Thursday, January 24, 2019
For over a week last January, 156 women provided victim statements during a sentencing hearing for sexual assailant Larry Nassar. On this January 16th, John Engler resigned under pressure as the interim President of Michigan State University. Engler’s offense was a recent interview in which he suggested that some of the survivors were enjoying the spotlight. These comments were not the first to stoke controversy, but they were what finally led university trustees to demand his resignation. Engler, an MSU alumnus and former governor, was appointed last February after President Lou Anna Simon was forced out because of her failures in the Nassar case. (She has since been charged criminally with lying to investigators; her preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin January 31). Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail. However, it took nearly two decades of allegations to get there and, as the Engler resignation suggests, even now the survivors are scapegoated or, to use the phrase coined by Professor Jennifer Freyd, subject to institutional DARVO, an acronym for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.
This past week also saw movement in another case involving longstanding allegations of sexual assault. RCA dropped its recording relationship with musician R. Kelly. Kelly is the subject of a recent documentary about these assaults and, one by one, artists with whom he had collaborated are removing those recordings from streaming sites. As with the Nassar victims, it is alleged that Kelly’s victims were often underage. And as with Nassar, prior investigations—in Kelly’s case, a prior prosecution—did not yield results.
In light of these two recent events involving assaults on women and how long it takes reports of those assaults to matter, the recent Gillette razor commercial and the reaction to it deserve special note. For those not paying attention, Gillette released an ad urging men not to behave like bullies or jerks especially, but not exclusively, regarding treatment of women. Boy (so to speak), did that ad hit a nerve and then some. It is as if suggesting that if men and boys choose not to fight or not to leer or not to out-testosterone the Y chromosome human standing nearby, they are emasculated. Really? Have we come to that? Has the “locker room talk” and “boys will boys” defenses led to enshrining boorish behavior? Perhaps it demonstrates naivete to be surprised but still. I hereby tip my hat to Gillette and pledge to buy their razors.
So, it has been an interesting week or two at the start of the new year. Progress has been made. But, as usual, that progress is not linear.