METOO – In 2017, the Weinstein affair triggered the hashtag, #MeToo, used on social networks to tell the story of sexual violence suffered by some and some in the cinema world. Then it is in that of the media, theater, publishing, politics, the university that alleged cases of abuse and aggression are reported. In these circles, power and prestige are particularly strong.
Today, the spectrum of these stories is expanding: it is no longer just a question of recounting characteristic attacks on the part of sexual predators, but also of acts which seem more innocuous, at first sight. This extension of the domain of narrative would come to discredit the liberation of speech as a whole. Therefore, the #MeToo movement would be akin to a purge in the name of well-meaning, of the type of that pronounced in the 60s against the communists in the United States, of a puritanism dictated by a spirit of revenge.
There is, however, a reason why such different actions are spontaneously associated, a reason that does not account for justice. Behind these stories hides an invariant structure that says something about the human psyche. Considering these testimonies from a strictly narrative angle, what appears is that behind the different degrees of seriousness, the same thing is always said: a profile of an aggressor but also of a similar victim.
Justice lagging behind
What makes critics of the #MeToo movement cry out is the confusion between facts condemnable by law and actions that do not bring about justice, and the damage enhanced by these accusations, broadcast by the media and social networks, careers and reputations of the accused. The “presumption of innocence” is brandished, which would amount to a duty of reserve and an injunction to remain silent.
But the actions depicted in these stories have a coherence that is not that of justice. Justice only punishes facts when they are “characterized”, that is to say established in an indubitable way and that they take place without the consent of the suspect or suspect. However, the word “consent” is not used by law. It speaks of “violence, constraint, threat or surprise” but also of the absence of “discernment”. Discernment is the ability to recognize and understand; it can be altered, for example by taking a substance; in the case of minors under 13, the law concludes that there is a lack of discernment. Finally, article 222-24 of the penal code indicates that rape is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment when it is committed “on a person whose particular vulnerability (…) is apparent and known to the perpetrator” but also “when it is committed by a person who abuses the authority conferred on him by his functions”.
However, it is easy to see where the problem lies: the reality of the incriminated facts is most often impossible to establish. As for the question of consent, one understands intuitively that it would not be enough that it was obtained; it is necessary to know how, that is to say to determine if it was free (and not the result of an influence) and enlightened (that is to say that it was given knowingly, and this is indeed the true meaning of the word “discernment”).
In fact, in 2017, 76% of rape investigations were unsuccessful, with the average clearance of complaints standing at 69%. Or, according to the National Observatory of Delinquency and Criminal Responses, “only 13% of people who claim to be victims of rape have filed a complaint” (Timorée Boutry, Pascale Egré and Jérémie Pham-Lê, “Complaints for rape: why so many rankings without follow-up”, The ParisianMarch 2, 2019).
Legal logic is thus out of step with the psychological and sociological mechanisms that explain this spectrum of aggression, whether psychological, physical or sexual, and whether they play on violence, coercion, threat or surprise. Because these acts can also be based on influence or astonishment, that is to say that they take advantage of the damage of a previous trauma, which psychology calls “psychotrauma”. And it is indeed on the side of clinical psychology that we find answers: in view of the advances in psychology, justice is at best late, at worst powerless.
The chilling banality of evil
Because, to come back to the point of disagreement between supporters and opponents of the #MeToo movement, why put in the same category the spectrum of abusive acts of such a different nature: a little heavy flirting, sexual innuendo, touching, rape?
“Just as there is no ‘perfect victim’, there is no ‘monstrous aggressor’.”
The answer is simple: what do they have in common, if not their author? Taken backwards, the problem resolves itself. The one who comes to rape has other acts beforehand, symptomatic but more banal: he flirts with insistence and without finesse, with a wandering hand, talks about ass to introduce complicity and feel authorized to go further. In other words: he harasses, he touches, he establishes a hold.
Because no, the psychopathic rapist lurking in the night is not the rule. Just as there is no “perfect victim”, there is no “monstrous aggressor”. If the assaults noted are different, it is because they do not target the same victims. Depending on whether these victims are powerful or not, in a state of vulnerability or not, the relationship established with them by the perpetrator is more or less toxic or abusive; there she takes the paths of control and stupefaction, elsewhere those of constraint, threat, surprise and violence.
All these targets, conscious, have common points: naivety or precariousness; the absence of a defence. Because the aggressor counts on the shame and the silence that the act creates so as not to have to answer for the harm, more or less serious, that he commits. This same silence to which the victims are urged by the detractors and detractors of the #MeToo movement.
It is indeed in this sense that we must understand the logics of freedom of speech and preservation of silence that are seen in the media field. To understand them, it is necessary to start, from a psychological point of view, from the causes of these actions in order to reconstruct the thread leading to their consequences. The legal approach proceeds backwards: starting from the facts, it seeks to find their causes, which confuses the issue.
It is not because someone cheats on his companion or his company that he is a sexual predator; it is not either because one likes to flirt, or that one seeks the relations without tomorrow, that one strives to dominate his or her partner. But the person who attacks has always had abusive behavior, which has sometimes seemed banal, and which the revelation of facts often brings to the surface. Also, know this: #MeToo is just the beginning.
See also on HuffPost: Even Harvey Weinstein’s Acquittal Can’t Affect ‘Metoo’ Anymore