe I could look past the many women who were around his age — I’ll widen that to ten years on each side — whom he flirted with often right in front of me and our children, whom he used against me, toyed with, crossed lines with, since many of these same women appeared flattered and enjoyed his attention, often coming back for more. But for every woman who seemed to be a willing participant to his teasing and “hands on” approach, were there also women who forced a smile and remained frozen in the face of his overt flirtations? Were there women out there still holding onto secrets of what they put up with at the hands of the man I had devoted my life to? (*note: as of this publication, two women have thus come forward)
And what about the younger women, teenage girls, who were targets of his sexual crudeness, such as a young family friend we considered like a daughter and who moved in with us for a brief time, who tried to laugh away his remarks about her large breasts, or his comment regarding a possible threesome with her and Angelina Jolie? What about our 16-year-old babysitter whom he told reminded him of the song Sarah’s Smile (“baby hair with a woman’s eyes…”) and to whom he offered wine when she got her driver’s license in some kind of awkward congratulatory gesture (don’t worry, no wine was consumed; I was standing right there, speechless and red-faced)?
Yet even in the face of this, could I make the leap of calling the man I loved a sexual predator? After all, he was always apologetic when I called him out on his behavior. He seemed embarrassed, although it never stopped him from doing it again. Maybe he was just a guy who had a foot-in-mouth problem; maybe he just needed me to teach him that his behavior wasn’t okay; maybe this and maybe that and maybe the other…all conduct that was absolved while I was in his presence because the reality was too heavy a burden for me to bear.
Today, however, with any feeling of love for him long gone, it is the burden of silence that I can no longer suffer. For I am the witness. I watched the predator deliberately, intently, carefully — and successfully — go after his prey. I was on that savanna watching the lion at work, the last hunt of which led to the destruction of our marriage, my escape, and the aftermath that followed:
The Predator: A married father in his mid-forties who ran a successful business as landlord of several apartment buildings, construction, and a thriving dance studio in which he was often alone with his female students.
The Prey: Four immigrant girls, none of whom were over 20 years old, who came to work in our small town for the summer. (I will use the term “girls” instead of “young women” since this is how he referred to them)
The Hunt: It started with a gesture of support, a rescue effort that set the stage to place the predator in a position of good will, and the prey into a position of gratitude and dependency.
The girls needed a place to stay for the summer months. He provided an apartment and became their landlord. Our small community came together to offer assistance; he offered to show them around, drive them if needed, give the grand tour of our beautiful town. I knew about these girls because he and others told me about them. I wanted to help them too, but I was busy with my own children so I left it up to him to do what he thought was needed.
His attention was soon consumed. He visited them often in their apartment, to which he had the key. He came home and told me stories of how wonderful they all were, how smart, how pretty. He began learning Russian so he could communicate better with them — he bought a notebook and practiced every day. I was too emotionally exhausted from staying home all day with our kids to listen. I also didn’t have the energy to give any deeper thought to his increased absence in our family, so when it was time for our annual trip to my mother’s house in Arizona that we took every June, I was too tired to care when he said he could only come for the last few days because of “work commitments.”
In my absence, the hunt grew more intense: he took them on canoe rides, to the fair, the rodeo, the street dance; he invited them over to our home and cooked dinner for them; he had them over again to clean our house, after which he took them out to eat; he called and texted the girls on their shared phone at all hours of the day and night; he went to their parties; he bought them liquor; he bought a plane ticket for one of the girls when it was time for her to leave; he offered one of them a job in our dance studio, paying her in cash so there was no record; he took cash from them for rent for the same reason; he traveled partway with at least one of them on their way back home. He provided them with his contact information so they could return the following summer, which some of them did, and the summer after that, which some of them did, until he made one of them a deal she couldn’t refuse: a permanent home in America…with him.
…analogous to how a predator hunts down his prey, so the sexual predator is thought to “hunt” for his or her sex partners.
This is the hunt I witnessed. These are the facts I know to be true. All else would be speculation (such as when I found bobby pins — which I never wore — in one of the beds in our home, or when his phone accidentally butt-dialed me and I heard him and a woman with a Russian accent laughing and flirting, or when during our divorce there were two of the girls staying in our house and I wondered if he was finally getting the threesome he’d always wanted and that I had always refused).
I will cease from making judgments on his prey of choice for the simple fact that I know what it’s like to be a teenage girl, vulnerable and easily exploitable — like any girl in the presence of a much older man who holds in his hands something she needs or wants, whether it be approval, attention, a father figure, money, or even the most basic desire of wanting to feel safe and loved.Add to that the fact that they were immigrants on a temporary visa, the man I married had hit a virtual jackpot: desperate young girls who would sacrifice what was necessary (integrity, principles, taste) in exchange for money, comfort, and most importantly, citizenship.
These young women were being groomed by the predator I had married. And though I watched this all unfold right before me, I did nothing at the time because I was smothered in my naïve belief that the man I loved and had built a life with would never be capable of such a thing. Therefore, I ignored all the signs. I made no attempt to dig deeper or to even to seek out any of these girls and get to the bottom of the gut feeling I had that something wasn’t right. Even when the proof had been laid out for me to see, I still caved in during my attempt to confront him for what I had suspected.
How could you think I would be capable of something so disgusting, Suzanna? My god, they’re just kids!
Yes. Just kids. What was I thinking?
The look on his face filled me with such guilt for assuming something so despicable that I regressed back into my womb of silence and refrained from bringing it up again, until the day I could no longer bear the weight of the truth and left him and his prey far behind.
So why speak up now? Why not continue to be a good girl and keep my mouth shut? Why not leave well enough alone?
Because I’m not a famous actress, because millions of people don’t know my name, because more victims than not are like I used to be, alone and isolated and afraid to speak up, with no corroborators to their stories, which leads to a vicious circle of victim-blaming, silence, and unconscious enabling. Because of all the other victims, famous actresses included, who have raised their voices against the crimes of sexual predators, and who have inspired me to raise my own. And because maybe, just maybe, there will be another woman out there who has thus far stayed silent as I used to do, trying like hell to just get through the day, who will realize that her voice and her story matter.
In fact, it is the only thing that matters. Our voices are the keys to our freedom. Freedom from toxic secrets that destroy us from the inside out like a cancer, freedom from our culpability to witness the moral crime and/or criminal act of another, freedom to leave the darkness behind and join other victims in the light, and freedom for our stories to breathe life back into us and help resuscitate others who are still struggling to come up for air.
It’s time we stop covering for sexual predators. It’s time for us to call them out as we see them. It’s time to separate ourselves from the wrongdoing of another even if we’re bound to them by marriage. It’s time to speak loudly when our boundaries have been crossed or our bodies have been violated, and it’s time to fully recognize our right to tell our stories, share our experiences in the hopes that we will prevent what happened to us from happening to someone else.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault, if you have been the prey of a sexual predator, or if you have been the witness to the hunt, now is the time for you to speak up. Share your story with a friend you trust, write a blog, post it on Facebook or Twitter, contact the media, contact the police, climb the highest mountain and scream it from the top of your lungs — it doesn’t matter how you do it, just open your mouth and let the truth come out.
Because the truth always comes out. But this time, you won’t be alone when it does.