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Treatment? For What?

Susan Estrich on

Kevin Spacey is the latest in a long list of men who, in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse, announce that they are seeking treatment.

In politics, we used to call such announcements "Betty Ford statements." That was back in the days when most of these incidents involved such things as drunken plunges with prostitutes, for which a program to deal with alcoholism might actually be an appropriate response.

But exactly what treatments are men accused of sexual abuse signing up for?

Kevin Spacey stands out in this mess: not because this is one of the first high-profile instances in which men are speaking out about being sexually abused by other men. No, Spacey stands out because of how badly he handled the whole thing -- using his apology as an "opportunity," he apparently thought, to come out as a gay man. As if one thing had anything to do with the other. As if coming out as gay somehow excused his behavior. As if the gay community should be so happy to count him as one of their own that they wouldn't mind that he jumped a then-teenage actor, literally pushing him down on his bed and getting on top of him.

The gay community was not happy. Spacey has been widely attacked, with reason, for trying to use his sexual orientation to excuse his unlawful behavior. If anyone read his so-called apology before he published it, they should have told him it was unacceptable. It was a bomb waiting to explode. And it did. His series got put on hold. No one wants to see a guy who is accused of sex abuse playing the president on a fictional show. (It's bad enough to see it on the news. By the way, watch out for more news from the Trump accusers. If such accusations are enough to take down actors and producers, why should politicians be any different?)

It doesn't matter if abuse is gay or straight. It doesn't matter for any number of reasons, but this is the most fundamental. At its core, sexual harassment is not about sex. It is about power; specifically, it is the abuse of power. Rape is not about sex. It is about violence, the ultimate abuse of power.

Twelve-step programs have helped millions, but they are not a cure for the abuse of power.

Rehab? Exactly what is the rehabilitation program for someone who abuses power by stripping those less powerful than him of their humanity, their dignity, their fundamental right to sexual autonomy?

As for "sex addiction" (which I'm not even sure is a "thing"), whatever it might be, it is not the abuse of people over whom you have power; it is not the use of that power to force people, men or women, young or old, to relinquish their autonomy. That's not a problem with sex.

So what kind of treatment is Spacey getting? What kind of treatment are some of these other men supposedly getting, or not getting? And why should we care? He is not going to get "better." Maybe he will control himself in the future. More likely, he will have fewer opportunities to be out of control, because he will have less power.

But the larger question is whether this burst of outrage, the sheer volume of #MeToos from women of every age, race and background, will mark a real change, or is just another flash in the pan, an "Anita Hill moment" that gives way to decades of abuse.

I'm not holding my breath. Actually, I'm holding onto my chair, waiting for the backlash. Waiting for the whispers about how men's careers are being ruined by ancient history. Waiting for the accusers to be accused.

It's not treatment programs for the men I want to hear about. It's programs to make sure that in the future, victims have a place to turn; that companies have programs in place; that we deal with harassment by creating workplaces where it is simply not accepted. And if such an atmosphere makes going to work a little less fun for some people, maybe they should remember what my father taught me: There's a reason they call it work. It's a four-letter word that has nothing to do with sex.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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