We are all fully human, even offenders

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“David Bowie: Time to mourn or call out?

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“We can both remember and forgive as a people. We can hold folks accountable and keep them with us. We can remember, not forgive, and still move forward. We have options… 

It can be difficult and scary and destabilizing to hold the reality of loving someone and/or thinking they’ve done amazing things with the realities of those same people doing horrible things, but that’s how the world is.

-Aida Manduley

Lessons Learned

As sexual violence is increasingly talked about in our society, sexual harm committed by public figures is increasingly a focus of public attention. Over the past year, many people have been challenged to reconcile uncomfortable truths about beloved icons and entertainers with the positive influence, art, and deeds they are also responsible for.

In this month’s featured article, “David Bowie: Time to mourn or call out,” the author discusses the complex feelings many people are dealing with in the wake of David Bowie’s death. Bowie was a man who for decades created art that had an intense, positive impact on millions of people. As an artist, his work was undoubtedly important and valued—and thus, his death is painful for many, many people, not just those who knew him personally. However, Bowie was not just an artist, he was a person—capable of both good and bad, just like everyone else. There are allegations that Bowie committed statutory rape, as well as other forms of sexual assault.

As we all process such allegations for any public figures we look up to, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • All people are multi-faceted, three-dimensional, fully human beings. It is expected that we and the people in our lives are capable of both good and bad qualities and behaviors. This means that people whom we love, cherish, and hold in high esteem—the people who bring joy and meaning into our lives—are also capable of committing harm against us and others.
  • Can you forgive someone who has committed acts of violence? Can you still like them or enjoy their contributions? It’s up to you. If someone has done something objectively wrong, and you no longer care for that person or have to set firm boundaries with them—that’s okay. If you still like them or have high regard for them—that’s okay too. However, there is one caveat: regardless of our personal feelings for someone and the positive ways they have impacted our lives, it is always our responsibility to acknowledge and hold them accountable for their wrongdoings.
  • Like minimizing or denying abuse, labeling a sexual offender as a “monster” or as evil is ultimately harmful.* When we do this, it prevents us from being able to identify the harmful behaviors of those we love—and of ourselves—as warning signs of sexual abuse. The more we hold offenders accountable for their behavior while continuing to see them as three-dimensional people, the closer we are to a community free from sexual trauma.

*Survivors may perceive their offenders as monsters or as bad/evil, and this can be a necessary part of recognizing the violence committed by their offender and setting boundaries with them. This is a normal and valid response. When we critique the practice of labeling offenders as monsters, we are speaking generally to community responses, not to individual survivors’ experiences and responses.


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