I’m quite sure that utterings of “But She’s Such A Nice Woman” get said at times, but for the life of me, I can’t think of an example in this context. This past week though, my city of Christchurch, and probably half of New Zealand has come out in support of “such nice men“. They can do no wrong, it seems. “Nice men‘ apparently makes them ‘innocent men‘.
Enough to make me sick for the victims of those “such nice men“. Those men, who are defended by the masses and often close-minded, sometimes have victims. And to me, the uttering of “but he’s such a nice man” simply goes far enough to harm the victim all over again.
Shame on us for letting niceties get in the way of supporting victims.
What am I talking about? Mainly sexual harassment, one of those types of harm that often goes unrecognised. This past week, in Christchurch, sexual harassment has been top of the list of talk-back topics, social media comments, newspapers and anywhere anyone could get themselves heard. Everyone, it seems, has had an opinion. Too often it has been the opinion of the close-minded and ignorant. The only opinion we haven’t heard is that of the victim, bound to silence by a confidentiality clause.
A man (Roger Sutton), whose name won’t mean a lot to most readers, was accused of sexual harassment by a woman in his office. This complaint made the big time here because that office is CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority). Again, a name that won’t mean much, but here in Christchurch where we are recovery mode from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, CERA is perhaps the most important office in the city. This man was its Chief Executive, and it seems that to many here, he was single-handedly making the recovery of the city happen. And he was apparently ‘such a nice man’. I never met him so I wouldn’t like to say although I admit he always seemed to come across well in media interviews.
The details don’t really matter. What matters in this post is that the claim of sexual harassment was upheld, and there was a victim who wasn’t/wouldn’t/ couldn’t be heard. She was not only anonymous but also bound by that confidentiality agreement.
The masses were crying such statements as:
“She’s just ugly!
“She has no love in her life so has to wreck his life”
“But he’s such a nice man” (heard repeatedly)
This all gets me angry because this woman who is now being torn to shreds, but remains anonymous and silent in terms of the agreement, is now not only a victim of Roger Sutton, but is also now a victim of the general public (not to mention the media who have also made the most of it). She doesn’t need to be a victim twice. What’s more is that too often we (the public) and the media make victims victims. It’s just so wrong… regardless of how ‘nice‘ he is.
I admit that I possibly feel strongly about this because I too, have been the victim of sexual harassment. And I too, also became a victim of the onlookers. My experience was much less public, but for me the victimization of the onlookers actually hurt a whole lot more than the initial harassment.
My sexual harassment was not in the workplace, but rather in a church. At the time I was a church-going Christian. I grew up in the church (a minister’s kid) and to a large extent, I saw my church as something of an extended family (especially when most of my family had moved away).
To be sexually harassed by one of the male church leaders was very shocking and hurtful. These people are supposed to be ones I could trust. I had naively thought that amongst church people I was safe. Unfortunately that is so untrue.
Eventually I made a complaint to the church authorities. Thankfully the head of the church, the minister, accepted my complaint. He had received a similar complaint from another woman who had since left the church. He and his wife would turn out to be my most supportive people.
The man who had abused me (and harassment is abuse in my mind) was stripped of his leadership role. As that became public, and the reasons behind the move were now known, the general public (of the church) quickly turned on me. I was said to be “wrecking the man’s marriage“, “putting undue pressure on his wife“, and the familiar line came forth:
“But he’s such a nice man!”
He was a nice man, and everyone liked him. Unfortunately no one wanted to believe what he had done, or was capable of. I left the church soon after. There was no space there for me as a victim of this man. This church was no longer the safe ‘family‘ it had been.
The lesson I learnt since, over and over, is that nice people sometimes hurt people. Nice people sometimes hurt, abuse and harass people. I have gone on to learn that sometimes it’s is the nicest people who do the most harm to us. That has certainly been my experience. Sad but true.
What really worries me is how many victims have learnt the same lesson? And what do they do? It’s not just sexual harassment to which this applies. It’s any type of harm. How many victims choose to stay silent because of this? How many perpetrators run free?
“To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.”
― Flora Jessop, Church of Lies