Emotional Health

Untouchable: Weinstein’s Victims On Camera

These women offer valuable testimony similar to what many victims of sexual abuse commonly report. Literally like “deer in the headlights” they experience a terror that causes the instinct to remain small and motionless to kick in. It may actually be part of an evolutionary link to our animal ancestors. “Freezing is actually a common response to a threat that we see in mammals, in fact, not just humans,” according to Dr. Martin Antony, a Ryerson University psychology professor. Fight or flight are not the only two options available, though victims of rape have repeatedly been disbelieved when they describe not reacting in one of these ways. Antony continues,  “People shouldn’t even talk about ‘fight or flight.’ They should talk about ‘fight, flight, or freezing.'”

Karlene Moore, a counselor and advocate at Toronto Rape Crisis Center, explains it this way: “We’re trying to process. We’re trying to figure out what is going on, because what we’ve been taught about sexual violence, sexual assault, [and what] rape looks like is not what’s happening, but we also can feel something really wrong is happening.”  

“You may come to a realization that if you struggle too much, you’re actually putting yourself at more risk. Maybe the person might respond violently toward you with something like that, or you might come to the conclusion where you can’t escape,” Antony explains. “And in that moment, if you can’t escape physically, escaping mentally can protect you from some of the pain that you might experience in that situation.”

Disassociation is the psychological term for the feeling that you are not connected to your body or your experience. It is a common response to fear and assault. The most extreme example of this is DID, or dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personality disorder. People who suffer from this literally experience themselves as being a different person, and some develop several different “personalities.” In almost every recorded case, they have been victims of early childhood abuse and/or severe trauma. It is not uncommon for one of the “personalities” to be a “protector,” someone stronger, older, or even male, if the victim is female. 

In this process, the victim is not just saying “I’m not here,” she is saying, “I’m not me.” It is the ultimate form of psychological escape, when physical escape is not possible. Although it sounds extreme or even crazy, it is worth noting that those with DID are not usually psychotic. It is a very specific response, and for many, a life-saving one, to intolerable fear.

The women in Untouchable are describing responses stemming from the same instinct, ones that are on the same continuum. In the moments they are recalling, they were as the hands of a monster, as big, as powerful, and as frightening as they’d ever seen before. Some were cowed into years of silence, and it was only with the help of the groundbreaking reporting of Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor of the Times and Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker that enough solidarity was created for the women to let this story and others emerge.

Twohey and Kantor’s new book, She Said, is being released soon and will shed more light on the subject. Meanwhile, many important details emerged in Macfarlane’s film, including a view of the power structure in show business that helped create and perpetuate the Weinstein machine. Hailed as a producer of great taste and talent, Weinstein had a knack for charming critics and inducing talented artists to work with him. Over the years he solidified his power and influence, and the monster grew in the shadows, convinced, as so many “important” men are, that he was invincible.

One of the most intriguing questions remains, however. How do we reconcile Weinstein’s artistic taste and instincts with the monstrous portrait seen here? History is full of accounts of talented men who have an eye for beauty but an ugly soul, but Weinstein seems to be without one. Valuable as it is to hear from the victims, I welcome more understanding of the social and psychological factors in our culture that have allowed men to behave badly, some very badly, for far too long.


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