These are usually busy days for everyone, after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. The countdown to the holidays has started in earnest. And even though I start shopping in August (which my whole family makes fun of, but I like to get it done early, before the Christmas rush)—but I still always have one or two people on my list whom I feel I haven’t quite taken care of yet, so I do a little frantic late shopping too. And this year is no exception. And I buzz around in the 3 cities I spend time in at this time of year, so I’m busy getting ready for the holidays, after a lovely family Thanksgiving that got things off to a great start.
Out in the world these days, there have been some truly shocking reports, about sexual misconduct and abuses in the world of entertainment, and politics. We read of well-known famous people who have either been abused, or been the abusers, and every day new names are added to the list. These kind of things have happened for centuries, and are not ‘new’, but it is disturbing nonetheless when names of people we respected professionally turn out to be abusive, and even sick in their behaviours toward others. It’s as though a door has opened, dark secrets have been revealed, and people have come tumbling out, suddenly in the spotlight as victims or abusers. We’ve all heard about ‘casting couch’ techniques in Hollywood for years, but never in the numbers and detail that are being talked of now, and it is deeply upsetting to hear of these things happening. And they’ve been handled with seriousness and accountability, as careers have ended, people have been fired, shows have been cancelled, and strong measures have been taken to put a stop to it and support those who have been harmed. It’s all over the news at the moment. And it’s right that the perpetrators of these offenses have been made accountable for their actions. It’s also deeply saddening to hear how many people have been impacted by it, and how upsetting it must have been to them, both male and female victims, though it appears to be mostly women who have been singled out for these abuses, and have remained silent for many years. The victims are often very young people, whose lives must have been changed by it. Being the victim of sexual abuse is upsetting whatever your gender, and at every age. And in every case, there has been an abuse of some kind of power, and spoken or unspoken intimidation, along with humiliating acts.
Luckily for me, I haven’t experienced abuse of that kind professionally in publishing, and have been respectfully treated by the people I deal with. I did have an unpleasant experience on a television show several years ago, which was not sexually inappropriate, but personally embarrassing, and have shied away from that particular show since then, and chose never to appear on it again. As a ‘celebrity’ and well known public figure, these things can happen in interviews, where someone humiliates you for entertainment. And as a person with a real life and children, it is painful nonetheless when I get put on the spot, embarrassed, or have the spotlight put on me in an unflattering light, with millions watching. No one enjoys that, and I didn’t either. You can’t defend yourself adequately publicly if an interviewer puts an embarrassing and unfair spin on things, there isn’t time, you’re at a disadvantage, and it can be very humiliating. There are also some truly wonderful interviewers, like Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, and I have enjoyed and felt privileged during every interview with her. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be on the show with her. And she more than makes up for any bad ones. I love being interviewed by her.
I did have one bad experience several years ago, which involved both abuse of power, and sexually inappropriate suggestions and innuendoes. It took me completely by surprise, and was a frightening and very unpleasant experience. It happened when I came through US Customs, returning to the US from Europe. A customs officer led me into a small private office, supposedly to figure out the amount I owed for duty for what I had purchased in Europe. I had done that many times, and assumed that being taken to the private office was a form of VIP treatment speed up the process of figuring out the duty I owed. What I got instead were verbal suggestions for sexually inappropriate behaviour on the officer’s part, and sexual innuendo. I was so shocked that I was frozen on the spot for a minute, with no idea how to react or respond. I’m a grown woman, calm in most situations, but I felt totally at the mercy of the officer, and all I could think of was that if I did or said the wrong things, or reported it, the officer could retaliate. Customs is a powerful authority. He also made a point of telling me that he knew where I was staying in the city (it was on the customs form), and could show up there any time to find me if he wanted to. I was terrified, and verbally rebuffed as politely as possible his inappropriate suggestions, suffered the indignity of more of the same for a few minutes, and realizing that I was not going to cooperate or be a willing participant, he let me walk out of the office, but I was badly shaken. Nothing like it had ever happened to me, and the idea that he might show up at my hotel that night was terrifying. We like to think we’d be cool in a situation like that, but I wasn’t. I was literally shaking, seriously frightened, and felt totally vulnerable. I told a representative of the airline, who was shocked too, and after paying the duty I owed, I left the airport and called two of my attorneys when I got to my hotel. My male attorney wanted me to report it officially and bring charges against the officer, and my female attorney urged me to remain silent, and was as afraid as I was of some form of retaliation (is that our typical female reaction?? that something even worse will happen if we ‘tell on a sexual predator’?). What if he tried to get even with me, and do something even worse than verbal sexual abuse if I reported him? Both my attorneys were shocked, and after several days, thinking about it, I decided not to bring charges against him. It also shocked me that he would be so bold as to accost a ‘celebrity’ with sexual propositions, in the crudest possible way. He didn’t seem concerned at all by any consequences. The power was all on his side, and whether accurate or not, I felt helpless. That feeling of helplessness was deeply depressing, and I was upset about the incident for months, and frightened that I would run into him again when I came through customs, which I do frequently since I commute to Europe. My male attorney advised me to refuse to enter a private room with him without a female officer present (which I think is the rule anyway), if I ran into him again. But the incident haunted me, and the memory of how vulnerable I had felt. I kept thinking too of what it would be like if he did the same thing to a young girl, who would feel even more helpless than I did—or if he did it to one of my daughters? The thought of it outraged me, but for myself I felt mostly shame that he had singled me out for his inappropriate behaviour. It was all very upsetting. Being famous was no protection—instead it made me feel even more vulnerable. What if I reported it and he denied the accusation, and turned it on me somehow? It would be his word against mine, and he had all the power. The thought of that in the press concerned me too. And in the end, I did nothing about it.
Several months later, while waiting for my bags at the same airport, I saw a customs officer I had seen and chatted with many times before, a kind man who had always been helpful and appropriate, and I told him of the incident in confidence. He urged me to report it officially, and I told him that I was too afraid of some kind of retaliation to do so. Within a day or two of my telling him, he had told his superiors, and I was contacted by the bureau of Internal Affairs for US Customs, and two officers spoke to me, and urged me to file a report on the incident, and I told them why I wouldn’t. On my next flight into the States, they were waiting for me, and again tried to convince me to file a report. They were very kind, but I admitted to them that I was just too frightened to do so, and didn’t want to cause a public scene. They had spoken to him, but they could do nothing, unless I filed a report officially. I spoke to them several times, but I never did report it. I was too afraid of retaliation on the officer’s part if I did. (And I only saw the officer in question once about a year later, and he seemed nervous, but didn’t repeat what he’d done before. I was shaken to the core seeing him again, afraid he would try the same thing again, but he didn’t.)
It makes me realize now how courageous these women are who are coming forward to report the abuse that they suffered. It takes far more courage than most people realize to step forward and speak up. More and more victims are doing so now—-and it even gave me the courage to report this incident to you. It gave me a small taste and understanding of what these victims have gone through, and a deep respect for how brave they are now in speaking up, even long after the abuses happened. And the authorities in these cases are acting appropriately and taking firm, definitive punitive action against the perpetrators. You can’t undo the harm done to the victims, but at least justice is being served in very serious ways.
After my one small experience in this vein, I salute the courage of the victims who have come forward. And with each one who does, another person is given the courage to speak up too. Women today are much braver about speaking up, and feel at last that they have the right to do so, without being ignored or ridiculed, without fear of retaliation. It is a brave new day, and I hope that seeing their abusers punished makes all the victims, male and female, feel validated, avenged, and safe at last. The victims have a voice now, and the whole world hears them loud and clear. It’s a powerful message to us all.
Have a great week as the holidays approach.
with much love, Danielle